Thursday, February 26, 2009

In India

For some reason I've been inundated with India-infused pop culture as of late. I saw Slumdog Millionaire, I spent about two months reading John Irving's A Son Of The Circus, and I recently received one of Rohinton Mistry's novels as a gift. And, in one of my final days in my old apartment, I returned home to find the door masking taped shut from the inside since my roommate was cooking curry and didn't want the smell to get out into the hallway. I thought it was very considerate of her, before I realized that the tape meant that more of the smell stayed in the apartment. As a result, I can no longer root for Davidson and Stephen Curry during March Madness. It's tough, but fair.

So yeah, Slumdog Millionaire. What more can be said about the film that hasn't already been said? It's unlikely that any of you out there will go, "I wasn't convinced after the critical acclaim or the Best Picture Oscar, but now that Mark has given the thumbs up, I'll have to see it!" (Though if you are saying this, my ego will swell to Trump-ian standards). I'm almost afraid to go into detailed criticism given that I'll probably be repeating myself when I get around to my 2008 entry of my big movie project with Kyle, but needless to say, it's a terrific movie. What I think I found the most amusing about the film as a whole is that it quite unabashedly builds itself upon the inherent tension of an episode of 'Millionaire.' Say what you will about the modern-day syndicated show with their 500 lifelines and Skype connections, but those original shows were legitimately suspenseful as hell. So the concept of taking the suspense of a Millionaire episode and adding layers of crime, class warfare and forbidden love around it is flat-out brilliant. As someone who has stopped and started as many writing projects as Axl Rose has held up 'Chinese Democracy' release dates, the hardest thing that I find in writing is coming up with a concept. The few times I've had such tight concepts, everything just flows and the actual writing process is very simple. I can imagine that when Vikas Swarup (author of the novel that Slumdog was adapted from) thought up the idea of telling a life story through the answers to game show questions, he sat back and celebrated with an ice-cold beer. Or water. Swarup may be a teetotaler, how the hell should I know.


As noted, it took about two months for me to finish A Son Of The Circus, which I think may be the longest it's ever taken me to read a novel that wasn't assigned for school. The record-holder is Frances Burney's atrociously boring Evelina. It was assigned for third-year English and, since this was still in my keener days, I decided to get cracking on the reading list during the summer. So technically, it took me from late August to February reading week to finish it off. In my defense, I actually finished Evelina while on spring break in Florida, so that shows at least a bit of commitment. Sure, that may have been because I had to write an essay about it, but still. What's really important is that I resisted the urge to leave the novel in the toilet of a gas station off the I-75 outside of Atlanta.

But anyway, back to the topic at hand. I'm not sure why it took so long to read the book, since while I enjoyed it, I always felt that after 40-50 pages in a sitting, I was satisfied and could put it down for a while. There was also a three-week gap where I didn't read anything due to the fact that after the first 300 pages of this 670+ page novel, John Irving wrapped things up really well. All of the plot elements and the 'mystery' introduced in the first part of the book are totally paid off --- pages 240-300, or thereabouts, were gripping as hell. The problem was, as I mentioned, the book went on for another 370 pages and focused on the interesting-but-not-as-interesting storyline of John D's priest brother. You know how everyone complained about the elongated ending of the third Lord Of The Rings movie? That was just a 15-minute sequence. Imagine if Frodo threw the ring into the lava at the halfway point. Again, it's not that the latter half of the book was bad (far from it), but it just felt somewhat anti-climactic. Ideally, Irving would've build to another climax at the end, thus making the overall narrative arc of the book look like four-fifths of an M. Irving's next novel, 'A Widow For One Year,' had a similar problem, as it really topped out after its first third. This might be why Irving's NEXT novel, 2001's "The Fourth Hand" took a less-is-more strategy and blocked in at barely over 300 pages.

This sounds like I'm being too negative about a book that, once again, I did in fact enjoy. So I'll highlight the greatness that is the central character, Farrokh Daruwalla, the doctor/really terrible screenwriter of the 'reprehensible' Inspector Dhar films. The Fifth Business-ness of Dr. Daruwalla never failed to crack me up. Everything involving his shadow career as the creative force behind the impossibly shitty Inspector Dhar movies (and the Dhar movies themselves, which are stereotypically hilarious in the snippets we hear of them) is pure gold. I would've read an entire book based on those alone...preferably a 300-pager.


