Friday, March 30, 2012


The Motion Picture Association of America or the MPAA is no stranger to controversy. This past few weeks, it became embroiled in another controversy with their rating of the documentary Bully which the producers and distributors hoped would be a PG-13. But instead it was slapped with an R because of six instances of strong profanity (the F-word). The makers had hoped to have the film screened for students and the R-rating would have been prohibitive for some of them. In response, Harvey Weinstein rejected the R-rating and decided to release the film unrated. 

This is just the latest in the long line of controversies that have plagued the MPAA. When it was first formed in the late 1960's, it was a blessing because it abolished the need for a production code and censorship. It was self-governing body that rates and classifies films according to age appropriateness as a guide for parents. While I do agree that there needs to be some sort of classification system for films and the system worked for a while, the MPAA has since devolved into borderline censorship, a stubborn stickler for outdated rules and committing galling and obvious double-standards. 

According to the film This Film Is Not Yet Rated (highly recommended), a documentary film exposing the bureaucracy and the corrupt system of the MPAA, the aforementioned double-standards include being far more lenient towards violence than they are towards sexuality, nudity and language and more lenient towards studio films than towards independent films. A very violent studio picture (like say a James Bond movie) can get a PG-13 as long as little to no blood is seen while an independent drama with just a little too much F-words is automatically an R. It's also easier for a bloody and gory horror film like say Hostel to get an R-rating than for a racy, daring, sexually charged picture like say Shame which got an NC-17. I find it very hilarious that The King's Speech, a film that was rated R solely because of language has the same rating as Hostel II, a film where a woman graphically cuts off a man's penis and feeds it to the dogs. That's just a few examples. There are many, many more I can cite here. 

Also another problem is the NC-17 rating. The rating calls for no children below 17 is allowed to see the film. Technically speaking, I have nothing against this rating. There are films out there that most minors should not be allowed to see because of its themes or content and I think filmmakers should have the freedom to tackle any subject matter they wish. However, the main problem of this is that a lot of movie theaters refuse to play NC-17-rated movies in their cinemas and network TV bans advertising of NC-17 rated movies on their broadcasts so the rating gravely limits the amount of audience the film can reach which is already limited enough by its rating as it is. So NC-17 is tantamount to censorship. Victims of these are of course independent films which often have limited budgets and are forced to either edit their films or make do with lower profits.

Hopefully, this latest controversy will reform and revamp the MPAA. Perhaps change its ratings systems or adjust their guidelines to keep up with changing times. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Listology # 11: Top 10 Films of 1999

10. The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami)
After I finished watching this film, I thought to myself, this is probably what a filmed poem looks like. The title is from a line of a poem so I guess it's only appropriate. The film is about a group of journalists who try to document a small village's ceremony anticipating the death of an old woman who still continues to live. Like the previous film of Kiarostami's which I've placed in my Top 10, this film though technically about death is positively life-affirming.

9. Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay)
This is the film which introduced the film world to the major filmmaking talents of writer-director Lynne Ramsay. A beautiful but bleak film about a young boy in a low-class housing project in Scotland who tries to keep it together as he watches his family, friends and loved ones struggle. 

8. Three Kings (David O. Russell)
This could have been a tonal and thematic mess. But it's amazing that it wasn't. This film combines satirical dark comedy, action-adventure and war drama and blends them all quite naturally together. The film is about three American soldiers near the end of the first Gulf War who decide to steal some gold belonging to Saddam Hussein. The film is endlessly watchable, alternately thrilling, thought-provoking and really funny.

7. Topsy Turvy (Mike Leigh)
I know next to nothing of Gilbert and Sullivan when I first saw this film but I found myself actually fascinated and enraptured by it all just the same. This is director Mike Leigh's film about Gilbert and Sullivan conceiving and creating one of their most famous works, The Mikado. Make no mistake, this film is quite a joy to watch and you need not be a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan to like it.

