Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies..." A SERIOUS MAN REVIEW

A Serious Man-2009-Joel and Ethan Coen


"But I didn't do anything!" We hear Larry Gopnick scream as mishap after mishap occurs. He is certainly right, he didn't do anything. These words are uttered with perfect comic timing as well as with a tragic overtone. And in this phrase we find the Coen's, at their best, pushing forward the humor and tragedy simultaneously. Something Woody Allen often attempts to do, even explicitly in a film made in 2005 called Melinda and Melinda. Where Allen announces what he is doing in the beginning and allows for two separate stories to unfold, one a comedy, the other a drama. The problem is, because of its structure, the film is disjointed and messy. A Serious Man, and many of the Coen's previous efforts, however, are quite the opposite, because they manage to mix the humor and pain perfectly.

In A Serious Man, Larry Gopnick is a Job character. It has been said in basically everything written about it, and is blatantly obvious. He is a good man. He does everything by the book. But yet he is still punished. And he doesn't understand why his wife is leaving him, the job he wanted he may not get, he may be sick, his kids are morons, etc.

All in all, A Serious Man is a very strong outing showing obvious, existential flare. Is there a God? If so, is He listening? Does he enjoy the pain of his creation like a kid with a magnifying glass burning ants? I think the strength in the Coens and this film in particular is their ability to bring you into this situation, not really offer any solution, but still leave you satisfied by film's end. Not satisfied in the sense that every character got what they wanted, or that there was a happy ending. But to go anywhere else than where A Serious Man leads us in the end, would go against the rest of the movie.

Perhaps there are no answers. Or perhaps, we all make our own. Maybe, in the end, it's best to live our lives, no matter how perplexed we become, ultimately, we will never be satisfied with any answers, because they only ever lead to more questions. But does this mean we shouldn't ask questions? In a circle we go.

At times, the Joel and Ethan seem to get so wrapped up in this characters misery and the needs to have him asking these questions, that as an audience member, it becomes tiresome. There are parallels to Larry and Sy Ableman, his neighbor whom his wife decides to leave him for. There is a running parallel between Larry and his son, Danny. And these things keep the mind running and we get answers and then ten more questions arise. It's frustrating, but in a good way.

In this way, the film is more like Barton Fink than any previous Coen film. In both, the lead character face hell in different ways. It seems Larry's hell is a rural suburb, while Barton's is Hollywood. They both are rather innocent men who are punished for doing "nothing". But drawing the comparison to Barton Fink, brings us to a film Fink takes a lot from and that's David Lynch's Eraserhead. A very polarizing, odd film that does little to answer the questions it raises. The similarities lie in the main characters dilemmas, and how they react to them. All of them quietly accepting their fate while asking questions constantly. If you look at the three leads, they have a similar look, especially in the hair.

Anyway, A Serious Man is a claustrophobic, messy yet to the point existential study of the question; why do we suffer? And while the Coen's do little to offer an answer, I found that, to me, the film's meaning is derived solely in two points. A story told by a rabbi and the ending, where we find out th...............................................

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Keep a good head, and always carry a light bulb" DON'T LOOK BACK REVIEW DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

Don't Look Back-1967-D.A. Pennebaker

*Excuse me while I make a claim beforehand. I love Bob Dylan, and watching this documentary, to me, was such a great experience seeing him just interacting with people. Pardon my affection for the man throughout this review of Pennebaker's wonderful documentary. It is worthy of more discussion then I'm sure I will give it. Also, it has been a few months since I saw this film, so forgive me if my facts are just a little off. Please? Okay, fine, don't, but just read the review. Or not. God. Do whatever you want. I don't care.


Cinema Verite filmmaking is a fascinating way to capture a figure such as Bob Dylan. Dylan is definitely one of the most enigmatic artists of our time, and D.A. Pennebaker's portrait of him in Don't Look Back, is so very intriguing for that reason. We know so little about the man. The events of Pennebaker's documentary follow Dylan and Joan Baez on a tour of England in 1965. This is such a transitional period for Dylan, as he is in the middle of switching from acoustic folk songs to a more electric rock and roll style. Which is what makes the documenting of the time so fascinating.

Is this the real Bob Dylan? Certainly not, we get a few different Dylan's throughout the documentaries duration. We get the confident Dylan who pleasantly listens to up and comer Donovan's sweet little pop song, and tells him how much he enjoys it before he destroys it with his own song, proving that Dylan is a transcendental figure. No matter how good a song may be, it will never be a Dylan song.

Sometimes, I wonder, how self aware Dylan truly is. When we see his interactions with reporters and his lashing out at a reporter who called him a folk musician. He much preferred the term artist, or was this an act? Maybe I am slightly misguided about Dylan, but I feel as if he's always playing with people. Never giving anyone his true self. This explains him and Baez's slight arguments about social issues we see in the film and Dylan's lack of interest in them. Which also leads to Dylan's ultimate leap from folk to rock and roll music. A decision which cost him a lot at the time, but to Dylan it was about his art, not about some movement, or some cause.

A perfect representation of this would be when Dylan is performing for a massive crowd and his mic isn't working. He continues to play, and we hear his guitar, but no one can he what he is singing. This doesn't stop Dylan. In Dylan's art, he was always misinterpreted. In fact, I don't really know at all what Dylan meant with most of his songs. I simply cling to what they mean to me, but I'm sure they are totally different to any number of people. The audience wasn't hearing what Dylan was really saying with his poetic lyrics that they all sang along to. Perhaps no one really does.

A scene that really stands out is Dylan's argument over the broken glass. He is so angry about some broken glass, wondering who threw it, that we actually see Dylan showing some passion that seems genuine. What does this mean for Dylan? Is he really that angry that someone might have gotten hurt, or is this representative of his entire art form? He is moving on, he is shattering the glass of his folk music icon image, and trying to move forward. Was Donovan going to beat him to the punch? Dylan was clearly, although he attempted to hide it, jealous of Donovan in a sense. He was sort of the British version of Bob Dylan, and Dylan simply wanted to stand alone.

Ultimately, the opening sequence tells all. With Subterranean Homesick Alien playing, Dylan holds poster boards with the lyrics written on them. Sometimes misspelled and sometimes totally different words than the ones sang. It's a very humorous, yet, meaningful scene. It is Dylan's moving forward from his old style. He is simply tossing those words onto the ground, as if they never meant anything to him in the first place.

In the film's final sequence we see Dylan in the back of his limo, with Albert Grossman reading aloud an article about Dylan in which he is regarded as an anarchist for showing people societal problems but never offering any sort of solution. To which Dylan replies, "It can't be good to be an anarchist..."

Could this be Dylan's telling moment of moving forward with his art and not looking back as the title suggests?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"I took my lucky break and I broke it in two..." WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

Where The Wild Things Are-2009-Spike Jonze


Without pandering to any sort of audience, Maurice Sendak wrote a beautifully transcendent children's book about imagination, loneliness, and love. He did so in a mere 10 sentences, with some splendid illustration, and for 46 years it has been captivating children and adults alike.

In the early 90's, Spike Jonze started directing short films and music videos, eventually gaining notoriety for his imaginatively creative narratives in such short pieces of filmmaking. His work with The Beastie Boys, Weezer, and Fatboy Slim comprise some of the best music videos made during the last decade of the 20th century. In 1999, he made his feature film debut with a dark, cynical comedy called Being John Malkovich, written by the illustrious Charlie Kaufman. He followed that up with another Kaufman collaboration, and one of my favorite films of all time, Adaptation.

