[Hat-tip: Toby's commenters.]
Commenting on this post, WPN asks: "What would a list of the Top 10
British films of the last 25 years look like? As an American, British
films are not 'foreign' enough for me to think of them as a separate
category in my own mental space. I'd be curious what Brits think."
Good question! The obvious answer is, natch, "thin". Nonetheless, my own list of Top British Flicks Since Local Hero would include (in no particular order):
Other contenders could include: Small Faces, Land and Freedom, Layer Cake, Sense and Sensibility, Hamlet, A cock and Bull Story, Bright Young Things...
From which one might conclude that the best directors of recent times are Neil Jordan (yes, I know he's Irish), Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. (Nods to Branagh and Michael Winterbottom too.) Note also how indebted British cinema - at least on this list - is to the theatre. Not just Shakespeare, of course, but also Alan Bennett's Madness of King George III. For that matter, both Loach and Leigh tend to work on a narrow, often domestic, canvas that could quite easily be adapted to fit the stage. You'll also notice the total absence of Richard Curtis pap from this list.
Doubtless, however, I've forgotten some good movies. Doubtless too, you'll let me know which ones ought to be on the list.
This week's New Yorker carries a profile of Alec Baldwin. The piece is written by Ian Parker and really, it's quite splendid. It begins:
Strangely, or at least somewhat to my surprise I found myself rather liking Baldwin by the end of it. He's a lugubrious bugger, for sure, but gloomily amusing too. Recommended reading anyway.
Film critic and cultural historian Neil Gabler has an interesting column on the Presidential race in today's Los Angeles Times. He concludes:
I don't know if Gabler is an Obama supporter or not, but if he is I'd suggest that it's hard to think of a worse way of framing the election than this. I mean, really, who are you going to back in a fight between Will Smith and John Wayne?
In fact it's hard to think of a framing device more favourable to John McCain than this. Will Smith is many things; likable, personable, smooth, funny, good looking, witty and all the rest of it. But Presidential? The embodiment of hope? A leader? Really? John Wayne is, well John Wayne... The Duke might not offer much in the way of hope and you might not care much for his manner, but by god you know where you stand with him. Even when he's a cranky, irascible sonofabitch - in True Grit or Red River for instance - he can be counted on to do the right thing in the end.
Hell, Wayne was perhaps the most quintessentially American movie star of the last 60 years. And he almost always won. Really, if you wanted to hurt Obama you might choose to frame the race in this manner.
We get the hope thing by now. But Obama's victory in the Democratic primary was built on more than just hope. It was about judgement and the policy-based criticisms he made of both the Bush administration and his rivals. He's still more than well-placed to win in Novemember, but I can't help feeling that the more his campaign is grounded in detail and the less concerned it is with the high-faultin' rhetorc of being the change we've been waiting for, the better he will do. At the very least there needs to be a proper balance between passing the ball downfield (hope!) and running it up the gut (boring but efficient policy!)...
This is how you do not interview Hollywood actresses. Newsweek meets Gillian Anderson:
I've got to confess. I don't know anything about "The X-Files."
Why is it such a big deal?
Ohmygod. You're not going to do this to me, are you? Tell me you're not going to do this. Oh come on! It's been such a long time. Hire somebody that knows enough that we don't have to explain this again.
Via Isaac Chotiner, I see The Times' movie critics have compiled a list of the "Top 20" movie endings of all time. Isaac is more enamoured than I am of the list, which concludes thusly: 5.Chinatown 4. E.T. 3. Casablanca 2. Butch Cassidy 1. Carrie Well, fine. But what about, in no particular order: The Lavender Hill Mob, The Great Escape, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Brief Encounter and, last, but by no means least, the brilliant ending to the best (British) movie of them all, The Third Man. It don't get better than this:
2. Butch Cassidy
Well, fine. But what about, in no particular order: The Lavender Hill Mob, The Great Escape, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Brief Encounter and, last, but by no means least, the brilliant ending to the best (British) movie of them all, The Third Man. It don't get better than this:
Anyway, it has to be better than the latest Bond novel...
The first Bond novel, "Casino Royale, was published in 1953. And yet, dated and hackneyed as some of the novels can seem, they have life in them yet. Just as he does in the movies, Bond refuses to die. And since he is back in cinemas, courtesy of Daniel Craig's muscular interpretation of Britain's foremost killer; it's only fair that he return to book stores too.
To mark the centenary of Fleming's birth, his estate commissioned Sebastian Faulks to write a new bond novel. The best-selling travesty that is "Devil May Care" is with us now, offering a reminder that sometimes the original really is best.
