Top Ten 2002 Films

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  • 1) The Twilight Samurai - Where in the world did this one come from? Yoji Yamada's film flew quietly under my radar until a note from Jim mentioned that I might like it. If Yasujiro Ozu directed a samurai film, I suspect it would like a lot like this fantastic film, and that is high praise. The directing is understated yet divine, knowing when to leave the frame still and to allow the action to wander off, and brave enough to let this potentially melodramatic material breathe naturally without superfluous emotional underlining or fireworks. A petty samurai, soldiering on after the loss of his wife leaves him supporting a senile mother and two young daughters on his own, must face several trials, including one that might spell his end. This is a beautiful, moving movie, one that burrowed into my heart with a subtle grace reminiscent of the highest masterpieces of the art. I wish I could write something more insightful, but I am frankly still reeling from this film. Jim, you nailed it; I love this film.

  • 2) Bloody Sunday - Bowling for Columbine upset me and made me laugh; Bloody Sunday enraged me and made me livid with tears. A march against gross abuses of civil rights, including America's current favorite, mass internment without trials, turns into a slaughter. This film's bare documentary style puts you in the middle of the carnage and forces you to deal with the horrible aftermath that includes incredible grief, corruption, and cover-up. This incendiary work is nearly the best film I have seen from a year that seems increasingly like a high-water mark for modern cinema. This is not history. It is protest and prophecy.
  • How long, indeed.

  • 3) Talk to Her - Pedro Almodovar's style has been maturing for quite a few years now, but Talk to Her is a shock. A few outlandish moments remain, but while the film remains rather playful, it also manages to be very meditative at the same time. Sure, Almodovar is still creating melodramas, but Talk to Me is certainly more drama than usual. This, of course, does not mean that Talk to Me isn't odd and disturbing in parts, but here, it is the characters, the story, and to a surprising degree, the *realism* of both elements that are unsettling. Good people do bad actions out of good, if twisted, motives. Lonely people settle for a fool's gold version of love rather than isolation. Small moments of grace rise from horrible situations. Real people walk through a reality that is slightly unreal, rather like most people experience 'reality'. Echoing the thematic changes, Almodovar mutes his pastel shades, relaxing them to soft hues rather than glaring shocks of colors. The acting is also subdued, but Dario Grandinetti gives one of the male performance of the year os the sad yet strong Marco, and the casting of Javier Camara is a stroke of genius. Leonor Watling is convincing both a bullfighter and a sexy object of desire, and Geraldine Chaplin fits perfectly into a film that celebrates silent cinema. Pedro Almodovar not only shines as director, but also proves that his script deserves that Best Original Screenplay nomination it scored. Hell, there is at least one (at least one) shock in this film that manages to be believable and much more surprising and emotionally satisfying than anything M. Night Shyamalan has yet to hack up. Talk to Her is a wonderful development in Almodovar's filmography; Pedro seems to be one of the few current longtime directors to mature at the peak of his game. Here, he leaves you slightly uneasy, slightly hopeful, and completely longing for more.

  • 4) Far from Heaven - I hate and love artifice. Much too often it is drenched in irony, reveling in kitsch, causing every attempt at emotion to slip through the confused viewer's fingers. I confess this artificiality rarely thrills me; I too often find it cheap to create and even less rewarding to work through. Other times, however, artifice creates a new world to dislocate, to place us into foreign terrain where the old rules loosen a bit. Lost, we are explorers, open to the improbable and the fantastic. I love this, and by God, I love Far from Heaven. You see, you know Todd Haynes isn’t just cracking a joke when, early in the film, Julianne Moore puts on that liquid pair of emerald gloves. They are thick and rich, and even though they are inconsequential to the position the scene holds in the film’s narrative, the camera almost seems to roll and savor them like brandy or smoke from a dark cigar. Mr. Haynes isn’t reviving this fifty-year-old melodramatic genre for a poke in the ribs and a good guffaw. He is breathing life into this faded style because it is another world to modern filmgoers, and by dislocating us, he short-wires our defenses and opens us to the new. Since we are wide-eyed with suspended critical reflexes, he slips melodrama before our moist eyes, and we eat up every second of it. Moulin Rouge did this last year – for all the wild antics of the first half which seem to annoy so many, I frankly doubt if we would have bought the broad tragedy which followed without the kinetics knocking us out of place – and Far from Heaven does this at least as well this year. Even as an admirer of Haynes' recreation of the seventies glam scene in Velvet Goldmine, I now see that earlier film was simply an appetizer to this much fuller realized and varied feast. Julianne Moore forces our forgiveness for Hannibal, and Dennis Quaid continues one of the most unexpected career rehabilitations in recent memory. Dennis Haysbert was so good that after a few scenes I was able to stop seeing President Palmer in gardener’s clothes altogether, and Patricia Clarkson (who always reminds me of the stellar first season of Murder One) stands out among the supporting players. This film starts by jarring us and ends by moving us deeply.

  • 5) The Man Without a Past - Perhaps my love of dramas about ordinary people rages beyond all control, perhaps I am a sucker for a leisurely, atmospheric pace where the silence speaks as loudly as the words, or perhaps the echoes of Hal Hartley’s Amateur bit into my leg too deeply, but I completely fell for Aki Kaurismaki’s quiet film with complete abandon. The deadpan humor often had me laughing aloud, the early rock and roll soundtrack had my toes tapping, and the moving tale of a man without memory making a way in a downtrodden, poverty-ravished world engaged me fully. This is the type of film many will see and label over-rated, but I lost myself to its charms. It is a quiet, under-heralded masterpiece.

  • 6) The Pianist - A common thread weaves throughout Polanski's best films. He is frankly obsessed with evil. Carol Ledoux and Lady Macbeth are seduced by it in Repulsion and Macbeth, Rosemary is raped by it in the form of Satan himself in Rosemary's Baby, and Noah Cross embodies it arguably even more completely in Chinatown. Polanski's main characters are always victims wrecked by the evil unleashed in the film. At first glance, The Pianist, as depressing as it is, seems a bit more hopeful. Yes, most of the Nazis certainly live up to the role of evil in the film, but as horrible as conditions grow, Wladyslaw Szpilman escapes from the darkness. Deeper reflection, however, reveals that The Pianist really isn't much different from the previous films. No character escapes evil; its power envelopes all. Like Rosemary and J. J. Gittes, Szpilman simply survives it. The Pianist finds Polanski with greater control of his powers than since Chinatown. He and Adrien Brody are true masters. While most directors and actors would be unable to resist grandstanding with such grave material, both artists not only display incredible skill, but also important, admirable restraint. If many elements of the story are sadly very familiar by now, neither Roman nor Adrien's approach to it is. While not quite the timeless masterpiece that the somewhat similar The Garden of the Finzi Continis is (which manages to be more affecting even while stopping short of the actual Holocaust), The Pianist is still a great, sad film that will linger longer than one may like.

  • 7) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - A fine follow-up on the first film, The Two Towers doesn't quite reach the grand, epic heights of the opening installment of the series. It lacks the thrill of a novel undertaking, the synergy of the major characters, and the nearly flawless special effects from the first film (the scene with the tree-shepherd carrying the hobbits looks horrid). Fortunately, the Gollum scenes work much better than I had feared; in fact, they are terrific. The creature is both movingly portrayed and admirably rendered, adding a touching emotional element to a film that very much needs one. The condensing of the large novel to a film hurts The Two Towers much more than it did The Fellowship of the Rings, which harms the theatrical version slightly, but does leave one's mouth watering for the eventual extended DVD. All in all, The Two Towers is a rousing middle section to a triology everybody and his / her gardener prays ends gloriously with next year's The Return of the King.

  • 8) Secretary - Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader bring flesh and blood to this story of strange love birds not too far removed from the spirit of Harold and Maude, and as a result, rather than exploitation, Secretary plays as exploration. Steven Shainberg, adapting and directing a Mary Gaitskill short story, shows an incredible empathy with the material and characters; what could have played as a cautionary tale or a generic erotic thriller instead evolves into a love story for those who cannot relate with perfect princes and Cinderellas. Secretary is one of the more daring films of 2002, but it rewards its viewers for every step they are willing to take along with it.

  • 9) Hero - What a beautiful rush! Zhang Yimou takes an unexpected dip into wuxia, and spends much of the film forcing viewers' jaws open and yanking the bottom plate to the floor. What might be more unexpected is the film's twist into political philosophy, and while it might end that particular journey a bit too quickly and simply, it at least gives this opulent epic quite a bit to feed the brain as well as the eyes. Oh, and it does feed those eyes. A few of the computer images may push matters a bit, but this movie provides so many incredible scenes to gaze at that to quibble would be to complain that a few of Airplane's jokes aren't top rate. It would rather miss the point. Additionally, for an adventure that speeds by with incredible speed, Hero certainly gives its characters more definition and charisma that most action movies ever give their inhabitants. This is a high-water mark for its genre, a surprise from drama-master Zhang Yimou, and a delight for film fans.