Fast forward to October 2009, both of these men; creative, genius, masterful at their art, have converged. Jonze, with the help of co-writer Dave Eggers, has adapted Sendak's classic into a dark piece of cinema. After 3 years of battling with the studio over the vision of the project, and spending all of 2009 to hype it with the help of Arcade Fire, it has finally graced us with its presence.

The story, if you are totally oblivious, follows a young boy named Max. He is vulnerable, lonely, but an incredibly caring individual. After having a terrible day Max wants the attention of the only person who really seems to love him, his mother. When he doesn't understand why she won't constantly listen to him, he lashes out in a fit of anger; "I'll eat you up!" He screams to his mother while energetically dodging her every attempt at stopping him from destroying anything. After biting his mom, he runs out of the house, and into his imagination, where he takes a small boat out into the ocean, to the island of the Wild Things.

Upon reaching the island, Jonze had a lot of room for interpretation, as in the book, there is very little said on the island. Each Wild Thing has a personality of their own. And they are all incredibly in need of therapy. With childlike interplay, Max is able to keep them all from eating him. He proclaims he has a sadness shield and is a king, they make him their king.

What Jonze is able to do on the island is something few people would have been able to accomplish. He allows for each Wild Thing to have their own specific personality, but each one's personality can be traced back to a piece of Max's sadness. Carol, voiced wonderfully by James Gandolfini, deals with his pain with anger. He lashes out by destroying things, or yelling at people. Max and Carol bond more than any of the others.

Carol: It's going to be a place where only the things you want to happen, would happen.

Max: We could totally build a place like that!

When Max becomes King, he is forced to confront all of the Wild Things in ways he never expected. When they complain about still being sad, after he promised them happiness, he gets angry. The self proclaimed downer of the group, Judith(Catherine O'Hara), even berates Max, exclaiming; "Happiness isn't always the best way to be happy."

What we see here is the idea, made famous by Thomas Moore, of a Utopian vision. A place where there would be no more sadness or pain, no more suffering or loss. Jonze and Eggers show that there is no such thing as a Utopia. It is part of maturing or growing up to realize that life will never be perfect. Perfection just isn't something that is of our world, even if that world is wholly imagined, it is impossible to attain.

With Carol's insecurities about one of the Wild Things, KW, leaving, because she found new friends, when he is seemingly in love with her, we find the conflict that has caused all of the Wild Things to be in such a sad state. Max's conflict was caused, in part, because of his mothers new boyfriend, and him losing the attention he craved from her. He simply didn't understand. Here we find Max's parallel.

In a scene, involving Max and KW, in which some viewers might find gross or weird, Max is reborn, in a sense, and finally understands that his mother also is in need of love. Not just from him.

If there are any problems with the film, it lies near the end. There is a dramatic build when Max is going back to reality that, while heart stirring , yes, seems somewhat manipulative compared to the rest of the film. The music builds and crescendos and it felt somewhat forced, but I can't say I didn't fall for it hook, line and sinker, and would gladly do so again. It got a little misty in the theater, I will say.

Criticisms that have stemmed about this being a children's/family film, and having such dark material, must be from those who have obviously not read the book in awhile. While Sendak's illustrations are a bit more brightly colored than the Wild Things are in the film, the few sentences they say certainly lean towards less than childlike appearances. Especially when Max first arrives and the book states he was greeted by the Wild Things gnashing their teeth and roaring their roars and so on. And while king, Max feels lonely.

Jonze has captured that in a unsanitized way. He seems to have made an honest and meaningful piece of art that draws parallels to Wizard Of Oz, Alice In Wonderland and even that 1989 Fred Savage/Howie Mandel classic Little Monsters. It is definitely a kid's film, because it deals with the feelings kids so often have, that most children's "art" is afraid to deal with in our culture of Santa Clauses and Easter Bunnies, we can't fathom our kids finding truth and meaning from something scary. Real life is scary and while I wouldn't condone forcing a kid to sit through it out of torture, if the kid truly was scared, I wouldn't hide it from them either.

As mentioned in those previous family films, Dorothy is caught in a tornado and almost killed by a witch. Alice must deal with some creepy things, as well as be threatened by the queen to have her head cut off! How are these things child friendly, but not loneliness?

In this day and age, artists like Spike Jonze are important, because they use their art as a mirror for us to see ourselves in. Where The Wild Things Are is about so much more than all the words I wrote before it, it is foremost about love, and how we deal with the feelings that love causes. In the end, without using any words, Jonze offers us the answer that unconditional love is the most beautiful and hopeful thing we could ask for, remember; "and it was still hot."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Harlan County USA-1976-Barbara Kopple


Hazel Dickens turns out to be the star of Barbara Kopple's 1976 masterpiece Harlan County USA. "They'll Never Keep Us Down" is the perfect song to encapsulate everything Kopple's documentary delves into. It's such a beautiful thing, because it is rare to think of southern, more conservative folk fighting for social rights. Dickens is right up there with them.

"The power wheel is rolling, rolling right along,
The government is keep it going, going strong,
So working people get your help from your own kind,
Your welfare on the rich man's mind"

This group of people in Harlan County represent something beautiful that we, as a human race, so often fore go, but we all have within us. When we are united in hope, we will fight no matter the cost, for our freedom. That is why Kopple's film is a masterpiece in documentary filmmaking. Obviously influenced by the Maysles brothers and D.A. Pennebaker, she uses a cinema-verite style to capture this mostly unheard of movement.

I love that Kopple decided to title the film; Harlan County USA, not Harlan County, Kentucky. She is getting at something. These people are the us' of this world. We are the underdogs, and we all have something unjust in our lives that we can win over with sheer will, truth and justice. It is an underdog story if there ever was one. Seeing how these mining families live, it is heartbreaking. The workers put their lives on the line for pay and housing that shouldn't be offered to anyone, let alone someone risking their lives for their job.

"When we win the contract, daddy is gonna have hot running water,
and a big ol' bathtub."

Harlan County
has a passionate energy to it that bleeds through every frame. There is so much heart here, be it from the director behind the camera, or the people fighting in front of the camera. What one might expect to find within the confines of the film is more of a glimpse at what it's like to work in the midst of the earth, total darkness. And while we are shown brief excerpts of the men working, they most certainly aren't in any way the crux of the narrative at all. This is a film that is about struggle.

Kopple never tries to glamorize any of this, or make it aesthetically pleasing in anyway, she simply documents her surroundings. She isn't following these people because she finds Appalachian folk fascinating, just to learn more about them, as some have criticized the likes of fashion photographer Richard Avedon of doing during his photographic study of the west.

Harlan County
takes a lot of its focus and places it onto the women, the wives of the coal miners, as they stand up, in a very feminist fashion, and fight. While these women may not work in the mines, they are ferocious, and it's truly a beautiful thing that Kopple is able to capture all of this on film. It should be required viewing in many American history classes, for the ways in which in captures history in the making. Much like the civil rights movement, albeit nowhere near as important, and on a much smaller scale, these women take a stand and it's beautiful. It gets to a point that even Norman Yarborough, the president of Eastover(the company that owns the mines), had to say about the women's role in the strike.

“I would hate to think that my wife would play that kind of role. There’s been some conduct that I would hope that U.S. women wouldn't have to resort to.”

Just the phrasing he uses allows for him to seem despicable. Why only U.S. women? Are other countries women lowlier than ours? And why is it that men can fight and spit and cuss, but women shouldn't have to resort to it, especially when it's all they can do to help?

