Dec 29, 2011

OFCS Final Ballot Submission (& Winners)

In theory, I could plow through my remaining blind spots amongst these nominees between today and tomorrow, which would involve three back-to-back screeners, a purchased DVD and a bus trip to NYC, where the much-lauded A Separation opens tomorrow.

In reality, I'm going to stay home and enjoy myself at a leisurely pace so that I might be able to tax my body to unreasonable levels this New Year's weekend. Much as I kick myself for my blind spots, more often than not of late I tend to fall back on the thought that very few of my fellows have managed seen everything, too, and how many of them made a point to see In the Family? Exactly.

Nominees are listed below, my selections in bold italics, blind spots notated with asterisks. Bring on 2012.

UPDATE: January 2nd, 2012. Winners notated with ^.

Best Picture
    The Artist
    The Descendants
    ^The Tree of Life

Best Animated Feature
    The Adventures of Tintin
    Arthur Christmas
    Kung Fu Panda 2
    Winnie the Pooh

Best Director
    Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
    ^Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
    Nicolas Winding Refn - Drive
    Martin Scorsese - Hugo
    Lars von Trier - Melancholia

Best Actor
    George Clooney - The Descendants
    Jean Dujardin - The Artist
    ^Michael Fassbender - Shame
    Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    Michael Shannon - Take Shelter

Best Actress
    Kirsten Dunst - Melancholia
    Elizabeth Olsen - Martha Marcy May Marlene
    *Meryl Streep - The Iron Lady
    ^Tilda Swinton - We Need to Talk About Kevin
    Michelle Williams - My Week with Marilyn

Best Supporting Actor
    Albert Brooks - Drive
    John Hawkes - Martha Marcy May Marlene
    Nick Nolte - Warrior
    Brad Pitt - The Tree of Life
    ^Christopher Plummer - Beginners

Best Supporting Actress
    ^Jessica Chastain - The Tree of Life
    Melissa McCarthy - Bridesmaids
    *Janet McTeer - Albert Nobbs
    Carey Mulligan - Shame
    Shailene Woodley - The Descendants

Best Original Screenplay
    Martha Marcy May Marlene
    ^Midnight in Paris
    *A Separation
    The Tree of Life
    Win Win

Best Adapted Screenplay
    The Descendants
    ^Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Editing
    Martha Marcy May Marlene
    Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
    ^The Tree of Life
    We Need to Talk About Kevin

Best Cinematography
    The Artist
    ^The Tree of Life

Best Film Not in the English Language
    13 Assassins
    Certified Copy
    ^*A Separation
    The Skin I Live In
    Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Best Documentary
    ^Cave of Forgotten Dreams
    The Interrupters
    *Into the Abyss
    Project Nim

Dec 24, 2011

OFCS Nominations Ballot & Top 10 of 2011 (Round One)

Going to keep this as brief as possible. I'd prefer to refrain from publishing any kind of year-end list until I'd seen enough movies to be satisfied that I'd taken in all the essentials. Unfortunately, given time, money, a GPS that dropped me off forty blocks away from my intended destination, and other circumstances, I've been unable to see the new film by Roman Polanski (Carnage), or David Cronenberg (A Dangerous Method), or the live-action half of Mr. Spielberg's Christmastime double header (War Horse), or several dozen others, and so, barring repeatedly devastating disappointments (given the at least 30 major blind spots I intend on seeing, this list could theoretically be replaced in its entirety), expect these titles to spread out a bit more in time.

Alas, we're within 19 hours of the Online Film Critics Society requiring my preliminary votes on this year's releases most deserving of recognition, so I may as well share some indication of my personal high points before the next election year gets underway. As with any good or great year at the movies, I could easily provide a top 30 and beyond, so impressive was the selection from the smallest of art house gems to the surprising intelligence lurking beneath several of Hollywood's tentpole attractions. A trend of the retro/nostalgic kind emerged, marked by the nods to cinema past provided courtesy of Hugo, The Artist, and Super 8, but more impressive was the sense that this year's great filmmakers were almost exclusively about reaching for the impossible, some of them having the audacity to find it along the way. In the canals of my mind - which have proven labyrinthine enough to continuously surprise myself, which is how I hope it always remains - such artistic growth and creative self-consciousness sees Terrence Malick and Michael Bay in the same room, I shit you not. And to think of how many discoveries yet await my hungry eyes.

