Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jettisoned Into Obscurity: More Context (5-1)

Cameron Cook = Age ?

     Here we are, the five (okay...six) movies that I love completely and totally from the very, very bottom of my heart. I'll compile a list that spans from my number 10 to my number thirty spots at the end of the post.

And to make myself totally clear, these are my favorite English-language films. If I were including all of world cinema we'd be here all day. Sometimes a man needs restrictions. 

5. Eyes Wide Shut

     I can think of no other director that manipulated audiences the way that Stanley Kubrick did. Case in point, Eyes Wide Shut. When Stanley Kubrick was on the verge of releasing his newest film in over a decade, he cut all of the trailers and TV spots himself. The previews advertised a film full of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise sexing around New York to zany circus music. What the audience got was a film about a man trying, desperately, to have sex but never actually getting any. Kubrick put the audience in the same frustrated state as the character, and it apparently did exactly what Kubrick wanted it to do, namely, alienate audiences and critics alike.
     When the film came out, everybody was disappointed. Critics, fans, casual moviegoers, they all agreed that Kubrick had crafted a completely disgusting and degrading film. It objectified women, it made men out to be shallow and irresponsible, it made the rich look ridiculously stupid and boring, and it basically ended the Cruise/Kidman marriage.
     Well, the problem is, that is all completely accurate. Kubrick is just pulling a Mark Twain. Throw in a little satire that hits too close to home and everybody gets all upset, but this should not have been a shock to anybody. What are Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, Clockwork Orange, and Killer's Kiss if not satires? Those films were extremely successful and acclaimed. What happened with Eyes Wide Shut?
    Ambiguity happened.
    The film is full of unanswered questions. There is also a blending a genre in the film that disturbs audiences to no end. The problem is that it is not completely satire. There is an emotional and disturbing core to the film that asks the question: Why do you trust your spouse? How far can trust go? Does love equal sex? Those questions are difficult, and they are presented in the film in a realistic manner. The film has found legs over the last decade and it has finally achieved the status of Kubrick's other films. But it still seems to carry the stigma of being Kubrick's dud.

View the trailer here

4. A Serious Man

     The Coen brothers are not scared of doing whatever they want. They've built an entire career with films that go against the mainstream. Their plots, characters, lines of dialogue, and visual techniques are so idiosyncratic and original that it is always obvious that they have written and directed the film. From Blood Simple to True Grit, the Coens have always had a clear fingerprint on their work.
    And while I love all of their movies, some more than others, I have to admit that I never thought they had a masterpiece on their hands until I saw A Serious Man. There have always been elements that I like in their films, but there is almost always another something that eats at me. Anything from the ridiculous subplots of Burn After Reading to the absurdly broad performances in otherwise serious scenes (I'm looking at you Michael Lerner in Barton Fink and Joe Polito in Miller's Crossing), there is almost always something in one of their films that dampens the experience.
    In other words, I've always had fun with their films. But only once have I found one of their films truly great and moving in all the right places.
     A Serious Man is about many things. Judaism, Marriage, Fatherhood, Teaching, Life, Sibling Rivalries, Death, Divorce, Racism, PTSD, Ritualism. It has a little something for everybody.
     What is magic about this film is that it completely gets the book of Job. I mean that in the sense that Job is all about ambiguities (something you'll find in all of my favorite movies). It is considered by some scholars that the frame narrative of Job was added after the book was written in order to provide a clearer image to the story. The Coens, in their retelling of Job, wisely replace the beginning argument between God and Satan with a strange and haunting parable.
     Not only that, but they have done something very, very nice with the ending that answers many more questions than you might think (a look at Job would really be helpful, both before and after the viewing). The performances are perfect, the editing is perfectly paced, and the ending will knock you dead.

View what might be the best trailer ever here

3. Inland Empire

     Inland Empire is a rare bird. In many ways, it's not too different from a terrible movie, and I mean that with the utmost respect. There's just something off about it. The whole thing. The cinematography is unusually grainy and the images are eerily close to their subjects. The dialogue editing feels arhythmic. Sometimes it takes up to five seconds for a person to respond to a question. The sound editing is strange. What is that low rumble taking over the soundtrack? Why can we hear everything? The breathing, footsteps, the sounds of lips over teeth, it's all there. 
    The world is both hyper-real and hyper-cinematic. There's no cinematic masking covering up distasteful sounds or unflattering angles. The film all at once feels like a documentary and a dream. It's over three hours long, but it feels longer. The images are muddy. 
    And yet, when it's all said and done, the movie has gathered everything up and slapped you in the face with it. It is a dream. It is a nightmare. It is everything that Lynch has been trying to do for over thirty years. This is the film he has been making his whole life. Every image, every sound, and every cut is perfectly placed. 
    Be warned, the film is also absolutely terrifying. 
    Be warned, it's probably the most polarizing film ever made. 