Tense doesn't even begin to describe when the woman decide to block the roads in a revolt to block the scabs(people who work in the mines while the actual workers are on strike). They have to face down the state troopers, which in this case, being such a small town, happens to be someone they know personally. Billy G. Williams, the sheriff, is faced with a tough decision because he is experiencing this strike first hand with his friends, but he has an obligation to get them off that road. It is a tragic moment that Kopple captures with grace and precision.

There are times Kopple herself was in danger of death, we hear guns fired in the darkness, and in an interview with Roger Ebert, she says she heard they were planning on killing her and her crew that night.

Kopple's film is messy, beautiful, simple and profound, just like a human being. It is a living, breathing organism.

"If a man smiles all the time he's probably selling something that doesn't work. " SALESMAN DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

*the title is a quote from George Carlin

Salesman-1968-Albert and David Maysles


The sound of wipers and turn signals are like the rhythms of these men’s lives. Salesman, directed by the Maysles brothers in a great, authentic cinema-verite style, follows four Bible salesmen on the road as they struggle living the life of a dying profession. The Maysles brother’s use of style creates an arena for higher believability in the drama and interactions as we follow, in a fly on the wall fashion, these salesmen into the homes of their clients, into their hotel rooms and their cars.

The striking thing about Salesman is the fact that these men are not only door to door salesman, but Bible salesmen. The idea of selling the Bible is an interesting one, as I remember it, in Christ’s words; he always spoke about giving to people, not taking from people their money. It’s an interesting juxtaposition that adds a hint more to the subtext of the narrative.

Door to door selling already has one foot in the grave, its integration with religion and the local churches brings us into a whole other realm. Not only are we seeing men desperately trying to sell to live, but we see the integration of religion and business and those who are believers thinking nothing of their priest giving these salesmen their names and addresses because of their trust in their church. It’s obviously a brilliant endorsement when the man of God himself is recommending these salesmen.

However, through an interview on the DVD special features I came to find out the Maysles brothers lack of interest in the religion/business subtext. Their focus was solely on the lives of four men as they struggle to stay afloat in their troubled job choice. We have Paul Brennan, “The Badger”; Charles McDevitt, “The Gipper”; James Baker, “The Rabbit”; and Raymond Martes, “The Bull”, all traveling together and getting along like a dysfunctional family. They all know the job is going downhill but they feel like they can each make it through. The Maysles do an outstanding job of fleshing out these characters, especially Paul Brennan. Brennan is the oldest of the group, and seems to be having the hardest time making sales.

There is a certain desperation in each sale. Not only on part of the salesman, but also on the customer being sold to. They both seem to want to get everything over with, generally with two totally different agendas. We see clients talk about money problems, while the salesman is obviously trying to be understanding without blatantly saying that they too have money problems when people aren’t buying their product. That desperation causes a great tension when we see each salesman in the home using their best lines to try and win over each family. Seeing the salesmen in the heat of the action, while also seeing them rehearse their sales pitches together, reminds the viewer of how each salesman is basically an actor. They rehearse as if they are performing improv, and thinking, what might the audience throw at me next?

Brennan’s constant struggle to find the streets where his clients are to be found is a representation of the way of the salesman, trying to find their place in a changing world. It’s a sad sight, but Brennan is so compelling. He tries to keep a smile on his face for others and the camera, constantly doing an Irish accent and joking around. It is only when he doesn’t know the camera is watching that the Maysles are able to capture his fear of the future simply by the look on his face as he stares blankly off into nowhere. This happens twice in the film and one can’t help but wonder what the man is thinking. These brief moments say so much with so little time taken. They are the film’s greatest moments.

Salesman doesn’t seem to be all dreary. It’s not hard to get a kick out of the Bible salesman conventions. Seeing a bunch of men dressed alike listening to men speak, using religious language, about business, bringing back the duality of religion and business.

“There are many people who know the Bible. There are many people who can quote from the Bible, but somewhat different, you know the business.”

The abnormality of comparing the Bible salesman to a priestly figure struck me as quite hilarious at times. Is there really admiration to be found in the profession of door to door salesman? They are akin to modern day telemarketers, and everyone seems to find them utterly disgusting (not gonna lie, I used to be one, there is good money in it).

When one man literally quotes the Bible saying “Knowest ye not that I am about my fathers business” in reference to Bible selling, I couldn’t help but chuckle. This film represents the death of the 1950’s way of life. We want our capitalism and we want our religion. Let’s not reference Christ’s contempt for the rich and adoration for the meek and lowly, let’s try and make as much money as possible but still be very upright and moral in our ways. In 1968, the year of this film’s release, America had already changed greatly. But there were those on the fringes still wearing their business framed religious glasses. The sad thing is where are we at today? Stuck in the same spot.

"Some people just don't like to celebrate human tragedy while on vacation." ROGER AND ME DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

Roger And Me
-1989-Michael Moore


When given the opportunity to speak his mind, Michael Moore will be there to say what he believes needs to be said. I greatly respect the man for this, and although I have some problems with his techniques and overall opinions about some subjects, I find the man absolutely fascinating. With that being said I found Michael Moore’s first critical and cultural success, Roger and Me, to be an attempt at getting things right, while never reaching any sort of transcendent moment that I feel Moore could be capable of capturing with such material.

In Bowling for Columbine, while Moore uses tragedy as a device of sympathy to get his ultimate point across, he uses it in such a way that it works to the movie’s advantage. He uses similar, if not exact, tactics in Roger and Me that seemingly allow the film to fall flat on its face.

Moore happens to find tragedy fascinating. Be it in the lives of his neighbors or fellow Americans, he jumps at the chance to make a movie about a tragic event through his eyes. That is simply all we are ever shown in a Michael Moore documentary. A glimpse at the man’s thoughts about said tragedy. In Roger and Me, it seems Moore’s thoughts aren’t with those who lost their jobs but are simply focused on making people out to look like jerks. From Roger Smith to Pat Boone, he goes from one to another “just wanting answers” but obviously going about it all the wrong way to cause a scene.

While this type of thing is all he really does in Bowling For Columbine as well, it seems he disguises it a bit better and drops in hints of hope and truth. Here, Michael Moore seems to think that logic, truth and justice are best served by trying the same stunt twice, constantly on “the search” for the man who is responsible for all that is wrong in the world, Roger Smith.

I think Moore’s films live or die on the villain he creates. While Roger Smith seems to be a good choice, a capitalistic pig who could care less about the little man working for him and more about saving himself a few pennies. He never allows Smith to have a character that embodies evil. Compare this to Moore’s best film to date, Bowling For Columbine, where so many people think our bad guy is Charlton Heston, no, he is simply a minion to the ultimate evil: The Fear Mongering Media. This approach works because we see all of these things working together to harm us, and it’s something that is tangible in our own lives and we relate to. Roger Smith is a creation in Moore’s head. I find his ways despicable but not because of anything I saw him do in the film.

Ultimately, Moore’s chops didn’t seem to be there as a director. His beloved juxtapositions seemed less well constructed than in later films, and those are the center pieces that create in the viewer a sense of anger at what has transgressed before us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"If I don't make it to the NBA, don't you forget about me" HOOP DREAMS DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

Hoop Dreams-1994-Steve James


When Steve James’ epic, nearly three hour, documentary about the dreams of two inner city black kids to become the next Isaiah Thomas was released in 1994, it was to wild critical and popular acclaim, so much so that it’s lack of an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary wound up causing such a ruckus, the rules were changed. The piece, originally intended to be a 30 minute episode on PBS, turned into a 5 year journey following the hopes, dreams, fears, anxieties and aspirations of two boys and their families.