Top 10, plus honorable mentions.

1. Certified Copy - An Everest-sized work of art from a long-standing master - as perfectly conceived, richly drawn and ravishingly enigmatic as any movie yet made. Ever. (Also, a great date movie.) If you don't think so, I have to wonder what exactly it is that you like about movies in the first place. Just sayin'.

2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives - Catfish cunnilingus and relatives reincarnated as glowing-eyed simians. "Well son, I hope you learned your lesson!" You had to be there, folks. But you should still watch this movie. And if you're a current Netflix subscriber, there's no excuse but poor taste. Hypnotic, mysterious, life-affirming, and somewhere between comfortably numb and seriously chill.

3. In the Family - I missed out on the nearly-as-impossible-to-see Margaret, but this sprawling indie masterpiece came along out of the blue at the exactly right time in my life to reconfirm my belief in a greater, guiding force. Call it God if you want. This, director Patrick Wang's directorial debut, is so wrenching an account of the human experience that I'm sure it's already in His personal collection.

4. Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen's enjoying life again, and the result is his most darling and deceptively rich film in years, if not decades. Seeing this with virgin eyes, completely unaware of any plot particulars before they unfolded in context, is among the greatest experiences I've had at the movies. Go in blind, and be gobsmacked into bliss.

5. The Tree of Life - Once again dividing the adventurists from the chickenshits, Terrence Malick's latest act of trailblazing audacity is sometimes less than perfect, but always more than the sum of its parts. He doesn't merely climb mountains: he builds them. Time and life experience will likely only prove this to be a greater film than I already consider it.

6. Beginners - I saw both this and my above #5 for the first time on the same day, back-to-back. I was doubtful at first: Movies this good don't happen so close together, do they? I couldn't be so lucky, could I? Yes, they do, and yes, I can. See it, and you'll feel more complete. (On a personal note, this and The Descendants, which I liked very much, have formed some kind of parent/child/mortal illness double feature in my mind for collectively paralleling my life in 2011 with an astonishing 90+% accuracy. The ways of the universe are mysterious indeed. I love you, Mom.)

7. Nostalgia for the Light - The documentary of the year connects the microcosmic with the cosmic, examining our roots in the sky and our remains in the ground underneath the most transparent window to the heavens on our planet. Spine-tingling stuff.

8. Take Shelter - If you have to be crazy to know that something terrible's a brewin' in these troubled times, then sanity is most definitely overrated, but perhaps it is the sanest among us who are also the ones who most stand out. As a prophetic man who hopes to protect his family from the coming storm, Michael Shannon deserves a long-overdue Oscar. He won't get it. He's too good for the gold.

9. Shame - The highest of the peaks in the year of Michael Fassbender, this rhythmic, fiercely clinical character study might be the best film about sex since Eyes Wide Shut. A meaningless NC-17 rating overlooks what is obvious to anyone who understands the nature of addiction: that this body, clearly assembled by a technician very close to God, goes beyond providing mere erotic displays and reveals the soul of an empowered junkie on the brink of soullessness. It hurts, so good.

10. Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Learning from his past missteps and thusly executing his latest with newfound poise, poetry and assurance, Michael Bay's second sequel about giant fighting robots (mother of invention, folks) rises above its junk food roots to claim the mount of the $200 million art house action movie, a mix of pop euphoria and uncompromising anti-political discourse. The answer lies somewhere between John Malkovich's head and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's lower extremities. (As per Douglas Adams, what's the question?) A thousand tin cans from Marvel studios kneel before Bay's devastating war machine.