Still Faulks must have seemed a sensible choice, not too literary to be threatening, yet sufficiently well-respected as the author of popular middlebrow novels such as "Birdsong" (which has sold an astonishing three million copies) as to give the exercise some credibility.
Perhaps it also helped that Faulks had written a volume of literary parodies which included a send-up of Fleming himself. But this should have been understood as a warning, not a declaration of promise. After all, other writers have tried to pick up the series where Fleming left off. Kingsley Amis, writing as Robert Markham, was the first, publishing "Colonel Sun" four years after Fleming's death in 1965. It was not a great success.
I have no objection to a movie about the life of Che Guevara. At least in theory. Yet it's probably impossible for Hollywood to make an honest film about this awful man — case in point being the new one from director Steven Soderbergh and starring Benicio Del Toro. Even the NYT sees the problem clearly, based on a screening at Cannes...The best news is that the movie is apparently four and a half hours long and in Spanish, which doesn't sound like a recipe for box-office magic. But think about it: The film is twice as long as a movie that's already bordering on too long, and it just skips over the part of Che's life (when he was serving in Castro's government) that contains some of the most difficult episodes for his hagiographers to explain away. What's next? A miniseries on Osama bin Laden that passes over 9/11?Right... It;s getting to the stage that anti-Che (and anti-Castro) rhetoric is becoming just as tiresome as their hagiographers' simple-minded nonsense. Memo to the 1960s and its survivors: get over yourselves...
As Ross says, this may not bear much resemblance to the novel you read. But come on, isn't this just delightfully over-the-top and wonderfully trashy? I doubt it matters that the adaptation - Emma Thomson as Lady Marchmain notwithstanding - seems certain to be utter tripe.
I remember that when Andrew Davies announced that his adaptation would take the view that the book's really about how catholicism ruins everyone's life, there was much umbrage and outrage at this desecration of Waugh's intent. But there's little necessity for an adaptation to be faithful to the original author's intent. And Davies' view is far from untenable even if it ain't how Waugh would have seen his novel.
And in any case, if we're honest, Brideshead is ripe for a Dynasty style makeover. Brideshead is a soap opera after all and, frequently, a contrived, over-written, nonsensical drama to boot. That's part of its charm of course - itself, natch, the novel's fatal flaw...
Matt Zeitlin, on the other hand, suggests one should weep over this trailer. Now there's something to the argument that given the great success - indeed brilliance - of John Mortimer's Granada adaptation there's no need for a new film. But then again, what damage can there really be? Anyone who loves Brideshead - and it's one of those novels that despite its brilliance attracts too many too passionate defenders - has no monopoly or veto on how the book must be interpreted. In fact some of them need winding up...
In passing Ross makes mention of Waugh's "more serious novels". Does he mean to say that Scoop isn't a serious commentary on journalism? Surely not. Now there's an adaptation that might be fun - provided, of course, that it was played seriously and not milked for laughs...
Oh god. Here she goes again. ABC's Jake Tapper reports that:
In a speech in Philadelphia today, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, will compare herself to Philly icon Rocky Balboa.
"Well, could you imagine if Rocky Balboa had gotten half way up those Art Museum steps and said, 'Well, I guess that’s about far enough?'" Clinton will ask, according to her prepared remarks released to the press.
"Let me tell you something, when it comes to finishing the fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common," she will tell the Pennsylvania A.F.L.-C.I.O. audience. "I never quit. I never give up. And neither do the American people."
Fair enough, but as Tapper reminds Clinton, Rocky lost. To a black man. So, yeah, they do have something in common after all.
Does this also mean that we can expect Hillary to challenge President Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2012?
And, worse than that, after serving a single term she'll retire in 2016 only to launch comeback after ill-advised comeback culminating in a sixth run for the Presidency in 2032 which, though utterly ridiculous, will nonetheless be looked upon with a degree of charity, fondness and sentimental wistfulness by those of us old enough to remember the first time she ran for President? Ah, the plucky old fool we'll say, how nice to see her back...
Seriously, how ignorant are Hillary's speechwriters? How can anyone who doesn't have even a basic understanding or knowledge of the Rocky franchise expect to be elected President? It's just not on.
UPDATE: It's a draw! Ben Smith reminds one that Obama compared himself to Rocky way back in October. Today's Assignment: find me a new Philly cliche, please...