  • 10) Road to Perdition - Let me get one gripe off my chest first. Why does everybody involved with American Beauty have a horrid addiction to banal commentary that restates the obvious? This didn't get too out of hand in American Beauty, but Alan Ball's Six Feet Under never stinks as bad as it does when the corpses pretentiously feel the need to tell you what you should already know, and Road to Perdition is sandwiched by narration that really ends the entire endeavor with a sour taste. When you've told your story, shut up and don't tell it again. To quote Edina, "We aren't all stupid, you know." While this major flaw really irked, I am bucking the Listology trend and admitting I really liked Road to Perdition. I found the variations on the father and son themes emotionally moving, and the acting was, for the most part, rather extraordinary. Yes, Paul Newman is still a rare treasure, but the fact that he doesn't completely overshadow Hanks in their shared scenes says volumes about how the younger man has grown unexpectedly into an actor of depth and rare subtlety. All the praise went to the cinematography, but it still was not better than the work for The Man Who Wasn't There. Road to Perdition, however, is a much better film that the Coen's contemporary effort. This under-stated film is oddly slow and quiet for a gangster flick, but that restraint adds to the resonance of the actions of its emotionally restrained characters, and while that obnoxious narration remains a serious problem, I think (*duck*) this is a stronger film than Mendes' award-winner American Beauty, and I am a bit baffled as to its muted reception. Perhaps the predictable ending let many down. I found the inevitability of the climax to strengthen the tragic strain running throughout the film, and if it fails to surprise or shock, I do not think the creators meant it to be a twist. Maybe I missing something here, but I found Road to Perdition to be one of the best 2002 had to offer.






  • Honorable Mentions

  • Minority Report - Reviews have varied on this one, but for my money, this is the best Spielberg film in nearly a decade. The effects are stellar, the story twisty and pointed, and the tone edgy in a way Steven seldom ever has been since the early 70s. Heck, the boy even indulges in some delicious, eye-popping black humor! I admit, I was very shocked at just how great this film is. It is very rare that Spielberg can meld his higher, social aspirations with his amazing (if recently under-used) ability to wow and entertain, but in Minority Report, he may just have pulled this trick off better than he ever has. Cruise is admirably toned-down and believable, and the beautiful, talented Samantha Morton is perfect in a quite un-glamorous role. Additionally, the film's vision of a future 52 years from now was both insightful and realistic; there isn't too much here that I would be surprised to see around if and when I hit 81 (although those personalized ads will probably drive me to keep my hearing aids turned off). There really is not much wrong with this film; nearly every note is pitch perfect. I'm not really sure why it bombed at the box office, unless after 9/11, people really don't want to be warned about the possible unsavory effects of trading in freedom for safety. Required viewing for sci-fi fans and anybody with the last name of Ashcroft.

  • Good Bye Lenin! - In a manner somewhat like Zhang Yimou's wonderful To Live, this film penetrates the blur of potent political changes to focus on the personal stories of people trying to survive the radically shifting world. These people are well-defined and alive, and the cast consists of some of the finest, often most appealing actors most of the world have yet to hear of. The political does get wrapped into the final picture, but in a manner true to the story and to the flavor of this surprisingly fun film. Wolfgang Becker deserves high praise for writing such a creative story and bringing it to life with verve and vitality; he even has some great fun referencing film masters of the past. The news scenes are very funny, and the actual goodbye to Lenin is one of the more visually powerful moments of film in recent memory.

  • We Were Soldiers - After Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, and Saving Private Ryan, the war genre is becoming a tricky one to work. A filmmaker can go crazy deciding on the proper tone to set or a way to make the film unique. Two films, Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers, recently tried to revitalize the timeworn subject, and while the critics praised the Scott-helmed Hawk, Randall Wallace’s Soldiers is easily the superior film. Perhaps the key to the film’s success is the uneasiness it faces, and not only in the carnage. jgandcag is partly right; Soldiers does share a certain spirit usually not seen outside of World War II films, and certainly not often seen in films set in the jungles of Vietnam. This is not an easy film to pigeonhole, though.
    Spoiler: Highlight to view
    While the film never falters in its respect for the soldiers spilling blood (and that goes for the victims of either side, a rare effort in this field) Soldiers eventually does question the war itself. At the end, beside a waving American flag that at first appears the symbol of pride, the Vietnamese officer regrets that America will now feel like this is its war, and he predicts the end will still be the same except for the increase in the number of bodies. We know he is right, and the flag changes from a boasting emblem into a mark of ownership. It this context, it is a tragic mark, yet still a noble one.
    This is a shock. It brings values that seem set throughout the movie into question, and it leaves one with conflicted emotions. Perhaps in that regard, this film captures a side of the war that few Vietnam films have; it does not easily allow for pat conclusions. I was surprised at how well made this film was. The excellent acting from all involved enhances Wallace’s efforts to keep the brutal, bloody bodies connected to real characters. He doesn’t neglect the opponents or the home front, and while his dialogue can slip into slogans, a flaw conspicuous mostly at the beginning, he has done a stellar job grounding this conflict in the lives of the people fighting it. The dialogue isn’t the only flaw; the montage at the 1:40 mark makes the horrible decision
    Spoiler: Highlight to view
    to include action poses of the photographer that unintentionally seem humorous and distracting (the photos themselves would have done the same trick much better). Additionally, the ending of the battle unfortunately shifts in tone a bit too close to an action film, which somewhat seems to trivialize the actual events, and the occasional moment of cliché (usually patriotic) threatens to push the carefully created characters into icons (which would have been fatal),
    but the truth is that We Were Soldiers is surprisingly stirring, moving stuff, humane enough to encompass many of the individuals affected by the war. Its strengths outweigh its flaws. The result is an excellent war film, one that refuses to give easy conclusions (logical or emotional), and one that has the utmost respect for the fighters while not quite anointing the fight itself.

  • About a Boy - Somewhat to my surprise, I really enjoyed this film. Hugh Grant is quite fun as a stunted man whose fake charm is a smokescreen to his shallow selfishness. The young boy he becomes involved in is, of course, cute as can be, and the relationship is much less cliched than I expected (heck, it even fooled me in places). Throw in some humor and fun visual stylings, and you have a perfectly fine way to spend a buck on a Friday evening. I never expected a film this intelligently funny from the Weitzs, but I do love a surprise. Hardly a masterpiece, but frankly, one of the better 2002 films.

  • Gangs Of New York - In the back room of festivals, the cynics were whispering Heaven's Gate while the faithful were praying for heaven. Martin Scorsese gave us something in between, but luckily much closer to glory than purgatory. The film is bold, subtly making some very dark and grim statements while wrapping a history lesson inside a gripping Civil War-era Donnie Brasco setup. The biggest surprise here is perhaps watching Leonardo DiCaprio make it through an epic length feature without sucking. He actually pulls the weight of the film without tripping at least ninety percent of the time. In other words, he reminds us why we all considered him such an exciting actor before his unfortunate and uncomfortable (if extremely profitably) turn in Titanic. Rivaling that shock is the sad realization that Daniel Day-Lewis' much-praised comeback plays like yet another De Niro performance; he even cops many of Bobby's facial pulls and stiff body lurches. He does it well, but it is hardly original and frankly disappointing. Also disappointing is the soggy twenty minutes or so that sop by on the way to the climax, but hey, this is a grand film, huge and large and stuffed full of delights. It is big enough to absorb these weaknesses and offers more than enough to repay the viewer's forgiveness and time. No, this isn't Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, or Raging Bull, but it is close to Casino and Kundun, and that's pretty damn good in my book. Many are calling this a triumphant return. I'd throw my hat in the ring with them, except I'm not sure what Scorsese is supposed to be returning from. One weak film (Bringing Out the Dead) is hardly a slump, and one black mark out of thirty years of directing features does not require a "comeback". Scorsese has simply picked up his mantle and continued doing what he amazingly has been doing nearly without fail; he made a great film.