Honorable Mentions: Attack the Block, Hugo, Source Code, Jane Eyre, Putty Hill, The Skin I Live In, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Meek's Cutoff, Le Havre, Cave of Forgotten Dreams

And some more good, even great films I can't justify not giving a mention: The Interrupters, Silent Souls, Warrior, Drive, 13 Assassins, Hobo With a Shotgun, The Descendants, Kinyarwanda, Moneyball, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Melancholia, Rio, Black Death, J. Edgar, Fright Night, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Happy Feet Two, Bad Teacher, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rebirth, 50/50, The Eagle, The Strange Case of Angelica, American: The Bill Hicks Story, Bridesmaids, The Three Musketeers, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Arthur Christmas, Trigun: Badlands Rumble, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Horrible Bosses, Winnie the Pooh, Final Destination 5, Contagion, The Whale, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, Of Gods and Men, Sucker Punch

Academy of the overrated: The Artist, The Help, Super 8, Project Nim, The Ides of March

Worst of the Year: Atlas Shrugged, Part I, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Cowboys & Aliens, 13, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, Thor, Cars 2, Jack and Jill, What on Earth?, Shark Night

And some additional recognitions and superlatives:

Best director: Abbas Kiarostami, Certified Copy
Best lead actor: Michael Shannon, Take Shelter
Best lead actress: Juliette Binoche, Certified Copy
Best supporting actor: Christoper Plummer, Beginners
Best supporting actress: Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life
Best original screenplay: Certified Copy
Best adapted screenplay: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Best editing: Beginners
Best cinematography: Certified Copy
Best animated film: Happy Feet Two
Best opening credits: TIE, Final Destination 5 and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Best end credits: "99 Problems," Fright Night
Best semi-random line of dialogue: "CAT?!!," The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Best use of 3D: TIE, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Hugo
Best superstar fuck you: Cameron Diaz, Bad Teacher
Best speech: TIE, Patrick Wang in In the Family and Rutger Hauer in Hobo With a Shotgun
Best reboot/sequel/prequel nobody expected to be remotely worthwhile: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Best pure id projection: TIE, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Sucker Punch
Best weepy guy movie: Warrior
Best documentary that cameos somebody I'm happy I'll be outliving: Rebirth
Best opening/closing shot bookends: The Descendants
Best prologue: Melancholia
Best canine: Cosmo, from Beginners
Best slow-motion action climax: Attack the Block
Best vampire: Jerry, as played by Colin Farrell in Fright Night
Best short movie dispersed throughout a feature length one: Rubber
Best short movie within a feature: The prologue to Melancholia
Best musical number: "Smells Like Teen Spirit," as performed in The Muppets
Best title: TIE, Cowboys & Aliens and Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Best unreleased film: Bagel'd

Nov 23, 2011

In the Family

Writer/director/actor Patrick Wang's background in theater and dramaturgy is on high display in his debut feature, In the Family, an acutely felt, altogether devastating family drama as intimate and affecting as it is sprawling and untamed. Nearly three hours in length, the film is characterized by carefully blocked, deeply focused scenes that unfold naturally, if perhaps uncomfortably, beholden only to life's often overlapping, conflicting, and overwhelming emotions.

Oct 25, 2011

The 25 Best Horror Films of the Aughts

If you haven't peeked at it already, now is a good time to head over to Slant for our recently published list of the last decade's scariest, or best, horror films. I voted for the list based on the former quality, although there would be only minor changes had I shifted my qualitative focus to the latter. I managed to hold on to a few blind spots on the final roster, and of course there are a few I'm sad to not see represented (see below). That said, it's still an admirable collection to these eyes (the only perfect lists are our own), not just because I like about 90% of what's on it, but more essentially because it makes me ask questions.

A good example would be that I didn't at all experience #20 as a horror film, but I've now been sufficiently convinced that I probably could. It also helps that I voted for another of that director's films, and really chewing on the matter, I sorta doubt he could ever make a film that was entirely without horror aspects. His latest will serve as a test that theory. (I'm talking, of course, about David Cronenberg.) Then there are some other great flicks that I would have liked to have seen considered, such as Red Eye and especially There Will Be Blood, which strikes a certain Gothic chord not unlike Dryer's Vampyr. But I'm rambling. It's a good list. Click the linked picture above.