If Hoop Dreams is anything, it is entertaining. While looking at the average running time of a Hollywood epic period piece, groaning can be heard, but once given the chance, the film is an engrossing piece of work that not only gets you to care about the lives of these families but pulls you in with a sense of urgency and heart that few documentaries are able to reach. Oftentimes we are held at arms length by a narrator constantly trying to butt his way in to the story, here, while there is a needless narration, it isn’t intrusive or uninviting, it simply relays to the viewer, like a sports commentator, what is going on at the moment.

While James does happen to do an outstanding job of pacing such a long movie, there happen to be long stretches without one of our beloved main characters making an appearance. While it’s still played out with excellent attention to detail and never a loss of attention, one cannot help but feel something is missing when going for extended amounts of time without one of these two boys.

Upon meeting the boys, we get a slight juxtaposition in their upbringing and overall attitude. William Gates is a shining star. He is charismatic yet shy, but always one step ahead of everyone else. Arthur Agee is scrawny and scrappy, lacking a sense of direction, but with buckets of passion to make up for it. Along the way we get to see the differences in their lives and how they play out to a similar end.

The documentaries most charming aspect is its attention to the characters, be it our main characters, or our supporting cast. We not only get to explore the lives of these young boys hoping for a fulfillment of their dreams, we get a glimpse at how these kids can be taken advantage of, and small but subtle commentaries on religion.

From the coach at St. Joseph, Pingatore, to Arthur’s very eclectic parents; we are given small hints at the deep impacts that not only these people have on Arthur’s and William’s lives but how Arthur and William have changed their lives as well.

Hoop Dreams was named by Roger Ebert as the best film of the 90’s just ahead of Pulp Fiction. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the best of the decade, I can say that Ebert isn’t wrong. Hoop Dreams could very well be the decades shining star, but just like the boys who we meet in the film, it doesn’t seem it will ever be given the chance to meet its fullest potential.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Hmmm...4 months with no update from me. I guess all I can wonder is...did you miss me?

Not to worry, I have slowly but surely been watching documentaries, many more than I have listed on the side and am working on getting the reviews up here soon. It was an incredibly busy summer, as well as a busy start to the school year, but I am finally able to finish off this documentary marathon and actually start updating this thing regularly again.

My only question I have left would be; is anyone actually reading this?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Some delays....

There will be a few day delay on the marathon as some things are hindering my ability to update as regularly. I will have everything back on track with my previous schedule by the time Salesman is to be posted. Sorry to the two people that might be following this marathon, I wanted to make sure I did the films justice and not rush through these reviews.

I may be adding another 5 or 6 doc's that I feel I have missed out on and are important to a study on the genre of documentary film.

Keep checking back, updates will be posted soon.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"That's our trailer, right there! " LOST IN LA MANCHA DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

Lost In La Mancha-2002- Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe


Lost in La Mancha
follows Terry Gilliam during the trials of attaining his dream of adapting Don Quixote for the screen. The entire production seems failed from the start, but they forge ahead and find themselves at their wits end after all that could go wrong does.

After watching Hearts of Darkness, Lost in La Mancha seems so incredibly tame. It's interesting to me as a fan of Gilliam and as a fan of the filmmaking process, but should that be enough to make it a compelling film? Must you have these preconceived feelings towards Gilliam to be able to enjoy the film? I don't think that you should. Anyone could watch Hearts of Darkness and get something out of it, but the film's directors, Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, seem to want to replicate that type of success without adding any passion of their own.

Gilliam is an interesting character. He IS Don Quixote. This makes Lost in La Mancha a reimagining of the Don Quixote story, with his First AD Phil Patterson becoming his Sancho Panza. This also worked for Hearts of Darkness, and if used with a bit more subtlety it could really work here as well. The problem is, there are constantly shots of Gilliam looking at windmills or just allusions to Gilliam's Quixote-esque nature, and it becomes overwhelming.

Knowing that this was originally intended to simply be a behind the scenes documentary for the DVD makes so much sense, because it's obvious that the filmmakers had little intention at making a truly interesting narrative, or fleshing out these characters as we see them on screen.

Oftentimes I just feel sorry for Gilliam, not that he doesn't bring a lot of this onto himself, but the man is a truly great filmmaker, and this documentary almost makes him out to be unprofessional and selfish. This may be the case, and I am happy they gave us an honest portrait of a famous director, much like in Hearts of Darkness, but in the end Gilliam just seems like a sad sack. I feel sorry for him because I can relate to his want to fulfill his dream of getting this film made, but I can't quite go all the way to the point of grief with him because the filmmaking simply doesn't allow for it. They draw nothing out of the viewer.

Many cinephiles have an intense fascination with failed productions and this is another in that long list. I found the idea to be more compelling than what the documentary came to be. With no heart for their own filmmaking Fulton and Pepe would do best to continue with 'making of' documentaries for extras on DVD's.

Monday, June 8, 2009

"My movie is not about Vietnam, my movie is Vietnam" HEARTS OF DARKNESS DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse-1991- Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper


Making of documentaries are usually meaningless little additions added on to a DVD package to give the consumers a little more for their buck. Rarely do you find within the confines of one of these films a narrative so deeply reaching at the reasoning behind making such a film. In Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, we are given the behind the scenes story of Francis Ford Coppola's struggle to get Apocalypse Now made.

Eleanor Coppola, Francis' wife, kept a diary about the on set struggles of not only Francis and the crew, but of herself and their family. She also documented behind the scenes footage for Francis, and unknowingly to him, recorded private conversations between the two of them that shows a vulnerable, scared side that is rarely heard of from a director of his caliber.

Hearts of Darkness works because it almost becomes a remake of Apocalypse Now. It is a film about obsession, it is shown through a war(filmmaking), we watch our lead character slip deeper and deeper into his obsession until it completely engulfs him. The only difference is Coppola isn't forced to deal with "the horror, the horror", as all of his fears cause him to make a film that opens to widespread universal acclaim. This is, unless you account for Coppola's sudden decline as a filmmaker after Apocalypse Now, which is interesting to note. Not that he never made another good movie, but that he never made another masterpiece.

"My greatest fear is to make a really shitty, embarrassing, pompous film on an important subject, and I am doing it. And I confront it. I acknowledge, I will tell you right straight from the most sincere depths of my heart, the film will not be good"

The documentary is both scary in it's presentations of obsession and doubt mixed with the fear of an unfulfilled dream, and uplifting in Coppola's perseverance at any cost. In the end, that's what makes it so compelling. Oftentimes it's hard to decide to cry out of grief or elation, you just have to look away. It's almost like a horror film because everything happening to Coppola, be it physical, emotional or mental, truly is horrific. Coppola himself seems to become a monster.

Ultimately, Hearts of Darkness reminds me of one of Nietzsche's famous quotes, " If you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss stares back at you." It is that kind of thing that the artist must so often face, and Coppola does head on, for the good of his art at the time, but possibly to the detriment of the artist.

Monday, June 1, 2009

"No one has ever, ever paid admission to see an excuse." American Movie DOCUMENTARY MARATHON

American Movie-1999-Chris Smith


In a perfect world we would all accomplish our dreams. But in our world, oftentimes we fall short of what we originally intended. The American Dream isn't an easy thing to grasp, proof of this can be found in Chris Smith's telling documentary American Movie.

