Lancelot Links postsFriday December 11, 2009
- The New York Times gives us their top 10 books of the year. I haven't read any of them but I'm still disappointed with the fiction offerings. Or maybe I'm merely disappointed with the Times' synopeses: "concise yet finely grained..."; "narrated by a Wisconsin college student who hungers for wordly experience..."; "the theme is feminism..." It all feels dry and small. Only the Lethem and Walls' books open things up.
- Meanwhile, the best bookstore in Seattle is moving.
- I'm not a big fan of the "forgot" school of commentary ("In your list of top 10 superhero movies, you forgot "Daredevil, dude..."), but NPR gives us an article on the top villains of the decade, complete with a poll of five possible picks... and doesn't mention Anton Chigurh? Nice work, friendo.
- Two years ago Variety's Peter DeBruge's watched an Oscar montage of best foreign films and was, in his phrase, "floored," and became determined to watch them all. He did so this year and reports his findings here. He talks about the excitement of the early years: "Bicycle Thief," "Rashomon," "The Nights of Cabiria," "The Virgin Spring"...
And then a curious thing began to happen. Questionable winners started to sneak in. Mushy French melodrama "Sundays and Cybele," a Stateside hit in 1962, won (submitted over Francois Truffaut's far superior "Jules et Jim"). De Sica's overripe "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" (1964) trumped the existential masterpiece "Woman in the Dunes," while massive French phenom "A Man and a Woman" (1966) bested "The Battle of Algiers" and so on.
The category was fast devolving into a popularity contest, with the B.O. sensations beating what many thought was their more deserving competition. Great films carried the category into the next decade, including De Sica's heartbreaking foiled-by-WWII romance"The Garden of the Finzi Continis" (1971), Truffaut's playful meta-movie "Day for Night" (1973) and Kurosawa's pensive non-samurai epic "Dersu Uzala" (1975). But corruption allegedly set in as well, which might explain how "Black and White in Color" (1976) beat "Seven Beauties" and "Cousin, Cousine" when those two films were nominated for five other Oscars between them.
My two most satisfying discoveries — 1978's "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs," a nutty menage a trois from French provocateur Bertrand Blier, and 1985's "The Official Story," a wrenching look at the children of political dissidents put up for adoption during Argentina's Dirty War — fall during this questionable period.
- Via Hollywood Elsewhere, James Cameron talks to a French journalist about the making of "Avatar." The questions are tough and the answers are smart. I don't know if "Avatar" will work, or will sell, but I like the way Cameron's selling it. He includes a kind of callback to Wiliam Goldman's famous dictum that nobody in Hollywood knows anything: "I think people in Hollywood don't really know what's commercial," Cameron says. "What's commercial is what people want to see. It's that simple. Sometimes they want to slow down and experience something. It isn't always dack-dack-dack, boom-boom-boom, rocketing along. This is what Hollywood has convinced themselves people want to see." ... Even better are Cameron's comments about how the best movies alter our perceptions. "It's not just about literally seeing [the Na'Vi] but about perceiving differently —perceiving through the eyes of the other person. That's what cinema's all about to me. You come in one door and you come out through another door. And that's a door of perception." The comment reminded me of the days when moviegoers would do this literally: enter one way, exit another (through the exit doors). We don't do that so much anymore. We tend to leave the same way we entered. Both literally and, sadly, metaphorically. (BONUS FOR FRENCH STUDENTS: The interview is subtitled in French so you can practice as you listen.)
- In baseball, the rich get richer.
- Finally, I'm a long-standing Marx Bros. fan, so A.O. Scott doesn't say much that either surprises or thrills me in his video critique of, or homage to, "Duck Soup." But watch it anyway—particularly if you haven't seen them in action. Halfway through, we get a scene where Chico and Harpo, spies for Sylvania, report to Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern), who simply asks for the records of Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) of Freedonia. One simple question and the gags come rapid-fire:
- Harpo produces a record LP from his trenchcoat.
- Trentino throws it in the air in exasperation and Harpo takes a gun from his trenchcoat and shoots it like a skeet.
- Chico rings a bell, says "And the boy gets a cee-gar," and hands Harpo one of Trentino's cigars.
- Chico closes the cigar lid on Trentino's hand and Trentino rubs his hand in pain.
- Harpo pretends to take Trentino's hand-rubbing for excitement and rubs his hands in excitement, too.
- Five gags in 10 seconds. Brilliant.