  • Insomnia - Insomnia is quite good. Not great, but quite good. The film doesn't quite seem to trust its own ability to create atmosphere, and perhaps over-loads on this front a bit, but over all, this is a very well done cop film, with a dull snowblinded whiteness sitting in for the usual noir. The acting is stellar, and the recreations of the effects of insomnia are vivid and dead-on. A few set-oriented scenes work incredibly well, especially one involving logs washing down river, and Pacino and Williams avoid some of their own cliches that have plauged them lately. It is, of course, always nice to see Hartley regular Martin Donovan making a bit of dough in a mainstream film. As my wife stated as we left the dollar film, this film is somewhat similar to Homocide: Life on the Street, and frankly, doesn't soar nearly as high as that classic series, but on its own, Insomnia is still one of the stronger films of 2002.

  • Bowling For Columbine - The problem with discussing Moore's films is that half of the people you meet can't stand his liberal guts and the other half think he is God handing down new gospels. The truth is that Moore doesn't really make documentary films as much as he creates visual essays. He selects evidence, forcefully argues his points, and tries to entertain as he attempts to persuade. In Bowling for Columbine, he might take a few cheap shots, but he largely and unexpectedly debunks some typical whipping boys for both left and right leaners while searching for answers he can't always find. He often persuades, but even better, he nearly always entertains (even when he causes us to squirm, especially when his confrontation of a very generous Charlton Heston turns nearly as heartless as he accuses Heston of often being). Do we need such blatant propaganda from other side of the political spectrum? Probably not, but we can certainly enjoy it and learn from analyzing it. Bowling is up there with Roger as Michael's best, and that makes it pretty hard to beat, not that I can think of too many other comparable films competing against it.


  • Films Intentionally Left Off This List

  • Spider-Man - Gee, what a cranky old guy L. Bangs must be. He is dissing Spider-Man?
  • Oh, yeah.
  • Where to begin with this film? Terrible dialogue. Dunst seems to have entirely forgotten how to act and looks incredibly silly in red hair. The web-slingin', coaster-ridin' special effects look like a third-rate video game. The script is nice enough to give you a billion hints about where each element of the story is going miles before you arrive. Did I mention this film made a buttload of money? Apparently, idiots run and throw themselves at crap like this, no doubt nobly attempting to keep the ailing film industry afloat. What a nation of patriots! And just think how the country's economy will soar when the latest slice of Star Wars is half-assed served up today! The box office will boom! I heard a rumor that a few hundred billion dollars more, and Hollywood might consider hiring writers for the films!
  • I spent $5 bucks on this lame waste of time, I've spent untold minutes reading critics fawn and faint over how brilliant it is, I've listened to oodles of friends who usually exhibit great taste discuss the ecstatic epiphanies this film flung over them, and I am baffled, confused, and, yep, you guessed it!, cranky! My god, is fall here yet?
  • If people really wanted to see great films roll out of Hollywood, they would simply stop running to see blockbusters the weekend they pop out. Wait a week. Hear from friends. Don't encourage them to spend millions of dollars promoting brand names instead of films! You have friends who have strange needs to see every big-event film the weekend it comes out. Hear from them first. The world will continue to spin round if you don't see the megamovie the weekend it arrives, and you'll help discourage Hollywood from focusing exclusively on opening-night young males. Your choice, but if you always see Star Wars the day it comes out, don't complain. It sucks because they know you'll fork the cash over (opening night, nevertheless!) regardless.
  • God knows, it ain't the studios who are the stupid ones...
  • Now, with that off my chest, Spider-man is not terrible, but it really isn't very good either. I was stuck seeing this with a group. I noticed the theater we went to was also showing Monsoon Wedding, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and The Son's Room, and I have to admit, I just don't get it. However, we had to see Spider-Man, and that's just a shame.

  • Signs - I really, really did not like this film at all. At 106 minutes, it felt longer than most three hour films. Of course, all that waste of film stock eventually tumbles into another patented M. Night Shyamalan ending, and this one stinks. Real bad. It doesn't particulary surprise, it is extremely contrived, it is cheesy beyond belief, and it doesn't even make much logical sense. In other words, it sucks. Really bad. It is one of the worst endings I have seen in a long, long, long time. Sadly, there really isn't much more in the film going well. Shyamalan has proven that he is a good old-fashioned spooky film director, scaring through sound effects and the unseen. Unfortunately, Shyamalan refuses to make an old-fashioned spooky film. Instead, his films try to twist where they really shouldn't, and they try to make profound religous statements where M. Night really hasn't a damn profound bone in his body. So far, this has to be the worst 2002 film I've seen yet. Really. Want to see this film? Take a nap instead. You'll get the same effects, plus you'll get your rest too.

  • Chicago - If you took a print of Cabaret, transferred it to video, ran off a dub, dubbed that dub, then filmed that version as it played on an shabby television set, digitized it, and then tweaked up the color, brightness, treble, and bass levels, you would have a very shiny version of Fosse's masterpiece. The colors would glisten, the sound would boom crisply, and audiences everywhere would gush orgastically over it. There is a problem, however. Fosse's cinematography is a delicate, detailed, textured beast, and even if all those levels mentioned above were humming at eleven, you still would have a shell sucked of a soul. I cannot think of a better or more apt metaphor for Chicago. This film is awful. Awful. Yes, it is probably going to win the Best Picture Oscar, which puts it in the recent company of Gladiator (an even worse movie than this) and A Beautiful Mind (which, while no great shakes, actually does look like a masterpiece held up to this film). In fact, it fits perfectly into the saddest decade for Best Pictures yet seen. You see, for starters, Rob Marshall brought nothing to the direction of this film that he didn't cop from Bob Fosse. Well, that's not entirely true. Everything has been dumbed down, so I suppose the low level of intelligence is unique to ol' Robbie. True, Fosse did the choreography and direction for the original stage version, but for God's sake, Rob, you didn't have steal the freakin' camera shots and edits, did you? I mean, Fosse's Chicago wasn't a film, so that was hardly inherent to the musical. You don't even seem to understand the emotional effects of his tricks; you simply see the flash, hear the snap, and put a dime into the Xerox machine. You're not fooling anybody. You are the Paul Thomas Anderson of modern musicals. It is not entirely your fault, of course. You are a victim of the cynical lawyers posing as artists we call producers. I can see the smoky room stinking of sweat, as very important film people lean back in plush chairs and rewatch a screener of Moulin Rouge. So great, and yet, it didn't win the Oscar. Well, you know, every one blamed the older members of the Academy. It was too wild, too contemporary, and too radical, and the older set just blanked out after the first ten minutes. Wait! We can tame the beast, defang it and dull it down so that all Academy members have a chance to love it. Hmmm, what was the last live action musical to hit Oscar gold? Cabaret. Ah. Let's steal the style of Cabaret, but leave behind any shred of that sticky substance dealing with complex characters or dramatic situations. And sorry, Bebe Neuwirth. We know you want the role of Velma, that you OWN the role of Thelma, but damn it, we need names and hot sexy things here. Hey, isn't Catherine Zeta-Jones free? She was nominated for Traffic. Sure, she looks like crap in the short hair wig, and sure, her acting, singing, and dancing chops won't carry the day, but she'll help drag the male population in, and we can always edit around the tricky steps any way, and if she glares with a sideswipe of the head around twenty times during the court scene, we'll make her work. Maybe this scene never took place, but I'd lay down money something damn close to it did. Add the fact that Queen Latifah only really clicks when she's singing and the sad truth that Chicago has never had the best or most memorable of scores, and this film never even had a chance artistically, but every chance in the world at Oscar, and thus real monetary, awards. The good vibes on Listology had my hopes up a bit, but truthfully, this movie is worse than I feared. The dedication at the end or the credits to Fosse is both appropriate for a film that dimly copied his style and his style only, and an insult for a movie so shallow that its interest in Fosse's genius stopped there. Chicago will win Best Picture gold, but it is one plastic loser.

  • Adaptation - While I watched many 2002 films I disliked much more than Adaptation, I did not see one that disappointed me more. At around the halfway mark of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman's latest collaboration, I was convinced it would find a spot pretty high on my favorites of the year list. Around a hour and a half into the film, however, the punchline of the joke begins to play out, and the viewer must suffer through this for thirty miserable minutes. It sours the film beyond saving, and as a result, I can't really stick this film anywhere near my top ten for last year. The acting is terrific, the directing is quite impressive, but the bad gag of having the film devolve into
    Spoiler: Highlight to view
    a horrible example of the very type of cinema it is mocking
    is simply too sad and, frankly, boring to tolerate as long as we are made to endure it. I suppose this film is still worth watching for the faithful, but me, I feel *very* cheated and, yep, disappointed.

