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Flickcharting

I’ve mentioned the website Flickchart a few times here on the blog, most notably in this post where I explained what it’s all about. In short, it’s a site that presents you with endless pairs of movies and has you pick which one of the two you like better. With over 26,000 such choices so far, it’s fair to say that I’m a big fan.

I figured it might be fun to do 10 random match-ups and talk about my selections here. Hopefully it will give some idea of what qualities I value in films.

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Summer of Sam vs Rosemary’s Baby

I’ve seen eight movies by Spike Lee. I’ve liked all of them to some degree, except for one: Summer of Sam (okay, maybe Crooklyn wasn’t too hot either.) While Summer of Sam is a finely styled period piece, it doesn’t have much new to say that Lee hadn’t already said, and the characters failed to grip me. Rosemary’s Baby, on the other hand, earns its reputation as a horror classic. I got fully invested in the fate of Mia Farrow‘s character when I sat down to watch it, and the sense of paranoia is potent throughout. Repulsion may be my favorite of Roman Polanski‘s Apartment Trilogy, but Rosemary’s Baby isn’t far behind.
Winner: Rosemary’s Baby

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Equilibrium vs Mrs. Doubtfire

One dystopian sci-fi action flick versus one crossdressing family comedy. It’s not an entirely easy choice, actually. Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire delivers the kind of high-energy performance that he’s so good at, and the story is sweet and effective. Equilibrium’s story isn’t particularly original, borrowing heavily from both 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, but the action scenes are really damn cool – even if the whole gun kata thing doesn’t make much logical sense. It’s also a film that grew on me quite a bit on a rewatch, whereas Mrs. Doubtfire is more a case of what you see is what you get. Dystopia wins the day.
Winner: Equilibrium

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Les Misérables vs Borat

Sacha Baron Cohen showdown! These are two great movies, both 5/5 in my book. Borat is hilarious with a lot of thought behind it, and Les Mis… well, faithful readers know how that one floored me earlier this year. I can watch Tom Hooper‘s musical over and over and seemingly never get tired of it. If anything, it just keeps getting better. What a wonderful story it is. Even Cohen’s most iconic character can’t trump it.
Winner: Les Misérables

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 13 August, 2013 in Misc.

 

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How I filled out an awards ballot

Flickchart: The Blog is right in the middle of the 2nd Annual Flickcharters’ Choice Awards. I took part last year for the inaugural installment and wrote a post about my experience as a nominator. This year, things were done a bit differently: the nomination voting was open to the public and not just to the contributors to the Flickchart blog.

The nominees were announced last night, and with that, the voting for the eventual winners has begun (go here to cast your votes). I won’t say too much about the nominations; a lot of it is for things I haven’t seen yet, so while I am disappointed that so many of my nomination votes didn’t go through, I can’t rightfully say with certainty that they deserve to be in over stuff that did make it.

Instead of talking about what did get nominated, I thought I’d share my ballot for the nomination phase. Voting was done with a point distribution system that allowed you to give extra push to certain nominees, but I’m keeping it simple here and just sharing my five picks for each category in alphabetical order.

Entries in blue are ones that ended up making the cut for nominations.

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5 Broken Cameras

Best Documentary Film
5 Broken Cameras
How to Survive a Plague
Indie Game: The Movie
The Invisible War
The Queen of Versailles

I didn’t see a whole lot of 2012 documentaries, to be perfectly honest. The only ones I saw and didn’t nominate were Mansome and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. That said, these five films are all interesting in their own rights. Three of them are Oscar nominees, one should have been, and the last is one of those narrow interest pieces that just happens to be within my field of interests.

Kon-Tiki

Kon-Tiki

Best Foreign Language Film
5 Broken Cameras
Eat Sleep Die
Kon-Tiki
Oslo, August 31st
A Royal Affair

Four of these films are from Scandinavia, so maybe I’m biased here. I knew that Eat Sleep Die would have a hard time gaining traction with anyone else, considering how very Sweden-centric it is and its limited international distribution, but it’s a great film that deserved a spot here on my ballot. This isn’t the last category it shows up in.

