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Category Archives: Movies

Each director name is linked to an especially awesome video to represent his body of work. You might find that, based on my grades for each film, the rankings seem illogical. They are based mostly on potential for future greatness. In other words, even if I haven’t seen a lot from a specific director, I may feel like I still haven’t seen his best work. Films are ranked in order of preference. Enjoy.

20. Stanley Kubrick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full Metal Jacket (A)
2001: A Space Odyssey (A-)
A Clockwork Orange (B+)
Dr. Strangelove (C+)

19. John Huston

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (A-)
The Maltese Falcon (A-)
The Asphalt Jungle
(B)

18. Charles Chaplin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

City Lights (A)
The Great Dictator (A)

17. Michel Gondry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Science of Sleep (A)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (B+)
Be Kind, Rewind (C+)

16. Akira Kurosawa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Samurai (A)
Ran (A)

15. Jean-Luc Godard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breathless (A)
Band of Outsiders (B)

14. Steven Spielberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jaws (A)
E.T. (A-)
Schindler’s List (A-)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (A-)
Munich (B+)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (B+)
The Terminal (B)
War of the Worlds (B)
Saving Private Ryan (B-)
Jurassic Park (B-)
A.I. (C)
The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (C)

13. Sidney Lumet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 Angry Men (A)
The Verdict (A-)
Network (A-)
Dog Day Afternoon (B+)
Murder on the Orient Express (No Grade)

12. Terrence Malick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thin Red Line (A)
Days of Heaven (A-)
The New World (A-)
Badlands (B+)

11. David Fincher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zodiac (A)
Se7en (A)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (B+)
The Game (B+)
Panic Room (B)
Fight Club (B-)

10. Francois Truffaut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jules and Jim (A)
The 400 Blows (A-)
Pocket Money (B+)

9. Yasujiro Ozu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tokyo Story (A)
Early Summer (A-)

8. Howard Hawks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rio Bravo (A)
His Girl Friday (A-)
Only Angels Have Wings (B+)

7. Joel and Ethan Coen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Country for Old Men (A-)
Miller’s Crossing (A-)
O Brother, Where Art Thou (A-)
Barton Fink (A-)
Fargo (A-)
Raising Arizona (B+)
Burn After Reading (B+)
The Big Lebowski (B)

6. Francis Ford Coppola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Godfather: Part II (A)
Apocalypse Now (A)
The Godfather (A)
The Conversation (A-)
The Rainmaker (B+)

5. Sergio Leone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time in the West (A)
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (A)
For a Few Dollars More (A)
A Fistful of Dollars (A-)

4. Paul Thomas Anderson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magnolia (A)
There Will Be Blood (A-)
Boogie Nights (A-)
Hard Eight (B+)
Punch-Drunk Love (B)

3. Robert Altman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short Cuts (A)
Nashville (A)
McCabe and Mrs. Miller (A)

2. Alfred Hitchcock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vertigo (A)
Rope (A)
Rear Window (A)
Shadow of a Doubt (A-)
Psycho (A-)
The Man Who Knew Too Much (B+)
North By Northwest (B+)
The Birds (B+)
Saboteur (B+)
The 39 Steps (B+)
The Lady Vanishes (B)
Strangers on a Train (B-)
To Catch a Thief (C+)
Frenzy (C+)

1. Steven Soderbergh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traffic (A)
Che (No Grade)
Out of Sight (A)
Schizopolis (A)
The Limey (A)
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (A-)
Bubble (A-)
Erin Brockovich (B+)
Ocean’s Eleven (B+)
The Good German (B)
Ocean’s Twelve (B)
Ocean’s Thirteen (B)
Solaris (B-)

 

The End. (of cinema)

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Here is the video I took from my fourth-row seat at the Chinese Theater as Steven Soderbergh introduces his new film Che.

This is not a Soderbergh film. I’ve never considered him much of an auteur, despite considerable thematic and stylistic consistency in his work, but no film seems so far removed from his canon as this one. Yes it’s an epic, yes it’s in Spanish, yes it’s a biopic, but despite Soderbergh’s virginity in those categories, there is something much more distinct that makes Che such a remarkable piece of work. Clearly, it is the subversion of every expectation which separates this film from not only any other we have seen from the beloved revolutionary filmmaker, but also from any film in decades past.

To disclaim, however, I can make no attempt to evaluate this film in a typical manner. I won’t assign it a grade, nor while I provide any judgmental summary of my review. Such is the case both for the reason that I cannot decide (nor can Soderbergh) whether he has made two films or one, as well as for the reason that one viewing of the film seems entirely inadequate when attempting to assess, analyze, or even summarize it. Its story is so grand yet subtle, its visuals so electrifying yet confounding, and its performances so intense yet unsatisfying that I can only wonder how unique of a film Soderbergh intended to create and how much abstraction came entirely unexpectedly.

