Archive for the 'macguffin' Category

Best of not-2011

It’s time again for my favorite post to write all year. As has become a tradition, this is a list of the ten best films I saw in 2011, that weren’t made in 2011. Though I’ll be putting together the traditional top ten list over on the MacGuffin shortly (just a wee bit of catch-up still to do), this list is more fun because no one can tell me how horrible I am for leaving something off of it. It is mine and mine alone, reflecting my year of movies outside of the theater.

Speaking of the MacGuffin…because so much of my non-new-release viewing time is dedicated to films I’ll potentially be writing or recording about for the site, almost everything I mention here has been discussed in some fashion over there. I’m including links for those who may be interested. Articles and Top 5s are generally pretty spoiler-free; however, you should definitely see the movie in question before listening to any roundtables.

Without further ado…

10. sex, lies, and videotape (1989)

I did a lot of catching up with Steven Soderbergh’s filmography before Allen and I discussed our Top 5 Soderbergh films. His first film as a writer/director, the impressively-cast sex, lies, and videotape, beautifully displays the level of control that has made Soderbergh the kind of filmmaker who can jump from genre to genre with ease. The characters, with their particular quirks and fetishes, click for the viewer instantly, never seeming like they were created just for the purpose of having the conversations that make up the film. Aspiring filmmakers, take note: twenty-two years later, this is still how you make an indie movie that is essentially just people talking in rooms.

9. Fish Tank (2009)

As far as movies about angry adolescents go, Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank might be the best I’ve ever seen. 15-year-old Mia, masterfully played by newcomer Katie Jarvis, has many reasons to be angry, some of which she maybe has brought on herself, some that are out of her control. When she crosses paths with her mother’s new boyfriend—played by Michael Fassbender just before he became Incredibly Desirable Hollywood Star Michael Fassbender—things explode. For more thoughts, especially on that performance by Jarvis, see the piece I wrote about Fish Tank in March.

8. Dead Alive (1992)

I wrote a bit about Peter Jackson’s icky, hilarious, no-seriously-icky horror film during this year’s cascade of pre-Halloween horror coverage. This film provides the very definition of taking things to the next level. Everything in its story of a sort-of zombie invasion in 1950s Wellington goes about ten notches past where you could imagine it might, and then cranks it to eleven, with incredibly impressive, non-CGI special effects. Now that I’ve finally seen it, this is sure to be one I revisit each Halloween.

7. The Thing From Another World (1951)

Howard Hawks made this first adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella “Who Goes There?”, and though the tone and the monster are much different than in John Carpenter’s The Thing, I liked it just as much. When done well, the horror premise of being trapped in a remote/inaccessible location with a monster is timeless, and getting to see it with 1950s banter zinging all around at the same time is a special treat. We had a particularly fun roundtable discussion for this one.

6. Paris is Burning (1990)

I recently visited Jennie Livingston’s documentary on the “ball scene,” a subculture of 1980s gay and transgender groups in New York City, mostly minorities. The film explores this world of self-organized elaborate competitions called balls—like fashion shows, but with much deeper and more sprawling significance. The competitions are incredibly fun to catch a glimpse of, and the key figures interviewed by Livingston offer open commentary on the meaning of it all, both for the community and for them personally. The film is an amazing snapshot of a unique moment in American LGBT culture.

5. Holiday (1938)

I saw this Katherine Hepburn/Cary Grant gem for the first time only a few days ago, for a roundtable discussion that just posted today. Given my undying devotion to that other Hepburn/Grant collaboration by George Cukor, The Philadelphia Story, I have no idea why it took me so long to see this one. No surprise, it’s a one-liner filled, charm-soaked delight, as Grant finds out that his new fiancée (Doris Nolan, doing a fine job of being not-Katherine-Hepburn) is incredibly rich, and bonds with her self-described “black sheep” of a sister, who’s not too good at fulfilling her high class obligations. Throw in a scene-stealing Lew Ayres as drunken younger brother Ned, give the ladies plenty of opportunities to wear ridiculous gowns and Grant a chance to show off his vaudevillian tumbling skills, and wrap it up with Hepburn’s trembling jaw: it’s everything I ever want in a classic Hollywood film.

