28 February 2005

All right, here's all the Emmy Rossum you'll ever need. I promise to stop now.

27 February 2005

Well, for once, the Oscars lived up to the hype: this was easily the most boring telecast I've ever seen, and I've seen them all since I was eight years old. (My first Oscar prediction, I remember vividly, was that Martin Scorsese would win for The Last Temptation of Christ. As you can see, Marty and I have been waiting for a long time.)

In other news, Deadly Mantis will relaunch as a dedicated Emmy Rossum fan site beginning next week. Check back soon for updates.
This is the picture I was looking for. (More or less. Imdb.com keeps changing their picture index, which is annoying.)
The ex-Pegasus on Annette Bening's hair: "It's either not spiky enough, or too spiky."
I don't know. Have you seen what Johnny Depp is wearing?
Now Charlie Kauffman, there's one I can get behind 100%
That's right, I should be routing for "Finding Neverland" to win stuff so that we can have more shots of that row of the audience.
Santana and Banderas, now I'm entertained.
How convenient! It's Natalie Portman, wearing a muse costume.
That's almost the point, I can't even get excited about complaining that they shouldn't have won.
I once pointed out that Closer would be totally unwatchable if it didn't star the four most beautiful people in the world. I imagine that a similar thought process went into choosing Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek to present the award for Best Sound.

I'll bet those nominees for Best Sound Effects Editing are tempted to pull an Adrien Brody right about now.
Well, the nice thing about The Aviator's sweep is that a bunch of brilliant, deserving professionals are taking home Oscars that amount to lifetime achievement awards. You can argue that Thelma Schoonmaker, Robert Richardson, and Dante Feretti are the the best in the business in their particular fields, and tonight, they were lucky enough to be involved with this year's juggernaut.
What a boring show... The same film wins all awards, and not only didn't I love it, I didn't even hate it.
Random thought: The richest person in the auditorium tonight is probably the pudgy British guy accompanying Beyonce on the piano.
I think I just got the subtle idea behind those DeNiro commercials. The reason not to use AmEx is because, as Visa made famous, random faraway places "don't take American Express." So the point is, if you never leave New York, then you're free to use AmEx?
Hey, it's Emmy Rossum.

Speaking of which, is it just me, or does it seem like every actor who died this year made a movie with Sidney Lumet?
I expect that there was some head-scratching about how to order this year's In Memoriam. How do you choose between leading off with Marlon Brando, Christopher Reeve, or Ronald Reagan? We'll see...
Best Screenplay is always the consolation prize for the movie that should win best picture, but won't. Case in point.
Martin Scorsese wept when Thelma Schoonmaker won her Oscar for Best Editing. Not surprising, when you consider they've been collaborators for twenty-five years, and a director spends weeks and weeks in a small room with his editor for every movie. He's probably spent more time with her than with his children.

