Sunday, June 07, 2009

1972 - Top 10 Favorite Films (6-10)

6. Sleuth

7. The Poseidon Adventure

8. Aguirre, The Wrath of God

9. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise

10. The Ruling Class

1971 - Favorite Films

Just my Top 10.
1. The French Connection
2. Shaft
3. The Omega Man
4. Straw Dogs
5. Frenzy
6. Walkabout
7. A Clockwork Orange
8. Fiddler on the Roof
9. Klute
10. Murmur of the Heart

1971 - Straw Dogs

I saw Straw Dogs a couple of years ago. I have really only seen Dustin Hoffman films from the 80's on, so it was a little jarring seeing him in a non comedic role. The film is so nervewracking in the building up of the tension almost from the first frame. You know a trainwreck is coming but you can't turn away.

David (Dustin Hoffman), a young American professor, moves to a house in the English countryside with his young wife Amy (Susan George). One of the major reasons that they moved to England was fear of violence in the United States related to the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, they find their new home to be far worse when the local hooligans set their eyes on Amy and take a strong disliking to the rather meek David. The threat of physical violence becomes reality when Amy is raped and David finds himself in the middle of a serious local dispute. David is forced to either find some courage quickly, or turn tail and flee.

Another opinion:

"You have to understand, first of all, that the movie ends with maybe 20 minutes of unrestrained bloodletting, during which people are scalded with boiling whisky, have their feet blown off by shotguns, are clubbed to death and (in one case) nearly decapitated by a bear trap. The violence is the movie's reason for existing; it is the element that is being sold, and in today's movie market, It should sell well. But does Peckinpah pay his dues before the last 20 minutes? Does he keep us feeling we can trust him? I don't think so.

The most offensive thing about the movie is its hypocrisy; it is totally committed to the pornography of violence, but lays on the moral outrage with a shovel. The perfect criticism of "Straw Dogs" already has been made. It is "The Wild Bunch." - Roger Ebert

New Change of Plan

It's pretty obvious that I don't have the discipline or the patients to do a top 10 for every year since I was born, other than simply put out a list. That would likely take me about 10 years at the rate that I'm going. So instead of doing 10, I just do favorites. How many depend on my mood at the time.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

1971: 9th - Klute

Klute tracks Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda), a Manhattan prostitute and aspiring actress in search of herself. Small-town private eye John Klute (Donald Sutherland) arrives in Manhattan to find that Bree is the only lead in the disappearance of his good friend Tom Gruneman. Bree turns tricks for cash and a need for emotional freedom, wishing to remain unattached and in control. However, as she becomes involved in Klute's search and realizes she too is in danger.
Jane Fonda is the biggest reason to see this role. The film is not explicit in showing her profession, but by her words, her movements, and her actions, you know as much as you need to on how hard her life is. The thriller aspects of the film are okay, not great. The ending is a little ambiguous if you aren't paying attention. While Sutherland is good at portraying a detective that becomes emotionally involved with his case, it's still Fonda's film.
Jane Fonda won an Oscar for Best Actress for her role in "Klute." The film was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
Another opinion:
"Intelligence. I suppose that's the word. In "Klute" you don't have two attractive acting vacuums reciting speeches at each other. With Fonda and Sutherland, you have actors who understand and sympathize with their characters, and you have a vehicle worthy of that sort of intelligence. So the fact that the thriller stuff doesn't always work isn't so important. " - Roger Ebert

1971: 10th - Murmur of the Heart

Murmur of the Heart (Le souffle au coeur) was written and directed by Louise Malle. The film tells a coming of age story about a 14-year-old boy who is growing up in bourgeois surroundings in France. At the beginning, the film shows the adventures of the boy in the school and his first sexual experience at a brothel. When the boy is found to have a heart murmur after a bout of scarlet fever, he goes with his mother to a sanatorium, where a series of circumstances lead to a sexual encounter.
The film definitely deals with several taboo topics at the time but with a humor, that while disarming, still causes one to reflect on what has happened. This is a film that gives you rich characters that actually 'think' before acting, instead of the horny slobs that we get in "Porky's." And while most will cringe at the movie's theme of incest, it's presented in a way not simply to exploit, but instead mutes its harshness. I appreciated that the film neither talked down to me and hit me over the head with the "message", nor was it an irresponsible "glamorizing" of the subject.
As is the case with independent films today, even though this movie premiered in 1971 at Cannes, it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars in 1973.
Other opinions:

"We have it on no less an authority than Leo Tolstoy that all happy families are the same, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. I am not quite sure, however, that Count Tolstoy had in mind a family like the one we meet in "Murmur of the Heart," Louis Malle's warm, human, very funny movie about incest. You will agree that this family, at least, is happy in its own way." -
Roger Ebert