4. Trouble Every Day (2001)

As I wrote about in October, Trouble Every Day was the sort of film I could not get out of my head after watching. Claire Denis, easily one of the most interesting and talented film directors working today, incorporates elements of the horror genre into her extremely visual storytelling style, resulting in a story of searing images that, even after years of horror watching, is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The relationships of two couples—one affected by mysterious violence, the other teetering with paranoia even while in the literal honeymoon phase—entwine to reveal a story about monsters that, like all the best stories about monsters, is really about humanity and its darker impulses.

3. Brothers (2004)

Susanne Bier made one of my very favorite films of all time, the number one film on this list last year: After the Wedding. Her film previous to that masterpiece was Brothers, the story of a damaged man returning home after having been presumed dead while at war, and the complications that arise when it becomes clear that his wife and his brother bonded over their shared loss. Like other Bier films, this is a showcase for acting, and all three principal players (Ulrich Thomsen, Connie Nielsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas) are phenomenal. The Hollywood remake that came in 2009 suffers from making the characters much younger and from feeling melodramatic without Bier’s magic touch; see the original if you haven’t. (I wrote about Brothers for my very first Bird Watching column, which ambitiously states that I’ll be writing it every week. Oh, past Brandi and your lofty goals.)

2. I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

Chosen by former MacGuffin writer John for our first roundtable, this early effort from co-writer/director Robert Zemeckis is easily one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. For added delight: it’s mostly ladies doing the funny stuff. Oh sure, the teen girls on a quest to see The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show have some boys in tow as well, but it’s really their show. Wendie Jo Sperber, Nancy Allen, Theresa Saldana, and Susan Kendall Newman all get their moments in the spotlight, and bits of physical humor from Sperber and Allen reach levels of perfect over-the-top lunacy. Months before I got to revel in the manic bliss that is Bridesmaids, this film was a perfect reminder that there have been women wanting to do that kind of comedy for years, if only they had the opportunity.

1. A Single Man (2009)

Despite my love for Colin Firth, I had missed his Oscar-nominated performance in Tom Ford’s beautiful film, and remedied that early this year. Though I am pleased that Firth won the next year for The King’s Speech, his work here is more impressive to me, because the emotions have to stay even more contained at first, before outbursts that are even more painful to watch. As a gay man in the 1960s who loses his long-time boyfriend to a car accident, Firth plays the aftermath to perfection. Tom Ford’s direction is visually impeccable, but wisely puts most of the focus on that devastating lead performance. Exceptional.

Previous lists:

Best of not-2010
Best of not-2009
Best of not-2008


The best of not-2010

I blogged less than usual in 2010, due to a couple of factors. One, I work a lot (and just a few days ago got a “you’re gonna be putting in some hours, it’s true” pep talk from the boss, so that’s not likely to change anytime soon). Two, there’s that pesky other site that’s been taking up a chunk of my writing time. But I’ve been looking forward to writing this particular post for awhile. These are the ten best films I saw last year, that weren’t made last year. (You can see my 2010 top ten list at the aforementioned pesky site. And you can see my 2009 and 2008 best-of-not lists here and here.)

10. Caché (2005)

I made a big mistake watching this film by myself, because afterward I was desperate to discuss it with someone. I ended up listening to an episode of A Damn Movie Podcast where they talked about this movie, then emailing them with my thoughts, which they read on an episode a few weeks later. Not the most efficient way to satisfy a desire to talk about something, but fun! Anyway, in Michael Haneke’s unpredictable, puzzling thriller, a couple (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil) is sent videotapes of themselves in situations where seemingly no one could have been there to record them. It gets crazier from there. Haneke can go either way for me, but this one is a great film.