Following fledgling independent filmmaker Mark Borchardt as he makes his low budget short Coven, we see a man who has seemingly already lost everything but is still fighting for his dream. American Movie is at once hilarious, heartbreaking and infuriating. Mark isn't given a sympathetic pass due to his unrelenting and ultimately sad way of reaching his dream. He is shown for who he is. He still lives with his parents, working dead end jobs, and must constantly convince his Uncle Bill to finance his films.

With a hero like Mark to follow, it can sometimes be hard to jump on board, but when seeing his passion for filmmaking and everything he has gone through to make this movie, it's hard not to at least cheer for the film's completion. In Mark we see everything that is the "American Dream". If you try hard and persevere anything is possible is what we're always taught, and here on display is a man who is trying to do just that. This is where American Movie is able to take a basic premise and make it something tangible.

Is Mark a sad, loser or is he a down on his luck filmmaker in need of a break? We always see in American movies that hard work pays off, all of our dreams will come true as long as we try try try, but is there ever a cut off point? With four kids, an ex wife, and piles and piles of debt most people would say the logical thing is to at least put your dream on hold and take care of those things first. But is that really what the American Dream is? Something that can be paused at any moment to take care of other things and then brought back with the same amount of passion.

American Movie's success is found in it's honest portrayal of the American Dream. Dream's aren't always fully realized, but in the end Mark accomplishes a little part of that dream, and it makes a difference.

Mark's friend Mike Schank is another joy. He is a former heavy drug user who seems to barely have the capability for abstract thought, but his innocent conversation and dedication to helping his friend reflects these men's serious case of arrested development as well as their beautiful friendship.

At various points throughout the documentary Mark shows vulnerability and grows scared of the possibility of not realizing his dream. As Mike shows up, Mark sees him smiling and feels that everything will be alright. It doesn't take much to make Mike smile, he wins 50 bucks on a lottery ticket and looks like the happiest guy alive.

Mark Borchardt: I'm gonna wake up to hell tomorrow, man. Those credit cards ain't gonna look nice, man. But I'm always a man for my word. Mike Schank, you happy?
Mike Schank: Yeah, I'm happy.

Mark Borchardt: How happy are you, man?
Mike Schank: I'm very happy.
Mark Borchardt: Well good, man, cause don't drink. You're gonna set the world's record. OK, man? I'm cooled down, but... Hey I'm serious, man. If I missed somebody or anything, man, thanks a million for, uh, for helping out, man. Cause I... I couldn't of, whatever, done it

It's in little conversations like these that we get the heart of the film. Even though these guys make terrible decisions in their lives, and really don't seem to be bettering themselves too much, their friendship is a replication of what the American Dream really is:

Finding the people you love and spending time with them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Truth Is Subjective - Documentary Marathon

The search for truth seems to be inherently placed within our hearts. Every generation has searched for some sort of answer to why we are here, and how things got to be the way they are. It has taken art to give us a way to express that ultimate question without ever really answering it. From philosophers, to painters, to poets, they all questioned our existence in thoughtful new ways.

When film came along, we simply wanted to capture, and that we did. Some of the earliest recorded footage of all time are documentaries. These include a man sneezing, a train coming straight towards the camera, or any other number of mundane activities. What captivated the audience is the sheer idea of a moving picture.

Fast forward one hundred years and we have so many styles and forms of filmmaking that it's hard to imagine such a simplistic view of cinema. Nowadays our truth seekers are documentarians. They are out there on the front lines fighting for injustice, examining the human condition, and reporting back to us in subtle, nuanced and stylistic ways.

It's interesting that I begin these genre studies with documentaries because to many doc's are the lesser of the art form of cinema. They are the red headed step child, if you will. They are often thought of this way because many wonder how a director can truly put their stamp on a film when all you are doing is filming people talking. What they fail to realize is a documentary can be just as manipulative, if not more, than a narrative film. This can be both good and bad.

The documentary medium prides itself on realism. These are real people in real situations doing real things that we just so happened to catch on camera. This is the allure of such a genre. But whether or not it is intentional, the director cannot help but manipulate his audience. Each shot is a manipulation because they are telling us where to look. What is important here? They show us. What am I supposed to pick up from this scene? Oh wait, there's a close up on that guys hand and what it's touching, that must be something important.

This is why the documentary genre of filmmaking is so interesting. While it does capture truth, that truth is very subjective. It is at once the truth of what is happening in front of the lens, and how that lens is affecting those in front of it, whether they want it to or not. It is also the truth of the director. Take a recent film, Fahrenheit 9/11, and examine the truth and "truth" in it. Michael Moore comes out swinging with many, many accusations, some of which are undeniably true, others not so much. What is interesting isn't that everything placed into the film is one hundred percent accurate, but that everything there is one hundred percent Michael Moore.

The director chooses where to cut, what conversations to show the audience and even how relevant they are. This makes the documentary the most director driven form of filmmaking. Guised under the umbrella of truth seeking they get away with much more than the average director, and this is one of the many things that makes documentaries so fascinating.

While I examine this genre of films, I want to try and keep these aspects in mind while also not letting them affect my thoughts on what I have seen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's Alive! It's Alive!

As previously noted in last months blog post, I have been a busy man. I recently had another article published in CityBeat and should be having more in the near future.

This article is about a great local group called Okay Lindon.

Check it out here.

In regards to this here blog, I am excited to say I have found a little time to start movie watching again. I am organizing my Documentary film study as we speak and will start posting those in June. I am going to attempt to make it a monthly thing with each genre, but as far as documentaries are going I have so many I want to see that it will probably spill over into July.

Here is a current list of the Doc's I plan on studying, I have separated these into different topics I wish to cover them under:

Hearts Of Darkness
American Movie
Lost In La Mancha

The American Dream:
Hoop Dreams
Harlan County, USA
Roger and Me

Under a Microscope:
Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back
Little Dieter Needs To Fly
The Times of Harvey Milk

Quirky is the New Normal:
Capturing The Friedman's
Vernon, Florida
Gates Of Heaven

Born Into Brothels
Hearts and Minds
The Thin Blue Line

So stay tuned because in the coming weeks I will have my schedule up for this thing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Anyone and Everyone

I am aware that probably everyone who reads this here blog is already taking park in Ibetolis' wonderful 2000's series. I wanted to do a little advertising. so go here and read how it's all going over there. Sometime soon you may see a piece by me to disregard and continue reading all the great write ups on some of 2000's best films.

In news with my blog, I am still keeping it pretty slow as I am writing a little more for CityBeat, which I will continue updating you guys on whenever something new is published. I am also working on finishing up with school and will be writing some essays on films, so I will probably post those on here as well. And whatever I write for Ibetolis will eventually be up here after everyone floods his page with traffic.

My plan to do some more film studies will be resuming once I get a chance. I am going to be studying documentaries first. I plan on doing that as soon as possible but it might be June before I get to do so with any regularity.

Lastly, I recently saw Adventureland and because I'm not sure I will get a chance to actually review it, I must say, it is worth a ticket. It's sad that it's getting nowhere financially, but I hope it finds a life on DVD because Greg Mottola seemingly poured his heart into making this film and you can see it on the screen.

Friday, April 10, 2009

It's me! It's me!

So, in a fit of shameless self promotion I bring you my official published DVD review in CityBeat.

This is really nothing at all. I was just excited, and thought I would share it with you all.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Update Shmupdate....

So it has been nearly 2 months since I have updated this here blog. Honestly, I miss it, and will have some updates in the near near future, but for now, can I please have the floor to give you all a laundry list of possible excuses? Thank you.

