Steven Boone: Top 5 Flicks
1. Volver. Pedro Almodóvar cuts the bullshit at last. Even his "mature" films of recent years are fairly bloated with precious auteur touches. This film is about what it's about from start to finish. And the way Almodóvar lights and coaxes a perfromance from Penélope Cruz, you'd think the famously gay director has a Hitchcock infatuation with his star.
2. Iraq in Fragments. A stunning one-man-band docu-poem shot with the camera David Lynch should've used to capture his hideous-looking Inland Empire (see below).
3. Miami Vice. A daring digital video experiment seemingly designed to irritate complacent audience members. I'll bet director Michael Mann watched the no-budget street racing nocturne Streets of Legend to get juiced for this gloriously sloppy love letter to professional partnership, brief encounters and video grain.
4. The Descent. American distributor Lions Gate marketed this British shocker as being part of the post-Scream, neo-grindhouse gore trend that started with Saw, but that's an insult. The Descent is a Lifetime channel women's bonding flick that goes madly, deeply Alien. Director Neil Marshall's stunning comic book dutch angles and dynamic cutting shame the blood bucket brigades responsible for trash like Hostel.
5. Find Me Guilty. Sidney Lumet's laidback mob comedy has the bounce and classical fluidity of his great '70s films. Watching this film on the big screen, you realize just how steep was Ho'wood's decline since the blockbuster era began.
Worst Disappointment: Inland Empire. This flick commits every aesthetic and storytelling crime Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive were wrongly accused of. But there's nothing wrong with David Lynch's nearly three-hour surrealist sprawl that shooting on a better camera wouldn't have fixed. Inland Empire is the first photographically ugly Lynch feature, due entirely, I believe, to the fact that he shot on the Sony PD-170, a dv camcorder best suited to gonzo porn and video depositions. It's like looking at an Edward Hopper painting through four screen doors. Past Lynch experiments in video -- shorts like The Amputee and Darkened Room -- sort of work because they're designed more to tickle the imagination than invite lingering exploration. But his theatrical features usually mesmerize with their long takes (colored and undergirded with otherworldy sound design) and the universe of contrast and color values often visible in a single anamorphic widescreen frame. He is a painter, after all. Inland Empire is as exquisitely art directed, composed, lit, scored and mixed as ever, but the low-res video image and its mush colors make it almost impossible to get lost in the cinematic illusion Lynch is attempting to subvert. How can you subvert something that subverts itself from the start?
Most Overhyped: The Proposition. I'll take Sam Raimi's cartoonish Wild West show The Quick and the Dead over thunderously self-important Westerns like this Australian epic any ol' day. Mangy dogs, whores and outlaws have never been so tedious.
The Lower Frequencies Award: Shottas. Four years after a VHS rough cut of this low-budget Rastafarian gangster film was stolen from the scoring studio, Sony Pictures gave it a limited theatrical release earlier this year. In the interim, the missing tape had yielded thousands of bootleg DVD's from New York to the Caribbean -- and legions of fans. It almost gives credence to the urban legend that bootleggers and Ho'wood studios are in cahoots. In any case, the tape thief did more for first-time director Cess Silvera than most agents and producer's reps.
Steven Boone is a New York-basic critic and filmmaker, a contributor to Vinyl is Heavy and the publisher of the pop culture blog Big Media Vandalism.