" Film is quintessentially French in its look at the awakening outlooks and sex imbroglios of a 14-year-old boy who likes to pass himself off as 15. Louis Malle lavishes insight, perhaps personal reminiscences, and unflagging rightness in atmosphere, character and observation to make this a richly comic, touching and incisive portrait of a young man in the French provincial city of Dijon in 1954. (Benoit) Ferreux has the vulnerability, warmth and witty outlook that give his young protagonist a human and recognizable quality. His mother is excellently drawn by (Lea) Massari, whose need for freedom will not allow her to give way to a demanding suitor. All others are excellent." - Variety

Favorites by Year

Just to get me back working on this till I think of something else. I'm list my top 10 favorite films per year since I was born. These are not necessarily the best films of each year, but my favorites, for one reason or another. They are movies that I've seen and impacted me in some way. So first up will be 1971.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Back to Work

I am planning to start posting to this blog again. With what, I'm not exactly sure. Things have changed significantly for me since my last post. I no longer work for a movie theatre chain, but instead work for the government. But my love for movies is still the same. I'm just don't have the easy access to films anymore. But regardless, updates must come. Stay tuned....

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Friday, September 6

Fados - 6 pm at The Ryerson (85 min.)

TIFF synopsis: Legendary filmmaker Carlos Saura’s many cinematic depictions of music and dance from various areas of Ibero-America have enriched the scope of the musical documentary. His work expresses not only sound and movement but also the evolving story and culture of the place the music was born. Fados, his engaging recent endeavour to map the social history of a genre, follows in the tradition of Flamenco and Tango, completing his lyrical trilogy exploring three of the nineteenth century’s most enduring urban musical traditions.

Fado, a type of music that can be traced back to eighteen-twenties Portugal, was introduced to Saura through the films of Amália Rodrigues. She described it in a song as “Love, jealousy / ash and fire / pain and sin. / All this exists / All this is sad. / All this is fado.” Saura traces fado’s humble beginnings in the slums of Lisbon to its changing modern-day manifestations, showing how this mournful music has informed modern Portuguese culture.

Fado is often linked to the Portuguese word saudade, a term that may lack an equivalent in any other language and that refers to a complex longing linked to home. With a series of musical vignettes and his trademark use of mirrors, lights, coloured screens and shadow play, Saura takes us on a journey through the narrative arc of fado, depicting its various styles and permutations as it absorbs Brazilian and African influences. Fado is not merely music – it’s a melding of cultures, customs and sounds.

Featuring legendary singers like Carlos do Carmo, who along with Rodrigues reshaped fado after the sixties, and new voices from performers like Mariza, Saura pays homage to the fadistas, or fado musicians, of past and present. Fados also features performances by celebrated contemporary artists Camané, Caetano Veloso, Lila Downs and Chico Buarque. Replete with dance performances, footage of Portugal’s revolutionary times and clips from Rodrigues’s Lisbon films, Fados evokes the melancholy roots of this music, bringing us closer to the vibrant cultures of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.

I would have chosen this film because of the director. He has focused on different dances in his previous movies and I thought it would be interesting on an educational level.

Review: By John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter

The latest of Carlos Saura's romanticized cultural time capsules, "Fados," is as rich as its predecessors, an elegant setting for the shimmering, melancholy music of Portugal (by way of Spain). Seductive and beautifully made, it could be the date movie of the year for performing-arts fans.Sticking with the presentation style used in "Flamenco," Saura presents a string of self-contained episodes, uninterrupted by host or narrator, blocked out on a soundstage with wall-sized scrims and mirrors usually providing the sole decoration. In addition to the shadow play and reflections these backdrops allow, the director also projects vintage film clips of influential singers against them, offering today's performers a couple of chances to pay direct homage to their forebears. On other occasions, artists are interacting with themselves -- as with a troupe of dancers whose graceful, fabric-draped movements are duplicated onscreen from a constantly changing perspective, resulting in an old-country take on Busby Berkeley kaleidoscopism.The tone of fado is generally described as mournful, but these languid songs can also be proud, whether of romantic and artistic prowess (one woman recalls an all-night dancefloor battle with a rival for her lover's heart, boasting that she was the victor at dawn) or of the intimately-known streets of a singer's hometown. Though the styles overlap -- as demonstrated in a bewitching male/female duet near the end -- the music's tone is rarely as theatrically impassioned as flamenco; rather, it's gently fluid and bittersweet. The musicians showcased range from current sensations like Portuguese beauty Mariza to surprise guest Caetano Veloso, for whom fado is only a small part of a wide stylistic repertoire. They typically take the stage one or two at a time, supported by a few instrumentalists or accompanying dancers, whose choreography appears to mix folk styles with more modern ones. Predictably, the performances are uniformly strong, and lest the material threaten to grow homogenous, Saura punctuates it with numbers like a surprisingly at-home feeling hip-hop tribute, a political sprechstimme segment set against footage of political rallies, and a group scene, presented as if in a cafe, where the crowd takes turns standing to sing. Saura ends the picture gracefully with a long crane shot that takes in the offstage crew before letting us stare straight into the camera itself -- seeing what many of the singers saw, as they sang to a lens and convinced us it was a long-lost friend or unfaithful lover.

Persepolis - 9:30 at The Elgin Theatre (95 min.)