  • Panic Room - Panic Room has an extremely flawed script that no amount of flashy direction or truly great acting can quite overcome. This is the type of writing which will have people do incredibly stupid things they would *never* do in the real world and then joke about how stupid they were later. Somehow, the lame, self-referential joke is supposed to make us feel better about the poor writing. It doesn't. Add to that an excellent premise that isn't milked for half it is worth and the embarrasing fact that propane is HEAVIER than air and does not float at the top of a room, and, well, did I mention the acting? Forest and Jodie, the veterans, get all the ink, but anybody who caught Requiem for a Dream may pay more attention to Jared Leto's wired performance. Of course, Dwight does the type of performance Dwight has proven he can do before, and Fincher creates cool credits and makes his camera move through a coffee pot handle...
Author Comments: 

Wow, what a year!

I just saw Italian for Beginners in the theatre last night. It was a very good film, you owe it to yourself to go see it.

Ah, I fear I beat you to the punch! You'll find it on my Best of 2001 list. :)

Fun film.

Be watching your email box...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

By the way, remember this name: David Koepp. He is the loser who penned both of the incredibly weak screenplays for the two films listed above. His films are marked by lame plots, awful dialogue, and characterizations broad enough to play several simultaneous games of football over. He has proven that he can create interesting high concepts, but he has shown little skill at doing anything worth a fllp with his huge ideas.

He is an obvious product of Hollywood's "pitch me a plot in 30 seconds" style of scripts. (My, I'm feeling the need to rent The Player again!)

He is just bad enough that I've little doubt he'll be picking up an Oscar soon...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Good rant! I'd agree that the boatload of money Spiderman has pulled in is out of proportion for it's quality, which I'd rate as "pretty good for a summer blockbuster" (I listed it here, which I think is appropriate given the company on that list). And I'd also agree that as long as folks flock to movies like these, studios will keep cranking them out.

That said, I have to disagree on a couple points. Kirsten Dunst always surprises me. I never expect anything of her, and then, lo-and-behold, I usually enjoy her roles. This was no exception, although I'd agree the red hair is out of place on her head. I think she sufferered more from drawing the short straw when they were handing out the dialog than from any actorly shortcomings.

It also seems to me that you're objecting to the summer schlockfest rather than Hollywood moviemaking in general. Understandable, but I must admit that I like that the movies have "seasons." During the summer, on those few occasions when I think it's going to be worth putting up with the gabbing crowds to see a movie on a big screen rather than in the comfort of my own home, I know Hollywood will produce me a worthwhile loud check-your-brain-at-the-door spectacle or two (and I'd submit that Spiderman is one such spectacle). Then, after a short break, I can look forward to Oscar contenders in the late fall, and usually something quite special at Christmastime. From January to April I can curl up indoors and rent all the good "don't need a big screen" movies I missed because I know Hollywood is hibernating.

Of course, my perspective is skewed a bit since I only see three or four movies a year in the theater, parenthood and crowd-annoyance generally limiting my attendance. In fact, the only movies I've seen in the theater in the past year are Spiderman, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Memento. With the exception of Memento it takes an f/x extravaganza to draw me away from the comfort of my little DVD nook at home.

In short, I'm part of the problem. Sorry! :-)

If Yoda says it is alright, then I'll forgive you! :)

I actually love a great blockbuster. Of fairly recent films, off the top of my head I recall greatly enjoying Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Mission Impossible (for the most part), and Face/Off. Being a blockbuster is certainly no curse; the artistically-satisfying summer cashcow DOES exist.

I think Hollywood is in a very bad case of decline (recline?), however. I was checking out my top ten list for last year, and discarding the foreign films, most of them were independent films. The current Hollywood formula rarely works well for drama, so I usually look for it to nail the action and comedy genres. Sadly, it really isn't even do that too often.

I mean, in the early year we get the rejects that Hollywood is largely ashamed to dish out in the summer. Summer is the blockbusters, and fall is Hollywood's usually pathetic attempt to produce serious, Oscar-worthy films. Well, they often do manage to nail several Oscars; whether they are any good is usually up to an extreme debate.

Of course, much of the funding for the independents one way or another flows from Hollywood, but funding a film is not nearly as difficult as making a film.

So my beef (I believe) *is* against Hollywood and not just summer movies. Believe me, I love a great blockbuster as much as the next guy or gal; I just may severely disagree on what a *great* blockbuster is!

Am I, the old crank, forgiven? ;)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

As far as I'm concerned, there's nothing to forgive! But how big a wet blanket were you to your Spiderman-loving companions? Maybe *they* want an apology? :-)

I understand better where you're coming from. I think part of my problem is that I'm terrible at identifying independent films. I looked at your 2001 list, and I honestly can't tell for sure which are independent and which are Hollywood. Of the U.S. releases, I would only confidently guess that Ghost World is independent. And I never would have guessed that Lord of the Rings was independent!

Are there any easy ways to spot independent movies? (aside from the "if it's good, it's independent" test :-) Or do you just have to know your logos when the opening credits roll?

If someone were to tell me what they meant by "independent" then I could probably tell you which films were independent just by looking at the titles.

In the case of the Lord of the Rings, why is that independent? They were given $300 Million dollars be New Line Cinema to make those films. Is New Line not considered part of Hollywood?

A quote from one of AAA's articles: "The Chlotrudis Awards are a Boston based organization that celebrates foreign and independent film."

Lord of the Rings won Best Adapted Screenplay. Needless to say, I was quite surprised that LotR was considered. The article and ensuing conversation are here: Awards: 2001: Chlotrudis Awards.

Thanks, Jim! I had seen that before and knew that Chlotrudis had considered them independent. I was more interested in what lbangs and/or the "common wisdoms" definition of what independent was. Any takers?

I did a little research on the definition of independent film and posted the results over on "My Opinion On..."

Thanks! I agree that the second definition is lame: "An independent film is one that appeals to sophisticated audiences, usually produced outside the traditional studio system." "Sophisticated" == "Independent"? That's like saying "all brick buildings were built by the government", or something equally nonsensical. I figure if you're going to use the label "independent" then is has to have some bearing on what the movie is independent from.

In my little mind, I really can't speak of a specific studio being independent or not. The truth is that many of the companies are both; they often buy up independently-made films to distribute, and they also make big-budget films that I really can't call independent (Gangs of New York, made by Miramax/Disney for over $100 million and heavily steered by Harvey W., is hardly a true independent film in my world; nor is Lord of the Rings).

Officially, of course, an independent film is any movie released by a studio who isn't one of the traditional big boys. I think changing times, however, have largely left this definition useless in any sense other than a strict business-oriented one.

So, for me, I define independent by film rather than by studio. Sure, Gangs of New York is hardly independent, but Miramax also stamped its name on Amateur, which certainly is. Was the film heavily funded and guided by a large studio? Then despite who puts it out, it ain't independent in my book.

Obviously, this is something of a judgment call at times for those of us outside the industry.

Does that makes sense? Is it a cop-out? Should I explain more? Am I using enough question marks yet?

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

> In my little mind, I really can't speak of a
> specific studio being independent or not.

That whole phrase "independent studio" seems oxymoronic to me.

> The truth is that many of the companies are
> both; they often buy up independently-made
> films to distribute,

I don't think distribution channels should have anything to do with whether a film is independent or not. The "independence" I think should lie in where the production costs are coming from. When the film was made were they receiving funds from a studio? If the answer is no, then it's independent. If yes, then no, it's not independent. Later on they might receive money but that's something else entirely.

> So, for me, I define independent by film rather > than by studio.

Which is the way I think it should be as well. And you can also factor the time period in which it was made. If an independent production company grows to become a big studio someday it doesn't retroactively negate all of the "independent" films. When those movies were made they were "independent". I think a good dividing line in the case of Miramax would be at the very minimum when Disney bought them. At that point they ceased to be "independent."

> but Miramax also stamped its name on Amateur,

Are you talking about Hal Hartley's Amateur? If so, I can find no connection between Amateur and Miramax. It was financed by a half a dozen production companies and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

> Does that makes sense? Is it a cop-out? Should > I explain more? Am I using enough question
> marks yet?

Some of it makes sense to me. I was just responding to Jim's question about "Are there any easy ways to spot independent movies?". So I think the answer is if a movie is funded by "independent" sources, where is "independent" means outside of the Hollywood Studios* system, then a movie is independent.

"Are you talking about Hal Hartley's Amateur? If so, I can find no connection between Amateur and Miramax. It was financed by a half a dozen production companies and distributed by Sony Pictures Classics."

My apologies; you are absolutely right. I was thinking of Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth. Although Sony's classic wing *would* make another good case for a non-independent company that does distribute independent films.