6. The Talented Mr. Ripley (Anthony Minghella)
Anthony Mingella may have won the Best Director Oscar for The English Patient but this is the film which I thrilled me more. Tom Ripley is a ne'er-do-well-ish young man who is given the task to bring home a spoiled son of a ship-builder who mistakenly thought he was a friend of his son's. He goes to Italy and things get complicated to say the least. This is wonderfully creepy and thrilling piece of film. This is the film that probably sealed Matt Damon's as one of his generation's finest actors.

5. Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze)

This is probably one of the more bizarre, wacky and very original mainstream films you would ever see. How it got made is amazing. It's about puppeteer who works in the 7 1/2 floor of a building who discovers a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich. The film defies explanation. It must be seen to be believed.

4. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick)
This was the great Stanley Kubrick's final film. Many critics have given it a mixed review. Some detractors have accused critics who praised it as blind allegiance to Kubrick. However, years has passed and this film has aged like fine wine. I personally thought it was a great film when I first walked out of the theater and now after seeing it again relatively recently, it's still a great film. It features then husband-and-wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman who both give some of their best acting work in this film. 

3. All About My Mother (Pedro Almodovar)
After her son dies in a car accident while chasing after his favorite actress for an autograph, a woman goes on a journey to meet his biological father, transvestite and along the way she befriends a motley crew of women including a pregnant and a transsexual prostitute. This film is the first in writer-director Pedro Almodovar's Golden Age where he kept on making one really great film after another. This film also shot Penelope Cruz to international stardom.

2. Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter)
This was originally conceived as a direct-to-video sequel but early footage was so good, Disney very wisely decided to make it into a theatrical release. It is just as good, if not better, than the 1995 original which is no mean feat. It has the PIXAR formula of visual delights, laughs, emotional heft all wrapped up in a great story. What more can you ask for in a movie?

1. The Sixth Sense (M. Night Shyamalan)
The top 3 films on this list are a virtual tie so they're practically interchangeable, just an FYI. But I digress. Did you know M. Night Shyamalan used to make really great films? Yes, he did. This is one of them. Even if you already know the famous twist, this film still has a lot to offer. Great performances by Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette and even Bruce Willis, the atmospheric cinematography, the beautiful score, etc. A film which makes you scream in one moment and touch your heart the next. This film actually makes me angrier at M. Night Shyamalan because I know that douchebag has talent. Oh, well. It's a testament to how great this film is that despite making a bunch of turkeys, people are still giving him money to make films.

Runners-Up: Election (Alexander Payne); The Iron Giant (Brad Bird); Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson); South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Trey Parker); The End of the Affair (Neil Jordan).

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (3/18/12 - 3/24/12)

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki) **** - This one is in serious competition with Spirited Away as my favorite Studio Ghibli film or even my favorite anime film. Hell, it's already zoomed in my top ten favorite animated films of all time. A princess from a post-apocalyptic world where a huge portion of the world is toxic and unlivable must stop an impending war between two huge cities. It's got pro-environment and anti-war messages all through out but doesn't hit you over the head with it. Instead you get a visually sumptuous, rousing and exciting science fiction adventure film. This is the kind of film I'd be watching again and again. It's wonderful piece of work.

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance) *** -Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams both give outstanding performances as a young couple whose marriage is falling apart. The film cuts back and forth to the when they first meet and fall in love and to the current state of their marriage. Despite some flaws here and there and the fact that it didn't really break new ground, the film's success lies in the performances of the two lead actors who really elevate the material and made it feel real, raw and frankly uncomfortable (in a good way). P.S. why was this ever rated NC-17? I mean, come on! Seriously?

Cop Land (James Mangold) *** - I worked on this film. Don't let Sylvester Stallone's presence scare you off. This is actually a pretty solid ensemble drama about a sheriff in a small Jersey town populated by corrupt cops with mob connections. Stallone gives a very understated and very REAL performance, you really forget he's Rocky and Rambo and buy that he's just this ordinary guy who's genuinely conflicted. 

The Muppets (James Bobin) ***1/2 - I grew up watching the Muppets on TV as well as watching many of the Muppet movies so imagine my delight and surprise that this was gonna happen again. And for the most part, it largely works. Screenwriters Jason Segel and NIcholas Stoller and director James Bobin successfully transfers the formula of the Muppets to the 21st century without trying too hard to make it "hip". Certain moments from this film feel like pure child-like joy captured on film.

