cahiers du cinema’s 100 greatest films

somehow we have managed to not have any discussion of this list published last month in conjunction with some fancy book. lots of fine movies, but also some head-scratchers in both inclusions and omissions. let me say first of all that, for all its blind-spots and excessive emphases, it is nice to see a list that doesn’t have casablanca anywhere on it, let alone in the top 5. on the other hand, they manage to leave out everything by scorsese while finding room for blake edwards’ the party. yes, “birdie num-num” the party. poor jerry lewis must really be upset. other major notables who’re left out completely include herzog, fassbinder, ghatak and malick. chaplin gets five nods (the most for any director, i believe) while most of the screwball classics (plus the marx bros.) get shafted. this is not entirely unexpected, given issues of language–the english language films selected are largely either silent or visual-atmospheric (this also explains manhattan over annie hall as the sole allen), and as you’d expect the heroes of the new wave are represented in spades. hitchcock has three (though i’m not convinced notorious should be in there over shadow of a doubt or psycho) and familiar names from the western and noir canons crop up.

some other surprises are in the rankings. i love the night of the hunter and was pleasantly surprised to see it included, but at #2? we have actually begun to slowly make our way through viewings of films on the list that we’ve either never seen or saw so long ago that we’ve completely forgotten. i’ll post more about these later, but let me note my surprise that vigo’s l’atalante is ranked #5. it’s a nice film, but what am i missing?

more later.

Burn After Reading

The Coen Brothers’ latest black, black comedy of errors follows a group of thick-sculled, mean-spirited, surface-obsessed, selfish, moronic imbeciles. It’s an extreme and unflatteringly hilarious portrait of America but a believable one nonetheless. In terms of plot, tone and craft, Burn After Reading‘s kissing cousin is most certainly Fargo. Critics, understandably, are frustrated that the film lacks Fargo‘s moral center, but that film takes place in a rural winterland where one can make a happy living birthing babies and illustrating postage stamps. Burn takes place in Washington DC. Therein lies the film’s vicious, misanthropic, cold hearted conceit–in Washington DC everybody is both larger than life and a douche bag (and as goes Washington, sadly, so goes the nation). Given all the political nastiness occuring 24 hours a day on LCD screens large and small, the Coen Brothers have appropriated Aaron Sorkin’s dark other, offering up a gleefully caustic evisceration of human folly (though I will admit that amid the blood, the goat cheese, the Mamba Juice and the dildo there are hints of humanity struggling to reach the surface). I loved it. Sure, Brad Pitt overacts, but he’s so much fun to watch. Clooney, Malkovich, Richard Jenkins, Francis McDormand: all are top notch. The film is tightly edited and never drags. And J.K. Simmons masterfully (and uncharacteristically) underplays three brief scenes and nearly steals the entire show. His line reading in one particular moment (“Russia?”) is worth fifty bridges to nowhere.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

Everytime I see the trailer for this film I feel the fury of righteous indignation (“that’s not how anybody should roll in anybody’s house” I scream to myself); I even want to boo the screen but I haven’t. Nathan Lee’s review in the Village Voice, however, is a hoot and a smart rejoinder to straight gentiles like myself. And Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor get credit for a rewrite, which is interesting, but probably not interesting enough for me to see the film. Still, Nathan Lee rocks!

jane campion on the dearth of women directors

from yahoo

When Jane Campion was honored onstage at the Cannes Film Festival with about 30 other major directors Sunday, she was the lone woman of the bunch. And she’s still not used to how strange that feels.

The New Zealander is the only woman filmmaker to have won Cannes’ top prize, for “The Piano” in 1993. This year, she showed a fantasy short film about a ladybug — a woman dressed up in an insect costume — who gets stomped on in a movie theater. She said it was a metaphor for women in the film world.

“I just think this is the way the world is, that men control the money, and they decide who they’re going to give it to,” Campion said in explaining why so few women get movies made.

it really is quite depressing how few women seem to be able to break the glass ceiling when it comes to directing movies. it would be interesting to know what the percentages of men and women in film production programs are, and how this correlates with what they go on to do. anecdotally, based on informal attention to film credits, it seems as though more women’s names pop up in the technical end of things than did in the past, but the number of directors does not seem to be growing.

however, i am not sure about this bit from comrade campion:
Continue reading jane campion on the dearth of women directors


I’m writing this only because it’s the first film I’ve felt very strongly about in a long time, and because it’s so much better than another much-talked about film to which it can be easily compared.