Other than that obvious error, I think we more or less agree with perhaps one exception. I completely agree that the term 'independent studio' is silly, and no designation here is retroactive. For me, though, the money trail isn't always, in every single case, the sole determinant, though it is usually the best indicator. It is the string tied to that money, the control, that often makes or breaks the designation for me. Usually, the two go hand in hand, but I'm not convinced they *never* get separated along the way.

Perhaps two terms are begged for here, one noting financially independent films and one noting artistically independent films. I'm willing to bet, however, that *very* few films in the second definition are not also in the first.

So maybe not... :)

But yes, there isn't any easy way to tell, and as I noted, unless you are really in the know, there isn't always a sure way to tell at all.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I like the idea of having 2 separate concepts for financially independent and artistically independent movies.

> I'm willing to bet, however, that *very* few
> films in the second definition are not also in > the first.

You're probably right. I think a good example of that is Kubrick's 2001. Obviously a very clear "independent" artistic vision which was financed by a major studio.

Added bonus: According to the Motion Picture Association of America, there are exactly 7 major studios. They are:

Disney
Sony
MGM
Paramount
20th Century Fox
Universal
Warner Bros.

Usually, these studios' various imprints are included.

So, according to the MPAA, Dreamworks, for example, is officially an independent studio, as far as I can tell.

Not that the MPAA defines the term, but I thought this would be interesting to share.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Cool guys, thanks for the informative thread! I too like the idea of a distinction between "financially independent" vs. "artistically independent" (the former usually being a subset of the latter).

So I have one last question . . . On your 2001 list which movies do you consider non-independent? Based on this conversation, with the possible exception of LotR, they *all* look independent to me.

Oh, and a request . . . I remember your 2001 list used to have other movies on it before they got bumped off. Those movies had good (of course) write-ups associated with them. It seems a shame to lose the writeups just because they fell out of the top 10. If you're going to make these lists annually, could I request that you add a "early contenders that couldn't go the distance" section so we don't lose your comments?

Perhaps we need to coin a few phrases here!

As to that 2001 list, I certaintly could not consider Lord of the Rings as an independent feature. I believe the Royal Tenebaums received Disney money through Touchstone Pictures, so that probably wouldn't quite count either, despite its indie vibe. Believe it of not, Tailor is mostly a Columbia picture. While Ghost Word did get some moolah from United Artists, it also pulled money from many sources, and perhaps this is a good film to draw a line around. To my mind, at least, Ghost World is an independent film, though that may be a bit like refusing to define obscenity but claiming to know it when I see it.

Oddly enough, Gosford Park is an independent film, though if I knew nothing about their sources, I would probably think of Tailor being more independent than Gosford. Those tricky appearances!

Thanks for the compliments on those write-ups! I hate deleting material I enjoy simply because I can't squeeze the associated film into my top ten; I'll certainly start saving those reviews in another section on the list. Great idea!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

findependent could be the term for a "financially independent" film.

I LIKE it!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Oh, and I usually enjoy Dunst. She was fine in Interview with a Vampire, Little Women, and Wag the Dog, to name a few. Hence my shock that I find her nearly unwatchable in Spider-Man.

But then, I seem to be alone in that regard...

Granted, she hardly gets golden dialogue to spout off.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Hi - I have a question. Does anyone know a site where I can find statistics on the number of films directed in certain areas? For example, if I wanted to know how many documentaries were filmed by Italian women in 2001, where would I go? Is there one site that has these statistics for all countries, including USA? Thank you...

IMDb has a pretty powerful search interface, but I don't think it provides statistical breakdowns. That's my best shot though.

Betonia, as Jim says IMDB would be your best best. I know that you could find the number of documentaries filmed in Italy in 2001. If you aren't familiar with the advanced search interface I can show you how to do that. As far as which of those are directed by women I don't think you could subdivide it further. So you'd have to take it the rest of the way by hand.

I think the chances of David Koepp every picking up an Oscar are slim to nil but we'll see what the future holds.

I hope you are right, but the cynic in me is betting that in the next ten years or so, if not sooner....

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Wow, Lester you are becoming a crankly old man well before your Thirties. I think you are well on your way to Curmedgeon status. LOL.

I have not seen Spiderman yet, but in a kind of perverse counter-effect your rant has made me want to see it more, just to see what got you so hot and bothered.

Well, I admit, curmedgeon status has always appealed to me, but I really wasn't planning on attaining it until my 70s or so. Maybe I need to slow down a bit!

Oh, and I need to up date my profile. A recent birthday has put me at 29, so I'm closing in on those 30s!

I hope you enjoy Spider-Man. Obviously, I am one of the very few people who didn't... :)

Perhaps I should also mention that I am horribly unhip enough not to be a *huge* Sam Raimi fan. I don't particularly dislike him or anything, but hearing of a new film of his doesn't exactly get me salivating either...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Happy birthday! Enjoy your last year of twenty-somethingish. I liked being in my 20s, but so far the 30s aren't so bad either. "It's not the years, it's the mileage."

Thanks, Jim! A fortune-teller once told me I would die at the age of 24. I never believed her, but it did make me think about mortality. I'm thrilled with each year I manage to keep this carcass humming!

Besides, I scored a Citizen Kane DVD, a Hitchcock flick, the terrific, out-of-print City Lights DVD, the Doo Wop Box, a Dylan CD, a great Chinese meal, and several geeky Greek classics in the deal, so no complaints here!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

About "Signs": What part of the ending did you not like? The way they killed the alien or how Gibson got his faith back because of it?

Well, neither per se. I oppose the extremely contrived and illogical nature of the ending. Hmmmm, where to start..... It was the son's asthma that closes his lungs off from the alien's poison, and Mel sees this as part of the sign from God; however, without the asthma, the son would have never been lying unconcious on the couch for the alien to snatch up to begin with! The water element is just too silly; it made no sense for the young girl to leave all those glasses of water around except for them to fall on and to kill the alien at the end, and yet the brother seemed to be doing the job just fine with his bat (and the 'keep swinging' line was just too corny for comfort). Sure, the bat happened to break just as the alien knocked the water over, but to me, that just smacked of M. Night desperately trying to work yet another twist into his script to (a) surprise the viewer ("Oh, that's what that water stuff is all about!") and (b) justify the daughter's existence in the scheme of the film. Way too much of a stretch for me.

And besides, does M. Night really mean this film to say, "The wife died to help Mel win back his faith, even though it was the wife's death that caused him to lose his faith?" The wife died... er, why? To underline a point that didn't need to be made? As a lamb to the slaughter to make Mel's faith a bit stronger? I mean, if everything in this film is supposed to happen for a reason, is that really the reason? Is M. Night's god really that cruel? Isn't that just a mean joke or a very minor reason to actually kill somebody?

Or, as I suspect, is it an element the author simply did not think through well enough or was willing to sacrifice for a film with a twist ending that his audience seems to adore?

Of course, it also doesn't help that the wife pinned against the tree but still alive until the car is pulled back incident is straight out of the superior Homicide: Life on the Street series. Not a complaint, but the reminder of vastly superior fare didn't exactly endear the film to me.

So I guess more the way they killed the alien than the faith aspect, although really, just the contrived-for-a-twist-ending nature of the whole deal. Hardly a profound statement about faith, and a very contrived way to make such a trite statement.

All MHO, naturally, but maybe that helps explain a little of my severe aversion to this film and its ending...

Am I making any sense?

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I think the point is that everything does happen for a reason, but moreso that all these things that happened which Gibson saw as unfortunate actually helped him save his son. "My son has asthma. My wife is dead. My daughter has this crazy habit of thinking her water is contaminated. My brother was decent at baseball, but he was not good enough to continue playing, and has the bat as a pathetic souvenir from his glory days," is what Gibson was thinking. All these bad things made him question his faith in God, and all these thing contributed to his losing his faith. But all these bad things are what helped him save his son in the end. It's not that his wife's death helped him get his faith back, it's that his wife's death helped him keep his son alive, and that's what made him get his faith back.

Also, I'm not sure about this, but I think the son was over his asthma attack by the morning. He was unconscious in the alien's hands, but he passed out due to his fear. In any case, even if he was passed out due to his asthma, I wouldn't say that his asthma was the reason he was in this vulnerable position and it's stupid to think that the asthma saved him, because the alien would've sprayed poison gas in the son's face even if he wasn't passed out; his asthma definitely saved him.

Finally, I think we're meant to believe that, while the bat may have knocked the alien to the ground over and over, the swinging wouldn't have killed the alien; it had to be the water that did it. Although, one complaint I have heard about "Signs" that seems more valid to me would be that, if the aliens had a weakness of water, why did they come to a planet with so much water on it in the first place?

