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Category Archives: Reviews

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)

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!

Have you noticed this?

Uncanny!

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. 

 

Which one of these is not like the others??

 

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-

I wish I could start my review in the same way Paul Thomas Anderson starts his latest film – with no sound but a haunting, silent film-style score. I’d like to give everyone just about twenty minutes to listen to the music and picture the most triumphant moment imaginable. Due to the limitations of the textual medium, this is not a possibility, so I’ll just continue on my way rehashing ideas and reflections legitimate critics have had weeks to discuss.

There Will Be Blood is neither a step forward, nor backwards, nor sideways for Anderson. Rather, it is a bold, daring step into utter darkness, and, as it turns out, he has a completely solid ground to land upon – visual mastery, structural complexity, and a deep admiration for characters (not necessarily his own, but moreso the collective entity).

There is something incomparably thrilling about the intensity of the physical and personal destruction he displays on screen (certainly in his past works, but particularly in this, his latest). In addition to this simple charge, there is a new power Anderson has displayed – that to disturb. Never before has a film jolted me with so much energy to demand some sort of movement or physical activity. This, the result of so much evil portrayed on screen, is partially what makes There Will Be Blood so memorable as well as so difficult to watch.

If this performance (despite its’ detractors) is not Daniel Day-Lewis’ peak, whatever comes next may go down as the greatest of all time. It is more than just emotional authenticity he exhibits, it’s the passion and exuberance of him as an actor that enlivens the attitude of the character, greedy oilman Daniel Plainview. Almost up to par is Paul Dano as young preacher Eli Sunday, who leaves a little too little ambiguity in the true nature of his character but is still perfectly, timidly intense.

To rattle off the list of everything that makes this film such an incredible achievement would be boring and redundant, but Jonny Greenwood’s elegiac score, the lush, eye-popping cinematography, and a few scenes and lines to go down for the ages cannot go unmentioned. There! I just listed them without further comment and you didn’t even see it coming!

More interesting would be a discussion of the controversial final act, which, like much of this year’s great films’ endings, makes the film. Most criticism I have heard questions why Anderson needs to show us where these characters end up, an answer purposefully left out of most films. It’s not just to be different, though that may partially be the case, but it’s simply because that’s the way the story ends. Without a confrontation between the film’s two opposing forces, there is no conclusion whatsoever, and to claim that the blood-battle could have happened decades earlier would be to suggest that Anderson should have abandoned integrity for convolution and falseness.

Though it is too soon to call this one of the greatest of all time (and I’m by no means suggesting that it is), it is not unreasonable to predict a Citizen Kane-style Best Picture snub that may only enhance the film’s longevity (given the merit of recent Best Picture winners). It’s a film that cannot yet full be appreciated or understood, and it is destined to spark hours of discussion even decades down the road. A

I vividly remember seeing early publicity for what looked like a refreshing new entry into the seemingly forgotten monster movie genre. The trailer promised a cast of unknowns (to me, at least), a distinct visual style, and an attempt at off-season relief. The film was The Host, and I was ready to be wowed. Though not well versed in the realm of creature cinema, I’m always ready for an adrenaline-pumping sci-fi thriller, as long as it’s far from 1998’s Godzilla. What The Host delivered was overly clever dialogue, a laughable monster, and a never-ending merry-go-round devoid of suspense. Months later, from the dark, smoky, forgettable cloud that was Transformers emerged juggernaut J.J. Abrams with the then untitled, roller-coaster-like disaster flick that was everything I had hoped for in South Korea’s take. Cloverfield is precisely the sort of midwinter monster fun I needed after a season of intense dramas and awards hype.

Before expanding on my preface, it’s important to mention the self-inflicted obstacles the film must overcome in its opening act. A phony baloney love story between Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and Beth (Odette Yustman) is inevitably rendered insignificant by the time the monster shows up, so the reasons for imposing it upon the plot are unclear and undoubtedly inane. When, later on, we’re asked to pause and reflect on Rob’s triumphant journey across town to rescue his lover, it’s a distraction that is easily forgivable but not immediately forgotten. Just moments later, amidst the final chaotic blurbs of monster-ridden havoc, a close-up of the creature nearly ruins the way previous images had allowed imaginations to wonder precisely how the beast functions.

That said, the monster is a huge improvement on attempts of the past, and the Jaws-style patience in revealing its precise form proves crucial to the suspense. Where director Matt Reeves fails in character development he more than redeems himself with intensity and joie de vivre. While the attempts at humor are mostly left in the hands of cameraman Hud (the delightful T.J. Miller), they are nearly all stimulatingly chuckle-worthy.

As far as the conceptual decisions surely originating from producer Abrams’ reliable noggin, the cinema verité style is decisively consistent and admirably so. It is by no means nauseating, and it prevents any sort of rift from the eventually endearing characters. The cast is almost wholly impressive, and even the pre-attack party goers are subdued in their gyrations. Stahl-David and Miller are stand-outs, though the latter performer may not have the multi-dimensional promise of the lead.

Overall, Cloverfield is an impressively cool January experience and a great way to start 2008, unless, of course, you still need to catch up with There Will Be Blood or The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. B+