I admit that I used to be a snob when it comes to animation. If it's an anime, it better be from Japan. If it's traditional, it better be Disney or Dreamworks. Les Triplettes de Belleville changed my way of thinking in 2003. The animation in that French film was different that I was accustomed to, but at the end of the day, it was the storytelling that was the key. So as long as a film had that, the animation quality was secondary. Which is why this film was so appealing to me.

Tiff synopsis: Persepolis is the much-anticipated animated adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed series of autobiographical graphic novels. Satrapi’s darkly humorous take on her experiences as a spirited young Muslim woman coming of age in Tehran – during the rule of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution and the gruelling Iran-Iraq War – makes for a bracingly original story.

We follow the misadventures of Marjane (Gabrielle Lopes and Chiara Mastroianni) from mischievous little girl in Iran to rebellious teenager finding first love amid decadent anarchists at a snooty French school in Vienna. The film then charts the young woman’s heavy-hearted return to Iran, and finally her emigration to Paris. Marjane’s story presents the bloody history of her homeland over the last quarter century in microcosm: the Communists in her family fought against the Shah only to be persecuted even more harshly by the Islamists who took his place. If the film sounds brutal, it maintains a refreshing levity as each gritty, haunting real-world event is balanced with a flight of fancy. These come courtesy of Persepolis’s charming animation style – bold, graphic, simple yet forcefully stylized.

Life in Iran politicizes the highly impressionable Marjane at a young age, but her primary activity becomes the search for her own identity. Surrounded by turmoil and oppression, Marjane still struggles with more intangible tensions and dilemmas women everywhere will understand, such as the conflict between a warm and open home life and the harsh outside world, or the question of what to say out loud versus what to keep to oneself.

Some of the funniest moments in the film come from the Islamic authorities’ demonization of American popular culture, as when Marjane’s teachers decry her Nike shoes as “punk.” What stays with you most, however, is Marjane’s intensely close relationship to her mother (Catherine Deneuve), father (Simon Abkarian) and grandmother (Danielle Darrieux) – who always smells good because she tucks jasmine into her brassiere every morning. Directed by Satrapi herself, along with fellow comics artist Vincent Paronnaud, the film manages not only to be faithful to the much-loved books, but to create from them a daring cinematic experience.

Review: By Lisa Neelson, Variety

Any stragglers still unconvinced that animation can be an exciting medium for both adults and kids will run out of arguments in the face of "Persepolis." Like the four-volume series of graphic novels on which it's based, this autobiographical tour de force is completely accessible and art of a very high order. First-person tale of congenitally rebellious Marjane Satrapi, who was 8 years old when the Islamic Revolution transformed her native Teheran, boasts a bold lyricism spanning great joy and immense sorrow. In both concept and execution, hand-drawn toon is a winner. Sony Classics will release an English-dubbed version Stateside.

France-based Satrapi, who co-directed with fellow illustrator Vincent Paronnaud, is a sterling example of what good advice "Write (and draw) what you know" can be in gifted hands. Pic's specificity is what renders it universal.From Baltimore to Beijing, anybody who ever had a family, a government and/or aspirations for personal happiness should be able to relate.
Narrative, which starts in 1978 and continues into the 1990s, could have been just another coming-of-age tale, but Satrapi and Paronnaud navigate their sharp melding of form and content with assurance. Result zips along with considerable humor, much of it self-deprecating, interspersed with darker material.

Animation perfectly translates Satrapi's deceptively simple black and white drawings. Much like Art Spiegelman's anthropomorphic cats and mice vis-a-vis the history of the Shoah in "Maus," Satrapi's expressive, pleasingly pared down style lends itself to the pleasures of everyday life as well as the horrors of war and state repression. Original books used only stark black and white; shades of gray and evocative backgrounds are added for the screen, along with subtle patches of color in select settings.

Made entirely in France, three-year project required the skills of Gaul's last working animation tracers (armed with felt-tip pens) and looks terrific on a budget of $8.1 million.

Protag's voiceover is woven into highly visual tale, with a dynamite cast voicing the main characters. (Satrapi works in French, so that is what the whole population of Teheran speaks.)
Adorable, spirited Marjane (Gabrielle Lopes) is an only child, raised with love and encouraged in her singularity and independence by educated, intellectual parents Tadji (Catherine Deneuve) and Ebi (Simon Abkarian). Feisty Marjane couldn't be closer to her wise, indomitable grandmother (magnificently voiced by vet Danielle Darrieux), whose frank blend of classy and earthy is irresistible. The Satrapi family values creativity, decency, personal courage and, as often as possible, a good time.

At pic's outset, the Shah's days are numbered. There is great excitement in the Satrapi household whose occupants trust that the people of Iran, having had their fill of dictatorship, will usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity. But they would be wrong.

Young Marjane watches her familiar secular existence morph into theocratic lunacy, with headscarves mandatory and repressive idiocy the order of the day. Still a child, she goes on speaking out, with trouble never far behind. Friends and relatives are imprisoned or worse. Iraq starts an eight-year war and the knee-jerk culture of martyrdom takes hold with a vengeance.
But despite Khomeini, Marjane and her friends show off their contraband Bee Gees and ABBA records and buy bootleg cassettes peddled as if they were heroin.