Well---these aren't so much excuses as much as they are a way to let you all know what I have been up to recently.

I started working for a local film company set in Columbus, Ohio called Cut Throat Entertainment. We are set to start filming our first project in May, with hopes of completion by July. Along with that we have a number of other short films we are working on, including one I am a sort of honorary co-writer on due to a friends kindness, because he constantly asked my opinion on every aspect of his screenplay. So there is that excuse...

I also am gearing to finally get a one year certificate in Media Criticism and Journalism from the University of Cincinnati, too bad it only took me three years to attain it. Now the decision of whether or not to continue going in the journalistic direction I have started needs to be made.

I have also been interning for a local alt-weekly newspaper set in downtown Cincy called CityBeat and will actually have some writing published in there next week. It is a DVD review of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. And I will be continuing my writing and internship there for at least the duration of the school year.

This along with being a pizza delivery guy, married man, and all around just plain lazy, does not make a good blogmaster. Truth be told, I have seen a few movies this year, mostly lackluster. I would categorize them as good/decent(Watchmen, I Love You, Man), watchable(Taken) and just plain Godawful (Underworld 3). While I have felt compelled to jot down some words about these films and call it a review, every time I get the chance I decide to watch some unwatched episodes of The Office or Freaks and Geeks, or pull out some newly bought DVDs like Synecdoche, New York or Role Models and watch them and their special features, or even finally start reading Death of a Salesman.

Wow, I just typed a whole lot just to say that I cannot believe I haven't updated this thing in nearly two months. Please tell me you haven't forgotten about me?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"The only place I get hurt is out there." REVIEW

The Wrestler-2008-Darren Aronofsky


I have always been a person who becomes obsessed about one particular thing, and goes with it for awhile and then grows bored and moves onto something else. In high school I loved to play music and constantly wrote songs and played shows, now as a college student I am deeply involved with learning more about cinema. Between the ages of 10-13 I had a different love though. I have always enjoyed the elaborate, the dramatic, even as a pre-teen. My love was for professional wrestling. My friends and I had our own backyard wrestling association(AWA-Awesome Wrestling Association) and we even had weekly "cable televised" events and monthly "pay per view" events, with a championship belt and all. I watched every pay per view and classic match I could get my hands on, I studied the art of professional wrestling.

I say all of that to say this. Darren Aronofsky's latest film, The Wrestler, is about an entertainer. Someone who lives for the elaborate, the dramatic, the main event. Mickey Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a down on his luck professional wrestler, who in the 80's was at the top of his game. Now he only wrestles on the weekends to crowds of a couple hundred if he's lucky. Randy is a relic of the 80's, like the original Nintendo, like hair metal, like long hair and leather pants. He is a part of American pop culture history, and he is fighting to stay alive.

Aronofsky does a wonderful job of allowing us to get into how this truly is a passion in these men's lives, and not only a passion, but an art form. From the back stage scenes where we see them preparing for their matches, planning them out, we get a sense of camaraderie. These men are abnormal, and they get it. They don't do this because they want to be famous, they do it for the thrill of it all.

Along the way we meet Cassidy(Marisa Tomei), a stripper with a heart of gold. She is the only person Randy really entrusts anything to. Even when she is giving him a lap dance, the man is pouring his heart out to her, telling her about his day. This is what their lives have devolved to, impersonal sexual activity in place of real physical intimacy. It is an unrequited statement about the nature of how our society has grown so detached from any type of honest emotional connection. In the whole of the film, Cassidy represents something greater than the usual stripper/hooker with a heart of gold, doing said job because she has a kid. She represents what Randy has become.

Americans have this infatuation with their heroes and for awhile, wrestlers were our ultimate hero. There's something so inevitably American about Hulk Hogan telling kids to "say their prayers" while he body slams half naked men through tables in front of millions of people. It was never In God We Trust, it has always been, In Flavor Of The Month We Trust, so long as that flavor mentions some sort of moral activity that we can connect with.

Randy is a simple man really. All he wants is to connect with someone, anyone, and to wrestle. His failed relationship with his daughter is so heartbreaking yet so revealing that you almost have to look away. As a viewer you cannot help but to see Randy as a sort of lost icon. We wish and hope for a comeback. It's excruciating to see what one man will go through for his passion.

Screenwriter Robert Siegal structures this film in a very simplistic, Hollywood style. He reveals every moment at the exact second it should be, and seemingly follows step by step a Robert McKee like screenplay. Generally, this would make such a film come out about as bland as a rock, but with The Wrestler, Siegal and Aronofsky are able to transcend the usual Hollywood archetype and create something that follows the formula while remaining genuine and organic.

Occasionally, this comes back to haunt them. The allusions to Randy being a Christ figure, while generally well handled individually, overall become some sort of amalgamation of all that is wrong with Hollywood's obsession with said Christ figure.

It goes without saying that Rourke's acting is something to behold. He plays the part to utter perfection, with such subtlety and nuance that it couldn't seem anymore real if we were seeing him literally live this out in his life.

The film's final sequence is a masterclass in film making. While things happen, as one would expect, Randy makes a speech, people come back into his life who he thought he lost, the films final few frames show something transcendent on a level that few films reach.

Wrestling with my friends, playing in a band, writing about films; to me these things have offered such tremendously joyous feelings that other simpler pleasures cannot match. I still remember at age 11, holding that championship belt up and pretending there were millions of fans cheering me on, I guess we live with that child inside of us forever.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Nominations.

So the Academy Award nominations are in and I must say, I am relatively underwhelmed.

I won't rehash them for you as I'm sure those who are reading this have already seen the list, what I will say is one thing. I am so damn happy that The Dark Knight isn't up for Best Picture or Best Director. Everyone and their mother thought it was a lock, but I knew that if a black man can be the President than it's possible.

I'd like to thank my parents, my agent, and most of all the Academy voters for actually not making a similar mistake to the one they made with Titanic. Sure, I was really pulling for Wall-E and The Wrestler for best picture but at least something worked out to my advantage.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


As if my review, and every other review weren't enough, here is proof of all the overbearing Gump similarities found in Benjamin Button.

In other news, it seems my readers actually agree with me as WALL-E has barely edged out The Dark Knight for best film in my poll. That'll do pig, that'll do.

Monday, January 5, 2009

"Some things last." REVIEW

*This review is meant to be read backwards. Please go to the bottom and read up. Thanks.

That's really what The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button becomes. A string of wonderful scenes tied together by needless story devices that one might see in an amateur's screenplay when they are trying to get a grasp of different writing techniques. Ultimately the string grows weak and almost snaps, if it were not for it's source material, there's no telling where this thing would have taken us.

There really are moments of sheer brilliance though. My favorite scene of the film has to do with Benjamin Button as a baby, and it's truly transcendent in so many ways that I would like to see the film again, if only for that short scene. The film really ties itself together kind of well, in the midst of all it's messiness. There are even some nice short films thrown into this rather un-short film(almost 3 hours, not as bad a thing as some think it is). One involving a clock that ticks backwards, and wouldn't you know it, Eric Roth HAD to throw in a real life president just for kicks(Also seen in Gump). This short scene is actually quite moving, but this film didn't need it. Nor did it need any of the book end's with the older woman and her daughter reading the diary. I'll let you figure out who they are in the context of the film.

