• The Movie Watch

    Melancholia
    A Seperation
    Hunger Games
    Hugo
    The Artist
    The Skin I Live In
    Safe House
    Super 8
    Black Power Mixtape 1967-75
    Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
    Margin Call
    My Week with Marilyn
    The Ides of March
    Drive
    Contagion
    Rise of the Planet of the Apes
    Red Desert
    Fright Night
    Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest
    Page One: Inside the New York Times
    13 Assassins
    Horrible Bosses
    Dragon Inn
    Jamel Shabazz: Street Photographer
    Radiant Child
    Still Bill
    X-Men First Class
    Midnight in Paris
    Blackthorn
    Inside Job
    Source Code
    Hanna
    Pariah
    Dracula (1992)
    Cedar Rapids
    Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
    Mindwarp
    Cave of Forgotten Dreams
    I Saw the Devil
    The Square
    Exit Through the Gift Shop
    The Fighter
    The King's Speech
    Louis C.K.: Chewed Up
    Paranormal Activity
    True Grit
    Black Swan
    Toy Story 3
    Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
    Reign of Assassins
    Tron Legacy
    Il Conformista
    Catfish
    The Tourist
    The Kids are Alright
    127 Hours
    The Social Network
    Waiting for Superman
    Elite Squad
    Enter the Void
    Babel
    The Town
    21 Grams
    The Other Guys
    12 Monkeys
    Centurion
    Catch Me If You Can
    Inception
    The People I've Slept With
    She Puppet Peggy Ahwesh, 2001, 17m
    Nest of Tens Miranda July, 2000, 27m
    Poetry and Truth Peter Kubelka, 2003, Austria, 13m
    Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine Peter Tscherkassky, 2005, Austria, 17m
    The General Returns From One Place to Another Michael Robinson, 2006, 11m
    Rehearsals for Retirement Phil Solomon, 2007, 10m
    Broadway Danny Rose
    Manila Skies
    Scream Blacula Scream
    More Than a Game
    The Law
    Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
    Wah Do Dem
    El secreto de sus ojos
    The S from Hell (short)
    Photograph of Jesus (short)
    Open Air (short)
    Man-Made Things (short)
    Iowa Mixtape (short)
    The Feast of Stephen (short)
    Dock Ellis & The LSD No-No (short)
    Blood Magic (short)
    Billy and Aaron (short)
    Blacula
    Splice
    Mars
    Alice in Wonderland (2009)
    Please Give
    Wo ai ni Mommy
    Au Revoir Taipei
    At the End of Daybreak
    Manila Skies
    Tall Enough (short)
    The Queen (short)
    Poi Dogs (short)
    Works of Art (short)
    Lovers (short)
    Gareeb Nawaz's Taxi (short)
    Mao's Last Dancer
    Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story
    Not Quite Hollywood
    La Chute de la maison Usher
    We Feed the World
    Westworld
    The Man Who Shot Chinatown
    Blood and Rain
    A Brand New Life
    Vidal Sassoon: The Movie
    Snowmen
    Micmacs
    Gerrymandering
    Ondine
    Legacy
    Arias with a Twist: The Docufantasy
    Elvis & Madona
    Keep Surfing
    Loose Cannons
    Travelogues (short)
    Yanqui Walker and the Optical Revolution (short)
    American Mystic
    The Arbor
    White Lines and the Fever: The Death of DJ Junebug (s)
    Hard Rock Havana (short)
    Missed Connections (short)
    New American Soldier (short)
    A .45 at 50th (short)
    Out of Infamy: Michi Nishiura Weglyn (short)
    Dog Pound
    brilliantlove
    Sons of Perdition
    Snap
    Zelig
    In the Loop
    Hot Tub Time Machine
    Memories of Murder
    Dogtooth
    Quadrangle (short)
    Night Catches Us
    Happy Together
    The Ghost Writer
    Mother
    Restless
    Glitterbug
    Blue
    Medicine for Melancholy
    El Salvador
    The Gangster's God
    Election 2
    The Secret of Kells
    The Exploding Girl
    Let the Right One In
    Shutter Island
    Heavy Metal 2000
    The New Tenants (short)
    Miracle Fish (short)
    Kavi (short)
    Instead of Abracadabra (short)
    The Door (short)
    I Loved You So Long
    Nothing But the Truth
    Off and Running
    The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus
    Election
    9