Knowing they can't tame their daughter's outspoken nature and fearing for her safety, Marjane's parents send her to Vienna, solo, at age 14. (As a teen and adult, Marjane is splendidly voiced by Chiara Mastroianni.)

The roller coaster of Marjane's life is just getting started. People, as well as countries, have to learn the hard way what works and what doesn't.
In decrying conformity and totalitarianism, intelligent toon demonstrates how ideology perverts human nature. Pic champions integrity and resistance and shows that even smarter-than-average people sometimes do dumb things.

These characters smoke like chimneys, but only an ayatollah would mandate an R-rating based on animated individuals "inhaling" pen and ink smoke. They also blow off steam thanks to Iron Maiden, Bruce Lee and, in one of toon's best set pieces, the "Rocky" theme "Eye of the Tiger."
Marjane's intellectual fantasies include chats with God and Karl Marx perched in the heavens. The growth spurt during which Marjane's limbs and features hatch like recalcitrant Silly Putty is a visual highlight.

Thoughtful score provides spot-on accompaniment to everything from pointless death to first love. So far, Gena Rowlands has been announced as the English-lingo voice of the garndmother and Deneuve is slated to reprise her role in Yank dub.

The Mother of All Tears - Midnight at The Ryerson (98 min.)

Dario Argento is a legendary Italian horror filmmaker. His most acclaimed work occured in the late 70's and early 80's. He made films that young American teeanager secretly searched for at the local video stores. His daughter is an infamous actress, known more for her tatoos and her sensuality than her acting. If that wasn't enough to get me to go, it's the opening night of Midnight Madness. There is no better crowd to see a film with than the MM crowd. After each show, you will be convinced that you saw a fun film. Days later, you may come to your senses and realize it was really crap, but the point is that you had fun at the time.

Tiff synopsis: A screeching monkey chases damsel in distress Asia Argento. Crazed supermodel witches perform the dance of death in a cursed mansion. Exorcist Udo Kier is overwhelmed by an outbreak of madness. And of course… there is blood. Welcome to one of the most highly anticipated events in horror fandom – The Mother of Tears, Dario Argento’s finale to The Three Mothers trilogy that started with Suspiria and Inferno.

An urn discovered in a grave is turned over to the Rome museum, where Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) is studying art restoration. And so is the dark cabbalistic prophecy of the Second Age of Witches set into motion. With the seal of the urn broken, the powers of Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears, the cruellest and most beautiful of the fabled witches known as the Three Mothers - are restored. Soon, Sarah’s colleague (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni from Opera) meets a gory death at the hands of demons unleashed from the urn, and havoc explodes in the streets of Rome as a wave of suicide and violent crime heralds the dark priestess’s rebirth. Pursued by the witches who descend upon the city to pay homage to their queen, Sarah is aided by the ghost of her mother (Daria Nicolodi, Asia’s actual mother), a white witch. As Rome burns, the key to breaking the supernatural chaos presents itself in the form of a powerful book.

A testament to Argento’s heritage of horror, The Mother of Tears reunites many of his past collaborators including, obviously, his actress daughter and her mother Nicolodi, special-effects illusionist Sergio Stivaletti and maestro Claudio Simonetti from the Italian prog- rock band Goblin. References to the previous instalments circle through the richly atmospheric plot, complete with bizarre turns of nightmare logic and sexual frenzy.

After the film finished shooting, internet gossip suggested that the director had to trim the gore, but rest assured, the grue is thick and plentiful. After all, an Argento film devoid of grisly baroque set pieces would be like a pizza without toppings. The Mother of Tears is further proof that Argento is an alchemist who doesn’t hesitate to throw the audience into his surreal, phantasmagorical world.

Review: By Dennis Harvey, Variety

It has taken Dario Argento nearly three decades to complete his "Three Mothers" horror trilogy commenced by 1977's "Suspiria" -- his first, best and most widely popular post-giallo effort -- and 1980's visually striking if muddled "Inferno." Whether viewers will think "Mother of Tears: The Third Mother" was worth the wait depends on if they are willing to settle for laughs over chills: This hectic pileup of supernatural nonsense is a treasure trove of seemingly unintentional hilarity. Although lacking helmer's usual aesthetic panache, this "Mother" is a cheesy, breathless future camp classic. Theatrical sales look spotty; majority aud awaits via DVD.

A priest is puzzled by a 19th century coffin and medieval urn found secretly buried behind a church in un-consecrated ground. He sends the urn to a museum in Rome where archeology/art restoration intern Sarah (Asia Argento) and a colleague (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni) unseal the odd, symbol-covered box, discovering a dagger and three pagan-talisman statuettes.
While Sarah looks for a reference book, demons materialize and tear her friend apart. Spying the bloody aftermath, Sarah flees, pursued by a vexing little monkey.
Police are baffled by the crime and Sarah's describing "three deformed people and a monkey" as the killers. Meanwhile, Rome experiences an explosion of suicides, murders and senseless violence. (One daft detail here is that despite such highly publicized violence, background citizens go about their daily business as usual.)