I'm not sure about your recollection concerning the son being over his asthma. After all, wasn't the fact that the son needed his medicine badly the reason Mel left the basement? Didn't he lay the unconscious boy on the couch while he turned around, and at that moment the alien grabbed him? Maybe it is my recollection that is fuzzy, but that's the way I remember it, in which case the asthma saving the boy's life is circular - the boy's life is never in that exact jeopardy without the asthma. Without the asthma, the family could have and probably would have waited longer before emerging. Without it, Mel isn't distracted looking for the medicine and allowing the alien to grab the boy. Without it, it could have been the girl, the brother, or heck, most logically, the leader Mel who was sprayed. And why did the alien spray the boy any way? Why did he wait? At first, it appeared he was going to use the boy as a hostage, but nope, it appears he stood there paused for no good reason, except of course to give Mel a chance to gather his wits.

Instead of growing more logical, this just keeps growing more forced and convoluted, which makes for an incredibly weak ending, in my book. A great ending shouldn't require me to scramble to come up with implausible excuses to justify it, and I won't.

The point about why the aliens would choose earth, which is of course MOSTLY water, is one I also had a problem with. I also, sorry, could never buy Mel allowing the family to 'outvote' him to stay in the house despite the fact that the television was already reporting that the aliens were landing within a mile of the crop circles, which naturally puts dangerous aliens in the family's backyard. Nope, no , "shucks, I'm out voted", no "but mom lived here? really flies with me. "Alright kids, we'll wait for the aliens to come and kill us since Mom did use to live in this house. And even though I think it is best to protect you and save your lives and hightail it the hell away from our house where the aliens will probably be landing very shortly, darn it all, you crazy kids out voted me. What can I do? My hands are tied." COME ON! I wasn't even convinced the kids would vote to stay put. Nothing in this film led me to believe Mel or the kids would act the way they did in that crucial scene. But, of course, M. Night needed that for his story, so it was so. Unfortunately, that's one of the major problems with his films - unbelievable things happpen for no other reason than he needs them to happen for his twist endings. It is a cheap trick, and one I'm frankly very tired of.

Any way, my wife is telling me to get to bed. I'll try to respond to any further comments in the morning.

I am glad so many seemed to love the film. Really, I think that is good. I didn't, and there's some of the many reasons why I didn't.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

See, you're not supposed to come up with these problems in the movie. You're supposed to put your faith in the decisions the characters made, just like Mel put his faith back in God at the end of the movie. All these things you mentioned are just signs of the movie's flaws, and like Mel and the kids ignored the signs and chose to stay at home, M. Night's fans will continue to ignore these signs and call it a great movie. :)

Lester it is not often we disagree on Movies but I find it amazing that you were so perturbed with the ending of Signs but did not find an issue with the contrived formula ending of Minority Report.

I liked both movies very much but alas I would recommend Signs long before Minority Report.

:0 Ah, well.

The ending was not the strongest part of Minority, but nothing sent my BS alarm off like Signs, which had my klaxon sounding overtime. Besides, Minority had tons going for it besides the ending, where Signs felt like the most of the film was designed only for the ending, so a lame ending was much more crippling. Signs also felt too long to me - I checked my wife's watch several times during the film. Minority frankly impressed me too much for me to notice the time. And, of course, Minority was over thirty minutes longer than Signs!

Really, Signs had some creepy scenes, some nice acting, some great sound editing, and little else for me.

So, nope, I'll stick with the Minority. But you're right; it is very odd we have a disagreement like this! Kind of interesting, really... :)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Here is my theory of why there is so much division on Signs. This is somewhat simplified but I came out of watching Signs enjoying what I viewed but also thinking if I were a very religious man, I would hate the movie. The weakest moment for me was the very end when Mel dons the priestly garb. It just seemed too much.

As an avowed agnostic, I can appreciate that "signs" that there is a God would help sway my disbelieving ways but to have a Priest suffer the same indecision is in a way a blasphemy to truth faith. Mel must not have been a very good priest if a major tragedy in his own life forced him to reconsider his beliefs. I think a religious man turns to God for comfort when things go bad instead of blaming him.
My wife is far more religious than I am and she had a lukewarm response to it. Lester, I believe you too have a strong religious belief. I am wondering if any of this holds water with you.

Interesting theory. For the record, I saw Signs with five other people, all of whom are probably much more traditionally 'religious' than I am. The reaction was pretty much mixed, with one other person hating it, two being rather ho hum, and two voting for it being the best film of the year so far (in fact, it was their second time to see it). So take that as you will.

My parents, two very, very religious people, both loved the film.

If you do more research on your theory, I'd love to hear of the results.

I really suspect my negative reaction to the ending of Signs may have more to do with my negative reaction to the ending of every other M. Night film I have seen so far and less to do with my convictions, but hey, I could be wrong... :)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I'm dying to read these comments, but probably won't be able to see the movie until it's rentable. I guess I'll come back in a few months. Thanks for using the SPOILER tags!

I suppose we must agree to disagree upon Death to Smoochy, but I hated it.

Yes, I suppose we must disagree on Smoochy, but as much as we do agree almost constantly, I guess we had to part ways over some film eventually...

I still owe you for Far from Heaven, though! I'm still thinking about how much I loved that film. :)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Think nothing of it, it's a recommendation from one film fan to another. But if I may make a recommendation for a video or DVD viewing, check out Baran and The Piano Teacher. Both very affecting films, but for very different reasons.

Looking forward to how this list will look in January.

L, did you see Chicago in it's theatrical go round?

By theatrical, I mean on the stage...

No, I know the Broadway version only through the soundtrack.

That Oklahoma thing again... :(

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Well, while my esteem for Chicago has lessened over time (from #6 to #8), I must say that I highly disagree with you on some counts, while completely agree on others.
I think that your Catherine bashing is understandable (people seem to hate her in this role) to some, but I thought she was great. Yes, the characters don't have the emotional complexity of Sally Bowles, but who the Hell does? Unless you're talking Rose from Gypsy, it's hard to find emotionally interesting musical characters.
Now, I agree that Marshall added nothing to the film...nothing. His coreography was fine if you ask me, but I don't think that he (or any of the other nominees I've seen) is worthy of a Best Director nomination.
Yes, it's shallow, but it never claims it's not. Unlike Gladiator (pretentious and self-important) and A Beautiful Mind (manipulative and hackneyed), Chicago seems to revel in the fact that it is only made to entertain. I think the entire point of the film is to entertain the masses, which it did. Cabaret was a dark, almost dangerous film, and it's very mean to hold Chicago to that standard. I'm aware that Chicago could have reached higher, but for what it was, it was pulled off nicely.

Well, truthfully, I wouldn't blame Catherine for her character's lack of emotional complexity, only for her acting, singing, and dancing, as I mentioned above. I mean, the character isn't doesn't hog the screen as much as she should tear through the film. That takes a highly charasmatic and powerful actress. Many actress fit that bill, including Bebe, but Catherine does not. She's not responsible for how the character is written, but I don't ask her to be.

And you are right - the film aims to entertain. Had it done so, I would have been happy. I bring up the Cabaret comparisons only because 1) Chicago goes beyond being inspired by Cabaret to flat-out ripping huge chunks of it off and 2) Cabaret techniques work because of they were used for specific effects; Chicago uses the techniques, but hasn't a clue as to what to do with them. The techniques by themselves just don't cut it. A gun aimed in the wrong manner won't blow anybody away, and Chicago certainly didn't do that trick for me.

Really, if it only were more entertaining, I would've covered a multitude of its sins. I don't think entertainment was the prime goal here. The returns were.

Granted, however, many did find it entertaining. Most folks I know also love Gladiator, which also bored me, so I definitely felt this way before. ;)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Hot damn, I love it when you see a movie you hate. :-) Not that I'd wish that on you frequently, but there's nothing a good diatribe. I haven't seen Chicago yet, but my wife loved it and I must admit I'm still looking forward to the DVD release. I'm thinking not having seen Cabaret might work to my advantage.

lol, I'm gonna have to agree with Jim, even when the movie you hate is one I like. I think you should compile a list of lengthy diatribes on really, really bad films - not just overrated, but disgustingly awful.

Thanks, guys! I always try to write up negative reviews quickly (hence the many typos above - it was around 2 AM or so local time; I must think homophonically after midnight!). That way the anger at losing two hours and fifteen bucks fuels my typing, and if nothing else, the paragraphs get longer!

I'm a big fan of catharsis!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

"coming soon..."?! Argh! Well, turnabout is fair play, I suppose (and I am about to post a "coming soon" for In the Mood for Love, so I have no moral high ground :-). I'm really looking forward to your comments on The Pianist!

