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Friday February 27, 2015

Top 25 Movies of the Decade So Far

Top 25 movies of the 2010s

Hard to believe, but we're already halfway through the decade. And you know what that means, don't you? Listomania.

Yesterday, The Film Stage came out with its list of the top 50 films of the half-decade, and it's ... um ... Well, let's just say their arthouse films (“Upstream Color,” “Before Midnight,” “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”) are not my arthouse films. Except when they are (“The Tree of Life,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “The Master”).

Anyway, it got me to thinking about my own list. 

Feelings about movies change, of course. Some grow in the mind with repeated viewings or simply through repeated thought; others diminish. Roger Ebert's favorite movie of 1980 was “The Black Stallion, with ”Raging Bull“ second; but when he did his ”Best of the '80s“ list 10 years later, ”Stallion“ didn't make the cut while ”Bull" was now No. 1 for the entire decade. 

Here's mine. Your mileage will vary.

  1. The Tree of Life (2011)
  2. Boyhood (2014
  3. De rouille et d'os (2012)
  4. Ida (2014)
  5. Des hommes et des dieux (2010)
  6. Birdman (2014)
  7. Restrepo (2010)
  8. Moneyball (2011)
  9. Le Passé (2013)
  10. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
  11. The Drop (2014)
  12. End of Watch (2012)
  13. The Social Network (2010)
  14. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
  15. La Grand Bellezza (2013)
  16. A Separation (2011)
  17. The Master (2012)
  18. A Film Unfinished (2010)
  19. Margin Call (2011)
  20. American Hustle (2013)
  21. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
  22. Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
  23. Young Adult (2011)
  24. The Descendants (2011)
  25. Toy Story 3 (2010)

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Posted at 06:41 AM on Feb 27, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Monday January 12, 2015

My Top 10 Movies of 2014


  • Intro music (for a slideshow): Thanks to Hollywood's distribution system (all the best movies stuffed into the end of the year, often with only NY and LA screenings), I had to wait a few weeks before posting this. And I still haven't seen J.C. Chandor's “A Most Violent Year,” which is currently playing in all of four theaters around the country. (Thanks, A24.) Despite the chatter elsewhere, I think this was a good year for movies. Any year in which “Life Itself,” “Nightcrawler,” “Selma” and “Whiplash” don't make my top 10 is a good year. Plus it was good early. Nearly half of the films on my list played in Seattle before July 1.     

  • 10. Force Majeure: The atmosphere Ruben Östlund creates is distant, cold, spooky. It’s the modern, mechanized society. All needs are met but no one is present. We only see two employees at the ski resort and both are silent and incompetent. Otherwise, everything is just there and vaguely menacing: the booms of the controlled avalanches; the creaking of the ski lifts. One of my favorite shots is the family waiting through their electric toothbrush routine. No physical movement is actually involved. They’re all just waiting for the mechanism to finish its task. Its task is us.

  • 9. Foxcatcher:  What an indictment of the American class system. It’s about how excellence can be bought by the idle rich. It’s a movie about the sadness of people with too few options, and the sadness of people with too many. It’s about these words, “No, Mark, stay,” which implies a dog you can control, and “No, John! Stop, John!” which implies a dog you can’t. The dog you can’t control is the very rich, who are very different from you and me.

  • 8. Love Is Strange: The best love story of the year. The dramatist’s dilemma isn’t how to bring the lovers together but how to keep them apart for 90 minutes, and Ira Sachs’ approach is novel: he marries them. Society does the rest. The movie has issues (all movies have issues), but it has such humanity. I think of John Lithgow's Ben painting on the rooftop, and Alfred Molina as George showing up for a rainsoaked late-night embrace. 

  • 7. The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson needs real actors at the heart of his movies to give them heart, and Ralph Fiennes does so here. Anderson says the film was inspired by Stefan Zweig's memoir “The World of Yesterday,” and, indeed, we go through a world of yesterdays (2014, 1985, 1968, 1932) to get to a protagonist who lives in a world of yesterday: as 20th-century war approaches, he pretends 19th-century manners matter. Anderson’s world of yesterday is one where art and literature matter, and he sustains that illusion with a marvelous grace.