During patches of clumsy explication between myriad hyperventilating action scenes, experts tell Sarah the opened urn released Mater Lacrimarum aka "mother of tears," last survivor of three ancient witches.

Once that lady's on the loose (though thesp Moran Atias doesn't get much screentime), umpteen witchy women plane, train, and drive to Rome to herald the coming "second age of witches." They cackle and stalk Sarah, looking like couture models at a club's Goth dress-up night.
Turns out orphaned Sarah is the daughter of a powerful white witch who died vanishing "Inferno's" Mother #2. Now good mom (Daria Nicolodi) guides Sarah from the spirit world, urging her to develop her own nascent occult powers and combat the biggest Mother of them all.
After much bloodshed and hocus-pocus, the witch proves ludicrously easy to vanquish -- pretty much on the level of Dorothy Gale dumping a bucket of plain old water to "melt" her own witchy nemesis.

Never much inclined toward plot credibility, clarity, playable dialogue, or rescuing his actors from hapless "cry for help" perfs, Argento really throws in the towel here. Result is so hard to take seriously that even the graphic gore incites laughs, since it only caps situations already absurd in conceit and execution. Pic has exactly one good shock; otherwise it's just amusingly foolish.

Adding to the fun are the "Omen"-esque satanic choral bombast of Claudio Simonetti's score, some low-grade CGI effects, and many gratuitous breast shots.

It's fortunate thesp Asia Argento has proven her ability in films for other directors, because if she only appeared in her dad's films, she'd be considered one of the worst actresses ever to land starring roles through nepotism. (Probably the last good lead perf in an Argento film was Jessica Harper's in "Suspiria.") To be fair, everyone here is made to look ridiculous by the tin-ear English dialogue and irrational character behaviors.

In other words, the perfect Midnight Madness movie!!!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Coming Up

Stupidity and selfishness caused me to miss this year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2007). But I don't think it should prevent me from having to cover it.

At this point, the festival is basically over. Most of the people have left, except the diehards. There is still the closing night film on Saturday, but the closing film hasn't been stellar in any of the year's I've gone.

I've picked out the schedule that I would have picked had I gone. And since I'm picking films mostly at the Ryerson, I'm confident that I would have gotten tickets regardless of what box I landed in at the lottery.

I'm going to start presenting those films. With pictures, YouTube trailers, interviews and possibly reviews (from the Trades).

Sunday, August 26, 2007


At this point, I've developed an ability to look for more than just the popular film. I'm looking for movies that challenge me on some level.

5. Motorcycle Diaries

I can't say I knew anything about Che Guevera and after this film, I'm still not sure I can say I know much about him. But the situation, the ideas, the ordeal, those I can certainly relate to. "The Motorcycle Diaries" tells the story of an 8,000 mile trip by motorcycle, raft, truck and foot, from Argentina to Peru, undertaken in 1952 by Ernesto Guevara de la Serna and his friend Alberto Granado. Since I haven't studied his life, his legend doesn't hold much sway over me. What did affect me was the sweeping cinematography and the story of two men searching for who they are and what they are to be.

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I'm sure this was a tricky proposition. For those people who like their stories told in a clear, linear way, this film isn't for you. I enjoy films that force me to pay attention. "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" imagines a scientific procedure that can obliterate whole fields of memory -- so that, for example, Clementine can forget that she ever met Joel, let alone fell in love with him. "Is there any danger of brain damage?" the inventor of the process is asked. "Well," he allows, in his most kindly voice, "technically speaking, the procedure is brain damage." Joel, in revenge mode, decides to do the same thing, but mid-process decides that he doesn't want to go through with it. The movie is very romantic and basically boils down to the idea that memories, regardless of good or bad, are important and make us who we are.

3. Sideways

Sideways is about two men reaching middle age with not much to show but disappointment, embark on a week long road trip through California's wine country, just as one is about to take a trip down the aisle. The journey is heartfelt, funny, ridiculous, tragic and romantic. A simple four person tale that has all the richness that the wine country has to offer. The acting is superb all around and is essential to you wanting to continue the journey. There is no action or real pratfalls in the film. It's about the personalities of the characters and the damage that's been done to them. Paul Giamatti holds the compulsively depressive Miles up to the light for inspection at every possible angle, making what could have been a tiresome bore into a loser one can still root and hope for. The chance to turn around a life with no hope is appealing.

2. Crash

I had to wait two hours in the RUSH line for this film at Toronto. I didn't know anything about the movie or the director. But the! Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser and Terrance Howard. There wasn't any other film that evening that appealed to me. I got in with no problems and watched the film. In silence, save for a few gasps. Loved the film. Was moved by the film. When the movie came out a year later, the critics came out. "Oh, another film about racism. Just what we need." It was a polarizing film. You either loved it, or hated it. Nothing wrong with that. That's what movies can do and it's healthy to spur debate. What I hated was those that disliked the film began namecalling those that did. "Simple minded." To me, the movie succeeds as a moving reflection of social alienation and paranoia. Does it give a solution? No, but why does it have to? The movie presumes that most people feel prejudice and resentment against members of other groups, and observes the consequences of those feelings. It was a powerful film for me not because it told me something I didn't know, but because it introduced characters that I could identify with, care for and understand.