Best Animated Film
This is the one category I had to abstain in. I’ve seen zero animated films from last year, and I don’t have much desire to either apart from Wreck-It Ralph and Frankenweenie.

Mansome

Mansome

Biggest Disappointment of 2012
John Dies at the End
Mansome
Moonrise Kingdom
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
Take This Waltz

A hard category for me to fill out. I even had to put Moonrise Kingdom in here, a film that I for all intents and purposes liked. Most of what I’ve seen from 2012 has lived up to most of the expectations I had for it.

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

Biggest Surprise Film of 2012
21 Jump Street
Chronicle
Dark Shadows
Goon
The Grey

The counterpoint to  the previous category, these were all films that ended up being better than I expected. Granted, a few here were ones that the hidden good word had gotten around about by the time I saw them, like 21 Jump Street and Chronicle. Even so, judging by the expectations I initially had, they still fit in nicely here.

The Queen of Versailles

The Queen of Versailles

Best Underranked Film
Eat Sleep Die
The Invisible War
Killer Joe
Oslo, August 31st
The Queen of Versailles

This is a Flickchart specific category that ties into the site’s core mechanic of comparing and ranking films. You can think of it as Best Film Not Seen By Many. So here we have a motley crew of documentaries, foreign language films, and one “totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story”. If you’re looking for some hidden gems of last year, you’d do well to check out these five.

Before Midnight

Before Midnight

Most Anticipated Film of 2013
Before Midnight
Oldboy
Only God Forgives
The Place Beyond the Pines
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Make no mistake: this category is all about Before Midnight for me. The rest is filler.

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages

Most Underrated Film
The Grey
Kon-Tiki
On the Road
The Queen of Versailles
Rock of Ages

The words “underrated” and “overrated” are ones I rarely use. Just who is it that’s rating it higher or lower than me? Here, I latched onto the further guideline supplied by awards supervisor Ross Bonaime: “film you thought didn’t get the audience it deserved”. Loosely interpreted, this can go for all five of these films.

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Moonrise Kingdom

Most Overrated Film
American Reunion
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Lockout
Moonrise Kingdom
Take This Waltz

Or “film you thought received more attention than it deserved”. Like Biggest Disappointment, I had to nominate a number of films here that I actually liked: American Reunion, The Hobbit, and Moonrise Kingdom. These all got more attention than what I felt their quality warranted. Then we have the terrible Lockout, which, bafflingly, some people thought was okay, and Take This Waltz, which of the five is probably the closest to the usual interpretation of “overrated.”

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

Worst Film of 2012
Bad Ass
Get the Gringo
Killing Them Softly
Lockout
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

I didn’t like any of these films, but the first three mentions on the list are at least not terrible. I suppose I should be quite happy with the movie year of 2012 based on that.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Best Scene in a 2012 Film
The chicken scene – Killer Joe
“I Dreamed a Dream” – Les Misérables
“Valjean’s Soliloquy” – Les Misérables
Pi wanting to show God to the tiger – Life of Pi
“Wanted Dead or Alive” – Rock of Ages

This is a new category for this year, and a fun one it is. There was a lot of scenes I regretfully had to leave off, and some that I just forgot outright – the surgery scene in Prometheus should probably have gotten a mention from me, for instance. Still, this is a cool list. I could have put more Les Mis on it, perhaps.

Looper

Looper

Best Writing in a 2012 Film
Rian Johnson – Looper
Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley – Kill List
Tracy Letts – Killer Joe
David Magee – Life of Pi
Gabriela Pichler – Eat Sleep Die

Ever since watching the great screenwriting documentary Tales from the Script, I’ve been reluctant to praise or complain about screenwriters, because you never know if that great line of dialogue was theirs or an ad-lib, or whether that weird story turn was something they wanted or if it was due to executive meddling. I also don’t really know anything about screenplays, so what this category really reflect for me is well-crafted dialogue and/or interesting stories. Looper, Kill List and Killer Joe are ones I admire for their sheer ambition and out-there-ness. Life of Pi is a unique tale that must have been a real challenge to adapt. Eat Sleep Die is a marvel in Swedish film in that it actually reflects how people talk in real life, rather than the “theater on film” way of speech so common in movies in this country.