The Hunger Games (Gary Ross) *** - I haven't read the books so I'm rating this purely from a movie standpoint. I do know of the plot of the novel it's based on so I was a bit surprised that Gary Ross was picked to do this film since nothing he has directed or even wrote in the past is even similar to this but in his first outing in this type of film, he did pretty darn well (it's better than Seabiscuit). Jennifer Lawrence fulfills the promise of her Oscar nomination and carries the film expertly. Even though I haven't read the books and don't know all the details, I was able to follow the film and I found it to be solid entry in the sci-fi post-apocalyptic genre.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Great Scenes # 27: Play Time (1967)

Directed by Jacques Tati

This is a long one. So long it's divided into three parts. This is the climactic scene in writer-director Jacques Tati's epic comedy masterpiece Play Time. Its threadbare plot involves the bumbling Monsieur Hulot and an American tourist exploring a stark, lifeless, technologically obsessed and ultra-modern version of Paris. It is filled with hilarious sight gags and pointed commentary on the dangers of losing one's humanity in the midst of concrete and steel in the name of "progress". This climactic scene where a restaurant that's really not quite ready decides to open for the night is real tour de force. I've seen this film around 5 times and each time I see something new, particularly in this scene where all proper pretenses are dropped and everyone just has a good time. I marvel at how masterfully this scene was shot, directed and edited.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (3/11/12 - 3/17/12)

The White Sheik (Federico Fellini) ***1/2 - A newlywed breaks away from a rigid unromantic honeymoon schedule set up by her husband to a film set where she meets up with an actor playing an idealized romantic character the White Sheik. It's lighter and fluffier than the works of Fellini which I've seen so far. It's also quite funny and absurd. I was somewhat annoyed by the characters at first but it won me over in the end.

Mirror, Mirror (Tarsem Singh) **1/2 - A lavishly designed reimagining of the Snow White lore suffers from an uneven tone. It wants to be goofy, comedic and campy while at the same time trying to tell straightforward fairy tale. It's a very tricky thing to do especially in a live-action film (Animated features can get away with this easier, I find). It's all over the place. I believe at least some of the fault lies on Julia Roberts, woefully miscast as the Evil Queen. She was trying to be both funny and menacing but failing both which throws off the entire film. This is the last film of costume designer Eiko Ishiaka and her costumes are gaudy, lavish and elaborate as always and compliments the great art direction.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Listology # 10: Top 10 Films of 1998

10. Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh)
Before Jennifer Lopez plagued pop culture with her mostly crappy music and mostly crappy movies, she was actually a promising actress, as evidenced by this film. Out of Sight is director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank's wonderful adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel (The 1990's were a great decade for Elmore Leonard adaptations). I would also consider this film as the start of the rise of George Clooney's film career after the debacle that was Batman & Robin. It's an excellent film: Twisty and darkly funny. 

9. The Truman Show (Peter Weir)
With the glut of reality shows and people putting up videos of themselves in the internet these days, this film was quite prophetic. A man was adopted and raised and unknowingly put on television 24/7 where the entire world watches. Jim Carrey demonstrates that there's more to him than Ace Ventura and delivers a wonderful performance. 

8. Ringu (Hideo Nakata)
I've already said my piece about this in my horror films blog so I'm gonna make this brief. This horror film kept me awake at night right after I saw it and helped spawn the glut of Asian ghost movies and American adaptations of Asian ghost movies. 

7. The Big Lebowski (Joel Coen)
When this film was first released, it had a rather mixed reception from audience and critics, mostly due to the fact that the Coen Brothers were coming off their success with Fargo and delivering something that isn't Fargo. But time was kind to this film and it has since earned a strong cult following and is often considered one of the Coen Brothers' best films and rightfully so. It's a darkly wacky and hilarious tale of a bowling-loving slacker who just wants his rug replaced. It's a film which invites repeated viewings and rightfully so.