    Edge of Darkness
    A Serious Man
    Soundtrack for a Revolution
    A Single Man
    The White Ribbon
    Fish Tank
    The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
    Sherlock Holmes
    Point Blank
    Broken Embraces
    Star Trek: Generations
    The Road
    Up in the Air
    Avatar
    Rosetta
    Hard Boiled
    Fantastic Mr. Fox
    Robocop
    The Lovely Bones
    Detour
    Ong-Bak
    Hour of the Wolf
    Princess Mononoke
    The Bank Job
    Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
    An Education
    Rachel Getting Married
    Il Grido
    Unforbidden City
    Immokalee, My Home
    Antichrist
    The Messenger
    Zombieland
    Lars and the Real Girl
    Hansu
    Lilith
    No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti
    Black Dynamite
    Blow Out
    Good Hair
    Fame (1980)
    After the Storm
    Capitalism: A Love Story
    Around a Small Mountain / 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup
    Plastic Bag (short)
    White Material
    Chicken Heads (short)
    La vie de famille
    Wild Grass
    Sweetgrass
    The History of Aviation (short)
    Taking Woodstock
    Suspicion
    Inglourious Basterds
    District 9
    People Will Talk
    Desperately Seeking Susan
    The Awful Truth
    Born to Be Bad
    Ladies Should Listen
    C'était un rendez-vous
    Funny People
    A City to Yourself (short)
    Video Terraform Dance Party (short)
    Six Apartments (short)
    Reincarnation (short)
    Studies in Transfalumination (short)
    Passages (short)
    Dahlia (short)
    In the Realm of the Senses
    Paper Heart
    Claustrophobia
    Mississippi Mermaid
    What's On Your Plate?
    Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans
    Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene
    Children of Invention
    No Joke Burma (short)
    Story of a Businesswoman (short)
    A Song For Ourselves (short)
    Crossing Midnight (short)
    Fruit Fly
    Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan
    Hubad
    My Four Inch Precious (short)
    Once… (short)
    Walking While Sleeping (short)
    I Don’t Sleep I Dream (short)
    Take Out (short)
    The Humberville Poetry Slam (short)
    Fate Scores (short)
    The Call Center (short)
    Civilian (short)
    The Hurt Locker
    Moon
    Big Fan
    Everything Strange and New
    Humpday
    Why Did I Get Married?
    The International
    Don't Let Me Drown
    Capturing the Friedmans
    District B13
    Up
    Tyson
    Unmistaken Child
    Red Cliff
    Brothers Bloom
    Departures
    Summer Hours
    Caprica
    Terminator Salvation
    Limits of Control
    Taken
    Star Trek (2009)
    X-Men Origins: Wolverine
    The Eclipse
    Rudo y Cursi
    Dean and Me
    Stalker
    Rocky Road
    A Reggae Session
    Rebirth of a Nation
    Paris is Burning
    Tell No One
    Goodbye Solo
    The Sky Crawlers
    Vampyr
    Hunger
    Unforgiven
    Examined Life
    Hendrix
    The President
    Day of Wrath
    Whiz Kids
    Two or Three Things But Nothing For Sure
    La Nana
    Watchmen
    Mukha
    Dillinger is Dead
    Baghdad ER
    The Omega Man
    All About Eve
    The Living Wake
    Gomorra
    Invisible Revolution
    The Andre Show
    Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
    The Wrestler
    Daybreak Express
    The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306
    Little Rock High: 50 Years Later
    Deux vies... plus une
    Waltz With Bashir
    Revolutionary Road
    Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
    Street Fight
    Notorious
    Cadillac Records
    Battle in Heaven
    Frost/Nixon
    Gran Torino
    Seven Pounds
    Murderball
    The Reader
    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    Stanley Kubrick's Boxes
    The Devil's Backbone
    Let the Right One In
    Milk
    The Story of a Three-Day Pass
    Wendy and Lucy
    Un Giorno Perfetto
    Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-Itchy-Footed Mutha
    Chugyeogja
    Afterschool
    Encounters at the End of the World
    Sita Sings the Blues