My write-ups come in at numbers 19, 15 and 6, and on the point of the last one, I'm fully prepared to dig my heels in and fight to the death on its excellence. You shouldn't be surprised to know it came in at my top spot. Here's my top ten.

1. Halloween II (2009, Rob Zombie)
2. War of the Worlds (2005, Steven Spielberg)
3. Inland Empire (2006, David Lynch)
4. American Psycho (2000, Mary Harron)
5. Wolf Creek (2004, Greg McLean)
6. 28 Weeks Later (2007, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo)
7. Audition (1999/2000, Takashi Miike)
8. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2009, Tom Six)
9. Pulse (2001, Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
10. 28 Days Later… (2002, Danny Boyle)

Oct 1, 2011

Attack of the B Movie!

The Thing from Another World
Here we are again. Four Octobers ago, I bit off far more than I realized needed chewing when I decided to dedicate the month to reviewing one zombie movie per day, and I'm still not quite sure how I pulled it off. This year, I've finally gotten my act together enough to attempt something similar for the Halloween season, and this time, I've done a bit more in the way of prep work before the month actually began. Here goes... something.

Since a youth largely obsessed with anything and everything aired on the Sci-Fi Channel (as it ought to still be spelled), the 1950s have been a favorite period of mine for the genre, and it is my hope to gain an even deeper appreciation for it over the next 31 days. Already I've discovered several treasures I'd never before even heard of (expect much love for Richard and Alex Gordon along the way), and had a change of heart for one movie that struck me as impossibly lame when I first watched it. With any luck, this will help win over some new fans of these frequently overlooked works, which, even at their most unpolished and MST3K worthy, strike me as a kind of beautiful art.

I realize the title of this marathon is a misnomer, as many of these movies had rather substantial budgets and don't quite fit into the B movie category. Too bad. I liked the title enough to stick with it, and hey, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms comes from the ice of the Arctic, not the ocean, so if you're going to split hairs, have at it. If you want the best resource on this topic, look no further than Bill Warren's exhaustively researched book "Keep Watching the Skies!" My efforts will be considerably less comprehensive, but I expect they'll be a blast all the same.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
I Married a Monster from Outer Space
The War of the Worlds
Bride of the MonsterPlan 9 from Outer SpaceNight of the Ghouls
The Blob
Teenagers from Outer Space
The Manster
When Worlds Collide
GodzillaGodzilla Raids AgainGodzilla, King of the Monsters!
Forbidden Planet
The Atomic Submarine
The Thing from Another World
Fiend Without a Face
Creature from the Black Lagoon
The Day the Earth Stood Still
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
20 Million Miles to Earth
The FlyTarantula, The Wasp Woman
Invaders from Mars
The Monolith Monsters
Attack of the Giant Leeches, Attack of the Crab Monsters
Supernova B Movie Explosion
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Red Planet Mars
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
This Island Earth
It Came from Outer SpaceIt Came from Beneath the SeaIt! The Terror from Beyond Space
Robot Monster

Day 1: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
Day 2: I Married a Monster from Outer Space
Day 3: Them!
Day 4: The War of the Worlds
Day 5: Plan 9 from Outer Space / Bride of the Monster / Night of the Ghouls
Day 6: The Blob
Day 7: Teenagers from Outer Space
Day 8: The Manster
Day 9: When Worlds Collide
Day 10: Gojira / Godzilla Raids Again / Godzilla, King of the Monsters! 
Day 11: Forbidden Planet
Day 12: The Atomic Submarine
Day 13: The Thing from Another World
Day 14: Fiend Without a Face
Day 15: Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us
Day 16: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Day 17: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Day 18: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman
Day 19: 20 Million Miles to Earth
Day 20: The Fly / Tarantula, The Wasp Woman 
Day 21: Invaders from Mars
Day 22: The Monolith Monsters 
Day 23 & 24: Attack of the Giant Leeches, Attack of the Crab Monsters
Day 25 (Supernova B Movie Explosion): Gog, The Beast of Hollow Mountain, Rodan, The Amazing Colossal Man, War of the Colossal Beast, The Brain Eaters, The Alligator People, The Giant Behemoth, The Giant Gila Monster, The Killer Shrews
Day 26: The Incredible Shrinking Man 
Day 27: Red Planet Mars
Day 28: Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Day 29: This Island Earth
Day 30: It Came from Outer Space / It Came from Beneath the Sea / It! The Terror from Beyond Space
*Day 31: Robot Monster