6. Happiness (Todd Solondz)
Speaking of repeated viewings, only a few people would ever want to do this with Happiness. Not because it is a bad film, but because of the themes and the content tackled within it. It's also a black comedy but one of the blackest comedies you will ever see. Pedophilia, phone sex, voyeurism are among the taboos broken by this film. Todd Solondz's filmography is made up of challenging, bizarre, dark films but this one, I feel, is his best. 

5. Gods and Monsters (Bill Condon)
This is the film that chronicles the final days of filmmaker James Whale, director of such classic horror films as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Ian McKellen of course brings to life a wonderful, colorful character which SHOULD have gotten him the Oscar. This is a must-see for any fan of the old classic films by its subject as well as people who are interested in a good picture. 

4. Central Station (Walter Salles)
A lost young boy forms a friendship with a cynical old woman who makes her living writing letters for illiterate people to send to their relatives near the train station as she tries to reunite him with his father. It's a sweet, emotional film but never treacly and overly manipulative as most Hollywood version of this story would try to do. Fernanda Montenegro earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination as the old woman and should have won. This is probably the first Brazilian film I have seen and I have seen several since. 

3. Eternity and a Day (Theo Angelopolous)
I've featured a big scene of this film on my The Great Scenes posts, I strongly suggest you check that out. For those of you not in the know, this is about a dying man who is haunted by memories of his already deceased wife while he forms a friendship with young refugee boy who drifts in and out of his life at certain points (What is with these old people/young kid friendship movies?). Despite winning the Palme d'Or at Cannes, it's a fairly underrated film which should be seen more. Director Theo Angelopolous recently passed away so there's no time like now. 

2. The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick)
I would like to start by saying #1 and #2 films on this list are virtual ties. These two films represent the two best films of 1998 for me. At a very close #2 was Terrence Malick's first film in 20 years. It's a war film and an adaptation of a novel by James Jones and it came at the heels of another World War II film, Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. I liked Saving Private Ryan more than The Thin Red Line when I first saw them but I have since rewatched them and my opinion on the former has diminished considerably while my opinion on the latter has increased almost exponentially. This is a beautiful meditative war film that juxtaposes the beauty of nature with the savagery of war but that's just one reading of it. Like many Malick films, this one needs pages and pages of critical analysis. You may hate it but you can't deny that it's something. 

1. Rushmore (Wes Anderson)
This is yet another cliched choice to be sure, but goshdarnit, it's such a great, great film and single-handedly made me a fan of director Wes Anderson. An underachieving, obnoxious high school student falls in love with a teacher and ultimately gets into love triangle with his "mentor" (played by the outstanding Bill Murray). It's kind of frightening to think I can actually relate to the title character (Hell, we even look a little alike). 

Runners-Up: There's Something About Mary (Peter Farrelly/Bobby Farrelly); A Bug's Life (John Lasseter/Andrew Stanton); Shakespeare in Love (John Madden); Pleasantville (Gary Ross); Life is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Great Scenes # 26: The Incredibles (2004)

Directed by Brad Bird

Contrary to popular belief, a cinephile like myself do enjoy popcorn movies, films where you can sit back, relax and enjoy. But like any other type of film, I assess it with the same standards as a period drama or a European arthouse experimental film on it's own unique terms. Like a lot of popcorn movies, The Incredibles, about a family of superheroes has its share of action sequences. Now, I love a good action sequence. A lot of people have blasted me in the past for bashing Michael Bay movies or certain comic book movies ("It's not Citizen Kane, you're supposed to turn your brain and enjoy the action!") and accuse me of not enjoying good action. But a great action sequence for me is not how elaborate the stunts are or how impressive the CGI effects or how huge and spectacular the explosions are: It's whether or not I care about the characters involved. You can have the most elaborate stunts and eye-popping effects, if I don't give a crap about the characters and the story, it's all moot. I often cite this sequence as an example of truly great action. Yes, it's animated but I think it qualifies. It's a sequence where Dash, a little boy who has the power of super-speed, finally gets to use his powers to fullest extent. At this point, you already know him, you care about him, you relate to him. So in this sequence, you are cheering for him, you fear for him and everything else: the action, the explosions, the chases simply enhances that. It also helps that director Brad Bird adds in little character bits like hesitating before throwing a punch, wide-eyed fear, his shouts of "I'm alive!" and giggling when he finds out he can run on water. That is what a great action sequence should be!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (3/4/12 - 3/10/12)