Oslo, August 31st

Oslo, August 31st

Best Directing in a 2012 Film
Joe Carnahan – The Grey
Tom Hooper – Les Misérables
Ang Lee – Life of Pi
Ridley Scott – Prometheus
Joachim Trier – Oslo, August 31st

Like writing, directing is hard to judge, and easy to confuse with cinematography, editing and so much more. What these five films have in common is that they’re presented with a clear vision of what they want accomplished. A unified view, if you will. They’re all films I admire, too.

Kristen Stewart - On the Road

Kristen Stewart – On the Road

Best Supporting Actress in a 2012 Film
Samantha Barks – Les Misérables
Emily Blunt – Looper
Anne Hathaway – Les Misérables
Alison Pill – Goon
Kristen Stewart – On the Road

A relatively weak slate of nominees from me, admittedly. The performances are all good, but apart from the amazing Hathaway and the novelty factor of Barks – who inside word says was very close to getting nominated – none of these are likely to be ones I remember five years from now. I should probably have put Gina Gershon and/or Juno Temple from Killer Joe in here in retrospect. Sometimes I forget things.

Matthew McConaughey - Killer Joe

Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe

Best Supporting Actor in a 2012 Film
Tom Cruise – Rock of Ages
Michael Fassbender – Prometheus
Garrett Hedlund – On the Road
Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe
Andy Serkis – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I wasn’t sure whether McConaughey should be here or in Best Actor for the title part of Killer Joe, but ultimately, I figured that a case could be made for either, and it was easier to slot him in here. I’m a bit surprised that my fellow Flickcharters didn’t spring for Fassbender here, but hey, I guess Django Unchained needed its three spots.

Noomi Rapace - Prometheus

Noomi Rapace – Prometheus

Best Actress in a 2012 Film
Kara Hayward – Moonrise Kingdom
Nermina Lukac – Eat Sleep Die
Noomi Rapace – Prometheus
Alicia Vikander – A Royal Affair
Michelle Williams – Take This Waltz

I did not notice this until I submitted my ballot, but there are three Swedes represented here: Lukac, Rapace, and Vikander. Cool stuff. Still, this category is proof that I really need to see more female-centric stuff from 2012. I very reluctantly put Williams here: it’s a fine enough performance, but I had serious trouble buying into the character – something I ultimately attribute more to the writing.

Hugh Jackman - Les Misérables

Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables

Best Actor in a 2012 Film
Anders Danielsen Lie – Oslo, August 31st
Hugh Jackman – Les Misérables
Liam Neeson – The Grey
Seann William Scott – Goon
Suraj Sharma – Life of Pi

If you had told me just a year ago that I would put Stiffler on a ballot for Best Actor, I might have laughed at you. Still, he knocked it out of the park in Goon, so good for him.

A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair

Best Overall Cast in a 2012 Film
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Killer Joe
Les Misérables
On the Road
A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair earned Vikander a mention in Best Actress, but I had her two co-stars Mads Mikkelsen and Mikkel Følsgaard in Actor and Supporting Actor in my initial draft of the ballot. Les Mis got in in spite of Russell Crowe. If there’s one shining example here though, it’s Killer Joe. Everyone in that film was at the top of their game.

Gabriela Pichler

Gabriela Pichler

2012 Outstanding Achievement in Film
Joe Carnahan
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Matthew McConaughey
Gabriela Pichler
Channing Tatum

This is a very loosely defined category. Generally, nominees tend to be actors who have been in multiple films, or writer/directors. I had three of the former, two of the latter. I did make one big omission here: Anne Hathaway. She did strong work in The Dark Knight Rises and breaks my heart over and over in Les Mis. She should definitely have been here instead of one of the male actors. Oh well.