Schoonmaker, by the way, was once married to the best director who ever lived. If you've been reading this blog with any care for the past two years, you probably know who I mean.
Who owns the rights to Stanley Kubrick's movies? And who keeps selling them to be used in obnoxious soft drink ads?
Apparently the Oscars are going to be much more vigilant this year about policing the length of the acceptance speeches, which is ridiculous. They could easily cut an hour of fluff from the ceremony that no one would miss, and give people as much time as they wanted to embarrass themselves. Remember, for every pointless montage sequence, we could have had three more minutes of Michael Moore.
Over the annoyed groans of the ex-Pegasus, I'm trying in vain to find a picture of Emmy Rossum at the Oscars, who, rumor has it, looks amazing. How can I be so attracted to a girl I've never seen act, speak, or do anything?
Oh, right, the Oscars. My level of excitement this year isn't nearly as high as it tends to be, but I may as well post some predictions:
Best Picture: Million Dollar Baby
Best Actor: Jaime Foxx
Best Actress: Hilary Swank
Best Supporting Actor: Morgan Freeman
Best Supporting Actress: Natalie Portman
Best Director: Martin Scorsese
Best Original Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman for Eternal Sunshine
Best Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor for Sideways
Best Animated Feature: The Incredibles
Of all the nominations, however, I'm going to be rooting hardest for Clive Owen to win for Closer. I caught that movie again recently, and I was surprised at how completely he dominates the entire picture, which, incidentally, is better than I remembered. It's really one of the best supporting performances I've seen in a long time. A win would be especially sweet, too, given the snub that was handed to Patrick Marber's brilliant adapted screenplay. It ain't going to happen, though.
The best one-line review of Barry Lyndon, incidentally, is still Paul Thomas Anderson's, which I've quoted here before: "When I saw it, I thought it was very serious, and then I saw it the second time, and I said, 'This is fucking hilarious!'"
By the way, you might want to pick up a copy of the latest New Yorker (the one with the Oscar cartoon on the cover) and read "The Beards" by Jonathan Lethem. It reads a bit like Nick Hornby, given that everything that talks about 1970s teenage pop culture infatuation reads like Hornby these days, except that Lethem is less funny and observant than unbearably sad. There are pop cultural judgments that are spot on, of course, like the observation that Barry Lyndon is a great movie but A Clockwork Orange is disappointing. (Anyone who loves Barry Lyndon but not A Clockwork Orange is someone I'd gladly take out for a beer.) I also love the paragraph that ends with these lines:
My declaring a writer or musician or director my favorite, it seemed, contained a kind of suicide pact for my own enthusiasm. The disappointment artist was me.
"The Beards," like Hornby's work, is full of moments of surprising recognition, which leave me grateful for their existence. These are also emotional moments that I don't understand, at least not yet, and which I irrationally hope to never understand, although I suspect that I may have no choice. I'm being circumspect on purpose. If you read the essay, you'll know what I mean.

24 February 2005

Yes!! For once my favorite team makes a good trade. Actually, the Sixers made two. With the addition of Chris Webber, we'll finally find out if Allen Iverson can play well with others.

The weirdest quote of the day comes from Sacramento executive Geoff Petrie, speaking about giving up Webber: "Trading Chris has been one of the most difficult and emotional decisions I have been involved in...we all wish him the best. The memories remain the property of the Kings."

Huh? Something tells me their PR person won't be hired by the White House anytime soon.
Hey, Mr. Chu, want to come over and watch the Oscars on Sunday? My plans for an Oscar party have fallen through, and the thought of blogging alone at home is too depressing to contemplate.

23 February 2005

My officemate David showed me the most entertaining thing I've seen in weeks: The Maoist International Movement's Movie Reviews.

I highly recommend the first sentence of the Harry Potter 2, as well as all of Shrek 2. There thoughts on whether Ock or Spidey is a better person are also pretty priceless.
There's a great wiki site devoted to the Magnetic Fields at 69lovesongs.info. I've just registered and added a sentence to the "Come Back From San Francisco" page, in recognition of Noah's observation below. (You know, this blog does occasionally contribute to the world's common store of knowledge.)

22 February 2005

It appears that Easterners have a legitimate fear when they talk about California falling into the ocean.

21 February 2005

I meant to blog this a while ago, but I can't seem to find it, so I must not have.

One of my favorite things in movies or music or novels is when something nails an extremely common feeling which no one ever seems to notice or talk about. Two examples:

a) The last line of Come Back from San Francisco: "Damn you, I've never stayed up as late as this." It's a line that anyone who's ever had an east coast to west coast long distance relationship will understand immediately. 3 hours time difference is the perfect amount to make you stay up till 3:30 or so far far too often.

b) The first verse of one of my former housemate's song California. The song is about moving away from a loved one after a year here in Berkeley. The hook is "It won't be California I'll miss." Anyway, the first verse is:

Blue sky looks tired after weeks of no rain.
And I'm checking the forecast for more of the same.
It's this unrelieved sunshine I'm tired of.
No, it's not California I love.