The Help (Tate Taylor) ** - I was dreading watching this film. Though it's nowhere near as offensively bad as I thought it would be, it's still a bland cookie-cutter film that tackles the troubling, disturbing and rather complex subject of racism in a safe, simplistic, obvious way. The film's tone and performances are all over the place. Viola Davis is terrific and makes the film watchable but her performance belongs to a different, better film. Bryce Dallas Howard, on the other hand, is such a shrill over-the-top broad caricature that I feel it belongs in a John Waters movie. Jessica Chastain manages to make an impression and create an actual character with her limited screen time but frankly, I don't get the appeal of Octavia Spencer. Cinematography, costumes and sets are strictly perfunctory. Overall, the film gets an A for good intentions but a D in filmmaking.

Moneyball (Bennett Miller) ***1/2 - Now if there are two things I'm TOTALLY and COMPLETELY not interested in at all, it's sports and math (sports more than math). This film has plenty of both but is so well-made, well-written, well-directed and well-acted that I was totally and completely swept up and intrigued by it. (According to a friend of mine, it plays more like a heist film than a baseball film, I agree). Based on a true story about how ex-baseball player turned manager Billy Beane took his losing baseball team and using a unique method using stats gave the team a 20-game winning streak. The film is about underdogs and the importance of outside-the-box thinking and new ideas. You don't need to be a sports fan to be able to relate that that.

John Carter (Andrew Stanton) ** - It hurts me to write this review because I do greatly admire director Andrew Stanton. This is his live-action feature debut, an adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs' sci-fi novel. It's got a lot of things going for it. Taylor Kitsch is a great find and makes a very charismatic lead, there are great visuals and some really good action scenes here but unfortunately everything that is good about it is all mixed up in a huge mess of a film which really could have used an editor with a better sense of pacing.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Listology # 9: Top 10 Films of 1997

No, I did not forget Titanic.

10. Hana-Bi (Takeshi Kitano)
This film is also known as Fireworks. It's about a violent and unpredictable police detective who was forced to retire because of a work-related incident and to take care of his dying wife. It's dark, violent yet also manages to be tender and poetic. This is my initial introduction to the films of "Beat" Takeshi Kitano.

9. Face/Off (John Woo)
John Woo has been making waves in Hong Kong for years before Hollywood came a-calling and he started to make movies Stateside. Although his Hollywood films were overall not as great as his Hong Kong works like The Killer and Hard-Boiled, Face/Off is the outstanding exception. This is thrilling, over-the-top violent action thriller about a cop (John Travolta) who takes on the face of a sadistic criminal who's supposedly comatose (Nicolas Cage) but things don't go quite as planned when the criminal wakes up. It's got everything that made John Woo's Hong Kong work so great: Engaging characters, over-the-top, balletic gunplay and visceral thrills.

8. Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith)
A comic book writer falls in love with a lesbian. This is writer-director Kevin Smith's second film after Clerks (a film I consider somewhat overrated) and this is his best work. It's funny, heartfelt, sweet and features great performances by Joey Lauren Adams and Ben Affleck. I

7. The Ice Storm (Ang Lee)
Ang Lee continues to his streak of really good films with this intriguing adaptation of Rick Moody's novel about two dysfunctional suburban families during the '70s as they explore the world of sex, drugs and other stuff. An extremely well-acted family drama that helped Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood transition into adult actors and features great performances by Joan Allen, Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver as well.

