Monday, January 01, 2007

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.


Blogger Paul Martin said...

I found Volver one of the most over-rated films of the year. It's also the film in which I worked out what it is I don't like about Almodovar films in general. I think Freud would have a lot to say about Almodovar. Check out my comments, if you're interested.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Imma still rush to see INLAND EMPIRE but you know we're in cahoots when it comes to VOLVER. Mr Martin, I do hope you attempt some more of Almodovar's films and I hope you read my take on VOLVER (the link in Steve's list) to better explain my attraction to it. Its sincerity is untouchable and the scene where Penelope sings rips me apart. Granted, this is subjective taste, but I think there's no doubt Pedro's a true treasure.

9:24 PM  
Blogger Annie Frisbie said...

totally agree re: The Proposition. Netflixed it and turned it off after 45 minutes because I was bored to tears. I already didn't like Nick Cave, though.

8:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also gave up on The Proposition about the 45-minute part -- or whenever it was that Danny Huston showed up. Why does this man continue to get work? Some films have managed to work in spite of his presence, but he's usually a bad sign.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I'm curious if you saw the UK version of The Descent, and whether you have an opinion about the truncated US ending, which, while not surprising for the US, castrates the film's climax a bit, in my opinion. (Thankfully I saw the UK version first).

6:49 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

All right, people. I'm gonna stick up for The Proposition in the year end piece I've been working on in increments for weeks now. Who knows if it'll ever see the light of day.

For now, suffice to say that it shocked and moved me as few 2006 films have. I loved almost everything about it, but particularly the characterizations, Ray Winstone and Guy Pearce and Emily Watson and Danny Huston's performances, the grungy yet oddly luminous photography, the shock cuts that showed you horrendous glimpses of graphic violence but then cut away after about six frames, the way that the kid brother's whipping was conveyed mainly through crowd reactions and closeups of the kid's face (only one shot of the whip touching flesh, if I recall), and lest I forget, exactly the right ending (the chickens coming home to roost, and Pearce clearing out the damned coop). Different strokes for different folks, but I thought this was a mighty movie.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I disagree with some of your comments, but I must give you props for communicating them with respect for those who don't hold them. Even on "respectable" sites and blogs anymore, people seem to feel the need to rip on fans of a work in order to criticize the work itself. I found Inland Empire's picture quality all the more inviting for exploration and imagination, and quite enjoyed The Proposition as well (especially Danny Huston, at least as far as the male cast goes).

7:06 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Edward: "Why does this man continue to get work?"

Probably cuz he's the most exciting actor around, in my not-so-humble opinion. Honestly, the way he uses his body and facial features from the inside out, in THE PROPOSITION (and BIRTH) especially, are both sublime and sly and sometimes silly in the best way possible. When he came into MARIE ANTOINETTE for a second, my eyes widened. Mick LaSalle told me IVANSXTC is one of the best of the decade, but it's out of print on DVD. His smile was one of the only good things in THE CONSTANT GARDNER. I can't wait to see him in FADE TO BLACK, wherein he plays Orson Welles. But, as Matt said, different strokes, I suppose. I just hope you give him another chance.

And I kept my nose out of it before but I gotta say something now. THE PROPOSITION keeps bugging me, gnat gnawing at my subconscious and that's a very good thing. I'm not as trustworthy right out the gate on a movie, it takes me a little while to put it all together, evidenced by my near 180 on MI-VI (I started at about 45 degrees). Plus, those cuts to black were crucial, especially after the spearing. And it's gorgeous to look at, despite the filth and grime and gruesome head-shots. And I'm the biggest Danny Huston fan I know. One of the best murder ballads Nick Cave has written yet. Also, have you seen his recent handlebar mustache? That mother is one fine piece of cultivation.

7:17 PM  
Blogger Steven Boone said...

This just in: I better shoehorn The Good Shepherd--just saw it--into the #1 spot alongside Volver. Or maybe 1b, 1.5...

DeNiro's direction, heavily supported by Robert Richardson's cinematography (channeling Conrad Hall and Gordon Willis at their inkiest), is something you'd expect from his maestro, Scorsese.

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Danny Huston is one of the most uncharismatic, laughable actors I've come across in a long time. It was hard to keep a straight face when he was supposed to get mad in Birth. He does change it up a bit sometimes, as in The Constant Gardener, where he foregoes his usual dull, uncharismatic performance by giving a dull, uncharismatic performance with a bad British accent.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Steve: The Good Shepherd's probably going to end up at number two or three on my revised yet still heavily asterisked list. Commercial filmmaking at its narrative and technical zenith. As way too many critics have already observed, it feels like the missing fourth Godfather movie. And damned if it doesn't deserve that comparison.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Steven Boone said...


"commercial filmmaking"

That's the thing: Every Ho'wood film these days is usually top drawer in every department except writing and direction. So you end up with The Da Vinci Code. A muddle with no coherent vision where each technical dept crowds the stage like a fuckin runaway talent show.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Okay, sold. Maybe I'll make GOOD GERMAN part of my day tomorrow.

11:25 PM  
Blogger Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Ryland: I hope to God you meant The Good Shepherd. Rather than spend ten bucks on Soderbergh's movie, you might as well stay home and whack off while watching the DVD supplements for Casablanca.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

Oh shit. Sorry. Big gaffe. Keep confusing the titles, as can be expected. No, your review of GERMAN made me put it on the deep-in-right back burner. (But I got out THE LIMEY...)

That said, Imma lob some heresy out there: Cate Blanchett does more for me than Ingrid Bergman ever has. I know this is kinda wrong and it's probably just a reflection of being a modern young man attracted to such a modern beauty like Blanchett. She and Naomi Watts are untouchable in my book...something about those blonde Aussies. And Naomi's adorable mouth fat. It makes her more human and less Ann Darrow unattainable.

11:35 PM  
Blogger Blankity-Blank said...

Find Me Guilty. Finally. Didn't think I'd ever see it on anybody anything of 2006 list. Finally it's no longer depressing to call Sidney Lumet my favorite director.

And Danny Huston is terrible. The question isn't necessarily why he keeps getting cast, because there are plenty of terrible actors out there, but rather why does he keep getting cast as characters with accents other than his own? Him acting with a terrible accent is a whole new level of awful.

1:21 PM  

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