Tribeca Redux San


MicMacs
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s whimsy (excluding the dismal Alien Resurrection) is near-mythic at this point with a small coterie of films under his belt. MicMacs continues Jeunet’s streak of small, carefully curated jewels. His previous films, The City of Lost Children and Amélie in particular release their brilliance in small doses scattered about the screen in seemingly random trajectories. This technique born of no technique is on full display in MicMacs, as we are introduced to Bazil, our hero, as a child in a disconnected reverie of images, sounds, and emotions made palpable. Primary among those is the death of his father in a mushroom cloud of dust. We are then flung to his adult present where a random bullet to the head propels the inventive plot machinations. Suddenly, we see that Bazil is a man defined by ordnance large and small. When he determines that the manufacturer of the bullet lodged in his brain and that of the mine which killed his father are unrepentant rivals, a singular comeuppance takes form. Of course, all great heroes have compatriots and Bazil’s consist of a group of misifts living underground away from the rest of society. They manifest hijinks by air, sea, and land, which are too artfully crafted to spoil. Jeunet is a master at exposing the soul in dungy crevices, and that’s all it takes to deliver this sumptuous expose on quirkiness with a hint of romance.




Ondine
Neil Jordan re-enters the fray after the Jodie Foster vehicle, The Brave One, with a peculiar Colin Farrell spectacle. The film arrives and leaves painfully slight and undercooked. Farrell (Syracuse) plays a divorced single father, who we are told is a caring dad thanks to a few threadbare scenes with a smart-alecky daughter played by Alison Barry. The story hinges on the improbable tale that Syracuse’s new lover is a selkie, a mythical seal-woman. However, not for one moment was this plausible, nor a fascinating premise. Moreover, the purported selkie, Ondine (Alicja Bachleda) barely registers on the screen. I felt as though a mighty gust would blow her away at any moment. Her coy, enigmatic looks and fragmented statements add up to nothing I could discern. Maybe this film will appeal to children with its peripatetic and facile rhythms that go everywhere and nowhere at once.




A Brand New Life
Somehow reminiscent of Tze Chun’s Children of Invention and So Yong Kim’s Treeless Mountain, this preponderance of abandoned children seems to be a mini-trend. Oddly, I can’t say I’m tired yet of watching these preternatural child actors suffer through harrowing tableaux, especially when they are as good as Sae Ron Kim, who plays Jinhee. Her face is a study in restraint, and I doubt there is any craft involved, as she is so young. We follow her GAZE through riding with her dad on a bike, being left at a Catholic orphanage, deep unresolved mourning, and self-discovery. At all times, our engagement is expertly modulated by the rise of her eyebrow, the downturn of a lip, or an askew glance. I was mesmerized as well by the economy of camera movement director, Ounie Lecomte, and cinematographer, Kim Hyunsook, employ. All the necessary information is relayed in confined frames, akin to Kurosawa’s High and Low but without the stilted formalism. Instead, the film has a quiet, kinetic energy, if possible, that sustains the most mundane scenes of characters walking to and from the orphanage gates. I can’t wait to see absolutely anything else from this first-time director!



Other Notables:

Vidal Sassoon: The Movie— The man, the myth, the meglomaniac all discussed in brilliant black and white cinematography.

Saturday Night— James Franco’s inside look at the preparation involved in one episode of the iconic comedy franchise…John Malkovich in drag anyone?

Gerrymandering— An in-depth dissertation on the often confusing and ridiculous redistricting that occurs before elections to ensure votes by race, class, or population size. Only for die-hard policy wonks!

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Tribeca Redux Deux


The Arbor
One of the most unique documentary presentations I’ve seen in recent memory, Clio Barnard tells the story of Andrea Dunbar, a famous British playwright who died tragically at the age of 29. In complete disavowal of the usual stock and archival footage and expert analysis, Barnard has professional actors lip sync interviews with Dunbar’s relatives and partners as they interact in the real world. This technique creates an uncanny effect which displaces the narrative and actively mediates the logical-factual truth dichotomy which most documentaries bring up implicitly. Barnard then intersperses these moments with scenes from Dunbar’s plays acted out on the grounds of the actual estate in which they are set, amongst gawking real-life crowds. The Arbor is a challenging piece of performance art wrapped within an evidential premise that rewards multiple viewings.