- The awards from the National Board of Review are out, a harbinger of exactly nothing, but I'll let Nathaniel Rogers over at Film Experience parse the awards and the awarders. Few do it better. ADDENDUM: After doublechecking it appears that NBR—which was originally founded in 1909 as an anti-censorship organization, and has been doling out film awards since 1929—has picked the eventual Oscar winner in the last two years; but this is in stark contrast to the rest of the decade when they didn't come close. I know that's not their task, and sometimes I agree with them, but I've never really gotten over their "Finding Neverland" choice; or choosing "The Hours" in a year when "The Pianist" was released:
- 2000: Quills
- 2001: Moulin Rouge
- 2002: The Hours
- 2003: Mystic River
- 2004: Finding Neverland
- 2005: Good Night, and Good Luck
- 2006: Letters from Iwo Jima
- 2007: No Country for Old Men
- 2008: Slumdog Millionaire
- 2009: Up in the Air (coming soon to a theater near you!)
- In part two of his video essay on the revenge motif in Clint Eastwood movies, Matt Zoller Seitz expresses the same doubts I expressed two days ago after watching the first part of his video essay. Money line: "Is Eastwood an exploitation filmmaker with aspirations to importance, or an artist who uses violent action to entice viewers into experiencing his films' more complex aspects?" Both, I'd gather. See: the cake-and-eating-it-too line from earlier in the video essay.
- Jesse Ventura is making an ass of himself with his conspiracy show but who knew he had such good taste in movies? Here's his top 5 films via the Rotten Tomatoes site, and while they're not my top 5 they're a good top 5. "Riding Giants" is one of my favorite docs. Love what he says about "Full Metal Jacket." And I love his talk about the character development in "Jaws" and how this is unfortunately missing from today's action movies. What does this say about the state of our movies when Jesse "The Body" Ventura can be viewed as a highbrow connoisseur?
- Via Moira Macdonald's movie blog on The Seattle Times' site, there's this pretty funny Seattle-area festival, beginning Dec. 7 at Central Cinema and hosted by James Schmader: "Almost Human: Madonna on Film: A five week exploration of how the world's greatest pop star became the world's worst actress." Doubt I'll make it. Who wants to watch "Shanghai Surprise" again? But I bet it's funny. And fun. And deserving.
- Boy, St. Louis Park's own Tommy Friedman is really pissing me off. First he pimped for the Iraq War back in 2002-03, and now he blasts Pres. Obama's efforts to do whatever the hell we can in Afghanistan (which, I believe, is our official slogan). "This I Believe." Sheeeeyit. Here's what I believe: A more measured (if equally dispirited) response to Obama's speech came from Andrew Sullivan. Here's what I also believe: Obama's been given a shit sandwich, and he put the best possible sauce on this shit sandwich, and people are looking at it and crying, "Why are you making me eat a shit sandwich?" No, YOU made you eat a shit sandwich. 51% of you anyway.
- In this spirit, my friend Tim pointed out this column by Mark Morford of The San Francisco Chronicle on how we're actually living through some pretty amazing times. He mostly attacks the left for their disappointment that things haven't changed more quickly but he also gets in some nice digs at the right:
Conversely, there is all manner of incoherent noise spewing like radioactive urine from the far right, a nonstop wail of childlike panic claiming that, because Obama behaves with unnerving calm, shakes hands with foreign dignitaries and doesn't seem interested in bombing everyone in a turban, he must be a socialist Muslim Nazi hell-bent on banning machine guns and killing all old Republicans in their sleep ...
- From the Dept. of Wrong Directions: The Dallas News has ordered editorial to report to sales. Nice. Good-bye to any semblance of credibility. Someone contact Lowell Bergman so at least we can get a good rant out of this. "Is CBS Corporate telling CBS News what they can and cannot air?" As I wrote back in 2001: Wigand and Bergman won that battle but the war is everywhere else being lost.
- Finally, in his "Sweet Spot" column, Rob Neyer runs down how Dale Murphy's seemingly invincible run for the Hall of Fame got stopped short. All good points except for the comparison to Kirby Puckett:
The only real exception [to center fielders with only six good years not making the Hall] is Kirby Puckett, who was elected by the BBWAA in his first year of eligibility. Both were Gold Glove center fielders who finished their careers early and were forced from the majors by physical maladies. The difference is that where Murphy suffered from a knee injury, Puckett retired because of degenerative vision, and while still near the top of his game. When Puckett's name first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, his greatness was still fresh in the minds of the voters.
- Here's another difference. Murphy, known for his power, was a career .265/.346/.469 player, while Puckett, known for his hitting, was a career .318/.360/.477 player. Yes, allowed to continue to play into his 40s, these percentage numbers would've declined, but I don't think they would've declined much. More: How many post-WWII players have posted such a high lifetime batting average, with as many at-bats as Kirby, and not made the Hall? I don't know if there's anybody. (Todd Helton will test it again in 5-10 years.) Also, while it's hardly fair, Kirby played in two World Series and had that great performance in Game 6. That stuff's indelible. You could also say—and, again, it's hardly fair—that Puckett himself was indelible. His personality was big and positive, while Murphy's was...? I don't remember. Which is the point. As Jules says: Personality goes a long way.