I'm not saying Eric Roth is incompetent. This film isn't bad, really, it's quite good. David Fincher(still wrenching over his Oscar snub for Zodiac) really brings it here with beautiful shot compositions and wonderful acting. It's a pity he couldn't have seen through a lot of Roth's grievances and allowed Fitzgerald's parable to shine through.

Let's not forget the women. Yes, Benjamin Button, despite his oddity, had himself a few women, as did Mr. Gump. But there was always that one woman. Jenny, I mean Daisy(Cate Blanchett) is just that woman. Of course fate forces them together in that funny way that fate works. Leaving someone unable to fulfill theirlife's dream just so the other person will get theirs.

This film works as if Eric Roth read Fitzgerald's story and said, "We've got something here but not enough for a full length." Amidst all the hustle and bustle of writing a screenplay he thought to himself, "What's the one film everyone remembers me from? Ah Ha! Forrest Gump! Well it's been 14 years, here's to hoping they don't have good memories."

As if Roth's attempt at Gumping up Fitzgerald's already wonderful story wasn't seen enough through a naive narration by an eccentric person who lived a long, event filled life. We are given a character by the name of Captain Mike(played well by Jared Harris) who's character resembles that of a Lt. Dan(Gary Sinise) in Forrest Gump. Tie this in with the lead characters infatuation with his mama, and extraneous details to add some whimsy to the story(here it's a hummingbird in the middle of the ocean, in Gump it's a feather).

Really? Enlighten us some more, please?

"My name is Benjamin Button, and I was born under unusual circumstances. While, everyone else was agin', I was gettin' younger... all alone."

Benjamin Button(Brad Pitt) is an odd child. Born old and aging younger. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the story after reading Twain's remark of how it is a pity that the best part of life was in the beginning and the worst at the end. Fitzgerald's short story isn't as elaborate as Eric Roth's script, nor should it be. Eric Roth added another layer to the story by having someone who shared Benjamin in a large part of his life dying as an old woman. Her daughter reads Benjamin's diary to her and we are thrown into the story with a Forrest Gump-ish narration from old Benjamin.

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
is a "curious" film in the way it decides to take such an enriching story and a wonderful premise and do nothing but make a near waste of time. I say near because the film is beautiful and occasionally gripping.


The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button-2008-David Fincher

Friday, January 2, 2009

Best Of 2008

It is now the year 2009. 2008 is only a memory. Many amazing things happened in 2008, including the election of our first African American President. Though the economic situation has left many to wonder, "What's next?" I believe we can find hope anywhere we look, especially the movies. 2008 offered us a glimpse into the psyche of Batman, made us feel for a dirty little tramp of a robot, and allowed us to watch as one man seemingly defied gravity between the two towers that have defined this decade. Amongst all of these things, 2008 offered us hope. Even the most cynical of films had glimmers of hope waiting to burst at the seems.

2008 is the first year I have seen this many films and been able to write at length about which are the best in my humble opinion. With that being said, I was still unable to see the following:
The Wrestler, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, Che, Rachel Getting Married, Seven Pounds, The Reader, Gran Torino, Frost/Nixon, Happy Go Lucky, Let The Right One In, Trouble The Water, Hunger, A Christmas Tale, Ballast, The Band's Visit, The Fall, Frozen River, Shotgun Stories, IOUSA, Encounters At The End Of The World

I decided that I would go ahead and make my end of year list, although I had previously wanted to wait a couple weeks as a number of these films are opening around here in mid to late January.

Another thing, I went over my entire list of films I have seen many times, trying to make a top 5 actress column but was unable to come up with more than one, out of the films I have seen, that was above mediocre in a leading role. I found plenty of supporting actress'. I'm sorry to anyone out there hoping to see my opinion on that matter, but as you can see from my list of unseens, all the great female performances(at least according to the buzz) are to be seen in those films(from Frozen River to Happy Go Lucky to Rachel Getting Married) Anyways, without further ado.

Deadpan 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright' Best Lists 2008!

Worst films of 2008(that I saw):

10. Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull
-I won't lie, I did find a sense of enjoyment in this travesty. It was kind of fun, but only in the way watching a train wreck is, I guess. No, I am not talking about it's so bad it's good. I think this is a decent action film, but as an Indiana Jones film it is severely lacking in the area of, how shall I say, goodness?

9. Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
-I found the first Harold and Kumar installment to be a surprisingly funny film. This one, not so much.

8. Semi-Pro
-Will Ferrel, what is wrong with thee?

7. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
- CS Lewis is one of the great fantasy authors of last century and his series about Narnia and the four children it follows, is a wonderful and skillfully written group of books that has a rich, deeply thought out subtext. The films based on these books care about nothing more than putting the families butts in the seats.

6. Twilight
-Well, I wasn't sure if this one was going to be bad enough to make it on this list, but sure enough it is. Can someone explain to me why anyone thought Catherine Hardwicke was the right person for the job?

5. Hancock
-A very amazing premise turned into B-level material.

4. The Incredible Hulk
-Trying to right all the supposed wrongs of Ang Lee's Hulk(which I have yet to see) Edward Norton's testosterone filled meat-head fest does little for the brain besides make it backfire.

3. Vantage Point
- Here is a film that just doesn't even try, and with so many talented actors.

2. Strange Wilderness
- A new low in comedic cinema.

1. Jumper
- Another interesting premise brought down to B-level, hell, C-level material.


Top 5 supporting Actors:

5. Haaz Sleiman-Tarek Khalil-The Visitor
-Sleiman's performance as a Syrian musician who is unknowingly involved in a real estate scam and inadvertently meets Walter Vale(Richard Jenkins) is a wondrous exercise in optimism within defeat. He is constantly smiling while allowing the audience to see the sadness in his eyes.

4. Brad Pitt- Chad Feldheimer- Burn After Reading
-This isn't an awards worthy performance, or even something that will be talked about in any acting forum as a means of outstanding achievement. What this performance is is a beating heart to the Coen's lifeless film. Every other performance in Burn After Reading, while funny, lacks any kind of sympathetic appeal.

3. Robert Downey Jr- Kirk Lazarus-Tropic Thunder
-Mr. Downey is a wonderfully eccentric and charismatic actor whom I would watch in most anything. Here, his satirical take on method acting is utterly hilarious and carries the film through it's rough spots.

2. Heath Ledger-The Joker-The Dark Knight
- I will be wearing a bullet proof vest for the next few weeks when I leave my house because I'm sure that not putting this performance as numero uno grants me some death wishes. The truth is, I loved Ledger's performance so so so so much. It is one for the ages, but I can't get past the fact that the man's death has affected this performance. I simply do not know if I would be stark raving mad for it if he were still alive today. His 2ND place spot can also be attributed to the fact that one man surpassed him in his performance, in two totally different films.

1. James Franco-Scott Smith and Saul Silver-Milk and Pineapple Express
- I remember seeing this guy on Freaks and Geeks before I knew who he, Seth Rogen or Judd Apatow were. Now I am watching him grow into a formidable force as an actor. Mark my words, this name will be synonymous with the name Oscar.

Top 5 Supporting actresses:

5. Freida Pinto-Latika-Slumdog Millionaire
-I just really thought she was wonderful.

4. Samantha Morten-Hazel-Synecdoche, New York
-In a film like Synecdoche it's hard to get past the oddity of it and really grasp each performance. Morten really understands her character and goes for it wholly. She will be overlooked for sure, but this is a wonderful performance that helps carry a beautiful film.

3. Isamar Gonzales-Isamar-Chop Shop
-This girl has never acted before? Really? She just seems so real. Chop Shop is a film that doesn't manipulate in anyway. We simply get to watch these people live their lives.