The moment of the first rain my first year here is perhaps the most vivid memory I have of Berkeley. The feeling of "When is it going to rain?" I think is pretty universal for people moving to this sort of climate, but somehow it never got the press of one's first snow.

20 February 2005

Trial Lawyer Watch:

Yesterday on Air America Radio I heard someone talking about the latest effort by the trial lawyers to convince the American people that they're doing the right thing: the Legal Broadcasting Network. Basically, this website (and radio broadcast) are supposed to tell people that trial lawyers are standing between them and the evil corporate wrongdoers who would poison our air and kill our children.

That's all fine and good, but I think this falls into the "too little, too late" category. Perhaps if trial lawyers had done some self-policing to prevent the most outrageous tort claims (including the Albuquerque woman who sued McDonalds for $1 million after she spilled hot coffee in her lap) they wouldn't have the public image they have now.

If you go to the website, you can also see, and I am not making this up, the results of a telethon to help the trial lawyers with their plight before Congress. Whose brilliant idea was that?
Need an exorcist? Get in line. This LA Times article explains the current rise in demand for exorcists and the Vatican's proactive response -- offering high-level classes in Rome on the subject.

As one priest puts it, "When you're dealing with a reality like the devil, you can't just learn the theoretical. You need the pragmatic experience...it's such uncharted territory."

I'd much rather learn about that stuff than about torts and contracts.
Today I'm going to make my annual post about finance, which I know everybody loves. Three items:

1. Another day, another alarmist article about hedge funds. The one in this week's Economist is the best I've seen, by far. (Hey, look at me, I read The Economist!) I can't really disagree with anything it says, although, of course, I don't believe that any of it applies to my company.

2. Here's a sleazy story: a company goes bankrupt and is acquired by a big private equity fund. Because it no longer qualifies for bank financing, the private equity fund forces the company to sell a lot of unsecured debt to unsophisticated blue-collar investors, targeting them through misleading newspaper ads and mass mailings. The result? A bunch of uninformed people lose their life savings when the firm defaults on its debt, including K., my secret best friend from high school, who lost all the money that she had been planning to use to pay off her student loans. Sigh. I guess some private equity firms are evil. Who would have guessed?

3. Finally, in my last finance post, I rattled off a long list of asset classes that people should consider before investing in hedge funds, including timber. I wrote: "Believe me, I'm looking forward to the day when I finally buy my own timber fund." Guess what? I'm now the proud owner of a few shares of Plum Creek Timber. Timber's a fun asset class, as Andrew Tobias helpfully explains, and it's apparently a big favorite of the Harvard endowment, which allocates a big chunk of its portfolio to timberland. Wanna buy some wood?

19 February 2005

Today's featured Wikipedia article on Xenu, the evil galactic overlord at the center of Scientology's secret doctrine, is pretty great. I still don't understand Tom Cruise, though.

17 February 2005

During the recent furor over certain remarks made by Harvard president Larry Summers on women in math and science, I was pretty sure that if a transcript of his actual comments were released, it would show that he had been misquoted, misunderstood, or at least taken out of context. It seemed clear to me that his thoughts on "intrinsic aptitude" could only have been intended as an intellectual stimulus, intended to provoke debate, and that Summers couldn't have really believed what his critics were saying.

I was wrong.

Here's a transcript of what Summers actually said:
My best guess [emphasis added], to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon--by far--is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity; that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude; and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.
This wasn't just one hypothesis out of many, raised only to be discarded. This is the man's best guess. I really hate to say this, but I think the guy may have to resign.

16 February 2005

Last weekend at the Indy Film Festival in SF I finally saw the infamous remake of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. All I can say is that it that it lived up to my wildest expectations. I had to pay $20 to get in the door, and it was worth every penny. It had the stunning (how'd they film indy going out the windshield and under the car with one cheap camera in 1984), the funny (a dog playing the part of the monkey, and being held on people's shoulder's when necessary), the poignant (the actor playing indy's first kiss ever is onscreen), and the completely ridiculous (did they really just light some kid on fire for the bar fight scene?)