American Mystic
So a medium, a sundancer, and a witch walk into a bar…My skeptic’s armor was on as I sat through this look at alternative spirituality. In slow, rhythmic scenes which predictably stop-in on each character for ten minutes at some vital juncture and then repeats, Alex Mar manages to raise the import of communication with the dead, Native American animism, and paganism to the level of any Christian religion. They all decidedly have tenets, parishioners, and an apprenticeship structure despite their outsider reputations (minus Native American beliefs perhaps). Listening to the subjects in their own words is a very intimate and convincing tool. Like all of us, they are looking for meaning in the environment around them. Although the signs they are attuned to may be foreign, the purpose remains the same.




Loose Cannons
A nice departure from the melodramatic onslaught of his last film, Un giorno perfetto (A Perfect Day), Ferzan Ozpetek lightens up just a bit. The themes of family, food, and love still abound, but they are at the service of a comedy. The story is framed by the youthful mistakes of the family matriarch, played by a commanding Ilaria Occhini. However, in present day southern Italy her grandson, Tomasso, wishes to avoid becoming part of the family pasta business and instead follow his writing bug. His only way out is to come out and risk his father’s banishment. Unfortunately his brother hijacks that plan, and Tomasso must contend with his familial obligations despite a desire to return to his life in Rome. I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed this film with its soap opera lineage flagrantly on display, but fans of this filmmaker will still come out in droves. A lot of the cultural semblance is also lost on an American audience and the acting is broad to put it nicely, but Ozpetek always manages to get at some central truth about human interactions despite his lavish detours.




Arias with a Twist: The Docufantasy
This documentary is an utterly charming look at the New York underground wunderkind, Joey Arias, and his sometimes puppeteer collaborator, Basil Twist as they prepare for their groundbreaking new show. The wonderfully inventive Twist sadly seems like a sideshow to the Arias main attraction. It is Arias’ restless re-invention, legendary collaborations, and perseverance through loss that drives the narrative and holds interest. When people are on screen describing how great Joey is, you just want to see Joey being great. When Arias channels Billie Holiday in various guises and countries, I truly did get goosebumps and the theater suddenly got a little steamy. He managed to capture all of her soulful frailty–it was not an impersonation in any traditional sense but some sort of celestial convergence. We follow Arias from his days as a clerk in Fiorucci’s clothing store to his performances with Klaus Nomi and on to his master of ceremonies duties with Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity. I was wholly entranced by his journey and my only regret is that the film ended so quickly.




Legacy
This psychological drama stars Idris Elba as a returning mercenary for hire, who deals with the demons of his most recent mission in the claustrophobic confines of a Brooklyn apartment. Playing crazy is notoriously difficult because all the tics we associate with madness read as comic when transported to the big screen. Elba is certainly a multi-talented actor as his turns on The Wire, The Office, and countless British gangster films attest. However, jettisoning his natural charisma for a paranoid, blistering portrayal isn’t wholly successful. At times Elba does resort to calibrated histrionics which read as false when we have the luxury of seeing so many PTSD sufferers in real life. Moreover, the director, Thomas Ikimi cloaks the proceedings in a political plot that never really goes anywhere. Ultimately we are left with a competently executed thriller with no real thrills. Moments which question the character’s perception of reality are intriguing, but they also don’t seem to play into a larger thematic cohesion and come off as cheap tricks. In interviews, the director speaks of an affinity for Hitchcock, but he has yet to master his use of misdirection and understatement. Nonetheless, I look forward to how Ikimi’s style might develop with future projects.


Tribeca Redux Uno


Snap
Honestly I can’t tell you what this movie is about at all and that perhaps is a failing in me, but halfway through the screening I began to wonder if the director, Carmel Winters, was simply testing the limits of comprehension in some wry clinical manner. We follow a foul-mouthed mother as she is being interviewed about some undisclosed tragedy, the same mother sometime in the past, and a seemingly unrelated story of a young man as he alternately taunts and nurtures an accommodating baby. I suppose the film is about some trauma that is represented by the fractured mis-en-scene, but I may not be the right audience for such an achingly pedantic journey. The lead performance of Aisling O’Sullivan is certainly stirring, but to what ends?




