Saturday

Addendum


I've added a list of my 50 favorite performances of last year to my best-of-2010 page.

Here's the top ten:

01. Sibel Kikelli - When We Leave
02. Ben Stiller - Greenberg
03. Greta Gerwig - Greenberg
04. Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
05. Edgar Ramirez - Carlos
06. Justin Timberlake - The Social Network
07. John Hawkes - Winter's Bone
08. Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine
09. Ryan Gosling - Blue Valentine
10. Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
see 11-50
Los Angeles Plays Itself


One of American cinema's most interesting trends in 2010 was an uncommon wealth of Los Angeles-set films that offer a unique feel or perspective of what life in L.A. is actually like, at least for some segments of its population--as opposed to the annual slew of Hollywood-made/Hollywood-set movies that recycle the same familiar Greater Los Angeles locations without offering much insight outside of lazy SoCal shorthand.

The two most atypical L.A. films this year must be Bruce LaBruce's gay porn-horror hybrid L.A. Zombie, which navigates some of the seedier haunts of L.A.'s homeless community in an allegory that ponders both the AIDS epidemic and the cultural ghettoization of gay men while expertly walking the line between confrontational art and gloriously bad taste; and Banksy's Exit Through the Gift Shop, which makes pointed detours to London, Paris, and New York but situates its story mainly in a Los Angeles counterculture that's refreshingly rough around the edges. Whether Banksy's now Oscar-nominated work is a "hoax," or rather the extent to which it is, matters little for our purposes: the grungy, communal L.A. that shines through his sly, F for Fake-like commentary on artistic authenticity is something excitingly new for most of us non-Angelenos.

The Kids Are All Right and Greenberg are a decidedly more conventional pair, but they also subtly shift long-held ideas about what constitutes an "L.A. movie." Unlike LaBruce and Banksy's films, they're set in upscale areas of Los Angeles, but they're not excessively glamorous environs--a key distinction to make when talking about Southern California on film (think, for example of Norma Desmond's estate in Sunset Boulevard or much more recently, of Cher's palatial residence in Clueless). These are leafy, exquisitely manicured, to be sure, but ultimately cozy neighborhoods in which one can imagine buying a house and raising a family. Or at least that might be true if one is a doctor (like Annette Bening's Nic in Kids), a successful entrepreneur (Mark Ruffalo's Paul in Kids, who was, at one point, apparently broke enough to donate sperm for a little cash), or a hotel chain executive (Ben Stiller's brother in Greenberg, for whom he's house-sitting). Noah Baumbach said that he wanted to show an L.A. where relatively normal people live and raise their kids, but for the film's achievement of this, a debt of recognition must be paid to DP extraordinaire Harris Savides, whose images depict a warm, lived-in city that feels a universe away from the mythic, impossibly luxurious destination that most of us have come to associate with a real place that over four million people call home.

Savides also shot Sofia Coppola's superb Somewhere, which along with the equally underappreciated Marie Antoinette, I'd say represents the stronger half of her filmography. Because Somewhere is about a movie star named Johnny Marco (played beautifully by Stephen Dorff, a performance that's gone sadly neglected in the current awards sweepstakes) who takes up permanent residence at the legendary Chateau Marmont, the film necessarily harnesses L.A. iconicity to a greater degree than those titles listed above, but in a manner not dissimilar from David Lynch's now-canonical Mulholland Drive, it subverts and ultimately upends our expectations of what such imagery means.

It's also one of the truest, most deeply felt portraits of fatherhood ever put to film. The scenes between Johnny and his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning, whose understated, never overly precious performance is vastly preferable to Hailee Steinfeld's insufferably precocious sassy-adult-trapped-in-a-child's-body True Grit turn, which just earned a cringe-inducing Oscar nomination) are so sweet and so tender, whether they're competing at Guitar Hero in Johnny's hotel room, ordering late-night gelato from room service while Johnny's promoting his latest movie in Milan, or clowning around in the hotel pool and then lounging on deck chairs soaking up the warmth of some Southern Californian sunshine. (The most comparable on-screen dynamic that comes to mind is the surrogate father-son relationship between Kevin Costner and T.J. Lowther in Clint Eastwood's great A Perfect World.) When Cleo, who seems to be as well-adjusted and happy and normal as any 11 year-old girl might be under the odd circumstances, finally breaks down and cries in her dad's Ferrari, it's genuinely affecting because, by that point, we truly care about both characters.