- “Star Wars” Facebook status updates from collegehumor.com. The first one had me laughing out loud.
- The best reason to sneak popcorn into the movies isn't the price of theater popcorn. It's this.
- I haven't seen “Nine” yet, which opens this month, so can't comment on Jeffrey Wells' assertion that Marion Cotillard's acting, while fine, and perhaps deserving of the Oscar nom the producers of the film are pushing, is actually better in Michael Mann's “Public Enemies.” But his posting of this scene made me want to watch “Public Enemies” all over again. There's a frantic and frivolous quality to modern life, and Mann, by slowing the tempo of his films, by focusing on the essential—on the details of the details of the details, as Johnny Depp once said—actually relieves us for a time of this burden, of the unbearable lightness of being. He makes things matter. That aspect is in this scene and every scene. And that's part of why I want to see the movie again. The bigger reason is that some people caused a ruckus at the theater where I saw the film at the end of June and I ended up missing some of Cotillard's better moments. Wells is right right about this one, though. Man.
- Karl Rove is rich and famous but I wouldn't want to be him in a million years—and not just because he's a bald schlub. I just can't imagine living such a mendacious life. He helped ruin our country and now he's blaming others for the policies he helped create. Even thinking about it makes me want to take a shower. How awful to have to be him.
- For those who think Obama hasn't done anything in his first 10 months in office, I suggest reading Jacob Weisberg.
- Via Andrew Sullivan's site, Picasso's Guernica in 3-D.
- Finally, though it's a bit onanistic, here's my updated piece on how “The Wire” explains the world. Also why it's the coolest version of team-buidling on film. Indeed.
- Good music! Kris Tapley over at In Contention has posted this beautiful Ryan Bingham song, "The Weary Kind," from the new, as-yet-unopened Jeff Bridges film, "Crazy Heart." Listen. Ecoutez. The song certainly reflects my mood during this long, sick November. I'd recommend buying it on iTunes but it's not available yet.
- Benjamin Schwarz, literary editor of The Atlantic, picks the 25 books of the year. I've read exactly zero of them. Bad former book critic, bad former book critic.
- Hendrik Hertzberg finds distant precedent in tea partiers and anti-health care nuts battling against their self-interest.
- Patrick Goldstein has an interesting post on right-wing attacks on one small moment in the new Sandra Bullock movie "The Blind Side." His explanation for why the scene is in there is fascinating, makes sense, but won't, I'm sure, shut them up. Nothing will. Hollywood is a town that leans consistently left, sometimes loopily so, but you'll never convince the right-wing nuts (or right wingnuts?) that the product of that town is ultimately conservative. In my mind, no industry has done more than the movie industry to propogate the myth of the efficacy of the lone gunman using violence to achieve his ends. That's ultimately a conservative message.
- Related: Andrew Sullivan takes down the GOP's new ten commandments like they're false idols to which the conservative masses bow down and worship.
- Related: Alaska attorney Donald Craig Mitchell, writes about being named in Sarah Palin's book Going Rogue, and on the numerous lies in one simple paragraph about him:
Had Lynn Vincent, Sarah, or Meg called me before Lynn had finished writing Going Rogue, I would have told her that in a single paragraph Lynn/Sarah got almost every one of their facts about me, other than that I am an attorney, wrong. While I probably once was, I haven’t been a “prominent” attorney in Alaska in years. While I am a registered Democrat, my personal politics are hardly “liberal.” To the extent anyone cares, I am a social libertarian who is an Eisenhower era deficit hawk who agrees with Teddy and Frank Roosevelt that the principal responsibility of government is to save capitalism from itself. And while during the presidential campaign several of my ‘Governor Girl Reports’ were posted by individuals other than me on the Huffington Post and Atlantic Monthly web sites, none of those musings “detailed an ethics attack strategy.”