Part 1 (formerly known as Guerrilla) is the more daring, mystifying, yet intellectually and structurally engaging film of the two. In fact, just as the work as a whole is about involvement and participation, Soderbergh seems to be conducting a test on his audience, demanding not only an active viewer but one who is entirely aware of his or her own activity. Perhaps the situation will turn out to be applicable only to myself, but I cannot deny the way Part 1‘s narrative complexity mirrored its ideological complexity. To say that Soderbergh refused to make a Hollywood film would be not only a gross understatement but also an unfair simplification of what seem to be incredibly ambitious intentions.

Alternately and often simultaneously depicting Che’s address to the United Nations and his revolutionary activites in Cuba, Soderbergh provides visual distinction (as in Traffic) in a totally refreshing if initially distracting fashion. What was so fascinating to me is Soderbergh’s resistance to information. The point of a biopic, he seems to imply, is not to tell you about the events of a person’s life, or even to depict them at all. Rather extremely, he attempts to capture not even Che’s influential ideas, but the ideas which the society he inhabited surrounded him with. Less important than what incited Che’s drastic actions are the experiences that caused him to change while engaging in those actions.

I found the ideas racing through my head more stimulating than I had before with many other films. Although none of them were or are yet entirely crystallized, it is impossible to discredit the film for such complexity of vision. It is certainly not the narrative that thrusts Part 1, nor the visuals (though they truly are stunning), nor the charmingly zealous performance of Benicio Del Toro, but rather the thematic intricacies which demand further exploration.

What Soderbergh has accomplished in Part 1 can, through generalization, be considered an experiment, but what a grand and compelling experiment it became. It is an entirely new sort of filmmaking, especially within its genre, and while influence cannot yet be determined, it certainly makes the promise of further investigation by Soderbergh alone if not by many others. To call it a satisfying experience is neither accurate nor provocative, but it certainly becomes a memorable and integral piece of the puzzle which is Che as a whole.

Perhaps it is misleading to refer to the entire project as a whole film in any context, however. Part 2 proves to be such a radically different piece that its pairing with the one prior almost seems foolish. It is precisely the sort of “independent film” whose intensity Hollywood would often like to mimic. Its final act is the most nervous, tender, contemplative cinematic experience I’ve ever endured, and to call the entire film’s reflective nature Malickian would be cheap though not untrue. Che’s interaction with nature is certainly the core of the conflict, but nature, here, does not at all refer to wildlife in the way it often does in the recluse’s work.

The visual inventiveness in this film exceeds in magnificence that of any other Soderbergh work, if not any work altogether. It is a cinematographic accomplishment unparalleled by anything I can call to mind, and its enhancement of the uniquely compelling story is altogether orgasmic. Particularly in the final tragic moments, Soderbergh’s choices are felt but not seen, and the resulting intensity requires only speechlessness. The combat scenes are precisely like the work of Michael Bay, except the total opposite. They are calm, seductive, surprising, and contemplative. The violence is secondary to the nature of conflict itself, bringing ideological hostilities to the forefront.

Unlike the thematic basis for Part 1‘s structure, Part 2, while mostly episodic, is entirely tied to its story and suspense. It is a thriller unlike any film which proclaims itself a spot in that genre, and its appeal should hypothetically be mass, but that’s doubtful for obvious reasons. It is quite apparent, though, why this portion of the work has been received with greater enthusiasm. Certainly the more narratively engaging film, its ideas may be more subdued, but they can feasibly be deciphered. Still, this is ultimately the most gripping a film has been for some time, and Soderbergh’s mastery is the undoubted reason. Del Toro’s performance is also particularly good in this half, when he becomes a much more conflicted if not an entirely impenetrable character.

Che is a heroic film that demands to be seen, certainly on the biggest screen with the biggest audience, but, more importantly, with an open mind. Its experimentation is new not only in the way it is manifested but also in the manner in which it is performed. There is much more to say about the film and its achievements, and I cannot wait to not only see this again but, perhaps more importantly, discuss it with all of you!

Enchiladas!

Also, I get to write my first paper for Intro to Cinema about Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. I will post it here when it is finished. For now, here is the first paragraph. 

In Steven Soderbergh’s comedic crime film Out of Sight (1998), the ensemble of buffoonish crooks subverts the criminal stereotype. Jack Foley (George Clooney), the exception of the breed, carries on his shoulders the weight of society’s expectations of a criminal who is cunning, daring, and charming.  Through the chronologically jumbled and episodically structured trace of the character,  Soderbergh informs the creation of a new understanding of the common criminal; the exploration of two entirely distinct strains of miscreants reveals a duality not commonly recognized. 