My favorite moments: the real submarine (apparently they talked there way into using one at a tourist site) and the way marianne's hair changes length every scene.

The filmmaker's came to the showing, and let us in on lots of great little factoids. Apparently it took 6 tries before they could make a boulder (from fiberglass). The 5th (made on a chickenwire frame) was blown away in a hurricane. To give it something to roll on they got delivered (by an 18-wheeler) two 40-foot telephone polls.

There was really a childish delight in seeing a movie where you knew they had a $5,000 budget for 7 years and you have to figure out "how'd they actually do that?" Since they didn't have a track for the camera during the boulder scene the cameraman is in a shopping cart which indy is pushing (apparently his hands never appear in the shot so it worked).

If any of you get a chance to see this film, I can't recommend it more. Alec and Nat particularly would love it.

14 February 2005

Whenever I see an ecstatic article about The Gates, I'm reminded of Homer Simpson's response when told that Christo once wrapped the Reichstag in plastic: "Not the Reichstag!" I feel as though my sense of awe in the face of this project is somehow lacking. However, I did head down to Central Park yesterday to check it out, and while I could argue with the artists' choice of colors and materials, there is something appealingly eerie about the rows of cheerful monoliths that appeared in the park overnight. It's like Kubrick on happy pills.

13 February 2005

After spending almost a year on Match.com with nary a response, I've just received two "winks" in as many days. One is from a girl in Scarborough, Ontario, who apparently is interested in meeting anyone within 250 miles of Scarborough. The other is from a girl in New York whose picture is actually quite attractive, but whose profile, unless I'm reading it incorrectly, states that she's 4'1". Why, universe, why?
Speaking of gay icons, has anybody else seen this ad for Brawny paper towels? (It's the second one down on the page.) The impact of the ad isn't quite the same online as it is in a movie theater, where I've seen it twice. It's an amazing spot, but I'm not sure it's successful: looking for it just now, I misremembered the name of the product as "Burly paper towels," which, I think, is actually a Simpsons reference.
Movie musicals are usually thought of as a woman's genre, but the really delightful Bride and Prejudice is the first movie musical I've seen in a long time that actually seems to have been made for women, as opposed to gay men. Maybe it's because the director, Gurinder Chadha, is a woman, or because it comes from a Bollywood tradition where women are, I would imagine, the primary audience. Mostly, though, it's because the lead actress, Aishwarya Rai, cannot be mistaken for a gay icon. Barbra Streisand or Judy Garland, she's not. Thank god.

11 February 2005

While reading some right-wing websites affiliated with Jeff Gannon, I came across a link to this website. It's brilliant -- making war hawks put their money where their mouths are. I wish I'd thought of it.
This guy is my new hero. Oh wait, wrong link. I mean this guy, who at 93 is racing people to the top of the Empire State Building.

As for that other link, it's getting stranger by the hour. These people are amazing.

10 February 2005

Every once in a while, I'll discover a work of art that seems too strange to be real—outside of a dream or a Borges story, at least—and which makes the entire world seem weirder and more wonderful by its very existence. Rising Up and Rising Down and the Codex Seraphinianus are two notorious examples. My latest "discovery" is a four-disc album cycle called The Disintegration Loops, which I haven't even bought yet, but which seems too amazing to ignore. Here's what the critics are saying:
It's impossible: no one could create a script this contrived. Yet, apparently, it happened. William Basinski's four-disk epic, The Disintegration Loops, was created out of tape loops Basinski made back in the early 1980s. These loops held some personal significance to Basinski, a significance he only touches on in the liner notes and we can only guess at. Originally, he just wanted to transfer the loops from analog reel-to-reel tape to digital hard disk. However, once he started the transfer, he discovered something: the tapes were old and they were disintegrating as they played and as he recorded. As he notes in the liner notes, "The music was dying." But he kept recording, documenting the death of these loops. [...]