6. Funny Games (Michael Haneke)
When I finished watching this film, I actually hated it. I found myself disgusted and disturbed. But after thinking and reflecting about it for a while, I realized it's actually a pretty brilliant film. It's a horror-thriller about two young sociopaths who take a middle-class family hostage in their vacation and proceeds to play "funny games" with them and torture them both physically and mentally. Despite the fact that there's very little actual on-screen violence, the film is very hard to watch as it mocks and deconstructs and subverts the trappings of the genre in very perverse ways. You'll likely not ever want to watch it again but it's a film you won't soon forget.

5. The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan)
This is Atom Egoyan's beautiful and haunting adaptation of Russell Banks' novel about the aftermath of a bus crash which killed a group of school children. This film features top-notch performances from Ian Holm and Sarah Polley.

4. The Eel (Shohei Imamura)

After finding finding his wife in bed with another man, Takuro Yamashita (Koji Yakusho, giving a magnificent performance) calmly turns himself in to the police and serves his time in prison. After his release, he tries to rebuild his life for the better and even meets a girl but seems to reciprocate his feels towards his pet eel. Shohei Imamura's film despite all its weirdness is still an enchanting, moving piece of cinema.

3. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson)
I love classic film noirs. This 1997 adaptation of James Ellroy novel set in 1950's Hollywood harkens back to that time in this tale of corrupt cops and a prostitution ring. Kim Basinger won an Oscar but I think it's because she's the only major female character and the rest of the cast and the film itself is so good, that it made her look fantastic as a classic old-fashioned Hollywood femme fatale. I was rooting for Titanic back then but now, I've come to realize, this is the film that should have won.

2. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
When this film was first released, there were some people who expressed disappointment that it wasn't Pulp Fiction, that it didn't top Pulp Fiction, etc. It has since grown in reputation since then with many critics and cinephiles declaring it to be writer-director Quentin Tarantino's best work. Personally, I say not quite but it's VERY close. This movie is such a joy to watch, a caper crime film with sprinkled with Tarantino's cool style that completely and utterly works.

1. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)
A man drives around the Iranian countryside trying to find someone to bury him after he commits suicide. Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is probably one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers. He makes what's essentially the cinematic equivalent of poetry. This film is an excellent example of it. For a film that's all about a man wanting to kill himself, it is strangely and beautifully life-affirming.

Runners-Up:  Men in Black (Barry Sonnenfeld); Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson); Donnie Brasco (Mike Newell); Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen); Wag the Dog (Barry Levinson)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Great Scenes # 25: Day of the Dead (1985)

Directed by George A. Romero

I love zombie movies. They're my favorite horror subgenre. No filmmaker has ever made them better than horror maestro George Romero. He created the most famous take on the zombies which many writers and directors have taken to heart and became a trope common in many post-Romero zombie flicks. Starting with the groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead, he has made a series of acclaimed horror zombie movies which combine gory scares with dark comedy and social satire. Day of the Dead is my personal favorite. This spectacularly gory scene is one of the reasons why. 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (2/26/12 - 3/4/12)

War Horse (Steven Spielberg) **1/2 - This is the type of film director Steven Spielberg can pretty much do in his sleep. It is extremely old-fashioned style of filmmaking that's so predictable and by the numbers, it borders on parody but goshdarnit, it is beautiful to look at and entertaining to boot. The film strongly reminds me of a John Ford picture though nowhere near as great. Though it's not a bad film by any means, I felt this is sort of a regression for Spielberg of sorts whose filmography of the past decade is eclectic, intriguing and interesting (even his perceived failures).

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry) ** - The good news: This film is somewhat of an improvement from director Stephen Daldry's two previous works The Hours and The Reader but the bad news: it's still not very good. I lowered my expectations for this one so low that I actually didn't find it as nearly as offensively bad as many people have said but the film definitely wears out its welcome after a while. Thomas Horn is very good as the lead character. I thought there was nothing wrong with his performance but it's the character who I found a bit grating and this is coming from someone who has touches of whatever quirky spectrum that this character has. It would have been fine if it focused on how a quirky kid comes to terms with loss but the 9/11 element gives it a bit of an aura of self-importance which I found a bit off-putting.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Listology # 8: Top 10 Films of 1996

And the lists go on and on and on....

10. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky)
This is the first in a series of three films that chronicle the arrest, trial and conviction of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin also known as the West Memphis Three. The film covers the horrific murder of three innocent young boys and the arrest of the three young men whose apparent only crimes were listening to heavy metal music and being a little weird. Despite knowing the ending, I think this film can definitely get you mad but it can also be an eye opening look into how justice even in a First World country like the U.S.A. can be mishandled. 

9. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)
This is the film which made the film world stand up and pay attention to two major talents: actor Ewan McGregor and director Danny Boyle. This is harrowing, thrilling, wild and even darkly funny tale of a young man struggling with heroin addiction and crime amongst a group of young men in the impoverished section of England. It's filled with shocking, eye-popping visuals, a loud booming soundtrack and great performances.  

8. Scream (Wes Craven)
This film not only revived a genre that was on its death bed by being both a flat-out scary film and a really funny parody, the film also made me really enjoy and appreciate horror films more. Sure, most of the films which tried the cash in on its success are poor imitations (I Know What You Did Last Summer) but the original film is still an enjoyable, scary romp. 

7. The People vs. Larry Flynt (Milos Forman)
This biopic about porn publisher Larry Flynt which follows him from his humble beginnings to success to all his legal troubles. All at once it's a fascinating journey of a man which some people love and some people loathe. It's helped by great performances by Woody Harrelson and Courtney Love (though some may think by playing a drug-addicted stripper isn't much of a stretch for her, Zing.)

6. Gabbeh (Moshen Makhalbaf)
Not all Iranian films are bleak, drab and depressing which a lot of people tend to think of most films that come from that area of the Middle East. This is fascinating colorful magic realist drama about a woman who magically emerges from a rug (the "gabbeh" of the title). The film is all at once absorbing look into a culture and lifestyle seldom seen by outsiders.

5. The Crucible (Nicholas Hytner)
Arthur Miller adapted his own play and him together with director Nicholas Hytner produced a cinematic and gripping adaptation of a group of young women who incite the Salem Witch Trials which resulted in numerous executions during the 1600s. A fine ensemble of actors led by Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder and Joan Allen bring all the characters to life.

4. Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest)
A largely improvised and totally hilarious mockumentary about an ambitious quirky stage director named Corky St. Clair who wants to stage an original musical about a small town in celebration of the anniversary of its founding. I actually never heard of this film until I picked it up and thought it looked funny and my God it was. The resulting musical has to be seen to be believed. This is a second in a series of films from writer-director Christopher Guest and his regular troop of performers but the first one he directed (the other one is This Is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner).

3. Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier)
A very religious woman, upon the request of her incapacitated husband, has sexual affairs with different men. It's the film which catapulted director Lars von Trier and actress Emily Watson into mainstream (well, for an artsy film) recognition. This is a film which will inspire strong feelings either way because of its themes. Problematic and disturbing though it can be, it is one of the best films about religiosity and spirituality ever made. 

2. Sling Blade (Billy Bob Thornton)
Boy, 1996 is probably the year of a lot of new cinematic discoveries. This is also the year Billy Bob Thornton also emerged into the scene. He wrote, directed and starred in Sling Blade, a truly memorable film about a mentally handicapped man named Karl Childers who is institutionalized for killing his mother and her lover at the age of 12. He gets released as an adult and finds himself caring for a woman, her son and her abusive boyfriend. The character is all at once unique and iconic and also unforgettable.

1. Fargo (Joel Coen)
A rather predictable, cliched choice. sure but come on, it's a really great film. If you haven't seen it, it's a darkly hilarious tale of a ne'er do well car salesman (William H. Macy) who enlists the help of two crooks (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his own wife in order to extort money from his wealthy father-in-law. Suffice to say, things don't go as planned. Frances McDormand won an Oscar for her performance as a perky police officer investigating the case. The film is very funny yet often shocking. It is also one of the films which made me appreciate the art of cinematography a lot more thanks to great work by Roger Deakins. It's classic Coen Brothers. 

Runners-Up: Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh); Jerry Maguire (Cameron Crowe); Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh); Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas); The Rock (Michael Bay).