Get excited! Lastly, Che has a distributor. Thank you, IFC.

This is the first installment in a new, totally sporadic feature of this old, totally sporadic blog. It’s called The Happiest Man In My Pants, and it will be all about things that make me The Happiest Man In My Pants. Ok, well, there’s really just one man in my pants (me), but it’s a reference to a very hilarious line from a very hilarious film, Steven Soderbergh’s Schizopolis (1996). This leads me to the topic of today’s installment of The Happiest Man In My Pants, Steven Soderbergh’s Schizopolis (1996). 

This is just a totally great and overlooked film. It begins in the following way: 

 

That’s Soderbergh (director, writer, producer, star, editor, cinematographer, composer, and stud) introducing the film. He acts in both lead roles in the film, firstly as office-worker/speech-writer Fletcher Munson and secondly as Dr. Jefrey Korchek DDS. Playing Munson’s wife is Soderbergh’s actual ex-wife, Betsy Brantley (awkward, huh?). In Act 2, we follow Korchek’s affair with Brantley’s character, Mrs. Munson/Attractive Woman #2. You follow?

So… Soderbergh has an affair with his wife, who is actually his ex-wife. 

This movie is just that awesome. Hilarity ensues. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Dr. Korchek writes/verbalizes a love letter to Attractive Woman #2 (who is also, as aforementioned, Mrs. Munson, Betty Brantley, Soderbergh’s ex-wife). Here’s a clip:

The film lacks narrative structure, but there are enough laughs and cheap thrills to satisfy any moviegoer. It has a Criterion Collection release, so please check it out. And, of course, be sure to pay full retail price, not some bargain rental or buy-2-get-1-free deal.  At the very least, look through some of the amazing quotes from this amazing film.

I have nothing to say. 

 

The following is factual.

1. Steven Soderbergh

Best film: Traffic
Worst film: Solaris
Up next: Che Guevara biopics Guerrilla and The Argentine (Soon)

2. Paul Thomas Anderson

Best film: Magnolia
Worst film: Sydney
Up next: Wish I knew

3. Joel and Ethan Coen

Best film: Fargo
Worst film: Raising Arizona
Up next: Burn After Reading (September)

 

Honorable Mentions:
David Fincher (Zodiac)
Paul Greengrass (United 93)
Werner Herzog (Rescue Dawn)
Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line)

This weekend brought many things:

1. Newfound respect for Genesis’ greatest hits
2. Studying
3. Awesomeness singularly personified in the form of Robert Downey Jr.
4. Ice cream sandwiches
167. The realization that my blog sucks
168 (Edit). The apparent conviction that adding numbered lists to my blog makes it not suck

So, I’m changing things up, completely. No more arbitrary, lazily scribed reviews of new releases (well, at least not without the accompaniment of some broader social commentary, destined to be just as meaningful ineffectual as that which it replaces).

However, I refuse to not share a few thoughts on Iron Man.

Here are, verbatim, my spontaneous thoughts as I watched the film:

1. Robert Downey Jr. is awesome.
2. Who decided that this movie needed to be relevant?
3. Who decided that making this movie relevant required a Middle Eastern setting?
4. Has Gwyneth Paltrow been in any other movies recently? I don’t remember seeing her since, well, part of her was in a box.
5. Jeff Bridges’ performance is either the greatest thing ever… or a belated celebration of April Fools’ Day. No, wait; it’s both!
6. I am Iron Man.
7. Why would anyone sit through the credits when that lame scene is already on YouTube?
8. This entertained me, which is more than I can say for Spider-Man 1 & 2.

George Clooney is a man whose role in the public eye is mostly due to his charm and wit. However, Clooney consistently delivers solid performances, making up in charisma what they may lack in range. Most moviegoers are well aware of his talent as an actor, but I’ve been generally unimpressed by most of his work in that field. He’s undoubtedly fun to watch, and that works perfectly for his near Oscar-worthy turn in Ocean’s Eleven. In case you couldn’t tell by the apparent paradox I just presented, I’m completely mixed on him as an actor. That said, I respect him more than most men in Hollywood, almost entirely because he always chooses interesting roles and displays an unparalleled understanding and knowledge of cinema.

Leatherheads is his third directorial effort, a follow-up to his superb Good Night, and Good Luck. Much like that film, it exhibits love for a period in American history as well as for a certain style of film, screwball comedy in this case. It tells the tale of the legitimization of professional football in the mid-1920s, with Clooney playing Dodge Connelly, a reasonably talented player who seems to really believe in the game, or at least its potential for financial success. Renée Zellweger, in a turn as morally ambiguous reporter Lexie Littleton, again puts on a funny voice and just barely makes her character work with a quick tongue. Lastly, John Krasinski, finally taking a promising role, is young superstar Carter Rutherford, lured my Connelly to play for the defunct Duluth Bulldogs.