First off, my love of Terry Gilliam’s films are as deep and abiding as my love of David Lynch’s. Watching their very different, but equally spectacular failures over the past year (Brothers Grimm and Inland Empire) made me sad for many reasons – first that it will decrease their chances to get future films made, and b/c neither works very quickly and they’re not young. It’s just one fewer chance for them to make another truly great film. I have no idea what Lynch will do next. There’s at least little doubt that Laura Dern was great in IE, and it was so purposefully experimental that maybe studios will say it doesn’t count against him. Brothers Grimm on the other hand had 2 A-list stars, and a marketing budget, all of which served to just exponentially build the millions of dollars the film must have lost – and it came right after his failed Depp prodcuction of la Mancha.

So Mr. Gilliam, would you like to re-trench here and just go for an easy Fisher King feel-good re-write? “Fuck You” is his answer. Before I get too deep into Tideland, let me rail against the over-rated, empty Pan’s Labyrinth awhile. Continue reading Tideland

the ground truth and the road to guantanamo

i’ve been trying to write these reviews for days now. these are troubling movies, not only for what they say about the iraq war and the war on terror, but also for the feelings of identification and alienation they evoked in me.

according to the ground truth, the iraq war’s difference from other wars the US fought consists in the fact that a) the psychological conditioning of soldiers to kill people they don’t hate without inhibition has achieved a phenomenal success, b) the enemy is pretty much indistinguishable from the non-inimical civilian, and c) body armor and surgical technologies save many more lives than in past wars but don’t save limbs, faces, and psyches. what you get is a phenomenal, brutal, free-for-all bloodbath and a lot of seriously damaged veterans. none of this is news to any of us, but filmmaker patricia foulkrod gives these known facts the support of some pretty amazing (and shocking) footage, and a remarkable cast of interviewees. Continue reading the ground truth and the road to guantanamo

Indie Films, Genre, Structure

How do certain indy films (Little Miss Sunshine, Lost in Translation) achieve Hollywood-style success while others don’t?

I want to return to Little Miss Sunshine, because the film came up in my class today (after class, really). I was speaking with three students who plan to do a group presentation soon. My students are free to come up with their own topics and can structure presentation any way they wish, provided the presentation prompts a class discussion that helps us understand the larger issues of class (this is my American genres class, so the groups should help us advance–in interesting and not-necessarily academic ways–our understanding of genre). The group wants to talk about the indy film as a genre. My first thought was that the indy film is essentially anti-generic. But I didn’t want to dismiss the idea outright (frankly, I don’t know if the indy film can be called a genre or not–it’s an interesting problem), so I asked them to give me some examples.
Continue reading Indie Films, Genre, Structure

Children of Men

Films in which the future of the human species is at stake tend to be problematic; the commodification of despair is tricky stuff. Alfonso Cuarón’s adaptation of P.D. James novel is certainly a very entertaining, emotionally and intellectually powerful film with one of the best endings of the year. And it is beautiful to look at. But that’s kind of ironic, yes? Here the landscape of broken, bombed-out buildings (shot in muted, blue-grey tones) approaches something best described as rubble-chic (the art direction is superb, but one questions if the end of the world should be reminiscent of early mornings at Hogwarts). That’s cinematic dystopia for you. But I’ll not labor the point; Clive Owen looks appropriately grizzled and that will do. Continue reading Children of Men

Altman favorites and successors

And so it goes. But he leaves behind a remarkable string of work that will go in and out of favor for decades, being rediscovered, evaluated and fawned over. I am sorry that Prairie Home Companion was his last film. It’s nice that it was that rather than The Company or something, so that he got to see another film of his play for more than a week in LA, but even up to Gosford Park, he managed to bring a good sized audience along with him.

So what are your favorites? I love the music scenes in Kansas City, and almost everything about Gosford Park. I’ve watched The Player maybe half a dozen times and could watch it again in a second. Nashville never moved me, good as I realize it is, but it did come in the middle of that remarkable string of films from 70 to 75. For me it’s MASH, The Long Goodbye and California Split, for Elliot Gould as much as Altman, for their creation of a mumbling oddball character and reimagining him three times over. Continue reading Altman favorites and successors