1. Hotel Rwanda

2004 was a banner year for Don Cheadle. This film was one that I picked up once I was at the festival. The buzz had been very good for it, so I decided to check it out. I then had to try to get all of my friends to see it. The film embarassed me that I knew nothing about the tragedy. I read about sports and movies. Everything else was blinded to me. This movie awakened me to the real world. A world where madness can easily take control. I now keep up with national/world news so that I can stay abrest of what's going on. Don Cheadle stars in the true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsis refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda. The real Paul Rusesabagina and his wife were there at the screening and hearing their accounts only added to the impact of this film.
You were witnessing pure evil. Not Hollywood fiction. "You don't believe that you can kill them all?" "Why not? We are halfway there already." In 1994 in Rwanda, a million members of the Tutsi tribe were killed by members of the Hutu tribe in a massacre that took place while the world looked away. We were more interested in the OJ trial. The film succeeds as a riveting drama by showing how in the face of evil, good people can still maintain their righteousness.

The real Paul Rusesabinga speaks.

Monday, July 30, 2007


5. City of God

This film came out of nowhere at the festival. There was so much buzz going out about it that I made it into a screening. Wow!!! This ended up being the film that made me start ACTIVELY seeking out foreign films on any subject when I made my lists up. Before, for me to seek it out, a foreign film had to be one of three types - martial arts, horror, action.
The story begins with the early stages of the City of God, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (in the 1960's) showing where many of the problems stem from- the extreme poverty, overcrowding etc. Here, in the early stages of the favela, we meet our main characters, along with the supporting cast. The story revolves mainly around two characters living in the favela, Rocket and Lil Ze, and how they take two different paths through life. Rocket's dream is to become a photographer and to escape the City of God while Lil Ze becomes a powerful gang leader and drug dealer.
There is a lot style to how Fernando Meirelles shot the film and you become invested in Rocket's fate.

4. Seabiscuit

Never much cared for horse racing. I have ridden a horse and didn't feel my life was missing anything if I never did it again. But I do love underdog stories. Seabiscuit is an ultimate underdog story that makes it impossible for you to not root for the horse.
The story of `Seabiscuit' is actually the tale of four long shots: Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), a wealthy self-made man and natural salesmen who's suffered both personal and financial loss through the Depression, Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), an aging horse trainer unsure of his place in the world with the ending of the frontier, Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a short-tempered jockey with various handicaps against him, and Seabiscuit, an undersized mustang whose been mistreated his whole life.
The final race is so well shot and scored that any time it's on TV, I will stop what I'm doing to watch it.

3. Love Actually

This was the first film I ever saw in digital. The film wasn't ready so they brought it in on disc. I'm still in disbelief that this film didn't do better at the box office over the holidays. I know the R rating hurt it. But this was the perfect feel good romantic holiday movie. Despite the clearly fantastic story lines, I like the characters, and the amazing A-list cast does a great job. I loved all the storylines (eight) and would not have minded spending more time with them.

2. LOTR: The Return of the King

The finale to what ended up being the best trilogy on film of all time. The 7 hours of film that leads up to the Return of the King is only precursor though, when you sit and watch this film. It's just plain brilliance. Everything about the film is wonderful. Return of the King dispatches its characters to their destinies with a grand and eloquent confidence. In a way new to the trilogy, the emotional momentum surges along with the physical action. After early ambivalence over his responsibility for the Ring, Frodo grows into the job; after long dodging his royal inheritance, Aragorn finally rises to the occasion; Sam, especially, emerges as a three-dimensional character of intense devotion to Frodo even after he has been tricked by the Iago-like Gollum and exiled by his closest friend; and the ineffectual Hobbits Pippin and Merry take on some size, figuratively if not literally. A tremendous achievement.

1. Spellbound

Where "City of God" got me invested in foreign films, "Spellbound" got me invested in documentaries. I don't know how they did it, but they made me sweat in a film about a spelling bee. The eight kids they focus on are all interesting, and they spend just enough time on them before heading to Washington D.C. that we are invested in them. Now I admit, part of the tension once they get there may be because I couldn't even begin to spell ANY of the words they are given. So I have no idea whether they are spelling them correctly or not. I have to wait for that dang bell to sound.


Can't say that 2002 is much better than 2001. Add in the fact that I skipped the 2001 TIFF and my choices are rather lean.

