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I have nothing to say. 

 

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As a motivated but ultimately unambitious high school student, I have spent many years devising ways to make myself sound more intelligent than I actually am. One such way involves combining seemingly unrelated and perhaps paradoxical words into a powerfully descriptive packet of knowledge and wisdom.

 

For example, the reasonably familiar phrase “bold assertion” is adequately effective, but I much prefer “assertively bold” as a nearly synonymous replacement.  I suppose much of what I’m speaking of is not so much irregular combinations of words but rather simple transformations and inversions.  All I did in the above case was switch the order and appropriately make assertion an adverb. It sounds better, right?

 

I always expect one of my teachers/readers/graders/peers to see through my superficiality and discover the carefully masked clichés in my writing. Fortunately (pathetically?), this has not yet happened, and I have successfully, thoughtlessly produced several pieces that would have otherwise been mediocre. 

 

In fact, there is one I used a while back on this very blog that has really stuck with me. I used the phrase “thematic artistry” when referring to Joel and Ethan Coen’s agendas in No Country for Old Men.  I could have just said themes, which would have resulted in an equally uninspired but perhaps less impressive analysis.  Did I fool you? Probably not, but hopefully you’re at least intrigued by what a banana steak looks/tastes like.

 

Note: ‘Cupcakes’ rhymes with ‘Steaks’. Mmmmmm…cupcakes.

Which one of these is not like the others??

 

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)

…thanks to these…

One day I will feature these songs in a movie. Why?

‘Cause I love the ’80s!

What’s that you say, birth certificate? I never experienced the ’80s? Ha! With nothing but Men at Work, Starship, and Genesis currently on my playlist, I submit that I AM the ’80s!

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.

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+