Each year for the last few years, I've been compiling an extra top 10 list, a supplement to my main list of my favorite new movies of the year. It's a list of my favorite movies from other years that I saw for the first time this year (check out the lists from 2010, 2009 and 2008). Here are the best movies I saw for the first time in 2011 that were released in previous years.
not really liking. Even though Haynes sticks closer to James M. Cain's novel, I preferred Curtiz's movie version that adds in a murder mystery and changes the plot to structure it around a lengthy flashback. It's more self-consciously a film noir, and that works really well for the story, especially in depicting the animosity between Mildred (Joan Crawford) and her reprehensible daughter Veda (Ann Blyth). The heightened style fits their viciousness better, and even though I generally love ambiguous, downbeat endings, I much preferred seeing Veda go off the edge and then get her comeuppance. It's still a tragedy for Mildred in the end, but it's tinged more with nastiness than sadness, and I found that more entertaining.
podcast on Malick with Tony Macklin, I watched the only other Malick movie I hadn't already seen, and it reminded me of what I loved about his work and what seemed missing to me in The Tree of Life. Days of Heaven is ethereal and abstract and hushed just like The Tree of Life, but it's grounded in a real story and real characters that can connect to the audience, so that Malick's musing aren't just anchorless pondering. Richard Gere and Brooke Adams are moving as the lovers trying to hold on to their connection in the face of an impossible situation, and having the narration come from Linda Manz's young, naive character gives it a purpose and point of view that The Tree of Life is missing. It's mesmerizing in its style and its visual poetry, certainly, but it's also a wonderfully human, often heartbreaking story.
project to see her entire filmography is still ongoing. I saw much fewer Davis movies this year, and by now most of the ones I still haven't seen are forgettable quickies in which Davis plays a small part. So this random offering from TCM was a pleasant surprise, a sharp and sparkling pre-Code comedy with entertaining performances from Davis and Ruth Chatterton as a couple of socialites engaged in various romantic rivalries. It's stylish and silly (sometimes a little too silly) and a lot of fun to watch; a worthwhile gem among Davis' early work. Read more in my original post.
photo gallery from the event, including one picture with me in it.)
my week watching the entire series, although I still think Hellbound: Hellraiser II is the best of the series (but it isn't eligible for this list since I had already seen it before 2011). As the series got cheaper and more generic, Barker's original personal vision stood out more, with his twisted and strangely alluring combination of sex and death in a horror movie about carnal pleasures more than violence and gore. Hellraiser does some predictable horror-movie stuff, but it also takes a lot of unexpected routes, and its S&M-flavored design sense has become an indelible part of horror iconography. Read more in my original post.
Friday, December 30, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Maybe I just don't have the same affinity for Elmo that other people do, but I thought this documentary about the puppeteer who performs as Elmo, Kevin Clash, was seriously bland and dull. Clash is clearly a very nice and talented guy, but this movie traces his completely uninteresting journey in a flat, TV-special style, with cheesy music and uninspiring visuals. Other than Clash's fairly humble origins, there's no conflict or adversity to his story; this is a movie about a guy who achieved everything he ever wanted with relative ease. That's great for him and great for the millions who love Elmo, but it makes for a pretty boring movie.
This is a nice complement to (and improvement upon) Page One: Inside the New York Times, which suffered from a lack of focus and a superficial approach to the interesting personalities it showcased. Cunningham is a Times staffer who didn't appear in Page One, but his story is more affecting and fascinating than anything in that movie. The 80-year-old Cunningham is still vibrantly engaged in his work, photographing fashion in New York from the streets to society parties to runway shows. His enthusiasm and passion infuse the film, which is beautifully joyous. There's a small undercurrent of sadness in Cunningham's relative solitude, his tiny apartment and lack of romantic relationships, but it's overshadowed by the sheer pleasure that Cunningham takes in his work and in sharing the wonder of fashion with others. Press perfectly captures all of that joy and wonder, with Cunningham as his gleeful, endlessly knowledgeable guide. The result is my favorite documentary of the year.
It's love story as jeans commercial in this pretty but entirely superficial romance about two cardboard young people who face contrived obstacles to their generic relationship. I've always found Yelchin to be a charisma vacuum, and although Jones can be charming (and is quite lovely), I never really bought into the central relationship. Doremus offers up almost no information about the two young lovers as people, so almost all we know about them is that they're really into each other, and even that is covered mostly in montages (this is a very montage-y movie). Doremus has some visually inventive ways of illustrating the passage of time, and some of the shot composition is gorgeous in a magazine-spread sort of way, but the overall look is more like an ad than an engaging drama. As another critic noted, this is like a romantic comedy with all the comedy taken out.