Elvis & Madona
Could this possibly be the first film about a drag queen and lesbian relationship? It might as well be, for Brazil’s Marcelo Laffitte has unquestionably made a landmark romantic comedy. Despite contending with an obviously low budget and limited actors, this was a buried gem in the festival. The infectious love for passionate failure, dreaming in color, and struggling artists on screen was a welcome antidote to the spate of more dour films this year. Even the more brutal scenes with Madona’s ex-lover seemed somehow tender and revelatory. Let’s make way for a new cult classic!




Sons of Perdition
Three young men escape from the suffocating strictures of Warren S. Jeffs polygamist sect in order to determine their own fate. This documentary, directed by Tyler Measom and Jennilyn Merten, trails Sam, Bruce, and Joe as they deal with the traumatic loss of their families and the often confusing roadblocks which limit their educational and job prospects. The lack of structure unsurprisingly encourages the normal teenage psyche to claim dominance and alcohol, drugs, and sex become coping mechanisms as they acclimate. Jeffs’ eerie voice, intoning tenets from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, serves as the connective tissue between fragmented vignettes– attempted rescues of a sister and mother from the compound, giddy salon visits where new freedom is expressed in blond highlights, and talking heads with intimate knowledge of the polygamists. Ultimately the audience is drawn into the plight of these exiles not necessarily because of where they came from, but out of worry for their future.




brilliantlove
An all-consuming, explicit romance à la 9 Songs, Ashley Horner drops us into the middle of a lit fuse soaked in gasoline. The sweaty, prelapsarian garage in which Manchester and Noon copulate ferociously is a dream-like space undisturbed by the rest of humanity. When they leave their dilapidated Eden to pilfer food or drink the devil’s nectar, only danger skulks about the countryside– a real threat to their prolonged incubation. We are repeatedly asked to ponder whether their brilliant love can survive the temptations of money and fame. In an almost childlike, rudimentary way the images build up to some pleasing whole, and I found myself caring for these slight, naive characters despite themselves. You want them to win, even as you marvel at their mere existence.




Dog Pound
From the first image to the last, this film never allows one moment of passive engagement. Kim Chapiron shows us the inner madness of a juvenile detention facility located near some region of hell. We follow three young criminals as they are shuffled through the system and left to fend for themselves amongst embittered correction officers, adult felons waiting to blossom, and a racial stratification right out of your typical 70’s prison movie. The strangely charismatic star of the film is Butch (Adam Butcher), a sociopath with a heart of gold. His frighteningly contained anger is a palpable threat which gives the film most of its jolt. We watch him slowly rise the ranks by cajoling, threatening, and mauling all those in his way. By mixing real juvie delinquents and actors the film manages to contain a really oppressive sense of dread in an after-school special setting.


Rainy Tuesday Musings


I caught Night Catches Us last night at the New Directors/New Films Festival. I went in with way too high expectations given the dynamic combination of Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie. It is still rare to see African-Americans play the leads in complex dramas, much less two actors in their prime, and I was eager to sit-in.

The story focuses on two former Black Panthers whom reunite during a 1976 Philadelphia summer. As is likely with a movement that encouraged armed resistance in protection of community and family, there is a lot of psychological trauma to wade through. Having spoken to former Black Panthers personally, I appreciated the portrayal of justified paranoia that encircles the characters, whether through bugged phones, insipid surveillance, or opportunistic cops. COINTELPRO was also a constant source of intimidation and fear perpetrated by the government to disrupt a myriad of free-thinking movements in the 60’s–the Panthers being a favorite target.

However, the personal relationships seemed to be under duress, competing with repetitive stock footage and an overpowering soundtrack. Mackie does what he can to bring an internal life to Marcus. Turmoil seethes beneath his eyes and under the burden of his black duffel bag, which belies a history of moving often and quickly. And it pains me to admit this, but Washington may have been miscast. Her clipped phrasing and too easy smile mark her immediately as not of this time. She is built up as the emotional linchpin of the story, but her climactic scenes fizzle quickly without delving into her motivations in a convincing way.

Veteran actors from The Wire–Jamie Hector and Wendell Pierce almost destabilize the piece, given their instant recognition. I’m not one to typecast, but they do it well enough without me, as it feels they are playing watered down versions of their Baltimore doppelgangers.

Ultimately, despite my apprehensions, more films like this need to be made, as access to these stories require a large stage to provoke discussion. The struggles of that time are still portrayed in cliche and costume. Night Catches Us has not completely escaped that quicksand, but it is a step forward. I look forward to seeing if first-time director Tanya Hamilton continues to unearth this rich, untapped well in her future work.