2. Mila Kunis- Rachel Jansen- Forgetting Sarah Marshall
-I never would have thought the worst actress on the show That 70's Show would give us a Lauren Bacall-esque performance in a comedy produced by Judd Apatow. There I go thinking again I guess, as she is outstandingly gorgeous and truly becomes Rachel Jansen. A guy can't help but fall in love with her on the screen.

1. Marian Seldes-Barbara-The Visitor
-Alongside Richard Jenkins, this woman's chemistry is top notch. Her quiet sadness while her son is being detained is so disheartening and one of the things that really makes this film work.

Top 5 Actors:

5. Sean Penn-Harvey Milk- Milk
- Over the top? yes, but Harvey Milk himself was over the top. Sean Penn, yet again, shows that he is one of the greatest actor of his generation.

4. Josh Brolin-George W. Bush- W
-Without becoming an impersonation or a caricature, Brolin really captures the essence of what and who Bush is. I applaud his performance, not only because it is noteworthy, but because it transcends the film itself.

3. Phillip Seymour Hoffman-Caden Cotard-Synecdoche, New York
-Hoffman could very well play any role that Sean Penn could, but maybe not quite as well. With that being said, I am not sure that Penn could play any role that Hoffman could, in particular this one. His melancholic tone throughout allows for everything he says to sink in and become something tangible.

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor-Mike Terry-Redbelt
-I am still a little unsure of what to think about Mamet's latest film, but Ejiofor's performance at least allowed me to sit back and enjoy skillful acting.

1. Richard Jenkins-Walter Vale-The Visitor
-Shortly after this film's release there was so much buzz surrounding this performance, just month's later everyone seems to have forgotten about Jenkins and the film. There is so much strength in the subtlety that Jenkins and the film exudes. They compliment each other.


5 Disappointments:

  • The lack of awards buzz for Synecdoche, New York
  • Final 45 minutes of The Dark Knight
  • In Bruges
  • W.
  • American Teen

5 Surprises
  • Role Models-2ND funniest film of the year.
  • Young@Heart-Sweetest film of the year.
  • Religulous-Funniest film of the year.
  • Chop Shop
  • Mila Kunis in Forgetting Sarah Marshall

5 favorite Quotes

''No, venti is 20. Large is large. In fact, tall is large and grande is Spanish for large. Venti is the only one that doesn't mean large. It's also the only one that's Italian. Congratulations, you're stupid in three languages.''

—Danny Donahue (Paul Rudd) in Role Models

"You wanna know how I got these scars?"
-Joker(Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight

" I know who I am! I'm the dude, playing the dude, disguised as another dude."
-Kirk Lazarus(Robert Downey Jr) in Tropic Thunder

"It's impossible, that's sure, so let's start working."
-Phillippe Petit in Man on Wire

"There are millions of people in the world, and none of those people are an extra, their all leads in their own stories."
-Caden Cotard(P.S. Hoffman) in Synecdoche, New York

Top 5 Characters

5. Aldous Snow(Russell Brand) in Forgetting Sarah Marshall
- Hilarious yet poignant.

4. Harvey Milk(Sean Penn) in Milk
- A moving and hopeful portrayal of a man with a lust for life.

3. Will Proudfoot(Bill Milner) in Son Of Rambow
-Endearing and charming.

2. Saul Silver(James Franco) in Pineapple Express
- No matter what you think about the rest of the film, this is a wonderful cinematic character.

-Easily chosen.

Top 5 Villains

5. Ourselves in WALL-E
- Yeah, that's right. Watch yourself because yourself is gonna get you.

4. U.S. Immigration System in The Visitor
-If you aren't careful, they'll deport you.

3. Dan White(Josh Brolin) in Milk
- A sympathetic and sad man who just couldn't find hope anywhere, even when it was right in front of him.

2. Death in Synecdoche, New York
- It's inevitable. The only killer who hasn't lost a victim.

1. Joker(Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight
- Wanna see a magic trick?

top 5 moments in film(2008):

5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall-Nude Scene
-Jason Segal's full frontal scene in his latest film was at once hilarious and artful. His reasoning for being naked, as the films underlying theme, really helped the film transcend the usual slacker comedy fare.

4. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button- Baby Realization.
OK, so the moment where, as a baby, Benjamin Button is looking at Cate Blanchett's character right before he dies was so incredible in it's sheer simplicity that I would rewatch the film just for that brief moment.

3. The Visitor- The Ending
As Tarek is sent back to Syria, Walter finds himself saddened by what has happened but also forever changed by the experience he has been through. He goes down to the subway, where Tarek was first taken away and plays his drum, faster and faster and faster as the train continuously passes by.

2. WALL-E- Spark Kiss
- My jaw dropped when WALL-E and EVE went to kiss and do so by causing sparks between their faces. It isn't something revolutionary just an absolutely brilliant idea that kept me smiling for weeks.

1. Man On Wire- Walking between the towers.
- As Ty Burr of the Boston Globe stated, "The sight is magical and heartbreaking in equal measure. Look, the movie says: Where so many would fall, a man walks on air."


Finally now, my Top 12 films of the year.

12. Young@Heart
-Such an elegant and overlooked film. A film as much about death as Synecdoche, New York, but as much about life and love as WALL-E.

11. Milk
-Harvey Milk's message is needed so badly today it's not even funny. Van Sant allows for us to see the message crystal clear.

10. Transsiberian
-Hitchcockian in it's use of trains and suspense. The film's mcguffin, drug smuggling, allows for an excellent thriller that doesn't tell the audience a thing. We must simply figure things out on our own.

9. Slumdog Millionaire
- I shouldn't like this film, I just shouldn't, but I cannot help it at all. It's charm is rarely outmatched.

8. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
- Apatow isn't rolling on all cylinders as he was in 2007 but this film is so unlike his usual films that it's hard not to like, although I enjoy many of his better ones. Nick Stoller directs this film where we see a man naked, not just for the fun of it though, but for a purpose.

7. The Visitor
-Thomas McCarthy's follow up to The Station Agent, carries that films sense of truth and honesty. The characters are so endearing and real that you can't not feel for them, not matter if you agree or disagree with their ultimate decision's.

6. My Winnipeg
-A man goes back to his hometown and hires people to play himself and his family while he films them in the home he grew up in reenacting moments from his life. Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg is a film unlike any other. The real life Synecdoche, New York.

5. Paranoid Park
-Gus Van Sant had a wonderful year with two excellent films, but the one garnering less attention is the one that I found the most gut wrenchingly painful and beautiful.

4. Man On Wire
- If there ever were a fairytale story to pass on to your kids, this is it. Oh wait, this really happened? Wow.

3. Snow Angels
-Talk about underrated, David Gordon Green's film from earlier this year that follows three couples at different stages in their relationship is so incredibly thought provoking with a sad but hopeful touch that I would recommend it to anyone.

2. Synecdoche, New York
- Charlie Kaufman may well be the best screenwriter working today. While many leave this film bewildered and left asking more questions than find answers, what they don't realize is that is the point. Kaufman isn't moralizing to us, but simply allowing us to find our own conclusion in this life.

- My love for this film is due wholly to how exceedingly amazing WALL-E truly is. Yes, all the critics are saying that now, but honestly, why shouldn't they. This is the best film of this year, last year and maybe even the decade.


Those are my favorites of 2008. I feel these lists are very personal and deeply subjective so I want to here some feedback on where you think I was wrong or right. Thanks.