As with any natural occurrence, these individual loops all die very individual deaths. "DP 3," for example, begins as a bright, bold, orchestral melody that, over the course of 42 minutes, is slowly reduced to a sputtering, churning blob of its former self. The melody disintegrates slowly, until, by the end, only portions are audible; the rest is silence and noise. By contrast, the longest piece, "DP 1," because it is split into three distinct parts ("1.1" on disk one; "1.2" and "1.3" on disk four), actually dies three separate deaths. Each one begins as soft, warm halos of sound, which then slowly mutates into muddled fragments. And then there's "DP 4," the smallest work. It begins as a full-fledged melody but slowly devolves into chaos: silences slowly spreading across huge gaps in the loop, while the muddled melody struggles on, barely perceptible, until it, too, is silenced into oblivion.
The concept reminds me a bit of Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, one of the most amazing albums ever made. There's also a troubling 9/11 connection that I won't bother to discuss. Anyway, The Disintegration Loops aren't available on Amazon, so it may take me a while to track them down, but I'll definitely have them cued up in time for our next big party.

08 February 2005

He's done it! Howard Dean has completed his remarkable turnaround from laughingstock to party chair. He originally seemed like a longshot to get the chairman spot, especially considering the ascendant postmortem election analysis, which is that the "moral values" people won the election and that Democrats are out of touch with them. But Dean managed to pick off his rivals one by one until no one was left. His strategy, as I can see it, was to make everyone endorse someone as early as possible, and then to win enough of those endorsements to starve out the field. He did the same thing in the primary last year, but he learned that endorsements from union heads and politicians mean nothing in the cornfields of Iowa. Evidently they mean more in Washington.

What makes Dean's ascent especially remarkable is the obvious animosity between him and the entrenched Democratic party operatives in Washington. Back when Dean was a candidate, he made no secret about his desire to clean house at the DNC. Now, he is the leader of the party, and he will have free rein to do so. While Terry McAuliffe was able to raise money like a Republican, his operation was outworked and outsmarted by the RNC at every turn. We'll see if Dean can correct that.

Republicans and Dick Morris are ecstatic about this turn of events. (They also can't seem to shake their inexplicable belief that Hillary Clinton is or might be behind everything.) I must admit, "Chairman Dean" is a catchy nickname. But what Rs should remember is that people don't vote for party chairs, they vote for candidates. And if Dean can recruit good candidates, raise money, and keep the party on a (moderate) message, he'll succeed.

He wasn't my first choice for party chair, but after some reflection, I think he has a real chance to do the job well.

07 February 2005

Listening to the Magnetic Fields makes me wish that Noah was working here in the other room. Over the course of four years of college, I picked up dozens of Noah's favorite songs through osmosis, but only transmitted two in return: "Kiss Me Goodbye" by Petula Clark and "Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor. (I also suspect that, near the end, he was becoming fond of "One More Try" by George Michael, although he's never fessed up to this.) Anyway, after a weekend of playing 69 Love Songs nonstop, I'm convinced that the Magnetic Fields would have added at least one more song to that list. Which one? I'm not sure. My best guess, though, is "Busby Berkeley Dreams."
The song that Skaren references in the comments ("So tell me when / You're gonna let me in") is "Somewhere Only We Know" by Keane, one of my favorite recent radio songs. It is, incidentally, the single whose B-side is "Walnut Tree," which I've already praised on this blog as the best wallowing song I've heard in a long time. (That is, until I heard "Lua" by Bright Eyes. Jesus.)

06 February 2005

I may be wrong, but I think I just watched a commercial where a black God creates KG, TMac, and Tim Duncan in test tubes and puts them in a gym with a basketball. Maybe if I watched TV more often that wouldn't seem weird.
I was asked to name the three largest cities in the country that begin with the letter A yesterday, and I didn't even consider the city in which I'm living. I've reached a new level of cluelessness.