5. Brotherhood of the Wolf

I stumbled upon this film by chance and was greatly rewarded. It was my first hint that France can produce more than light comedy. The film is mostly mood and atmosphere but it handles it well and entraces the viewer into it. In 1765 something was stalking the mountains of south-western France. A 'beast' that pounced on humans and animals with terrible ferocity. Indeed they beast became so notorious that the King of France dispatched envoys to find out what was happening and to kill the creature. By the end, the Beast of Gevaudan had killed over 100 people, to this day, no one is entirely sure what it was, wolf? hyena? or something supernatural?
The king sends two men to find out. And the battle begins. It's a period costume horror martial-arts werewolf movie and surprisingly all those pieces work together provided you don't concentrate too hard. And it's got Monica Bellucci. God bless the French.

4. LOTR: Two Towers

The first film just whetted the appetite. This film improved on the original and left us impatient for the conclusion. Gollum will go down in movie history as the first truly memorable CGI character (sorry, JarJar) to interact with actors. It's a great performance by Andy Serkis. The opening scene of The Two Towers provides an outstanding, yet very brief, taste of action, cinematography, and special effects, only to be matched (and far surpassed) in the final hour of the film. The stunning events of the third hour of The Two Towers are undoubtedly the centerpiece of the film, and while the first two hours serve finely as story development, they primarily build anticipation for the final hour, which mostly depicts the battle of Helm's Deep. More than anything else, the first two hours merely tease and torment the patient audience. But even though there may not be much action in the first half, it's the time taken to develop the characters that allows us so much investment once the battle begins. All three movies ran 3 hours and I applaud New Line for having the faith in both Jackson, to pull it off, and the audience, to want to sit through it.

3. Rabbit Proof Fence

Director Phillip Noyce had a stong festival in 2002. He brought to the festival "The Quiet American" and "Rabbit Proof Fence."

This is the true story of Molly Craig, a young black Australian girl who leads her younger sister and cousin in an escape from an official government camp, set up as part of an official government policy to train them as domestic workers and integrate them into white society. With grit and determination Molly guides the girls on an epic journey, one step ahead of the authorities, over 1,500 miles of Australia's outback in search of the rabbit-proof fence that bisects the continent and will lead them home. These three girls are part of what is referred to today as the 'Stolen Generations.' The performances by amateur actors Evelyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, and Laura Monaghan (who had never seen a film before let alone acted in one) are authentic and heartbreakingly affecting. The real Molly is shown over the closing credits. YouTube has a short documentary on the shooting of a scene of the film.

2. Spirited Away

I had heard of Hayao Miyazaki but never bothered to find any of his films. My misconception about Asian animation was that it couldn't be as good as Disney films. I went to see Spirited Away at Toronto only because my first option at that time had fallen through. I was fortunate as this film opened my mind to what storytelling can do. I had no idea where the story was going or how it was going to end, I was just along for the ride.
The story centres around Chihiro, a young girl about to move into a new place and who feels insecure about the new environment she will be living in. These fears become a part of her encounter with a strange abandoned amusement park that she and her parents find when they reach a dead end in their car. At the park they find that their is a stall that is seemingly open, with glorious displays of mouth watering food. There are no people about but Chihiros parents decide to gorge themselves on this bounty and pay later. As Chihioro explores she comes across a strange boy who warns her to get out before dark. It is too late however, because as night falls, ghosts are awakened, and then by the time she gets back to her parents they are turned into pigs. She then finds that the route she came from is gone and she is now trapped in this place, her only allie being the boy she met earlier. She is told to get a job at the centre piece of the park, a bath house run by Yubaba, an evil power mad witch. This is a bath house for the spirits and Chihiro has to find a job there before she is found and turned into an animal herself, then unable to save her parents.

1. Signs

The film is commercial and emotionally manipulative but I don't care. The final confrontation where all the clues come in to focus, "Swing away", still resonates every time I watch it. Of course the clues are much more obvious after multiple viewings, but it doesn't diminish the power of the ending and the fun that's had throughout. There seems to be a lot of backlash at M. Night Shyamalan lately. The one I find funniest is that he is "insulting" the audience with his surprise endings because he thinks he smarter than us. No, he's entertaining us. Not all of his films have worked, but when they do, like this one, there are few who are better at keeping things tense to an almost unbearable degree, with no action. In "Signs", other than a brief glimpse of the alien on video, we don't see the creature until the last five minutes of the movie. Yet you are in constant worry throughout the entire movie and you're not even sure if it really is a 'monster' movie. The acting is superb.


2001 was a drop off from 2000. It didn't seem to be as many films that amazed me.

5. Gosford Park

There are so many characters here that one spends a good deal of time trying to sort out who's related to whom, what the pecking order is downstairs, etc. But with a steller cast and Robert Altman at the helm, we know that we will learn what we need to by the end. Oh, and there's a murder mystery too. The film is an update of Jean Renoir's 1939 film LE REGLE DU JEU, in which wealthy relatives of an aristocrat come to a shooting party at a country home. Here, because of the obviously strained relationships between the host and his family has been less than amicable, it serves as a springboard where everyone's worst behavior and heretofore concealed feelings towards each other really come forth with an undertone of mean-spirited cruelty just brimming below the surface, while the servants act as non-entities when in their employers' presence but occasionally break into. The characters are so many but so well played, that I had to watch again just to see what I missed.