9. Schizopolis (1996)

Ok, trying to really explain what goes on in this film would be nuts. It involves a man named Fletcher Munson (played by writer/director Steven Soderbergh, who is quite a good actor), who works in an office so fraught with rumor and ridiculousness that it makes the one in Office Space look like paradise. Fletcher’s minimal adventures, and those of the people in his general circle, are pretty much a means to an end to skewer various conventions of film and life, in hilarious and often thought-provoking fashion. A film that requires multiple viewings, after the weirdness has settled in.

8. The Jerk (1979)

One day Sara and I were sitting around pretty bored, and we ended up having the best double feature courtesy of Netflix streaming eveeeeerrrrr. What did we watch? Amelie and The Jerk. Sounds pretty bizarre, but it was the best. First, a standby film that never gets old, then one neither of us had ever seen that totally exceeded our expectations. It was one of those great moments when you assume a film has been built up so much that it can never be as good as people say…but then it totally is. I laughed so hard, guys. I laughed so hard. Steve Martin, man. When he’s good, he’s incredible.

7. Blood Simple (1984)

The Coen brothers’ first film tells a seedy crime story with talented, offbeat actors in an unsettling atmosphere. Basically all of the ingredients that would show up in great later films such as Miller’s Crossing or No Country for Old Men, though of course no one can accuse the Coens of being repetitive. It was really interesting to watch this film for the first time being so familiar with nearly all of their films since; they just had it, right from the beginning.

6. Sin Nombre (2009)

Are you the sort of person who likes your movies tense? This is tense. A Honduran family, trying to pass through Mexico on the way to illegally immigrate into the U.S., rides with many others on the roofs of cargo trains. Their journey becomes deeply complicated when members of a Mexican gang rob the train, but the robbery doesn’t quite go as planned. I don’t want to say too much, as the choices the characters make mean everything. Writer/director Cary Fukunaga’s next film is the new adaptation of Jane Eyre, which is much-anticipated by me for many reasons, including his involvement. Tense, I tell you.

5. Departures (2008)

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film so genuine and sincere in its emotion as Departures, a wonderful Japanese film about a young man who takes a job preparing dead bodies for funerals. This isn’t at all like the American vision of undertaking. It involves much more beautiful ritual, but also a much greater social stigma. I saw this film at Roger Ebert’s film festival and wrote about it then. If I didn’t convince you to watch it before, let me convince you now.

4. Dirty Harry (1971)

Here’s another one that I’d just not gotten around to seeing and that I thought might be a letdown once I finally did. But honestly, how badass is Harry Callahan? And this is such a patient, interesting movie in ways I did not expect at all from such badassery. I loved it so much I watched Magnum Force the next day, which is obviously not as good, but I will now take all the Harry Callahan I can get. I will be finishing the series shortly.

3. Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962)

I wrote a piece about Agnès Varda’s beautiful French film for my Great Films by Women series (links in the sidebar), so I won’t go into too much about it here. This is one of those films that I couldn’t stop thinking about, to the point that I watched it again just a few weeks later. It will be one I return to a lot, I think.

2. You, the Living (2007)

This highly charming and original Swedish film was another offering from Ebertfest. It was the first film I wrote about for The MacGuffin, so you can check out my review round those parts if you’re so inclined. This is for lovers of quirky, bizarre things, but I think also for people who are not normally lovers of quirky, bizarre things. It’s that lovely within all of its oddity. It’s so rare to see a film that just doesn’t remind you of anything else you’ve ever seen…and this is it.

1. After the Wedding (2006)

This is another one I wrote about for Great Films by Women (sidebar!), and another that I think about very often. It’s just absolutely remarkable in every way, one of those experiences that means for the rest of time if I ever hear that Susanne Bier is involved with a film, I will be interested, no matter what other factors. She is brilliant, this film is brilliant, you will gain brilliance points by giving yourself over to it. Bring your tissues and let go.