And now that we're done with all of that...superlatives! But first, the question of legacy. The genre of 1950s monster movies (and all sci-fi/horror and the like) is by no means bound by the years of 1950 through 1959. These five are among those that carry on the torch, and all but one gets the official P'Booth stamp of excellence (Mars Attacks! gets the benefit of the doubt for now on account of my having not seen it in a decade).

In some attempt at order of quality, i.e. my opinion.

1. Mission to Mars

2. Gremlins 2: The New Batch

3. Tremors

4. Killer Klowns from Outer Space

5. Mars Attacks!

The there's the question of remakes, something on which I have strong opinions. Here's the deal: plenty of remakes are terrible, but that's no reason to refuse acknowledgement of the fact that plenty of them are good, even great. In fact, you probably like a lot of remakes without knowing it. The Frankenstein most everyone knows is in fact the third filming of that story. And The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland was by no means the first. This genre has afforded plenty, some of which are superior to their predecessors. (On the basis of it not being a "formal" remake, I've disincluded Alien from this roster, but the real reason is because I refuse to choose a favorite between Ridley Scott's film and John Carpenter's of a very similar nature, in both quality and ass-kicking quality.) There are other worthwhile remakes amongst these (for example, there remains something to be said on the casting choice of Keanu Reeves as an alien), but these are the top contenders.

1. The Fly (1986)

2. The Thing (1982)

3. War of the Worlds (2005)

4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and Body Snatchers (1993)
[Embedding conveniently disabled on both]

5. The Blob (1988)

And now, the superlatives.

Best title shot: The Thing from Another World

Best opening credits/theme song: The Blob

Best eventual use in a music video: Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Best robot: Gort

Best monster: The Blob

Best robot monster & best line of dialogue: Ro-Man, self-explanatory

Best monster in a terrible movie: The Ymir, 20 Million Miles to Earth

Best monster in an okay movie: The Gill-Man, Creature from the Black Lagoon

Best opening shot & scariest alien: It Came from Outer Space

Best opening monologue: Plan 9 from Outer Space

Best monster that's actually real: The giant squid, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, at about the 1:00 mark.

Best animal & best death: The Rhedosaurus enjoys a snack, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

Best mineral: The Monolith Monsters

Best vegetable: The Thing

Best monster you don't actually see: The id monster, Forbidden Planet

Most Kubrickian scene: It! The Terror From Beyond Space. This clip is nowhere to be found. Just rent the sucker on iTunes. It's a dollar.

Most Lynchian scene & best musical score: The Atomic Submarine

Best resultant episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000: War of the Colossal Beast

Best movie poster & least convincing monsters: The Killer Shrews; best movie I didn't have time to review: First Man Into Space
The Killer ShrewsFirst Man Into Space

And finally, a top ten, which may or may not include only ten titles, and may or may not correlate with star ratings, for what it's worth.

1. The Day the Earth Stood Still
2. Robot Monster
3. The Atomic Submarine (plus Fiend Without a Face and First Man Into Space, by the transitive property of the brothers Gordon)
4. Godzilla
5. It Came from Outer Space
6. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
7. Forbidden Planet
8. The Blob
9. The Monolith Monsters
10. Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and Plan 9 from Outer Space (c'mon, they're two sides of the same coin)

That's all, folks!

*Okay, yes, I didn't write something up on this one for this month, and instead subbed an old capsule review. If you knew what my month consisted of besides this self-induced marathon (much as I enjoyed, how did I ever find the time), particularly this past week and today specifically, you'd be happy I took a break, too. The next time I write about this movie, I want to write the Bible on it, and I just don't have it in me now. Good night. Good luck. The end.