4. A Beautiful Mind

I had absolutely no interest in seeing this film. Math, madness...not interested. But despite this, I found myself in the theatre one day. I found myself pulled into another kind of story, a powerful, emotional story of how one man learned to battle his own demons and dazzle the world."A Beautiful Mind", based on the novel by Sylvia Nasar, is the story of John Forbes Nash Jr., the genius mathematician, whose life suddenly takes a turn for the worse when he is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. After fierce battles with his inner self, he overcomes this and returns to win the Nobel Prize in 1994 for his breakthrough game theory in economics that he had been working on during his years in Princeton University in the 1950s. Since I knew nothing about the real Nash, I had no idea where the movie was taking me and got lost in the story and the wonderful acting.

3. LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring

I really can't say that I was a fan of the Tolkein novels. In fact, I couldn't make it through them. They gave me a headache. But when I saw the trailer for the first time, I knew that this was going to be special. If I was running New Line, I'm not sure I would have given the director of "Heavenly Creatures", "Dead Alive" and "The Frightners", the keys to this franchise. The world would have missed out. The film was engrossing from the prologue to the end and I never felt a need to look at my watch. It was like being a kid again, remembering how in awe I was when seeing "Star Wars" for the first time.

2. Amelie

You'll either fall in love with this film or you'll be driven insane. Personally, I was one who fell in love with it and with Audrey Tautou. Amelie is about a strange young woman whose life is nothing special, but it gets better when she's helping other people feel wonderful. But when Amelie finds a man in whom she has an interest, she finds that she can only play games with him from a distance. When the time comes to approach him, she can't. The film never takes itself seriously and is a lot of fun. Audrey Tautou could not be overemphasized for her importance in portraying Amelie. The film wouldn't work without her impish charm.

1. Traffic

A dazzlingly complex film, `Traffic' takes a hard, unflinching look at the so-called `war on drugs' that is perfectly clear and uncompromising. Director Steven Soderbergh takes the various viewpoints of the drug culture -- the users, the dealers, the police, and the politicians -- and weaves their differing stories together into a single story that is both deep in its ideas but very simple to understand. His loose hand-held style lends the film an extremely spontaneous realistic tone, but the modifications of color amplify the drama. Each storyline has its own distinct look that accentuates the emotions underlining the film. The cast and the acting is top notch. Soderbergh had a banner year in 2001 with this and "Erin Brokovich". Traffic is a film that has to sink in, when you start to think about it it just gets better and better.


5. Chocolat.

This was the film that introduced me to the great Juliette Binoche. A light hearted comedy drama with a social message that didn't seem to be hitting you over the head with. Set in France in the late 1950s, Lansquenet is a village resistant to change. When a woman with her young daughter in tow arrive, nothing could be a greater threat to the status quo.
She opens a chocolate shop and has an uncanny ability to pick out the perfect type for each visitor. Incredibly charming film.

4. Magnolia

I saw this film at the first Butt-numb-athon in Austin. I was amazed as Paul Thomas Anderson's ability to weave in the multiple storylines that seem to have little in common and then bring them all together. The cast is great and there are many actors, Tom Cruise included, that play against their normal type. Aimee Mann's songs are haunting. But it was definitely not for everyone. My mom HATED it. "Why are frogs falling from the sky?"

3. Almost Famous

I started college wanting to be a journalist. This film certainly fueled that belief. This was the film where I discovered that Cameron Crowe has a knack for picking the perfect music for his films. Not that it started here. Going back, I discovered it's been there from his first film. Music and the love for it is what drives this film along. The performances are all first rate too. There are no villans, simply real people.

2. The Hurricane

At Toronto in 1999, I stumbled into a screening for this film. All I knew about it was that it starred Denzel Washington and it was about a boxer. I left the screening moved and wanting more. Even before the movie started, there was a buzz at the Elgin. The real Hurricane Carter spoke before the film of his trials and about his first meeting with Denzel. They were having dinner at a resteraunt. The dinner started with two people, Denzel and Carter. By the end of the meal, there was only one, The Hurricane. Denzel picked up on how Carter spoke that quickly, "and I loved it," Carter said. The movie was a powerful story of how a man stays strong, but still needs friends and love. Iwas absorbed throughout.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

This was the reason I went to Toronto this year, just to see this movie. The movie didn't disappoint. It was beautiful visually. It had a tragic, compelling story. And the martial arts were pretty good too. I've loved Michelle Yeoh since Police Story 3 and Chow Yun Fat since Hardboiled. The RUSH line for the Gala wrapped around the entire building. It was crazy. It was the only time I've ever been able to sit on the lower level for a Gala.

Everybody loves Lists

Since I'm waiting for more TIFF films to be announced (mainly the final two Midnight Madness films) and I've seem to have a posting itch, I'm reaching back to the past.

My top 5 films each year since 2000. These are my favorites, not necessarily the ones I think are the best made, just that I enjoyed them the most. I picked 2000, b/c this coincides with my first trip to Toronto in 1999. Three of the films that I saw at that festival made my list for 2000 (when they were released stateside).