How do you measure a truly awful movie? Joe Queenan explains:
To qualify as one of the worst films of all time, several strict requirements must be met. For starters, a truly awful movie must have started out with some expectation of not being awful. That is why making a horrific, cheapo motion picture that stars Hilton or Jessica Simpson is not really much of an accomplishment. Did anyone seriously expect a film called The Hottie and The Nottie not to suck? Two, an authentically bad movie has to be famous; it can't simply be an obscure student film about a boy who eats live rodents to impress dead girls. Three, the film cannot be a deliberate attempt to make the worst movie ever, as this is cheating. Four, the film must feature real movie stars, not jocks, bozos, has-beens or fleetingly famous media fabrications like Hilton. Five, the film must generate a negative buzz long before it reaches cinemas; like the Black Plague or the Mongol invasions, it must be an impending disaster of which there has been abundant advance warning; it cannot simply appear out of nowhere. And it must, upon release, answer the question: could it possibly be as bad as everyone says it is? This is what separates Waterworld, a financial disaster but not an uncompromisingly dreadful film, and Ishtar, which has one or two amusing moments, from The Postman, Gigli and Heaven's Gate, all of which are bona fide nightmares.Six, to qualify as one of the worst movies ever made, a motion picture must induce a sense of dread in those who have seen it, a fear that they may one day be forced to watch the film again - and again - and again. To pass muster as one of the all-time celluloid disasters, a film must be so bad that when a person is asked, "Which will it be? Waterboarding, invasive cattle prods or Jersey Girl?", the answer needs no further reflection.
Queenan makes a compelling case for Heavens Gate to be considered the worst movie of all time. But in some respects I'm not sure that The Sicilian isn't actually worse, even if it didn't have quite such a dramatic impact.
UPDATE: I'd also say - put this in the Different-but-Related category - that I find any film starring Steve Martin unwatchable.
[Via Clive Davis, who plumps for Showgirls himself.]
Quick Oscar** thought: no American actor or actress won an Oscar this year. The four acting awards went to: Tilda Swinton (Scotland), Javier Bardem (Spain) Daniel Day-Lewis (England/Ireland) and Marion Cotillard (France). Have the Americans ever been shut out like this before? Does it mean anything beyond the fact that the Oscars are an increasingly international event (as, indeed, the Academy becomes an increasingly international event)? Perhaps it's just a small sample size and perhaps it doesn't mean anything at all, but it seems like a pleasing development to me.
Still: how long before the Democratic presidential contenders deplore the outsourcing of American acting jobs to foreigners and call for quotas on a) foreigners working in Hollywood, b) foreigners winning Oscars?
*Obviously there remain top US actors: Seymour-Hoffman, Depp, Downey Jr, even Clooney. Still, I'm always surprised by the number of British and Irish actors who get to play Americans on US TV and in US films.
**Second thought: Hurrah for Glen Hansard and Once! Tricky getting one's head wrapped around the idea that a guy I remember playing dingy college bars and, it seemed, the Trinity Ball every year I was at college now has an Oscar for Best Song. Congratulations. Great stuff.
UPDATE: Martin Hollick reminds one that non-Americans also took all four acting Oscars in 1965.
The best argument against Barack Obama?
Have we learned nothing from the tragic events of 1998, when, under the watch of President Morgan Freeman, this nation was plunged into chaos, and hundreds of millions of people died at the hands of the deadly Wolf-Beiderman space rock? The mere fact that this country is even considering putting another black man, Barack Obama, in the Oval Office proves that we have not.
We can't deny the facts, people. All we will get by electing an African-American is Texas-size space particles crashing into the Earth's surface, mega-tsunamis that barrel into the Appalachian Mountains, and 6.6 billion dead people.
I'm not suggesting that President Freeman was directly responsible for the creation of the Wolf-Beiderman comet or its Earth-bound path. That would be ridiculous. What I am saying is that under the watch of a black man that comet destroyed the entire Eastern seaboard. So, if history is any indicator, a vote for Barack Obama in 2008 is essentially a vote for the complete and total obliteration of the human race.
Don't we owe it to our children, and our children's children, to use this upcoming election to guarantee the Earth's existence rather than dooming it for eternity?
Oh dear. The New York Times' Manohla Dargis (who apparently find the idea of being asked to name and write about her favourite movies of the year an intolerable imposition that reminds her of the Judeo-Christian patriarchy that has made her existence so frightfully ghastly) then further indulges herself with this hackneyed spot of hand-wringing:
Enthusiastic reviews, intelligent filmmaking, even hot sex are no longer automatically enough to persuade a distributor to jump.