The Grey

The Grey

Best Picture of 2012
The Dark Knight Rises
The Grey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
The Queen of Versailles

Here’s another thing I didn’t realize until just now: this is the only category I nominated The Dark Knight Rises for. It sounds weird, but I’m fine with that. That film just worked as a whole, and was a fitting end to the trilogy. It, and the rest of the films here, represent the best of what I’ve seen from 2012 so far.

 
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Posted by on 6 February, 2013 in Lists, Misc.

 

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Monthly Report: May 2012

Compared to the previous two months, May was a bit disappointing in terms of both quality and quantity. The quality is unfortunate, but it’s due to knowingly dumb choices on my part. As for quantity, I was on my way to another movie-filled month until a certain video game called Diablo 3 derailed everything. No need to worry, though. I’ll be back in the swing of things sooner or later, with a planned Saturday viewing of Prometheus likely to get my film-watching back on track.

For now, enjoy this overview of the films I saw in May.

The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 2008)
I wish I had gotten to see this one before seeing The Avengers, because it’s hard to be all that impressed with the action here after seeing what Hulk does in that other movie. To be fair though, The Incredible Hulk puts in a good effort action-wise, as the stakes are carefully ramped up throughout the film. The climactic battle is satisfying. More problematic is the story, however. Bruce Banner is an interesting character, arguably moreso than the other Avengers, and Edward Norton is quite okay in the part. Unfortunately, Norton’s Banner disappears when CGI Hulk jumps into the fray, and the disconnect is there. The lack of strong supporting characters also hurts the narrative aspects of the film. Still, this remains a decent movie. The tale of an unwilling and tortured soul of a superhero is compelling, and the action is solid. The Incredible Hulk ranks somewhere in the middle when comparing the pre-Avengers films.
3/5

Frantic (Roman Polanski, 1988)
Well-crafted thriller in which Harrison Ford – at the top of his acting game – tries to find his wife (Betty Buckley), who has gone missing on their vacation in Paris. The first half or so is particularly good. The Pace is methodical, everything is uncertain and tense, and there’s a realistic tone to everything. Unfortunately, the film eventually boils down to something we’re more familiar with from regular Hollywood thrillers, and the atmosphere weakens a bit – something not helped by a few unnecessarily humorous touches. Still, Ford himself performs admirably from start to finish, and the end result is a positive one even if it doesn’t quite measure up to the Polanski thrillers of earlier days.
3/5

The Straight Story (David Lynch, 1999)
There were scenes and moments in this road movie that I found quite beautiful, but they can’t make up for the dullness that surrounds them. The mood of the film never quite seized me, despite a stunningly wonderful performance by Richard Farnsworth. I could see myself growing to like this movie with time, but for now, it’ll have to settle for lower marks.
2/5

Puncture (Adam & Mark Kassen, 2011)
The problem with basing a story on real events is that you need to stick somewhat close to reality. Puncture features an interesting tale of lawyers trying to work against a health care conspiracy, one I found myself quite engrossed in. However, the lead character (a very good Chris Evans) is a junkie, and this aspect eats up too much of the screentime for my liking. It feels like an unwelcome distraction. Still, you couldn’t really make the movie without touching upon it, I suppose. This one could have been even better than it was had it chosen a different way to tackle parts of its subject matter. Enjoyable nonetheless.
3/5

You Don’t Know Jack (Barry Levinson, 2010)
Al Pacino shows that he’s still capable of great performances in this biopic on Dr. Kevorkian and his struggle to legalize euthanasia. Unfortunately, the rest of the film can’t match him. As important as the issue is, it doesn’t make for a very interesting story. Pacing is also an issue as there are slow stretches where the plot doesn’t go anywhere.
2/5