The weakest links are the supporting players, screenwriters, and editor. Jonathan Pryce as Rutherford’s agent falls flat, and the script, penned by two sportscasters, is somewhat of a structural mess. The editing, by the usually reliable Stephen Mirrione, doesn’t help matters, alternatively relying both too much and too little on the brilliant score by Randy Newman. Still, these remain minor problems until the third act, when the plot really kicks in and the film comes to a screeching halt.

What makes the film worth seeing is the swift dialogue, charm of the leads, and refreshing take on classic history and cinema. Clooney again displays an assured hand as a director, and though he can’t quite make the chemistry between himself and Zellweger work, all three leads are charming enough to sell their verbal banter. It’s a good-looking, good-sounding, good-feeling film that boldly relies on subtle comedy to sustain the audience. As much as I enjoy the raunchy, explicit gags of Judd Apatow, what I have really been longing for is a throwback to the quick-moving comedies of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. At that, this film delivers. B-

So maybe I’m a little late, but I’d rather be safe than sorry in terms of seeing every possible contender for my best of the year list. Without disingenuous introduction, here are the finest achievements in cinema in 2007:

10. Once – Without question far removed from the other films on this list, it may actually be the most perfect entry of the year. Humbly but beautifully told, it’s a modern musical-romance that refuses to adopt the standard devices of the genre while featuring songs that are memorable largely because of the emotional charge behind them.

9. American Gangster – While most consider this a ‘solid’ gangster film (like many of the past 15 years), I find it not receiving the credit it deserves in terms of its relevance and humanity. No it doesn’t say as much as it could have, but it’s a film that knows the ground it covers but refuses to stay put there.

8. Eastern Promises – David Cronenberg is by no means a versatile director, but he certainly knows his own limitations and specialties. Though his hand in the work is evident, it is the nuanced performances of Naomi Watts and Viggo Mortensen and the moody score that make this a film to remember.

7. Sunshine – Danny Boyle has long been overlooked as a filmmaker, perhaps because his style is considered ‘simpler’ than some of today’s more daring storytellers, but this is a visual feast and a captivating entry into the new generation of sci-fi greats.

6. Rescue Dawn – German legend Werner Herzog directs Christian Bale to the year’s second best performance as prisoner of war Deiter Degler. Defying the existence of the “vs.” often placed between man and nature, Herzog crafts the most mesmerizing Vietnam tale, buddy story, and escape thriller in years.

5. The Bourne Ultimatum – Virtuoso Paul Greengrass knows how to direct action better than anyone working today (Michael Bay, take notes). In a completely satisfying conclusion to the best trilogy in decades, Damon never takes himself too seriously, and the film hosts some of the best sequences of the year (Waterloo & Tangier).

4. Juno – Speaking of the year’s best performances, Ellen Page is the best 2007 had to offer as she both comes alive and falls apart on screen. Screenwriter Diablo Cody’s wit and director Jason Reitman’s style provide radiating backlight to the complex, enormously moving journey of young Juno.

3. No Country for Old Men – Though the writing mostly belongs to Cormac McCarthy, the Coen Brothers’ finesse as directors and editors is indisputable. It’s a film that’s visual noise is augmented by prolonged periods of silence, and the chilling killer Anton Chigurh is the subtle mouthpiece for the story’s thematic artistry.

2. Zodiac – This film is a huge step up for director David Fincher after the forgettable thrillers that followed Se7en and Fight Club. His visual style is once again dazzling, the suspense unflinching, and the performances pitch-perfect (if not exactly revolutionary). It’s his first epic tackling, and he handles the unsolved murders with curious assuredness. And by golly if it’s not the most groundbreaking of the year, it certainly is my favorite, and the only film I’ve revisited multiple times (six, in fact).

1. There Will Be Blood – There is so little to say about this film that can aptly describe or praise it. This is the best achievement of the year not for Daniel Day Lewis’ performance (though he’s great), nor for Jonny Greenwood’s hypnotic score (though it’s great), but because Paul Thomas Anderson is on a whole different wavelength from any other filmmaker, and, like it or not, he’s facing infinite years of imitations. Whether or not he borrows from past auteurs is irrelevant at this point, since the entire work is covered with a layer of bold originality and contempt for the ‘average’. It’s a film whose power and influence can only be determined decades into the future, but, as of now, I feel completely comfortable saying it will follow a path much similar to Citizen Kane than to, say, 95% of Best Picture winners. No other film this year has had such a profound effect on the way I view the world, and, whether for better or worse, I’m still having nightmares about oil fires and bowling alleys.

I’m finished.