:)

There, that should buy me some forgiveness. I have to say, there were some very good films last year. And gee, I still have yet to see Adaptation (high hopes), Catch Me If You Can (medium hopes), and The Hours (low hopes), all of which hit the dollar theaters here last weekend!

Your turn. Let's see some comments! ;)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

:-) Fair enough! While I'm sticking with my policy of a cooling off period on my reviews (at least for now), I'm now all caught up except for what I watched last night (the aforementioned Wong Kar-wai movie).

Very enticing comments on The Pianist! I can't wait to see it (although, as is the case with so many movies I can't wait to see, I won't get to it until Netflix sends it to me).

And I am waiting to read your comments on Chocolat! Such a polarizing film in these here parts.

The Pianist is a great DVD candidate. I can't imagine it will loose much if anything from the big screen to the small.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Done!

Hey, I searched around for your old review of the movie, as I seem to remember it being on your "top 10 2000" list, but I guess it got bumped off as you saw more 2000 movies. I believe you're now keeping movies that get bumped in a separate section, so this must have scrolled off before you started that practice. Too bad, I would have liked to re-read it! I don't suppose you have it lying around somewhere?

Yes, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her knocked it off the 2000 list, and sadly, I had not started writing reviews for the yearly lists yet at the time, so I never really had a review up for the film.

At the time, AAA called me to the floor for the decision to include Chocolat in my top ten, and I responded, "I enjoy the film. It is a bit predictable, as 99% of all films are, but there really wasn't too much else wrong with it. The acting and directing were good, and they even resisted the temptation to make the bad characters completely bad and the good characters completely good. Like I said, I enjoy the film. Not my favorite, but much better than the odd drama Hollywood occasionally decides to throw out with the wave of action and comedy flicks. With all the hubbub of people grumbling, 'Boy, that didn't deserve a nomination,' I was wondering, 'Gladiator did? The freakin' film won, for God's sake, and it much worse than Chocolat!!!'"

Maybe I'd get more worked up over its nomination if I didn't feel like at least half of all the Best Picture don't belong on the short list to begin with! I mean, my top five for 2000 are Requiem for a Dream, Yi Yi, Memento, Together, and You Can Count On Me, none of which scored a Picture nomination. On the other hand, of the nominees, only Crouching Tiger and Erin Brockovich made my top ten for the year, and I'll easily take Chocolat over Traffic or Gladiator (which won!!!) any day. So I really don't see what all that hubbub was really about...

But yes, it is no longer a top ten film on my 2000 lists, and I don't have a review for it. I am, however, a horrible hypocrite, so I will now be rushing over to read your review!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Ah! I should have been able to find those comments! I didn't scroll past all the Memento speculation, I guess. Thanks for pasting them here. I probably wouldn't have mentioned the "worthy of the nomination" issue (or even remembered that it was nominated) in my own review except I remembered all this hubbub. I stick to my guns on not thinking it worthy (although still quite enjoyable), but agree with you completely that unworthy films are almost the standard rather than the exception come Oscar time.

Mmm, Talk to Her displaced, eh? I really need to check out Bloody Sunday, I suppose.

As for 2002 being a landmark for modern film, I guess maybe it depends on one's feelings about each year so far in the 00's.

2000 - The best of this year find themselves higher on my overall list than any other year. My #2, #4, #5, and #7 are all from 2000.

2001 - Probably my favorite overall year so far. My top 5 of that year are all BRILLIANT and my top 9 are all great films.

2002 - Maybe the best, but not sure. It does have my #1 and #6, not to mention my #9. My top ten for this year is probably the best so far of any year.

2003 - Lost in Translation, I think, is gonna find it's way into the best of the decade so far. Otherwise...

In the interest of fair disclosure, I will note that I was (am, actually :( )running a high fever when I watched Bloody Sunday. Still, I was quite impressed...

These lists are tough; Talk to Her and Bloody Sunday are the proverbial apple and orange, and I hate to have to choose between them.

I just reviewed 2001, and it was better than I had remembered. Perhaps I typed too soon. 2001 and 2002 both have been great years. Yet I still feel as if I haven't seen half of what 2002 offered yet, so perhaps that's why I give the more recent year the slight edge. Perhaps I shouldn't.

I'll resist the temptation to be the negative person and wonder if this year will break this great streak. With Kill Bill and LOTR III, hopefully not!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

By the way, Bowling for Columbine is a little low, if you ask me! ;)

Regarding Minority Report: "eye-popping black humor" Good one. I had to see the movie before getting that. :-)

I was also disappointed by Adaptation, although for different reasons. Despite being one of two people on the planet that didn't adore Being John Malkovich (my wife being the other), I had high hopes for this one. Sadly, I just found both movies strangely lacking in emotional engagement. My brain was entertained, but my heart's attention wandered incessantly. As for the Adaptation ending, it seemed to me the whole movie was an exercise in meta-writing, so descending into meta-cliche seemed a reasonable extension of the theme. But heck, you know I usually dig that meta-in-jokey stuff (i.e. Shakespeare in Love).

I hardly ever resist bad puns. :)

I remember your thoughts about Being John Malkovich. I've thought about them quite a few times, and I'm still not sure why I didn't find the film colder. Granted, I had more empathy for the characters than sympathy, but still, I was emotionally involved while being intellectually thrilled. In fact, while I thought Adaptation was really quite cynical in many ways, I didn't really find it chilling either.

Perhaps this is grounds for further thought and research... ;)

I appreciated the meta-jokes and meta-cliches, at least for the first two minutes or so. Thirty minutes of meta-cliche just killed the film dead for me.

I'm probably being way too anal with the spoiler tags here, but oh well...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

You like Road to Perdition WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY more than me.

Sorry. Care to tell me why you didn't like it as much as I did?

Thanks, and welcome!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

While I too didn't really care for Road to Perdition, I give credit to the cinematography and especially Paul Newman and Jude Law. Those two saved the film for me.

I'm curious, what turned you off the film? Was it too boring, too mannered, too cliched, too stupid, too...?

I'm just interested. I'll be honest. I expected to *hate* this film. The unexpected delight of Road ot Perdition sorta makes up for the sad disappointment of Adaptation.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

To be fair, I liked it a lot more than I expected. You and I agree on the narration, but we disagree on Hanks' performance. I didn't feel nuance, I felt a blank. There were great moments, but considering the textured feel of the visuals, the narrative was flat. It just felt a little confused at times. The supporting cast, except the children, were wonderful, and I would have liked it a lot more if it weren't for the two leads (Hanks and his son).

The more I remember, the more I actualyl liked the film, but it just wasn't remarkable. It also, judging from my reactions right now, was not particularly memorable for me.

Interesting. I guess where you read 'blank', I read 'cypher', which I thought was very appropriate given the child's point of view we often shared. I didn't always understand the father, but I always found him to be a viable, breathing character, which was pretty shocking when I realized that I was buying Hanks as a hitman.

I confess that the boy's acting didn't bother me a bit, but I now notice several people here complain about it. Again, interesting...

Thanks for your comments. I see I also rate Secretary higher than you do.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

You know your Hero entry makes me very happy! I'm psyched you think so highly of it! Among many things that pleased me about the movie, I was surprised to find it one of the few movies where Jet Li's trademark wooden demeanor wasn't a distracting detriment, allowing me to freely focus on his grace in motion. In my limited experience, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung, and Zhang Ziyi are always good (although I fear the latter is in danger of being typecast as "the beautiful petulant one") and they didn't let me down here. Now if only Miramax could be convinced to do the right thing. The latest rumored release date I've heard is somewhere in April, which is coincidentally the month another Miramax project, Kill Bill Vol. 2, is set to come out. Ay ai ai.

As long as we're on the "media swap" topic, the CDs came on Saturday! Thanks so much for both "Sounds of the New West" and the surprising inclusion of a bonus disc, "Unconditionally Guaranteed"! You rock. :-)

On first listen, the songs off SotNW that leap out at me are "Today I'm Gonna Bleed" by Neal Casal, "Evening Mass" by Willard Grant Conspiracy, and my personal favorite "Weightless Again" by The Handsome Family. Of course I love the Emmylou stuff, but I knew that already.

Of UG, the song that leaps out ahead of the pack by a significant margin (again, on first listen) is "Down in the Willow Garden" by Kristin Hersh. "Saddest Girl", which you mentioned in another post as a personal favorite, threw me with it's upbeat music and I couldn't really understand the lyrics as I was going through the car wash at the time, so I've got to give that one a few more tries.

Thanks again! I'm going to run off a copy of a mix I think you'll really like. A buddy of mine moved to Austin, TX awhile ago, and he loves going to see live music. For Christmas 2001 he sent us a "Best of Austin 2001" mix, and it's terrific. It's still in our regular rotation to this very day. If you like SotNW, I strongly suspect you'll dig this. I'll include it when I return your CDs to you.