American Pie Presents: The Book of Love (John Putch, 2009)
There’s a scene in this movie where an old ugly hooker is performing oral sex on a guy and uses her dentures to nibble his nipples. That actually made me snicker for a split-second. It’s the comedic highlight of this movie, the rest of which is absolute horse manure. No, wait, that’s not fair. Horse manure at least has useful fertilizing properties. This movie is worthless.
1/5

Hesher (Spencer Susser, 2010)
To begin talking about Hesher the movie, one must mention Hesher the character (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He has the kind of larger-than-life presence that commands attention. He’s a heavy metal Joker, only he’s in a family/grief drama with a slew of black comedy, rather than in a superhero movie. He operates on Hesher logic, something distinctively different from real logic. The movie is infected by his “agent of chaos” ways, and it makes for a really fun ride for the first half or so. It’s one of those movies where you have no idea where it’s going to go, which is a rare quality to have. That it eventually becomes apparent that not even the movie knows where it’s going is a shame, and Hesher the character becomes more of an ill-fitting obstruction than anything. When it’s all said and done, this film offers quite a few laughs and has some good acting on display, but it is also uneven and awkward. A for effort, but not for the end result.
3/5

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Mark Herman, 2008)
Holocaust drama from the eyes of a German child (Hugo‘s Asa Butterfield) who befriends a jewish boy (Jack Scanlon) stuck in a camp. The film does a pretty good job of filtering the unknown horrors of the situation through the main character’s innocence, and there’s little faulting the performances – I was particularly impressed by Vera Farmiga who plays the worrying mother of the protagonist. I’m a bit torn on the ending, though. It’s sad – like most holocaust films tend to be – but it also felt vaguely manipulative. I’m not entirely sure whether this was due to my own expectations of where the film was going or not. Nonetheless, I wasn’t entirely enamored by the way the story ultimately went. A fine film, but not a great one.
3/5

Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010)
Here’s a case where the selectiveness of the awards season can lead to conveying the wrong ideas about a film. Christopher Plummer got all the attention for his supporting performance as the old gay father, which had me thinking that this would be the sole stand-out quality of the film. Oh, how wrong I was. This is a wonderfully bittersweet movie from top to bottom. Oliver’s (Ewan McGregor) problems with love and commitment are juxtaposed with the situation his dad was going through, showing us the guards and masks we subconsciously put up in order to avoid hurting ourselves and others. This one tugs at the heartstrings in all the right ways, and the result is a great movie.
5/5

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (Uwe Boll, 2007)
I’m torn on what score to give this video game adaptation. I watched it and its sequel back to back, and this first one is certainly the better one. That’s not saying much though, because this is still a bad film. Are there enjoyable parts of it? Sure. While most of the actors sleepwalk through the movie, there are at least some that realize what kind of movie they’re in and decide to ham it up quite a bit – Matthew Lillard in particular. And there is at least some modicum of effort evident in making the film look good design-wise. I’m tempted to give it a score of 2, but… no. The Lord of the Rings-wannabe script is ridiculous, and Uwe Boll has no idea how to shoot action scenes. This gets a 1 and likes it. Only recommended for Jason Statham completionists. Like me. And even I regret seeing it. Uwe Boll has done it again.
1/5

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds (Uwe Boll, 2011)
And again. Because if there was one thing missing from the first one, it was a fish-out-of-water angle to the story where a guy gets transported from our world to medieval fantasy. And Dolph Lundgren in the lead instead of Statham. And tracing the plot of The Matrix rather than Lord of the Rings. This movie is an utter failure, even when compared to the already bad first film. In that one, there was at least budget (60 million dollars!) to get some name actors onboard and to stage big battle scenes. This one, by comparison, feels like some dozen guys running around the woods in shoddy LARP costumes. An even bigger problem is the fact that nothing really happens for most of the film. It’s not just a bad movie, but also a boring one. Stay the fuck away from this one.
1/5

Total # of new films seen: 11
Average score: 2.5 / 5
Best film of the month: Beginners
Worst film of the month: In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds

 
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Posted by on 31 May, 2012 in Monthly Report

 

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50 MORE Things I Love About Films

Well over a year ago, I wrote a post called 100 Things I Love About Films on my old blog, which I later reposted here at A Swede Talks Movies. This is the sequel, adding 50 more things to the original 100. I’ve tried to avoid repeating movies and actors I mentioned in that first post, though a few have slipped through anyhow.