On the other hand, the scenes minus Cleo are among the saddest and loneliest Coppola's ever put to film; while "stylish" and "moody" are obvious adjectives for describing her work, Somewhere marks the first instance where such moments are actually poignant and resonant rather than just playing like atmospheric fashion ads. The air literally goes out of the film when Johnny's on his own--or even in the presence of pole-dancing twins, who entertain him in his room while he dozes off from booze and pills. When late in the film, Johnny phones an ex and desperately complains, "I'm nothing...I'm not even a person," he's articulating a little too explicitly what Dorff's incredible body language (the Cleo-less scenes find Dorff essentially acting in a silent movie) and Coppola and Savides' often-breathtaking compositions have already made abundantly clear. But it's also a necessary moment: Johnny has finally accepted and even embraced his role as a father and now Cleo is gone to summer camp; in her absence, he realizes what many well-meaning dads (myself included) have before him, which is how oppressively boring and seemingly meaningless life can feel in the absence of that amazing, brilliant little person that we somehow managed to help create. If this scene also serves as a bitter critique of Hollywood artifice, it's simply icing on the cake.

It's the remarkable human dimension of Somewhere that marks Coppola's maturation (whereas, conversely, it's new-found formal intelligence that makes Greenberg a significant leap forward for Baumbach). She's always been a preternaturally gifted, if heavily allusive, visual stylist and one of the more intuitive filmmakers of her generation when it comes to using music (though her interesting employment here of tunes as commonplace as the Foo Fighters' "My Hero," Ashanti's "1 Thing," and Gwen Stefani's "Cool" strikes me as more impressive than leaning on already-hip material by My Bloody Valentine, Roxy Music, and Phoenix), but Somewhere's charm lies in the details. By the end of the film, the Chateau Marmont feels as dully familiar to us as it must to Johnny and after returning from Milan, it can't help but feel a little shabby compared to the more opulent Italian version of luxury; to say that it's the third major character in the film, while a cliche, is certainly not untrue. Even the endless parade of model-looking women vying for Johnny's attention begins to feel relatably tiresome, though such attention is obviously far from the reality of everyday life for most of us. The frustrations and discontents of privilege is Coppola's great theme, and where I once (see: the overrated Lost in Translation) couldn't resist the impulse to brand her as solipsistic for it, she's now able to make that palpably register for viewers who didn't grow up rich and famous in Hollywood.

Part of the difference is that she's working (mostly) on her home turf this time rather than in, say, Tokyo or 18th Century France--though Marie Antoinette has plenty else to recommend it. (The trip to Milan borders on dubious, as its depictions of wacky Italian culture aren't far off from Lost in Translation's gross representations of Japan, but at least in this case, Sofia is Italian-American and Johnny and Cleo's reactions seem more fondly bemused than condescending or xenophobic) Her portrait of Los Angeles, meanwhile, is essentially affectionate. If the insularity and mechanic motions of Hollywood celebrity are something Johnny feels he must escape to stop spinning his wheels in circles, the palm trees swaying in the Pacific breeze above a nondescript ice-skating rink are something Coppola clearly wouldn't care to leave behind for too long. I'm reminded of the song, "West Coast," by Sofia's cousin, Jason Schwartzman and his band Coconut Records. "I miss you / I'm going back home to the West Coast," sings Schwartzman wistfully. Films like Somewhere, Greenberg, and the rest I've mentioned here show us what's to miss.

Sunday

A Hundred (or So) Films


Like an oil change for your car or spring cleaning around the house, re-thinking and tweaking a top 100 films list is, every so often, one of those mental necessities for a lot of cinephiles, myself included. Below is the latest ordering for my personal list.

As you may notice, there are some rather glaring omissions. Most of these are intentional, though many would be rectified if I were to expand the list to two or even three hundred films rather than just a hundred. There is no Lang, Tarkovsky, Herzog, Fellini, Kurosawa, Ray (Nicholas or Satyajit), Akerman, Visconti, Feuillade, Bunel, Eisenstein, Cronenberg, Polanski, Cassavetes, Bergman; no pre-Fifth Generation Chinese films; nothing whatsoever from Africa or South America (I plead very embarrassing ignorance here aside from a few names [Martel, Ruiz, Sembene] that just missed the cut); nothing animated, only three shorts; and only four films by female directors. Included, instead, are all four Malick features to date; four Welles entries in the top 25 (and a fifth in the top 50); Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut but not 2001 or Dr. Strangelove; Ghost World, Jurassic Park, Heathers, Clueless, and Showgirls. I'm preemptively conceding all these likely criticisms as revealing of my specific preferences and as an acknowledgment that this is not, in any sense save for the inadvertent, a stab at canon formation. It's simply a (hopefully pretty accurate) reflection of what I love or value the most in film as of early 2011.