  • 6. Le Passé: There are small, exquisite scenes. Asghar Farhadi often shows us the thing before revealing what the thing means; before revealing its past. The ending is about as perfect as endings get. “If you can hear me,” Samir tells his comatose wife, “squeeze my hand.” The camera then pans to his hand in hers. We’re waiting for any movement. It's the title. It's a man being held, and not, by something that’s dead, and isn’t.

  • 5. Fury: It begins with a man on a white horse patrolling through the fog of a recent battle. Except he’s a German officer and he’s quickly killed by Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt). David Ayer is putting us on notice: No men on white horses here, kids; no John Waynes. You know the leap in realism between John Wayne movies and, say, HBO’s “Band of Brothers”? “Fury” almost feels like that leap again. It makes you long for the moral clarity of “Band of Brothers.”  

  • 4. The Drop: The obvious comparison, and it’s a doozy, is with “On the Waterfront.” Both films have dark moods, a weight of the world, a sense of being trapped. The cops are no help and the church just reminds you of all the bad you’ve done. The key relationship is the older relative—brother Charlie, cousin Marv—and each has a dirty history. Years earlier, favors were asked, lives were ruined. Maybe the asker doesn’t know it yet. Maybe he doesn’t want to know. Then there's Hardy's final monologue. I go to the movies for the way he says “Nah.”

  • 3. Ida: It's not just a gorgeously shot look at Poland and the aftermath of World War II; it's the best roadtrip movie of the year, the best detective team of the year. The beautiful novitiate nun gets them in places, the sharp-tongued Jewish prosecutor digs for answers. “Did you know the Lebensteins?” “Jews?” “No, Eskimos.” The closer she gets to an answer, the more she unravels. There's a purity to the film in form and content. There's not a wasted line, a wasted shot.

  • 2. Birdman: The Susan Sontag quote, “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing,” is taped to the corner of Riggan's dressing-room mirror, and it's the most ignored thing in the movie. Is the play any good? Depends what the New York Times critic writes tomorrow. Am any good? “You’re beautiful, you’re talented, and I’m lucky to have you.” We want to be of the people but soar above them. We want to feel ourselves beloved on the earth. Because if we're not? We're nothing. We're not even here. 

  • 1. Boyhood: It has moments that feel as real as my own memories: the search for arrowheads, giggling at lingerie ads, hanging in the narrow space between garages. There’s the late-night, teenage drop-off in the station wagon, the makeout sessions in same, the friends that come and go. The movie, filmed over 12 years, is wholly unique. Because we watch this young actor age all this time, there’s a pang when we think of him and the boy he once was. It’s almost as if he’s family.

  • Exit music (for a slideshow): Feel free to post your faves below. Here are my top 10 lists from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

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Posted at 06:34 AM on Jan 12, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Saturday January 03, 2015

The 8 Worst Movies of 2014


  • I mostly get to choose which movies I see, and I mostly choose movies that I think have a chance in hell of being good. So I'm sure there were worse movies released in 2014. That said, the eight movies that follow are pretty bad, and the bottom three or four or five are downright painful. My comments for each entry are pithy, so if you want to read more click on the link for the (generally verbose) review. Onward and downward! 
  • Worst of the year: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
    8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1: Never has so much talent created so little for so many.
  • Worst of the year: Divergent
    7. Divergent: At least Katniss looked like she could kick ass.
  • Worst Movies of 2014: Robocop
    6. Robocop: The 1987 original was brilliant. I wouldn’t buy this one for a dollar.
  • Worst Movies of 2014: The Other Woman
    5. The Other Woman: Come back to the 9 to 5, Dabney Coleman, Dabney Coleman. 
  • Worst Movies of 2014: 300: Rise of an Empire
    4. 300: Rise of An Empire: It’s less fascistic than the first.
  • Worst Movies of 2014: Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
    3. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For: Sex + violence isn't supposed to be this boring.
  • Worst Movies of 2014: God's Not Dead
    2. God’s Not Dead: I don’t know about God but godawful is very much alive.
  • Worst Movies of 2014: Tusk
    1.Tusk: Kevin Smith recently said he’s reached the “I don’t give a fuck” portion of his career. It shows.
  • Worst Movies of 2014: Kevin Smith
    What's that you say? You have your own thoughts? Feel free to include them below. And if you're interested in the worst of past years, here you go: 2011, 2012, and 2013. May 2015 stink a little less. 