Credit for the original concept goes to Beau Kaelin. Thanks also to gentleman and scholar Travis McClain for bringing the idea to my attention. The original description:

Rather than posting your 100 favorite films (which has been done and overdone), you simply post your favorite things about movies.  I dig the concept, because instead of obsessing over whether the films you put on a list are “objectively good enough” to put on said list, you simply jot down 100 moments/lines/visuals that have made a lasting impression on you or sneak their way into running gags between you and your friends. Just read below and you’ll get the idea.

Why only 50 this time instead of 100? Because… quality over quantity? Yes. Let’s go with that.

1. Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves, the fear and agony on her face raw enough to make me gasp in sympathy.

2. The wonderfully trashy dialogue in Bitch Slap. I love the fact that someone actually put the words “Lube my boob, skank twat” to paper.

3. Natalie Portman‘s joy-stricken face when she phones her mother from the bathroom stall in Black Swan.

4. Michelle Williams‘ dorky dance in Blue Valentine.

5. When actors produce their own films, showing a real desire to have the movies made.

6. The brief cameo by Jason Statham reprising his role from The Transporter at the beginning of Collateral. Crossover stuff of that nature should happen more often.

7. The 20th Century Fox fanfare.

8. Robin Williams capping off his love declaration in The Fisher King with the words “But I still don’t drink coffee”.

9. The shot of the sugar lump in Three Colors: Blue.

10. Watching Casablanca for the first time and finally getting some context for all the well-quoted lines of dialogue. “Round up the usual suspects” put a big smile on my face.

11. Penelope Cruz performing A Call From the Vatican in Nine. I don’t mean to sound crass, but… hubba hubba.

12. The chase sequence through the construction site in the 2006 Casino Royale.

13. The Remains of the Day lunch box in Waiting for Guffman.

14. The whole sequence with the trunk in The Ice Harvest. Great mix of tension and humor.

15. Kat Dennings trying to pronounce Mjölnir in Thor. “What’s Myeh-myeh” indeed.

16. Danny DeVito trying to look scary to John Travolta in Get Shorty.

17. Sven Nykvist‘s gorgeous cinematography in Persona. I’ve never seen black & white look better.

18. Mark Ruffalo‘s “Why the fuck did I just say that?” grimace after stating that he loves lesbians in The Kids Are All Right.

19. Speaking of Ruffalo: The Hulk in The Avengers. Every awesome second of him.

20. When a movie just leaves me completely baffled about whether I like it or not, or whether it even matters. It’s annoying too in a way, but I love how it questions the very idea of why I watch films and what I take away from them. Funny Games would be a recent example of this kind of movie for me.

21. The ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Teriffic execution of a sequel hook.

22. Those performances that become so utterly convincing that my brain eventually has to break me out of the trance by going “Uh, Emil, you do know that this is an actor playing a character, right? It’s not a real person.” And then I go “Shut the fuck up, brain.” A recent example: Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story.

23. Seeing an actor I’ve never heard of before in a film and immediately wanting to find out what else they have been in since they’re so good.

24. The climax of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, a sequence that tops anything else in either of Guy Ritchie‘s Sherlock films.

25. Tippi Hedren waiting outside the schoolhouse in The Birds. Cue me gasping for breath and muttering “Oh shit…”

26. Kirsten Dunst looking stunning in the wedding dress in Melancholia.

27. Hugo reminding me that 3D can indeed be used to great effect. Thank you, Martin Scorsese.

28. Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. Absolutely jaw-dropping.

29. The scene in 50/50 where Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes in for surgery and suddenly realizes that he might never wake up again.