01. Days of Heaven (Malick, 78)
02. Au hasard Balthazar (Bresson, 66)
03. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 28)
04. Citizen Kane (Welles, 41)
05. The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, 42)
06. Sunrise (Murnau, 27)
07. Before Sunrise/Before Sunset (Linklater, 95/04)
08. The Night of the Hunter (Laughton, 55)
09. Vertigo (Hitchcock, 58)
10. Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, 97)
11. Histoire(s) du Cinema (Godard, 88-98)
12. City Lights (Chaplin, 31)
13. Tokyo Story (Ozu, 53)
14. Chimes at Midnight (Welles, 65)
15. Shoah (Lanzmann, 85)
16. Sátántangó (Tarr, 94)
17. Barry Lyndon (Kubrick, 75)
18. The Thin Red Line (Malick, 98)
19. The Searchers (Ford, 56)
20. Diary of a Country Priest (Bresson, 51)
21. Singin' in the Rain (Donen/Kelley, 52)
22. Eyes Wide Shut (Kubrick, 99)
23. Flowers of Shanghai (Hou, 98)
24. Touch of Evil (Welles, 58)
25. The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums (Mizoguchi, 39)
26. L'Atalante (Vigo, 34)
27. Day of Wrath (Dreyer, 43)
28. Intolerance (Griffith, 16)
29. Two or Three Things I Know About Her (Godard, 67)
30. Karamay (Xu, 10)
31. I Was Born, But... (Ozu, 32)
32. Voyage in Italy (Rossellini, 54)
33. Ninotchka (Lubitsch, 39)
34. Ghost World (Zwigoff, 01)
35. Walkabout (Roeg, 71)
36. The Big Sleep (Hawks, 46)
37. The General (Keaton/Bruckman, 26)
38. The Misfits (Huston, 61)
39. The Lady Eve (Sturges, 41)
40. Notorious (Hitchcock, 46)
41. The Rules of the Game (Renoir, 39)
42. F for Fake (Welles, 73)
43. Redacted (De Palma, 07)
44. Night and Fog (Resnais, 55)
45. The House Is Black (Farrokhzad, 62)
46. Three Times (Hou, 05)
47. Gertrud (Dreyer, 64)
48. Ordet (Dreyer, 55)
49. A Man Escaped (Bresson, 56)
50. A.I. (Spielberg, 01)
51. Monsieur Verdoux (Chaplin, 47)
52. Unforgiven (Eastwood, 92)
53. Rio Bravo (Hawks, 59)
54. The Trial of Joan of Arc (Bresson, 62)
55. A Hard Day's Night (Lester, 64)
56. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Ophuls, 48)
57. Window Water Baby Moving (Brakhage, 59)
58. The Man with the Movie Camera (Vertov, 29)
59. Russian Ark (Sokurov, 02)
60. Still Life (Jia, 06)
61. Swing Time (Stevens, 36)
62. Nosferatu (Murnau, 22)
63. Close-up (Kiarostami, 90)
64. Young Mr. Lincoln (Ford, 39)
65. A Star Is Born (Cukor, 54)
66. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Rivette, 74)
67. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Hawks, 53)
68. Showgirls (Verhoeven, 95)
69. Contempt (Godard, 63)
70. The New World (Malick, 05)
71. Badlands (Malick, 73)
72. The Piano (Campion, 93)
73. Lolita (Kubrick, 62)
74. Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 93)
75. Masculin-Feminin (Godard, 66)
76. Do the Right Thing (Lee, 89)
77. Tabu (Murnau/Flaherty, 31)
78. Rear Window (Hitchcock, 54)
79. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (Fassbinder, 72)
80. Beau Travail (Denis, 99)
81. Raging Bull (Scorsese, 80)
82. In the Mood for Love (Wong, 00)
83. Shock Corridor (Fuller, 63)
84. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong, 04)
85. Platform (Jia, 00)
86. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (Spielberg, 82)
87. L'Avventura (Antonioni, 60)
88. Play Time (Tati, 67)
89. A Talking Picture (de Oliveira, 03)
90. Manhattan (Allen, 79)
91. Actress (Kwan, 92)
92. Amadeus (Forman, 84)
93. Early Summer (Ozu, 51)
94. Day for Night (Truffaut, 73)
95. The Fog of War (Morris, 03)
96. Don't Look Now (Roeg, 73)
97. Heathers (Lehmann, 89)
98. Clueless (Heckerling, 95)
99. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman, 71)
100. One from the Heart (Coppola, 82)

Thursday

The Words Will Never Come Out

This is amazing (especially when you consider the original!).