The problem is that the art-house audience that supported the French New Wave filmmakers to whom “Reprise” owes an obvious debt can no longer be counted on to fill theater seats. Or maybe it’s overwhelmed. For a variety of reasons, including the glut of releases, movies are now whisked on and off theater screens so fast that it’s hard for the audience to discover them, much less build a popular film-going culture. In 1984 Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” hung around in theaters long enough for people to learn how to spell his name. These days too many cool movies are just passing through on the way to your Netflix queue.
I don’t think anyone knows what the solution is, but this year IFC Entertainment hit its stride with its First Take series. Twice a month the company simultaneously opens a film theatrically, including at the IFC Center in the West Village, and releases it via video-on-demand on cable television. If the film does well in theaters, it might go wider than initially planned. IFC isn’t the first company to go the day-and-date route, but so far it’s letting people with great taste buy films — during a multifestival shopping spree, they picked up “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” “The Last Mistress” and “Paranoid Park” — so, until someone comes up with a better idea, more power to them.
IFC also had the smarts to snap up the Romanian film “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” at Cannes before it won the Palme d’Or. (It had a brief Oscar qualifying run in Los Angeles and reopens in January.) Directed by Cristian Mungiu, this is one of those putatively dark, difficult movies that industry mouthpieces try to use as proof that critics are out of touch with the audience when it is actually the audience that is out of touch with good movies. Americans consume a lot of garbage, but that may be because they don’t have real choices: 16 of the top box-office earners last weekend — some good, almost all from big studios — monopolized 33,353 of the country’s 38,415 screens. The remaining 78 releases duked it out on the leftover screens.
This is, of course, nonsense. Art-house audiences - a category which, these days, includes many people who live nowhere near an art-house cinema - have never had it so good. It is far from clear, in fact, that there's even a problem here in need of a solution.
I suspect Ms Dargis actually knows this but can't cast off what seem to be her largely-predictable prejudices (or, if you prefer, biases) to acknowledge that these days, now that the customer is king, it doesn't really matter what's on at the cinema.
That doesn't mean we will watch fewer movies. It might in fact mean we'll watch more. But we'll watch them at home and do our own programming. These are, then, exciting times for the movie enthusiast. It's true that even home cinema systems can't quite recreate the movie-going experience entirely, but the benefits of just staying at home compensate for whatever advantages the traditional cinema experience may still afford.
Dargis can't quite admit the logic of her position: if movies are merely passing through art house cinemas en route to your Nefliz queue then it stands to reason that it doesn;t much matter how wide or how prolonged a release they receive. The point is getting them onto your Netflix (or Blockbuster) queue. Does it matter whether you see the latest Paraguayuan Quinoa western at home* or in Greenwich Village?
So, no, the Big (Bad) Studios are not "monopolising" our attention. Until recently movie-watchers were almost entirely at the mercy of the studios, distributors and cinema managers. No more: the process has been democratised. Everyone can plan their own film festivals now. Fancy a week of Hungarian cinema? No problem. Netflix will provide.
Sure, newspaper critics will complain that this atomisation of the audience is a bad thing, somehow fraying our sense of community or some such guff. But the other way of looking at it is that now you can actually see what you want to see. The advantages of this happy state of affairs would seem to outweigh the disadvantages. (Among those: circuses such as the Oscars become less and less relevant, while critics at major newspapers also lose some of their influence as guardians and arbiters of taste).
But this loss of influence need not be terminal. Rather than waste space complaining that films don't receive long enough runs in art houses (though what percentage of the population even has access to an art house cinema?) it would be useful if major newspapers such as the NYT devoted less space to current releases and more to letting readers know when interesting or over-looked or difficult-but-rewarding or foreign films are released on DVD**.
In other words, they need to move with the audience's changing viewing habits. I can't possibly get to all the films I'd like to see while they are on release, but I can if I watch them at home. Being reminded of when that great new Vietnamese movie is out on DVD would be more useful than being told that if I get to the Angelika cinema in the next ten days I can see it on a big screen.
*And of course the costs of watching movies at home is much lower, meaning one is likely to be more creative and take greater risks when choosing films than if one is paying $40 for a night out at the multiplex or art house cinema. This must be good news for independent and foreign film.
*Of course Netflix already does this, letting one know when, based upon previous viewing habits and my own movie ratings new pictures I might be interested in arrive in their warehouses. This is a useful service, as is being able to compare notes with people who their computers have determined broadly share my taste in movies. So it's not essential that the newspapers take account of this, but it might be in their interest to do so.