(For those of you who are curious, they are Austin, Albuquerque, and Atlanta, in that order. My top three were Atlanta, Anchorage, and Austin. Find more fun stats at the census website.)
Top story in this month's Harvard Alumni News (which they so kindly email me even though I never asked for it): "Harvard University announces task forces on Women Faculty and Women in Science and Engineering." (Here's the link, thanks to TS.)

05 February 2005

Some of you may have noticed that I've finally picked up a copy of 69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields, which shows you that my musical tastes are, as always, on the cutting edge. (This album came out about five years ago.) Anyway, better late than never, I guess. This album is great. Listening to all sixty-nine songs at one session is pleasant but ultimately overwhelming, like eating sixty-four slices of American cheese. The way to do it, I've found, is to let the album work as background music until one song or another—"Sweet-Lovin' Man," say, or "Long-Forgotten Fairy Tale"—draws your attention. You replay these songs a couple of times, they become landmarks, and eventually you've drawn sort of a map of the territory, although it could take weeks to explore it all.

More interestingly, I've realized that 69 Love Songs could potentially serve the same role for a mix-tape enthusiast as a stock-footage library does for a film editor: a virtually limitless source of quick fixes and inspired transitions. Every damn subject and style—within the confines of the love genre, of course—is represented here, usually in dependably catchy and ironic three-minute form. As a result, these songs are tailor-made for fixing a dull spot in a mix, and because their level of quality is so uniformly high, you can usually find a promising song to fit your topic or mood just by scanning the list of titles. "No One Will Ever Love You," for example, would be an irresistible title for any mix, even if it weren't a great song, which it is. (Stephin Merritt writes the second-funniest song titles I've ever seen. The funniest, of course, are by Morrissey.)
Just saw Vera Drake, which is, not surprisingly, a wonderful movie. Imelda Staunton deserves an Academy Award. Yet I wasn't quite satisfied by it. After seeing Vera Drake, much as after seeing Topsy-Turvy, I felt boundless admiration for the movie's craft and intelligence, but also a sense that my high hopes had been met, but not exceeded. It reminds me of something that Noah said on the night we saw Topsy-Turvy: "That was exactly what I expected." Vera Drake is sort of like that, and I'm just starting to figure out why.

Mike Leigh famously writes his movies after working out the story in a long improvisational collaboration with his team of actors, allowing the plot to come naturally from the characters and setting. This usually results in a movie where everything comes from character, including the plot, which is character-driven in the purest way. As a result, his films are always full-blooded and free of cliché, but they're also deficient in the uncanny, shocking, or arbitrary moments that I look for in movies, and which cannot come from character.

My favorite movies, ranging from Vertigo and The Red Shoes to Dancer in the Dark and Million Dollar Baby, are almost cosmically unfair. What happens to the the characters in these movies, while superficially the consequence of their own actions, is also the result of a playful, dangerous, or unfathomable universe. Even trashier movies sometimes capture this feeling. I respond to the absurd plot twists and acts of fate in lesser movies because they justify my suspicion that, in real life, what happens to us is not always the result of our own characters, but of some capricious or malevolent nemesis. And this sort of high narrative perversion is inherently factored out of Leigh's scrupulously fair movies, while ironically remaining accessible to far lesser directors.

In any case, you should still see Vera Drake, if only for Reg's final speech: "This is the best Christmas I've had in a long time. Thank you very much, Vera. Smashing!" And do I really wish that Leigh were more cruel or less fair? Not especially. After all, the world already has one Lars von Trier, and maybe that's more than enough.
In addition to being a deadly cancer, mesothelioma is the search term that pays the most on Google AdWords. John's and my internet business could have brought in the same amount of revenue as we've gotten in the last six months with just two mesothelioma clicks. We seriously considered setting up a mesothelioma site and clicking once a week or so. Then we decided that (a) we wanted to do something that felt worthwhile, and (b) the agreement with Google prohibits it.

To reward us for undertaking such noble pursuits, go to ClassicalCDGuide.com, click on an Amazon link, and then buy something!