AAIFF On the Road

Some of the best films from last year’s Asian American International Film Festival that I reviewed are on tour nearby. Check out the details below…

NATIONAL FESTIVAL TOUR FEATURES IN BERGENFIELD
Presented by Clearview Cinema and ACV

Come experience another big screen presentation of AAIFF09’s best features at the Bergenfield Clearview Cinema starting Friday, April 2 through Thursday, April 8. Our selection will guarantee to satisfy your divergent tastes! Be it about a raunchy story of two performers in the Philippines, a laugh-out-loud dysfunctional family in Jersey or a sweet tale about a little girl who loses her bus pass, these films will sure to entertain. So bring a date or take your family and grab some popcorn, sit back, relax and enjoy the show!

HUBAD (Philippines) Director: Mark Gary and Denisa Reyes
KARMA CALLING (United States) Director: Sarba Das
LI TONG (China) Director: Nian Liu
PASTRY (Hong Kong) Director: Risky Liu

For more info, tickets and schedules please visit http://www.clearviewcinemas.com/exciting_events/aiff.shtml

Top 10 and then some of 2009



1. Inglorious Basterds
I am far from a Tarantino fanatic so this placement is quite surprising to me if no one else. Nonetheless, when I closely examined the competition, I had seen no other film more than once willingly, nor did I enjoy a lead performance more this year than Christoph Waltz as the deranged Nazi sophisticate, Col. Hans Landa. Where has this guy been? Plus Michael Fassbender continues to blow my mind with each role he inhabits. His small bit part as a British soldier and published film theorist warmed my heart and was a dramatic reversal from his stunning portrayal last year as a skeletal IRA prisoner in Hunger. Tarantino also fortified his own obsessive love of film with countless nods to the history of the medium which somehow gelled to create a visually stunning, pseudo-intellectual, and simply fun experience.

2. Hurt Locker
Can Kathyrn Bigelow direct the next James Bond film? I really think that franchise needs to sip whatever she’s drinking. Her heroes fully isolate themselves to the point where the outside world starts to ripple with paranoia, premeditation, and evil, but unlike Quantum of Solace there is a deep understanding of politics, family, and responsibility—the real marrow of the mundane. And have no doubts, this stuff is inherently cinematic. I will take a tense, deliberate bomb defusion over a visually muddled car chase any day.

3. Humpday
Two straight, male buddies decide to sleep together over a dare–sounds like a bad joke really, but Lynn Shelton pulls off a deeply funny and effective study of the male psyche, cultural norms, and thirty-somethingness. Actors Mark Duplass, Joshua Leonard and Alycia Delmore should also be given their due for making these characters believable and fully schizoid like we all really are. Our image of ourselves is rarely tested in daily interactions, so one mimics the liberal, open-minded intellectual in theory until life calls your bluff. Uncomfortable laughter was never so liberating!

4. Big Fan
Obsession is one of the most perplexing emotions to convey on screen, as it is so all-consuming—saturating every pore of the afflicted—that two dimensions seem inadequate to capture all of its wicked energy. The particular micro-world of sports fanaticism is done even less justice. However actor Patton Oswalt and writer/director Robert Siegel captured all the slovenliness, delusion, and anxiety that are characteristic of the fan drop kicked over the edge. True derangement turns out to quite funny in retrospect.

5. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Nicholas Cage has finally returned from the wilderness of depressing action films and family friendly dreck to shock us into attention. It probably won’t last, so even more reason to soak it up now! Cage shuffles about like a rabid dog motivated by a lust for drugs, guns, women, and drugs in that order. Somehow under all this vice, he creates a sympathetic sociopath who is ironically led hellward due to a good deed. When I first heard this was a Werner Herzog film I thought it must all be some joke. Why would he troll in such pedestrian fare as a cop drama? Alas now I know only one with Herzog’s sardonic view of humanity could create such an off-kilter love note to New Orleans.

