Thursday, December 21, 2006

List IV - The Movies

Going to see Chris Mundy deliver a talk at the Omaha Press Club tonight. He worked at Rolling Stone during most of the '90s, doing anything from reviewing Uncle Tupelo albums to interviewing Conan O'Brien in 1996 (when people were still speculating whether Conan was too obscure to flourish in Letterman's absence). I'm hoping to talk to him one-on-one - talk about some of his work, but not seem whorish (imagining him nodding politely and thinking "that's nice, now when are you going to say "can I give you my resume?).

Not much changed from my summer list. But before I'll kick off this list, here's a few movies that I have not seen that I'm absolutely positive will bump off a few entries on my list:
The Queen, Inside Man, Letters From Iwo Jima, Babel and Pan Labyrnth.

10. A Prairie Home Companion - Based almost entirely on sentimental reasons. Still, Robert Altman deserves to be recognized for his mastery.

9. Stranger Than Fiction- It seems that the newer SNL grads have their beloved 'indie' films. For Adam Sandler, it was Punch Drunk Love. For Will Ferrell, it's going to be this movie. Emma Thompson has shown she could do comedy, but this movie has her at her prickly best. Top notch soundtrack by Spoon to boot.

8. V For Vendetta - The past few years have supplied a much-needed blast of escapism in of all places, the dumping ground for movies: the spring. Last year, it was Sin City. Next year it's probably going to be 300.

7. Wordplay - A great, warm movie not necessarily about Will Shortz, but about the communities that form around the solitude practice of the crossword puzzle. Not a crossword fan myself, I picked up three crossword puzzle books after I saw this movie and have since made the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle a Sunday ritual.

6. Casino Royale - Hear that hush? It's the sound of Daniel Craig's critics from the James Bond fandom community. A no-bulls*it, exhilarating return to form for Bond. I left the theater with an almost addict-like jonesin' for a sequel.

5. Shortbus - One of my friends and I go back and forth on this movie. She absolutely hates it. She said it was shallow and poorly acted. That said, she still keeps talking about it and about how she loved the depressed lover and how she identified with the conflicted emotions of the dominatrix. Not a word was said about the rampant sex (those first five minutes...yowza), however. A few months after the movie ended its run, the clusters of people I know who have seen it still talk about the characters. If that isn't the mark of good moviemaking, I don't know what is.

4. Borat - A bit down on my list because I didn't think it was nearly as funny as some of his HBO skits. Still, it was a glorious blast of thought-provoking vulgarity.

3. Little Miss Sunshine - Alan Arkin gave a performance that will hopefully be remembered come Academy Award season. I thought no director could mine something new out of the dysfunctional family road trip movie. I was wrong.

2. The Departed - After Gangs of New York and The Avaitor, I was worried about Scorsese. The Departed may not be Goodfellas, but it was at least better than Casino. Leonardo DiCaprio officially buries his pretty boy image in his portrayal of a cop that has no chance of promotion within the ranks didn't have an inauthentic moment in the entire movie. The only thing that slightly tarnished this movie was Jack Nicholson's inexplicable turn from compelling villain to Joker-like hamminess toward the end of the movie. Still, it looks like Scorsese is back on track.

1. United 93 - A flawed choice for my number one. Script? Well, it's sort of non-existent because much of it was taken from phone transcripts from the victims. But Paul Greengrass's gave this defining moment in American history the only treatment that could make it rise above exploitation: a journalistic "you are there" account of what probably happened on that doomed flight. Using a cast of mainly unknowns as well as some people who were playing themselves (air traffic controllers), Greengrass's movie was a great tribute to the victims as well as a study of the definition of courage. No movie moved me more this year, or any year since The Sweet Hereafter came out.

Disappointments of the year...

Pirates of the Carribbean 2 was ... long. Fun? Occasionally. But like Shrek 2, I just shake my head now, thinking this is one of the highest grossing movies of all-time. Titanic, Star Wars and E.T. may have had their detractors, but at least they were memorable. Pirates... I remember a fight on a big wheel, toes on Sparrow's neck and that's about it. And Bryan Singer's Superman Returns may have been a noble nod to Christopher Reeve, but at two and a half hours, I was nodding off. I get it, Singer, Superman is alone. 90 minutes would have been plenty.



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