Nov 16, 2009

Movies of Quality in Podunk

Let's move to the equally painful movies of quality, according to A.O Scott:

• Wall-E (Andrew Stanton). Excellent in parts, but every single Pixar movie is the same formula. This one just happens to take place in a dumpster.

• Yiyi (Edward Yang) and The World (Jia Zangke). Have not seen Yiyi, and The World is a wonderful film, like all of Jia's movies. But I would choose Still Life, which is much more powerful.

• Million Dollar Baby and Letters From Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood).
"Late masterpieces from the last great classical American filmmaker". Wow. Cue the  trumpets. The first one is unconscionable here. A female Rocky, maudlin, boring, and with Morgan Freeman sweeping the floor of a gym, playing the good negro.
I can't abide Clint Eastwood and his solemn hackery. I never believe anything that happens in his movies. It's all fake sentiment.
Letters from Iwo Jima is the best thing Eastwood has ever done, which in my book is not saying much, but I admit it impressed me.

Great American quality films of this decade?  
A History of Violence, There Will be Blood, Michael Clayton, The Departed, The Wrestler, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Borat, The Hurt Locker, Juno, Jarhead, Little Miss Sunshine, The Darjeeling Limited, Rescue Dawn, 3:10 to Yuma, Children of Men, Eastern Promises, We Own The Night, Catch Me If You Can, O Brother Where Art Thou, even No Country for Old Men, which I dislike.  

• 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (Cristian Mungiu), and L'Enfant (The Fréres Dardenne). This is like pairing Velveeta with foie gras. The Romanian movie is an exercise in crass audience manipulation, stacking the deck to extreme, exploitative levels.  L'Enfant is truly a masterpiece of cinema; almost literary in its moral complexity. How you can put them together is beyond me.

Great foreign films of the last decade?  
The ClassLet the Right One InCacheThe White RibbonDownfall, Hunger, Il Divo, Read my Lips (or anything by Jacques Audiard)anything by Lucrecia Martel, anything by Joon-Ho Bong, the director of The Host and Mother, Persepolis, anything by Miyazaki, Secret Sunshine, the new Israeli cinema (Beaufort, Or, Lebanon, Waltz with Bashir, Jellyfish, The Band's Visit), Ten by Abbas Kiarostami, etc.

• Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro) and Where The Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze).
WTWTA is a thing of beauty. Smart, poignant and sophisticated. The other one is not only cheesy, but it banalizes the Spanish Civil War.

• I didn't see either of the documentaries, which I'm sure are great.

• The Best of Youth (Marco Tulio Giordano) is a TV mini series that tries to cram all of Italy's postwar history in six hours. It's spellbinding yet a little hokey by the end.

• Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry) and Talk To Her (Pedro Almodóvar). I would have said Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman, really) and Volver, which is far superior to Talk To Her, in my book. These two movies have nothing to do with each other, except perhaps in the overly simplistic concept behind this list, that both use surreal sequences.

• The 25th Hour and When the Levees Broke (Spike Lee). The first one is the best Spike Lee has done in years, except for Inside Man, which is better. The second one is incredibly powerful, and deserved to be screened in theaters, not only on HBO.

• Gosford Park (Robert Altman) and Moolaade (Ousmane Sembène): R.I.P."
Moolade, I haven't seen. Gosford Park, no. It's fine but it is nothing special and not among the best of Robert Altman's films.

Really this list is like a mayo sandwich on white bread. It feels like it was written by the film critic of The Podunk Times. It is not the job of a critic to appease and conform to the middle-lowbrow. It is to shed attention on the extraordinary (high and low) and to enlighten and encourage the public to seek and enjoy and appreciate artistic value in film.

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