View the trailer here

2. Paris, Texas

     Paris, Texas will make a grown man cry. 
       What can I say? It has everything. It has every single little thing I could ask for. 
      A brilliant blues soundtrack from guitar-god Ry Cooder, 
      a gorgeous visual style from cinematographer Robby Muller, 
      a devastating screenplay by Sam Shepard, 
      and of course, pitch-perfect direction from Wim Wenders. 
      Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassia Kinski, and Dean Stockwell give excellent performances in this film about a man who tries to get everything back after a psychotic break and total loss of memory. But does he succeed? The answer to that question is completely up to the viewer. And you all know how much I love my ambiguity. 

View the trailer here

1. Synecdoche, New York

     This is the one. This is the film that did everything I wanted. My wedding vows will be about Synecdoche, New York
       Where do I even start? With the perfect screenplay? How about the amazing soundtrack? Okay, here's what I'll do, I'll talk about the cast. Tom Noonan, the criminally underutilized actor/director, is a revelation in this film as the Caden(Philip Seymour Hoffman)'s stalker. His final moments in the film are magnetic, haunting, beautiful. Diane Wiest steals the third act of the movie. Samantha Morton ages 60 years so believably that you forget you're watching a movie. 
       And there's Philip Seymour Hoffman. That beautiful, beautiful man. How his performance didn't sweep every awards show imaginable is proof that award shows are retarded. In fact, this film was nominated for nothing. NOTHING. Criminal. 
      Another thing that's criminal is giving away too much about the plot of this movie. It's up to you to take the initiative. Do you trust me enough to watch a movie with a title like that? 

      You'll be glad you did. 

View the trailer here

Favorite International Films 

  1. Winter Light
  2. Yi-Yi
  3. Zerkalo
  4. Battle Royale
  5. Eight and a Half
  6. The White Ribbon
  7. Andrei Rublev
  8. Scenes from a Marriage 
  9. Mother 
  10. Amores Perros 
11-30 (In no particular order, the numbers are arbitrary)
11. True Stories
12. The King of Comedy
13. Love & Death
14. I'm Not There
15. The Fountain
16. The Graduate
17. Being There
18. Opening Night
19. Brazil
20. Short Cuts
21. Punch-Drunk Love
22. Jackie Brown
23. Ghost Dog:The Way of the Samurai
24. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
25. The Thin Red Line
26. Dancer in the Dark
27. Crimes and Misdemeanors 
28. Gangs of New York
29. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
30. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I want to hear from you guys: what are some of your favorite movies and why?


  1. Here are a few of my favorite movies, in chronological order:

    La Double Vie de Veronique (1991) - directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz. This movie is so beautiful and strange and never seems to answer any of the questions it asks, just the way I like it.

    Orlando (1992) - directed and written by Sally Potter, based on Virginia Woolf's novel. Visually and structurally sublime, this gender-bending delight is also hilarious.

    The Piano (1993) - directed and written by Jane Campion. Beautiful to watch, beautiful to hear, this film always startles me and wrenches from my heart a satisfying catharsis. Plus Campion draws on the fairy tales "Bluebeard" and "The Little Mermaid."

    The English Patient (1996) - directed and written by Anthony Minghella, based on Michael Ondaatje's novel. I love this epic so much I sat through it three times in the theatre; I don't know what Elaine Benes' problem is.

  2. I was happy to see charley and the Cohen bros mentioned. As well as a kubrick film. Kubrick as well. However, eyes wide shut was not my fav. It has been a long time since i have watched it.

  3. Man, Stutts, the '90's was your decade.

    And Chandler: I suggest you watch that movie again, it's real good.

  4. I'm glad Paris, Texas beat Inland Empire. Here's my favorites.

    Paris, Texas: The last scene. I think that's all I need to say.

    Wild at Heart: Laura Dern is fantastic. Nicolas Cage is fantastic. They are magical when they dance. It's the only true romantic comedy I've ever seen.

    Junebug: Amy Adams is the cutest thing I've ever seen.

    Cinema Paradiso: Little Toto is probably the child Amy Adams has in Junebug. This movie just warms my heart. And I don't think I'll ever forget the image of that kid bicycling the movie reel back and forth.

    YiYi: Yet another cute kid. I think a theme is emerging.

  5. Even tho I fell asleep a few times during "Inland Empire" and had to rewind to catch up again, I enjoyed it. Sort of spoiler, but I feel that since "Lost Highway" Lynch has been exploring the internally perceived self, how the real world sees you and your "true" nature. Fascinating. Anyhoo, even tho his movies are a slog sometimes, I still think he is genius.

    *sniff* Paris, Texas. Love everything about that movie and I will watch anything Wim Wenders makes.

    My favorite movies right now (this changes with my mood and the weather):

    1. The Fall
    2. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasus
    3. Mysterious Skin
    4. Sense and Sensibility
    5. Wings of Desire (WW!)