30. Michelle Duncan‘s adorable Scottish accent in Driving Lessons.

31. This exchange in The Fugitive: “I didn’t kill my wife!” “I don’t care!”

32. The opening of Grave of the Fireflies. It’s good on the first watch, but it’s heart-breaking on a rewatch.

33. The lone penguin wandering off towards the mountains and certain death in Werner Herzog‘s Encounters at the End of the World.

34. The dream-like atmosphere of Robert Altman‘s Images. The kind of stuff that makes you realize how inaccurately the term “dream-like” tends to get thrown around.

35. Ellen Page in Juno. And Jennifer Garner. And Jason Bateman. And Allison Janney. And J.K. Simmons. And everyone else.

36. ))<>(( from Me and You and Everyone We Know.

“What business is it of yours where I’m from… friendo?”

 

37. The tense scene in No Country for Old Men where Javier Bardem makes the gas station attendant call a coin flip.

38. Seeing a scene that for some reason doesn’t work for me, only to much later have a revelation on what it meant. Guaranteed to make me love the part next time I watch the film.

39. Everything about Catherine Keener in Being John Malkovich, but particularly her dismissive reactions to everything John Cusack says and does in the early goings.

40. Uggie playing dead in The Artist.

41. The meet-cute between Ewan McGregor and Melanie Laurent at the costume party in Beginners.

42. This poster for 127 Hours.

43. The entire showdown between Uma Thurman and David Carradine in Kill Bill: Vol. 2. Had me at the edge of my seat when I first watched it.

44. The very recognizable video game scene in Swingers.

45. Brad Pitt‘s ridiculous accent when speaking Italian in Inglourious Basterds.

46. The suffocating atmosphere of Seven.

47. The big fight on the rope bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

48. George Clooney‘s fine-tuned and low-key performance in The American.

49. Robert Downey Jr. sucking at math in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

50. Shea Whigham‘s brief part in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, repeatedly uttering “Whoa!” in the funniest fashion.

 
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Posted by on 22 May, 2012 in Lists

 

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Noble failures

I recently got into a discussion online where I made the case that reducing talking about movies to “good or bad” (or similar simplified judgments like a numerical rating) can be detrimental. It’s useful shorthand to convey your general feelings towards a film, but there is always nuances and various aspects that can get lost in this simplification process. An example I used was The Exorcist. I gave that film a 3/5 score, which is basically the passing grade on my review scale. It means that I found the film to be okay and worthy of my time. And while that’s all well and good, it doesn’t tell you any details or reasonings. It doesn’t say anything about how I found the special effects to not have held up very well, to the point where some scenes that were probably scary in 1973 felt more inadvertantly comedic to me when I first saw it in 2010. Nor does it say anything about how good I felt the performances of Linda Blair and Max von Sydow were, or anything else. But now you have some reasoning and detail to my opinions on the film. 3/5 doesn’t provide that. 3/5 is just a number, and a number isn’t much more than a number.

1/5 and 2/5 are also merely numbers. As scores on my scale, they fall below my passing grade. If I give a film these scores, it means I didn’t like them overall. But again, the whole truth isn’t revealed. There are films I’ve given these scores that I can still appreciate for different reasons. Maybe the premise of the story felt fresh and unique. Maybe it tried to do something different that hasn’t been done much before. Maybe it managed to do a lot with a limited budget. Maybe there was one or two aspects of the production I was really impressed with. Sure, these movies didn’t fully succeed with their intended goals and I did end up disliking them (or at least found them to be lackluster) overall, but good ambitions can be worthy of praise alone. There is something to admire about a film that tries and fails, in some ways moreso than a film that plays things safe and turns out merely okay. So as paradoxical as this may sound, there are some films I’ve given 2/5 that I’m happier were made than some films I’ve given 3/5. Even if I didn’t like them as much.