I remember finding Lee's 2002 film Oasis deliberately off-putting and unpleasant, but Poetry has a lot more beauty and dignity, even if Lee can't resist throwing in at least one self-consciously grotesque sex scene. But he has a lot of affection for his main character, a well-meaning older woman who's struggling with the early stages of Alzheimer's while trying to take care of her ungrateful teenage grandson. As her mind is slowly starting to deteriorate, she decides to take a poetry class, and she struggles throughout the movie to compose the first and only poem of her life. That effort is given equal weight as the woman's troubles with her grandson, who's accused of being part of a group of boys whose repeated rapes of a local girl drove her to suicide. Despite the heavy subject matter, Poetry has a sort of sweetness to it, and the woman's determination to create one beautiful work of art before her life ends is touching. It can be a chore at times, especially in the scenes that involve the main character taking care of a disabled elderly man, but Poetry is far more life-affirming than it might at first appear to be.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
This isn't one of the most acclaimed movies of the year, but I had high hopes for it since I really liked Katz's last feature, Quiet City. Cold Weather isn't as good as Quiet City, but it has a lot of the same ease at depicting relationships among aimless 20-somethings, and the same visual beauty that Katz brought to his depiction of New York City (here applied to Portland). Unlike Quiet City, it also has a fairly involved plot, albeit one that doesn't really get going until almost 40 minutes into the movie. Before then, Katz establishes a trio of engaging characters, including college dropout and wannabe detective Doug (Lankenau). When Doug's ex-girlfriend goes missing, Cold Weather turns into a mystery of sorts, but Katz never loses sight of his character dynamics, and those are always more important (and more entertaining) than figuring out what's going on with Doug's ex. The problem is that Katz actually creates a fairly engrossing mystery, so the abrupt ending, while perfect for a movie about slackers whose lives just kind of trudge on, feels like a bit of a cheat. Cold Weather doesn't have Quiet City's emotional impact, but it keeps me eager to see what Katz does next.
Taking on a still-current event like the financial crisis in a narrative film is a tricky proposition, and Chandor does a better job than Oliver Stone did in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps or Curtis Hanson did in Too Big to Fail. Stone's film was too Hollywood flashy, too concerned with being a thriller, while Hanson's often drowned in dry true-life details. Chandor splits the difference, telling a fictionalized story about one unnamed financial firm's role in precipitating the 2008 market crash. There's suspense in the story, set over a single 24-hour period, but it's not overblown, and Chandor works to create characters we can understand and care about, rather than just mouthpieces for a political viewpoint. There's still too much heavy-handed dramatic irony and on-the-nose prophetic dialogue for it to be completely immersive (at one point two characters discuss serious financial matters in an elevator as a maid, literally the average person, stands silently between them), but it's easily the best movie so far about the culture and outlook that led to the stock-market meltdown.
I was one of the few people who was unimpressed with Reichardt's Old Joy, and I never ended up seeing her 2008 follow-up, Wendy and Lucy. I found this movie to be more substantial than Old Joy, although still often frustratingly aloof, with Reichardt doing everything possible to distance the audience from her characters and their circumstances. Instead of identifying with the plight of the 19th-century settlers lost in the Oregon desert, I felt like I was observing them through a telescope (sometimes literally, as Reichardt likes to shoot seemingly important moments from very far away). Although the story could be suspenseful and moving, it's instead clinical and dry (much like the desert), which makes it sometimes impressively austere but just as often simply dull, and it ends by just puttering to a stop. There's real emotion in some of the performances, which is a step forward, although Greenwood perhaps goes too far in his hammy performance as the group's guide, who talks like Foghorn Leghorn and looks like a member of ZZ Top.
Honestly, I was a little intimidated at watching this movie, which has been talked up so heavily as an obtuse but moving experience that I was worried I'd just find it baffling. And I did find a lot of it baffling, though some of it is baffling in a beautiful and haunting way, while some of it is far more frustrating. I liked the combination of grounded everyday details (the workings of Boonmee's farm, the management of his illness) with mystical elements (the ghost of Boonmee's wife, his transformed long-lost son) in a magical-realist way that's very reminiscent of the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When the movie strays from the relaxed, naturalist dynamics of Boonmee and his family members and becomes more of an abstract fable, as when the characters venture into the cave where Boonmee takes his final rest, it's a little harder to grasp. I'm not sure I understood the relevance of the seemingly unrelated segment about the princess having sex with the talking catfish, but it's certainly unlike anything else I've seen in any movie this year, and that's worth something.