Tuesday

What We Liked the Most


Not surprisingly but certainly hearteningly (with the dubious likes of Animal Collective, TV on the Radio, and LCD Soundsystem as the last three album winners), Kanye won this year's Pazz and Jop. By a landslide; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy finished a mere 18 points shy of doubling the total for LCD's runner-up This Is Happening! "Fuck You!" topped the singles side of the poll; frankly, I can take it or leave it, but it could've been much worse.

Here's my ballot. And (if you scroll about halfway down the page) here's a comment I made comparing Kanye to Don Draper that the Voice apparently decided to publish.

Sunday

The JLT/JLT Ballot


With the Golden Globes airing tonight and the Oscar nominations soon to be announced, I figured it was a good time to post my picks for the year's best work. As with my top films list posted late last month, I am not limiting my picks to Oscar-eligible work; anything I saw in 2010 is fair game. My choices in each category are listed in roughly preferential order.


FILM
Karamay
Greenberg
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Valhalla Rising
City of Life and Death


DIRECTOR
Apichatpong Weerasethakul - Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Xu Xin - Karamay
Nicholas Winding Refn - Valhalla Rising
Lu Chuan - City of Life and Death
Jia Zhangke - I Wish I Knew


ACTRESS
Sibel Kikelli - When We Leave
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine
Doona Bae - Air Doll
Fooi Mun Lai - The Tiger Factory


ACTOR
Ben Stiller - Greenberg
Edgar Ramirez - Carlos
Ryan Gosling - Blue Valentine
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Stephen Dorff - Somewhere


SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Greta Gerwig - Greenberg
Nora von Waldstatten - Carlos
Olivia Williams - The Ghost Writer
Jennifer Jason Leigh - Greenberg
Elle Fanning - Somewhere


SUPPORTING ACTOR
Justin Timberlake - The Social Network
John Hawkes - Winter's Bone
Rhys Ifans - Greenberg
Dominique Thomas - Bluebeard
Mark Ruffalo - The Kids Are All Right


SCREENPLAY
Aaron Sorkin - The Social Network
Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh - Greenberg
Michael Arndt, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich - Toy Story 3
Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko - The Kids Are All Right
Robert Harris and Roman Polanski - The Ghost Writer


CINEMATOGRAPHY
Lee Ping-bin - Air Doll
Nelson Yu Lik-wai - I Wish I Knew and Dream Home
Yukontorn Mingmongkon and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom - Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Xu Xin - Karamay
Harris Savides - Greenberg and Somewhere


SCORE
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - The Social Network
James Murphy - Greenberg
World's End Girlfriend - Air Doll
Thomas Bangalter - Enter the Void
Carter Burwell - True Grit

Wednesday

Work in Progress


James Joyce died 70 years ago today. A few quotes in his honor.

"One of the things I could never get accustomed to in my youth was the difference I found between life and literature." (Joyce to a friend)

"Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead." (from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)

"...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. " (from the Molly Bloom "Penelope" soliloquy that concludes Ulysses)
Bad Omens


2011 has not started off well.

First, in Pakistan, the governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards coming out of a cafe where he'd eaten his lunch. Then, closer to home, an Arizona congresswoman was shot while holding an informal meeting with local constituents in a grocery store; six people were killed while 12 more were wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Of course, it's deeply saddening when any acts of such horrific violence occur, against anyone, anywhere in the world. But what makes the combination of these two recent events sting additionally is that both Taseer and Giffords have been infallibly described as "moderates." Both were voices of compromise and peaceful progress fighting the good fights in profoundly polarized cultural spheres.

Taseer was a controversial figure in Pakistan for his efforts to liberalize the strict, Islamic blasphemy laws within his country's most populous province; his admirable resolve was apparently strengthened in the wake of a Pakistani female having recently been executed for supposedly defaming the Prophet Muhammad. (Extremely worrisome is the fact that, following Taseer's death, his bodyguard/assassin has garnered thousands of new social networking "friends.") Giffords, meanwhile, was a supporter of the Obama healthcare bill--a piece of legislation that, even in watered-down form, will provide serious assistance to millions of Americans, though the true scale of its impact may take decades to measure. A centrist Democrat, Giffords was reportedly one of the last "yea" votes swayed before the bill finally made it through the House of Representatives.

All I can do is hope that this pair of early January tragedies isn't portending darker days to come.

Saturday

This Is Happening


R. Kelly's "When a Woman Loves" is what's on.

Rosenbaum on Kiarostami's place in Iranian (and World) Cinema.

Armond White's annual "Better-Than" list--always a must-read, even if you mostly disagree.

I'm not a Poetry Person per se, but I really like this poem by Michael Ondaatje.

Joanna Newsom and Andy Samberg are the most adorable celeb couple that I didn't know existed until a couple days ago.