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Posted at 09:20 AM on Jan 03, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Thursday January 01, 2015

My Top 10 Movie Quotes of 2014

  • My 10 top movie quotes of 2014
    Squawk! It's been a good year for squawking in movies, hasn't it? I actually had to leave off some good lines: “This isn't freedom, it's fear,” for example, from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which states, in a popcorn movie, what would have been relegated to a Nation editorial 10 years ago. We got Dame Judi Dench quoting Shakespeare and then telling us, “Now if you'd written that you'd be up all night looking at yourself in the mirror,” in the so-so Bard doc “Muse of Fire.” Speaking of: how about John Hurt, as a world-weary Christopher Marlowe (+ vampire), telling Tilda Swinton's Eve, who wants to cause thrilling chaos, “I think the world has enough chaos to keep it going for the minute,” in “Only Lovers Left Alive.”

    Most of what follows are from the usual, highly acclaimed suspects, but one in particular comes from a mediocre action movie released last January. Most are somewhat cynical, as I am.

  • Reese Witherspoon in Wild
    10. “There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”
    — Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), quoting her mother, Bobbi (Laura Dern) in “Wild.” Screenplay by Nick Hornby from the memoir by Cheryl Strayed.
  • Jenny Slate in Obvious Child
    9. “Everything you say is valid, but you are scaring my dick off.”
    --Joey (Gabe Liedman) to Donna and Nellie (Jenny Slate and Gaby Hoffman) in “Obvious Child.” Screenplay by Gilliam Robespierre.
  • Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip to Italy
    8. “She’s got a lovely gait.” “Probably padlocked.”
    --Steve Coogan, eyeing a pretty woman, and Rob Brydon, responding, as the two actors play version of themselves in the mock travelogue, “The Trip to Italy.”
  • Michael Keaton in Birdman
    7. “Look at these people. Look at their eyes. They’re all sparkly. They love this shit. They love action. Not this talky depressing, philosophical bullshit. Give the people what they want: some good old-fashioned apocalyptic porn!”
    --Birdman, the character, to his alter ego, actor Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), about us (the movie audience) in “Birdman.” Screenplay by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo. If movie audiences are said to have power, then this was Inarritu telling truth to power. My eyes did get all sparkly, but for that reason. 
  • Jaeden Lieberher in St. Vincent
    6. “Dear God. Thank you? Amen.”
    — Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), a possibly Jewish kid asked to give a prayer before the class on his first day of Catholic school, in “St. Vincent.” Screenplay by Theodore Melfi. It's my new prayer. 
  • Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader in The Skeleton Twins
    5. “The rest of us are just walking around trying not to be disappointed with the way our lives turned out.”
    --Maggie Dean (Kristen Wiig) to her brother Milo (Bill Hader) in “The Skeleton Twins.” Screenplay by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman.
  • Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel
    4. “We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people.”
    --Roger Ebert in opening voiceover, reading from his book “Life Itself” in the documentary “Life Itself.” I left off the next line, “And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy” because I tend to disagree. The best movies might but most movies simply engage us in power and romance fantasies. We are asked to identify with the beautiful and powerful, not the plain and powerless. 
  • Kenneth Branagh and Keira Knightley in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
    3. “Regret, it piles up around us like books we haven’t read.”
    --Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) to Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.” Screenplay by Adam Cozad and David Koepp. This is me, exactly. Please see the unread books piled in the corner. 
  • Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel
    2. “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it. But I will say he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.”
    --Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) on his mentor and friend, Gustav F. (Ralph Fiennes), in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Screenplay by Wes Anderson. Lovely, isn't it? It also describes Wes Anderson to a “T.”
  • Tom Hardy and puppy in The Drop
    1. “There are some sins that you can’t come back from, you know? No matter how hard you try. It’s like the Devil is waiting for your body to give up because he knows … he knows that he already owns your soul. Then I think maybe there is no Devil. You die, and God, he says, 'Nah. Nah, you can’t come in. You have to leave now. You have to leave and go away, and you have to be alone. You have to be alone forever.'”
    --Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) in “The Drop.” Screenplay by Dennis Lehane, from his short story “Animal Rescue.” As I said in my review, I go to the movies for moments like this; to hear Tom Hardy say “Nah” the way he does. 