6. Avatar
Despite hokey dialogue and predictable plot machinations, James Cameron managed to transport me out of my stationary seat, stale air, and awkward eyewear for what seemed like a comfortable eternity. Pandora is the most fully convincing virtual environment I’ve seen on film since Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Therefore, it is not surprising that the successful depiction of Gollum convinced Cameron that his long-gestating dream was possible. Taking cultural and natural cues from Earth didn’t manifest the fully alien, but rather the fully convincing. I await the inevitable sequel…

7. An Education
A lovely meditation on the arrogance of youth, this gem slowly reveals itself. What I like most besides Carey Mulligan’s puckish wit, is the patience and care with which the camera sweeps onto a moment in time. It feels like a memory even though all the action takes place in a present past. We are seduced along with Jenny, and we root for her even as we curse her naïveté.

8. Moon
Though a slight film by any definition of a space epic, the actor Sam Rockwell pulled off the impossible. He created two characters from the same DNA that live life in convincingly divergent health, relative age, and sanity so that I genuinely forgot he was alone on the set. Director Duncan Jones seems to have materialized from the ether with this succinct reverie on what it means to be human at a very inhumane time. My secret dream is that truly forward-thinking space operas like Space Odyssey 2001, Alien, and Solaris will make a resurgence. Hopefully Moon is a sign of the times.

9. Goodbye Solo
Lead actor Souleymane Sy Savane is refreshing as a good-hearted, immigrant taxi-driver. So rarely do we encounter hard-working transplants in American film even though reality would be a perfect source of stories. Ramin Bahrani has made a career of exploring the lives of people depicted on the edges, but who are actually at the heart of our cultural experiment. Souleymane’s personality is so infectious and endearing that his encounter with a self-loathing and bitter William, played with acerbic zeal by Red West, seems unfair for us as well as Souleymane. They both end up leeching a little bit of the other’s spirit and ultimately both learn that life is full of duplicity.

10. Up in the Air
For once Clooney’s deadpan delivery, wry smirks, and facial pratfalls equaled the sum of its parts in a film that is actually kind of serious. Everyone I know is unhappily, under, or unemployed so following around an individual who fires company lifers for a living is a hard sell. However Jason Reitman takes the opportunity to tackle the simple question: What is the meaning of life? Is it having an office to trudge to everyday or is it pursuing your dreams or is it finding a “co-pilot” to enjoy life with? The answer is obvious, but we are too stubborn to see it, so we might as well be kind to everyone we meet lest they become our bosses, lovers, or friends some day far off in the future…

The Rest of the Best

11. Gomorra
12. Up
13. Broken Embraces
14. Zombieland
15. The Road
16. Children of Invention
17. Watchmen
18. Star Trek
19. Rudo y Cursi
20. The Maid
21. Summer Hours
22. Black Dynamite
23. Antichrist
24. Fantastic Mr. Fox
25. The Messenger
26. Coco Before Chanel

Biggest Disappointments

Tyson, District 9, Funny People

What I Missed and Want to See

The Headless Woman, The Informant!, 500 Days of Summer, Where the Wild Things Are, Me and Orson Welles, Julia, Treeless Mountain, The White Ribbon, Brothers, In the Loop, A Serious Man, Two Lovers, Sugar, Crazy Heart, Collapse, A Single Man, The Exploding Girl, Medicine for Melancholy, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, Of Time and the City and The Baader Meinhof Complex

Rivette’s Circus Full of Sad Clowns

In Around a Small Mountain, a chance meeting on the road leads to romance. If only it were that simple, Rivette wouldn’t still be making character dramas at 81. Best known for his playful, subversive Nouvelle Vague works, here the undervalued master tells a story of glorious, missed opportunities. A kind stalker, Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto), follows Kate, a subdued Jane Birkin, into town after he helps her with a stalled car. She invites him to attend a circus, in which she is a performer. He proceeds to invite himself into her life, one scarcely lived for fifteen years.

The story at hand is a culmination of tragic events from the past. Kate has never forgiven herself for her lover’s mishap. The circumstances are too delicious to spoil, but they caused her to leave the circus and her family. Her prodigal return is initiated to memorialize her father’s death. He was the founder of the circus and an authoritarian figure who disapproved of her relationship. The present offers a chance to exorcise demons, get to know the sister and niece she left behind, and start a new relationship. Vittorio, a stranger, serves as the ideal catalyst for all these overdue mileposts.

READ THE REST OF MY REVIEW AT filmlinc blog!