I use the term “noble failures” here to describe these films. Failure might seem too strong a word in some of these cases, but they did fail. They failed to make the passing grade on my scale. And as my scale is highly subjective, so is the use of the word failure here. A noble failure can still have made back its budget and more at the box office, or received critical acclaim, or been a good movie in other people’s books. I’m not talking absolute failures here.

So what are some films I would classify as noble failures?

Well, Dogtooth is one. I really didn’t like this film, chiefly because it didn’t say anything. I’ve heard it described as a political allegory, but that didn’t work for me. What’s the message here? That people who have always lived in alien oppresive conditions might turn violent and want to escape? This isn’t a revelation. The movie is peppered with shocking moments of violence and sex, and it’s all for naught. That said, if taken at face value, there are still some scenes that are vaguely funny. And it’s a polarizing film for sure, so others have obviously seen something in the film that I haven’t. I might have disliked it, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people so they can form their own opinions on it. It is at least a unique film.

Richard Kelly‘s Southland Tales is nothing if not ambitious. Every time I happen upon discussions about this film, I’m reminded of individual scenes that were actually quite inspired and funny (the commercial with the cars copulating, for instance). And there is certainly plenty of things to laugh about in the trainwreck sense, such as The Rock‘s constantly nervous steepling fingers, Seann William Scott‘s nonsensical babbling about how pimps don’t commit suicide, and the random musical number. But the film overall is just a huge mess, with a plot that’s impossible to make any sense of and a bloated running time of 140-ish minutes. I enjoyed both of Kelly’s other films (Donnie Darko and The Box), but with Southland Tales his imagination could have used some reigning in. This is a case of where the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

What’s the best ever use of an animal in a movie? For my money, it might well be the dog in the 1975 postapocalypse film A Boy and His Dog. This dog is awesome, conversing with his owner in voiceover and expressing so much character through body language and such. It’s really remarkable. Sure, the film as a whole is weird and awkward, but man, that dog! Worth seeing for him alone? Quite possibly.

Many people love Rian Johnson‘s sly Brick, a film noir with high school kids. I found it rather boring in the way it plays out, but the concept is a novel one, there are some teriffic lines of dialogue scattered throghout and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the lead finds exactly the right tone, hovering just a tad above the material. I’m glad I’ve seen this film, even if I kept glancing at the clock throught my watching of it.

Another film beloved by plenty is Children of Men. I found this one needlessly cold, keeping the characters and story at arms-length that made it hard for me to care about what was going on. But it sure is beautifully shot in all its dystopian grayness, with wonderful cinematography and some amazing uninterrupted takes. People who appreciate these aspects more than me should definitely see the film if they haven’t already.

Low-budget horror film My Little Eye from 2002 is one that could just as easily have gone in my post on films I’d forgotten, as the only thing I remember about it is that I really wanted to like it but couldn’t. In a sea of cheap shoddy horror flicks, this one at least tried to provide some scares, tension and an intriguing mystery, featuring a plot with a bunch of teens taking part in a Big Brother-style reality show. The film didn’t work, but the effort was there. Also notable for featuring an early pre-fame appearance by Bradley Cooper.

What else? Darren Aronofsky‘s debut Pi, which has similar atmosphere to his later films but none of the emotional investment. Rubber, the psychokinetic tire movie that toys with meta elements to limited success. The Tracey Fragments, an Ellen Page movie which uses a unique, if tiresome, shot-in-shot collage style to convey the fragmented mind of a teenage girl. And many other films.

As already stated, I didn’t like any of these movies, and yet I think they deserve better than to simply be labelled “bad” and swept under the carpet. They all bring something to the table and try to be good. Compare this to a film like Captain America: The First Avenger, that is so absolutely stubbornly determined to be merely “okay” that it doesn’t dare aspire to anything. I liked Captain America and was reasonably entertained by it, but I really would have been just as happy having never seen it. These other films listed here, though? I’m glad I saw them all. Even if they’re not very good.

Do you have any films you’re glad that you watched, even if you didn’t like them?

 
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Posted by on 2 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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