I was very impressed with Hero. The idea of Miramax butchering it is pretty hard to bear, especially when it is one of the better films they've gotten their hands on in some time.

It surprised me a bit. First, months ago, I had to try to imagine a Yimou action film. I guess I finally had something more regal and slow in my mind, perhaps closer to Crouching Tiger. Boy, was I off base!

Weightless Again is also my favorite on the West album. You'll have to spin Saddest Girl at some point when you can hear the lyrics. Both songs are strange, spooky, and haunting, at least to these ears.

I'd love to hear that Austin mix. When I lived in Texas for a few years, I'd jump down to Austin every once in a while. It is a great town for film and music (especially live!) lovers.

I'm glad the discs found their way up there. Sorry I was a bit late with them!

I'll have to slip Perfecta back into the flier when I return your DVD! Anything else you might be interested in?

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I wonder if Hero will be more regal and slow if the rumored director's cut is ever released (I'm sure I've written this here before, but rumor has it Miramax wasn't content with cutting the US release and pressured Zhang to cut the Chinese release as well. The "extended edition" is rumored to be the one Zhang would have released given his druthers, and bumps the runtime up from 90 minutes to 2 hours.).

Funny thing about "Saddest Girl" ... The CD lists that song as track #7, when in fact track #7 is "Runnin' Away" by Sly & The Family Stone. Very different, and explains me getting thrown by the seemingly ironic music! Track SIX is "Saddest Girl", and I agree that it's wonderful (the CD jacket actually just skips the number six in it's numbering). I have to give it a few more listens.

Oh, that mis-numbering also means the standout track for me is, in fact, "Ever Fallen In Love" by the Buzzcocks, not "Down in the Willow Garden."

"Anything else you might be interested in?" Good god man, you can't just write me a blank check!! Of COURSE there's other stuff I'd be interested in! :-) I'm tempted to ask you to loan me Satellite Sky as well, but I have to admit I'm awfully nervous about you sending me these out-of-print titles. I'd feel terrible if they got lost! I'd ask you to run me a copy except I'm guessing you still don't have a burner, and I always get hung up on the ethics. Well, actually, the ethics don't bother me as much for out-of-print titles and mixes, so disregard that part.

Of course, I'm game for hearing them if you're game for taking the mailing risk! I guess there are used replacement copies to be had, but still, I thought I'd mention the concern. After all, I'm just going to be sending you copies of a couple mixes, not original recordings.

I find it incredible that Miramax would care about the Chinese cut unless they had a hand in domestic profits, which I suppose could be the case (but I sora doubt it). Amazing.

Ha! I remember that one of those samplers had bad numbering, but I didn't know it was that one. Yes, The Buzzcocks' song is one of the best punk singles ever (EVER), and I am not sure that the live version on that disc isn't just as good or better than the actual single version! Great song, and a definite highlight! (That Sly song ain't bad either, but it takes a few listens to sink in...)

I'm not too concerned about the mail. Easy come, easy go. Howsabout Perfecta and Satellite Sky? :) (And yep, I'm still burner-less.)

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Yeah, it's still hard for me to conceive of Miramax being able to do that, but it's a persistent rumor, and one I haven't been able to debunk. Here's a brief note from a site I respect.

Okay, now I'm embarrassed. When you wrote the Buzzcocks song is one of the best punk singles ever I thought, "punk song? that doesn't sound like a punk song!" Indeed, I re-numbered in my mind in the wrong direction. "Ornamental" by Dakota Suite is the breakout track from that mix for me. Sadly most of their albums available on Amazon seem to be high-priced imports. But that song and the two Willard Grant Conspiracy songs ("Evening Mass" off SotNW and "Morning is the End of the Day" off UG) make me want to run out and buy their respective albums. The three songs all feel similar to me, so it must be something in my mood.

There, I think I finally have that right. But hey, they're all good. :-) I'll get back to you as I have a chance to listen to them more.

Perfecta and Satellite Sky would be great! I'll send you copies of my Secret Santa mix and that Austin mix when I send back your Uncut mixes. Anything else you want me to throw in?

The Dakota Suite - Is that the one with the great line about putting your ear to the breastplate of God? If so, that is a terrific song also.

Yes, everything I've heard from Willard Grant Conspiracy has been great (I haven't heard the album Morning is from, though). Too bad there aren't too many radio stations that would touch that stuff. It fits very few formats.

There's a very interesting album out there. In the Fishtank is a series where two bands that sound little alike but dig each other make an album together. Willard Grant Conspiracy teamed up with Telefunk, an electronica band, and the results are hard to describe or deny. A very unique album.

Low also has a great album in the series with the Dirty Three, although I'm not really sure those two bands are all that different...

I think those two mixes should keep me busy for a bit (those plus the Uncut Best of 2003 sampler I just grabbed!). Email me when you want to switch again.

I definitely have to read over those links. I'm still amazed...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs (who still really likes that Buzzcock song...)

Yup, "Ornamental" is the song that includes that line. I'm reluctant to put a $24 import onto my Amazon wishlist based on one song, but I love it.

The "In the Fishtank" series sounds like a fun concept. I have to imagine the results are fairly hit-or-miss, but I bet it produces some gems.

Jim (who likes that Buzzcocks song too...)

I've only heard one other song by the group (off of another Uncut disc, I believe), so I'm not much help. I don't remember the other song I heard being nearly as good, so perhaps caution is wise.

The Fishtank series certainly has some, er, not so stellar entries. I won't name names. The two I mentioned are quite good.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs (who is glad to hear that)

Wow, what a surprising review of We Were Soldiers! I saw *nothing* compelling in the trailers, and wrote it off immediately. I guess I'll have to add it to my queue!

I'll be honest. I was expecting the film to stink. It took some arm-twisting to get me to watch it, and I was prepared for the worst.

Instead, IMHO, it was one of the better surprises of 2002. It isn't perfect, but it was very good. I was surprisingly touched at many points in the film. I never would have guessed...

I hope you feel the same!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

I just looked up my comments on this movie ad they did not completely mesh with my recollection of the movie. My comments seem a little dismissive but my recollection is very positive.

It definitely does come across as a good John Wayne movie...In Harms Way or Sands of Iowa Jima which are very complex war movies that tout the soldier but often question the motivation.

I would concur that it is a better movie than Black Hawk Down. Gibson is an underrated presence in movies IMHO...

I agree. I think Gibson is sorta sneaking up on most of us. We don't usually get see the modern hunky ones turn into such icons before our eyes, but I think that is exactly what has happened. Mel is now a geniune force, and he is shaping himself into something of a questioning yet moral center in many films.

I don't know if the film will end up being good artistically or not, but I suspect his risky gamble with Passion will prove very finacially worthwhile, especially opening weekend when the often-quiet church crowds mob the theaters. That's my hunch, at least. We'll see.

You're right about the John Wayne films. I forgot how complex some of them indeed are.

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

PS - I'm not sure, but I think this is one of the few times (only?) when an actor has films that hit both my top ten (We Were Soldiers) and my shame list (Signs) for the same year.

Interesting...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Alright, City of God is going somewhere near the top of this list. I, however, find myself in an odd moment of indecision as to exactly where...

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Would you like a suggestion? :-)

I don't think it was better than "Talk to Her", but it could find a nice home at #3 here, in my opinion. But hey, don't listen to me - it's your list.

Ugh, I just realized I still haven't put it in here yet! I will have to think and to find a place for it soon!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

just thought i'd share what my top 5 would be :)

1) Bowling For Columbine
2) Adaptation
3) Bang Bang You're Dead
4) About A Boy
5) About Schmidt

Very interesting; thanks!

I still have yet to see Bang Bang You're Dead. I will keep my eyes open for it!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

Wow, The Twilight Samurai took the #1 spot for the year! I'm thrilled, THRILLED, you liked it so much! I knew you would enjoy it, but the degree to which you did exceeded my expectations. It makes me very happy to read your comments, as the movie is one of those that has grown in my (already high) estimation as time goes by. My day is officially made. :-)

Thank you, Jim! I honestly had not even heard of the film before you told me about it. As you can tell, I adored it; I'm already looking to pick up a copy so I can watch it more in the future.

I'm considering exactly where to place it on my Top Films of the Decade list...

Again, I greatly appreciate the recommendation!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs

OK, you two have my interest piqued. I will have to give this one a try.

Cool, I certainly hope you report back when you've seen it!

I also await your report!

Shalom, y'all!

L. Bangs