  • And there goes 2014. Thanks for reading. Feel free to add your own favorite quotes in the comments below. If you're interested in looking back, here are my top 10 movie quotes from 2013, 2012 and 2011, along with my five most-quoted movie lines

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Posted at 09:06 AM on Jan 01, 2015 in category Movies - Lists
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Saturday December 20, 2014

Film Critics Wrap 2014: Consensus at the Frye

Patricia and I went to the Frye Art Museum's “Critics Wrap 2014” (film version), hosted by critic Robert Horton for the 10th and apparently last time. He and his wife are moving to Scotland in February. 

For the brunt of the evening, before we all repaired to the alcove for champagne, toasts, and a tidbit of conversation, we watched the four on stage debate the best movies of the year. Except, per Seattle, there wasn't much debate. There was mostly agreement. Except from me in the audience. I kept disagreeing with what they were saying. 

Here are the top 5 movies from each critic (Andrew Wright wasn't in attendance):

Robert Horton

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  2. Deux jours, une nuit
  3. Only Lovers Left Alive
  4. Boyhood
  5. Under the Skin

Kathleen Murphy

  1. Under the Skin
  2. Only Lovers Left Alive
  3. The Homesman
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  5. Ida

Jim Emerson

  1. Under the Skin
  2. Only Lovers Left Alive
  3. Ida
  4. Calvary
  5. The Homesman

Andew Wright

  1. Snowpiercer
  2. Under the Skin
  3. The Babadook
  4. Only Lovers Left Alive
  5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The two movies at the top of each list are “Under the Skin” and “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and I wasn't a fan of either—although I predicted, in the first graf of my review back in April, that “Skin” would be a topic of critical conversation at the end of the year. I'm actually willing to revisit “Skin,” to be honest. You never know. One critic, Kathleen Murphy, says she didn't like the movie the first time she saw it, but after the second time it became her favorite movie of the year. Quite a leap. Woody Allen once talked about his first screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and how disappointed he was with it, and how after two more viewings over the years he realized what a sensational movie it was. So maybe that'll happen with me and “Skin.” 

But “Only Lovers Left Alive” has a big problem that none of the four people on stage mentioned. It's a very nostalgic film but its nostalgia is writer-director Jim Jarmusch's, not the characters'. The leads, Adam and Eve, are vampires who have lived for centuries, maybe millennia, and are well-versed in the arts and sciences; but their nostalgia is particular to, say, 60-year-old hipsters. They play 45s, read Shakespeare's Sonnet CXVI, lament the death of culture. The heroes on Adam's walls are the heroes of a college student in the late 1960s, not a vampire who was born in, say, 838 A.D. It's a good movie, but ... top 5? For everyone? That's a bit much. 

There was a bit much consensus on stage, too. No one really disagreed on a movie until a kid in the audience asked about “Gone Girl,” which Emerson liked and the others didn't. But that was after more than an hour of scenery chewing. 

Is this a danger? This consensus? Does it demonstrate that these are in fact “the best” or does it demonstrate that Horton and his friends, two of whom were his teachers, have similar backgrounds, tastes, experiences, predilections, conversations?

I'm looking forward to “The Homesman” anyway. And my own top 10 list. About which even I don't have much consensus.

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Posted at 08:45 AM on Dec 20, 2014 in category Movies - Lists
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