03 February 2005

I haven't researched this at all, of course, but my guess is that a lot of influential banks and financial firms are major debtholders of distressed companies that are subject to asbestos litigation. If asbestos lawsuits get thrown out, those banks stand to make a lot of money.

02 February 2005

Among the more random proposals in tonight's hurried State of the Union speech was a push to end "frivolous asbestos claims."


This article sheds some light on the asbestos problem, which is serious for the companies involved. Basically, tens of thousands of people are submitting asbestos claims, and companies are unable to pay out the benefits that juries are awarding. Some of the country's biggest companies, like Dow Chemicals and General Electric, are at risk. But it hardly constitutes a nationwide crisis of the magnitude of, say, medical malpractice.

More importantly, these claims are not frivolous. If you get enough asbestos in your lungs, you have a great chance of dying. These companies have known that asbestos is toxic for decades. In New Mexico, the state legislature passed a law in the 1950s that effectively made it impossible to collect an asbestosis claim by setting up unrealistic time limits on when the disease had to manifest itself. That indicates that someone back then was worried about workers dying of asbestosis.

One of our state representatives died this year from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by certain types of asbestos exposure. He worked at a national lab. He had absolutely no recourse or claim against the federal government, and his widow gets nothing.

Should congress tackle the issue? Sure. Massive bankruptcies, even if they are caused by a company's criminal negligence, rarely benefit the common good. But our president isn't helping solve anything by denigrating today's sufferers and calling their claims frivolous.
On a related note, I finally feel qualified to post my list of the ten best movies of 2004. As always, this list is subject to revision, especially because I haven't seen Vera Drake or two of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture—not to mention 50 First Dates—but my top choices shouldn't change very much:

1. Garden State
2. Sideways
3. Closer
4. Kill Bill Vol. 2
5. The Life Aquatic
6. The Five Obstructions
7. Spider-Man 2
8. Collateral
9. Million Dollar Baby
10. Bad Education

That final slot could have been filled with any number of contenders, ranging from Tarnation and My Architect to The Incredibles and The Bourne Supremacy, or even Dogville and The Dreamers. It was, as I noted to Noah recently, the year I learned to be forgiving. There isn't a single film in my list of ten that isn't flawed in some way—except, I've got to say, for Sideways, which still strikes me as almost perfect, if resolutely minor—and yet their flaws make me love them all the more.

You could make a good case, for example, that Closer's flaws far outweigh its virtues. I'd be inclined to agree, but that doesn't make it any less fascinating or terrifying, or leave me any less convinced that, on balance, it was the most interesting movie from this year to brood, talk, and argue about. Closer also has the best line from any of this year's movies, although I'm not sure I want to choose just one: I used to think it was "This will hurt," but these days I'm more fond of "I don't love you anymore. Good-bye."

01 February 2005

Funny you should mention L.A. Confidential, because I was just thinking about that movie the other day. Roger Ebert's site was recently updated to include all of his old reviews going back to the late sixties, and it includes some incredible stuff, including all of his annual ten best lists from the past forty years. Ebert's first year as a movie critic was 1967, a great one, and he crowned his list with Bonnie and Clyde, of which he wrote:
Bonnie and Clyde...has been damned and praised at every possible level. It earned that attention, I believe, because it did supremely what Hollywood at its best always tries to do: It became a "total movie."

By that I mean that it tried to satisfy its audience on every level. Most movies cop out by appealing only to highbrows (Bergman's Persona) or lowbrows (Elvis Presley). It takes a certain amount of courage to attempt to meet everyone at his own level, and when you succeed you have probably created a work of art. Arthur Penn, the director of Bonnie and Clyde, succeeded—and his film not only inspired the intellectuals in their cubbyholes but fascinated people who wanted to see a good gangster movie.
Reading this, I tried to come up with a couple of other "total movies" from recent years. I could only think of two unambiguous examples: L.A. Confidential and Sideways. Any other nominations?