The other blog…

Just a quick round-up of my recent contributions to MacGuffin:

1. Reviews of Iron Man 2 and Letters to Juliet.

2. Guest hosting  for the absent-but-not-forgotten John on this week’s podcast, with the incomparable Spencer.

Check it out! You can also read other humorous reviews from contributing writer Chad (who seems to only watch things that are horrifically awful), watch older episodes of the podcast (episode 38 “We Love DVDs” is a recent highlight for me), and check out some tweet-sized horror reviews. And might I suggest following the relevant Twitter feeds if you like what you see? @macguffincast, @thatspencer, @TweetSizeHorror, and of course, @ouibrandi.

And stay tuned for less self-promoty posts here on Celeberrimous!

Ebertfest, days four and five

My belated round-up of the last two days of Ebertfest…

On Saturday, I missed the matinee showing of I Capture the Castle (2003). I haven’t previously made any effort to see this film, which is based on one of my favorite novels of all time. I have such specific visions of the characters and setting that I’m pretty wary of messing with them (which is of course the eternal dilemma with the movie adaptations of beloved books). However, this film is streaming on Netflix, so I will give it a chance soon, if only in the interest of Ebertfest completeness.

The next showing on Saturday was the documentary Vincent: A Life in Color (2008). I wrote a review of this film over at MacGuffin—check it out there.

The third screening of Saturday was the Michelle Monaghan film Trucker (2008). I pretty much adore Michelle Monaghan, and her performance is the main reason for anyone to see this film. She plays Diane, a female trucker, who is forced to look after the 11-year-old son she left a decade ago when his father is sick with cancer. While there is nothing especially groundbreaking or unpredictable about the film, it is solid, and has a few particularly nice scenes between Monaghan and the actor who plays her son, Jimmy Bennett (who is a serious find in the realm of kid actors).

The writer/director James Mottern and Monaghan spoke about the film afterward. While I thought the film was good and I completely understand Monaghan’s enthusiasm over having had the chance to play a conflicted, complex woman whose main concern has nothing to do with nabbing a husband, I think both Roger Ebert and the filmmakers overestimated the power of the film. I was disappointed in the inevitable track taken with Diane, wherein she must change her natural tendencies in order to be the good, maternal woman. I think they could have let her face her responsibilities without some moments that, to me, felt overly judgmental about Diane’s desire to be sexual or apprehension about being responsible for a child. Nonetheless, Monaghan is captivating in the role and the film is worth seeing.

Saturday concluded with a screening of the Faye Dunaway and Mickey Rourke film Barfly (1987). I was very surprised by this film, which follows a couple of career drunks over the course of several days. This is no Leaving Las Vegas: it’s an odd, funny, contemporary comedy; gothic and seedy, yet bright and clever. The screenplay, by Charles Bukowski, consists of little but one clever exchange of dialogue after another, interrupted here or there for someone to kick the crap out of someone else. It’s exceedingly entertaining. Director Barbet Schroeder fought his way through the pesky ash cloud to come for the screening, after which he told numerous anecdotes about the making of the film (including confirming the infamous tale that he threatened to cut off his own finger if he couldn’t get financing).

On Sunday, the festival concluded with the documentary Song Sung Blue (2008). I also reviewed this film in the same post on MacGuffin I linked to above (clickety!).

Ebertfest was quite an experience, one I hope to repeat sometime. Friends, who wants to come along?

A programming note

My dear readers: I have been recruited to write some reviews over at MacGuffin Podcast. I’m excited about this because I’m a fan of Spencer and John’s weekly movie discussion, and it’s quite pleasing to be invited to contribute original content to a site other than my own.

I won’t be neglecting ol’ Celeberrimous, but I won’t be recycling material from here either. I’ll post notes letting you know when you should click on over to read my newest MacGuffin reviews. I also highly recommend checking out what else they have going on, in particular the weekly show and the Tweet-Size Horror reviews, which I love.

In my post on day one of Ebertfest, I promised to write a full review of the great film You, the Living. You can find said review as my first post at MacGuffin.

Other projects:

Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

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