- Clay Shirky takes on the issue of what becomes authoritative in our culture, and what's becoming authoritative in Internet culture (and thus our new culture), and how they differ. Fascinating piece. He's just laying it out, seemingly unconcerned (he always seems unconcerned), but his description alarms me for, I guess, two reasons. One, even though they've rarely done me good, and even though they've stumbled at times, I haven't given up on the old authorities: The New York Times, Merriam-Webster, etc., and I still don't trust, but admit to being amazed by, enterprises like Wikipedia. Two: His description of algorithmic authority reminds me of nothing so much as how investment banks bundle mortgage securities. Individually, they're risky. Bundle them, chop them up, and sell the sections and the risk is made diffuse. Which works untll everyone gets too careless. Which they always do. But Shirkey's a must-read. The obvious joke is that he's an authority on this matter. To play with an example he uses: there's a world of difference between "Some guy on the Internet said so" and "Clay Shirkey said so." In fact, the problem with the former sentence, the lack of its authoriy, may be less the "Internet" reference and more the "some guy" reference. At least the Internet is specific.
- Some crazy, lovely person has compiled the 100 greatest lines from the five seasons of "The Wire." Most of my favorites (Bunk: "Shit is fucked") didn't make the cut but, among the ones that did, I'm partial to these:
- Omar: "I never put dirt on anyone who wasn't in the game." Bunk: "A man must have a code." Omar: "Oh, no doubt."
- Frank Sobotka: "We used to make shit in this country. Build shit. Now we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket."
- Prop Joe: "You don't think I'm gonna send any of my people up against Brother? Sheeeyit, that nigger got more bodies on him than a Chinese cemetery."
- Reverend: "A good church man is always up in everybody's shit. That's how we do."
- Det. Freamon: "You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money and you don't know where the fuck it's going to take you."
- Russian mobster Sergie Malatov, talking about a dead body: "Did he have hands? Did he have a face? Yes? Then it wasn't us."
- Bodie: "This game is rigged, man. We like the little bitches on the chessboard."
- Jim Walsh on Ondi Timoner's documentary "We Live in Public" and the way the thing you're using right now is changing you and the world. A Timoner quote:
“The thing that freaks me out is that there are only so many hours in a day, and it’s so easy to create volume online, of emails and messages and correspondence,” says Timoner from her home in Los Angeles. “So it’s like two lives we’re living at the same time, and the real one is getting more and more compromised by the virtual one. You have to ask yourself, `Why am I on here? Why am I posting this online? Why am I still on here after two hours?’ ”
- Now go outside and play.
- Is the Vietnamese government blocking Facebook and its more than 1 million users in that country? "A technician at Vietnam Data said government officials had ordered his firm to block access to Facebook and that VDC instituted a block on the site Nov. 11. He declined to give his name because he was not authorised to speak to the media."
- I'm sure you've seen the clip of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show calling out Sean Hannity's show on FOX News for trumpeting the size of the crowds at a Thursday afternoon anti-healthcare rally in D.C. ... by mixing in footage from a larger, Saturday-afternoon rally from two months earlier. If not, it's here. A few days later, Hannity apologized, but in a non-mea culpa, ham-handed way. The mistake, he claims, was not intentional. That'd be pretty tough to pull off. News shows don't just mix in two-month-old footage with today's footage. It's not like all the ingredients are on the countertop and they just happened to, oops, grab the wrong one. But things got better after Hannity's apology. To be precise, the attack on Hannity got more pointed. Here's a link to both Stewart's reaction to watching all of Hannity's show and Andrew Sullivan's attack on both Hannity and FOX News in general as enemies of conservatism. He writes:
Yes, I've tried [watching Hannity] as well. It's like listening to Hugh Hewitt. Or reading Pravda in the old Soviet Union. But somehow watching a human being so brainwashed and engaging in conscious brain-washing makes it worse. Hannity is a pathological level of propagandist, because his entire reality, his entire mindset is programmed for ideology and partisanship. There is no world for him but politics; and no perspective within politics except conflict and warfare. He greets views that do not comport with the opportunistic ideology of the moment as threats to be extinguished, not ideas to be engaged.
Whatever else this toxic, shallow and brutal perspective is, it is not now and never will be conservative - unless that word has now been so corrupted it has no meaning at all.
- This is really sweet, and already a YouTube favorite. A soldier returns home and is greeted by his dog, Gracie, who is happy to see him. To put it mildly.
- The Webbies post their 10 most influential Internet moments of the decade that just whizzed by. You start out astounded that Wikipedia launched only nine years ago then become more astounded that the iPhone only debuted 2+ years ago. The new is becoming established in the blink of an eye; the established is disappearing even faster.
- Just in time for Xmas: Paste Magazine unloads their top 12 music books of the decade. I've read #s 11 and 8—the Minnnesota books—and even interviewed the author of no. 11. His books's out in paperback. Get it if you didn't in hardcover.
- And here's more of Paste Magazine's best of the decade. memes, TV shows, live moments on TV shows, album covers. Album covers? Do we still count those? The only time I see them anymore is when they're the size of postage stamps.