I haven't touched the Rohinton Mistry book yet, so I'll focus on another Indian-related item. Bobby Jindal = Kenneth Parcell.

I love how in the wake of Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, the GOP has apparently decided to model all of their leaders after 30 Rock cast members. I don't think I've actually heard Michael Steele speak so I can't compare him to Tracy Jordan, Dot Com or Grizz. Will Dr. Spaceman be the top Republican critic against universal health care?


As you may have noticed, the 'best HBO show' tournament has been somewhat accelerated, as I've moved the first-round winners into four-show groups (plus one five-show group to account for a tie) so we'll immediately jump into the final four. The reason? This tournament is taking goddamn forever. I really should've thought through the logistics of a 32-show bracket before I begun. This has been the exact opposite of March Madness. You could call it....March BADNESS. *rim shot*

What does this have to do with India? Uh...look over there! [/sound of door slamming]

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kyle and Mark's Best Movies Of Our Lives, Part Two (1986-1991)

The Best Movies of Our Lives: Part Two, 1986 - 1991

Previously: 1979-1985

Mark's Picks

1986....Ferris Bueller's Day Off: While all of John Hughes' other "legendary" teen dramas have aged horribly, Ferris Bueller has somehow only become more prescient with each passing year. You could make a good case that it was the forerunner of shows like 90210, Gossip Girl or the O.C. where teenagers carry themselves as virtual adults. Ferris Bueller looks and acts like he's a baby boomer who just happens to be in high school, even down to his bizarrely-old man name. Broderick gets most of the acclaim for the film, but it wouldn't have been nearly as successful without Alan Ruck's should've-been-Oscar-nominated performance as Cameron, Jennifer Grey and her giant nose as bitchy Jeanie Bueller and Jeffrey Jones as the long-suffering Principal Ed Rooney (N.B. I'm legally obliged to mention the fact that Jones was busted for kiddie porn, thus making him a charter member of the Michael Jackson/Chris Benoit 'Am I Allowed To Like This Guy?' club).


Big Trouble In Little China: This movie was a childhood signpost to my pals Trev and Dave, who still to this day greet each other with Jack Burton's half-L/half-checkmark hand signal. BTILC is a goofy, goofy, ridiculous, goofy, absurd, stupid movie, but boy is it ever a lot of fun to watch. Jack Burton's killing of the ultimate villain is one of the 10 best deaths in movie history, and easily one of the five funniest.

The Fly: Despite a few third-act problems, this still holds up really well today both as a thriller, and on the FX side of things. You will not believe how friggin' buff that Jeff Goldblum is in this movie. He looks like a nerdy version of Sly Stallone. Also of note is the cameo of Canadian boxing legend George Chuvalo, who plays the guy who gets his hand snapped off in the bar. Amazingly, a shattered hand wouldn't even crack the top five of the worst things that have happened to Chuvalo in real life.

Highlander: This one holds special meaning to the list, as I actually saw it for the first time over at Kyle's house around 2003. The Highlander franchise is one of the more underrated sci-fi universes of recent years, possibly due to the utter failure of the second movie and the fact that Christopher Lambert becomes 10% more of a self-parody each year.

Platoon: A seminal war film, and say what you will about Oliver Stone, but he is certainly the worst director to win two Best Director Oscars. Wait...isn't a compliment supposed to follow a "say what you will about" intro? I'm legally obligated to retell my favourite Platoon anecdote about the time my buddy Trev showed a clip from the movie for a class project in Grade 12 English class. He warns the class that "there is a bit of language in this clip" and then proceeds to show...the attack on the Vietnamese village. If you had listened closely, you could've actually heard everyone's jaws drop right around the scene when Johnny Drama kills that kid. When the clip was over, Trevor turned on the lights and noticed that everyone looked shell-shocked, and Trev himself perhaps just then realized that he picked a somewhat intense scene. Our teacher, Mrs. Spratt, chimed in with perfect comic timing, "So, a little language, eh?" Owned.

(I'd also like to give a special shout-out to Little Shop Of Horrors, the poster of which I had hanging on my bedroom wall as a kid thanks to the kindness of the proprietor of The Movie Shoppe, the old video store at the Byron plaza.)

Notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Hannah and Her Sisters. Gee, were there any other notable 1986 movies that started with the letter 'H'?....oh yeah.....since there is a one million percent chance that Kyle made 'Hoosiers' his top choice for the year, I really should get around to watching it one of these years.

Kyle: Huh. I'm reminded of the Friends episode where Chandler pushes Kathy away by accusing her of sleeping with her co-worker, then comes to his senses and goes to her place to apologize, telling her that it's a good thing, because now they've gotten their first fight out of the way...only he discovers said co-workers pants on the couch, and deduces that they have, indeed, slept together, leading to him blurting out: "well, I think our second fight* going to be a big one" (a line which consistently slays me, due in no small part to Matthew Perry's great delivery of it)...because: you haven't fucking seen Hoosiers? That's a real slap in the face (did you just get a chill down your spine??). I'm flabbergasted. I'm basically going to insist that you hop in your car, drive to my parents' place, and grab one of my three copies from the basement.

All of that said, great call with Ferris Bueller--just a tremendous movie. Also, while I'll always be grateful to the Movie Shoppe for providing me with posters for my room (though I never seemed to get any first-rate stuff, exhibit A being my Crooklyn poster), I'm still holding a grudge against those guys for closing up shop without giving anyone notice. Why, you ask? Because we'd pre-paid for twenty movies (ordinarily pretty handy, since I could bike down and pick one up on my dad's dime), only used six or so, and lost out on the remaining fourteen. Screw this foreclosure crisis, I demand an immediate Congressional investigation into the legality of said movie scheme!

* Note: for the sake of this bit, let's call my Ghostbusters omission fight #1.

Mark: Outstanding Friends reference. Ah, Paget Brewster. So underrated.

1987....The Princess Bride: It's hard to describe 'Princess Bride' to someone who hasn't seen it. It's a very funny romance, but it's not a romantic comedy. It's not exactly a satirical fairy tale, since there is some very genuine emotion throughout. It's a wholly unique entity unto itself and thus a movie that will stand the test of times for generations to come. It's also notable for being one of the all-time best Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon movies that doesn't actually star Kevin Bacon. Seriously, when you have a cast that includes everyone from Billy Crystal to Fred Savage to Chris Guest to Andre the Giant, that's a movie that can link a lot of actors.


The Last Emperor: A surprisingly gripping epic highlighted by some absolutely gorgeous photography from legendary Vittorio Storaro. Fun fact: David Byrne (that's right, Talking Heads David Byrne) won an Oscar for co-writing the musical score. Other fun fact: if you type 'Last Emperor' into Wikipedia, it takes you to an entry about a rapper who I have literally never heard of. Should this guy get dibs over a Best Picture winner? Hell no.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Roger Ebert has a beautiful essay about this film in his 'Great Movies' collection where he notes that PT&A seemed to be a simple comedy the first time he saw it, but it grew on him over time to become one of the staples of his family's Thanksgiving holiday.

Predator: Second-best Schwarzenegger movie ever, and I felt that Arnie deserved to be mentioned for a year in which he made both this and another top-5 Arnold classic, 'The Running Man.' In a twist of fate that can only be described as bizarre, 'Predator' is perhaps best remembered today as the answer to the trivia question, "What action movie starred two future U.S. state governors?" PLUS Sonny Landham ran for governor of Kentucky in 2002 as well, so we could've had a trio. What I'm trying to say is that Carl Weathers needs to start a PAC immediately. "Weathers 2010: Baby, You Got A Stew Goin'!"

Roxanne: A very funny modern retelling of 'Cyrano de Bergerac' starring Steve Martin. Notable for a Hall of Fame scene where Martin's nose is mocked by a guy in a bar, followed by Martin making fun of the guy's poor quality of joke and promptly rattling off 20 hilarious nose jokes at his own expense. Look at this and look at Pink Panther 2, and then wonder what the hell happened to Steve Martin. (Note: I may re-state this for every other Steve Martin movies on this list).

Notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Broadcast News, House of Games, Moonstruck, Wall Street, and though I technically have seen it before, I haven't seen Robocop in so long that I've forgotten most of the film aside from the scene where Peter Weller is eviscerated and a few of Kurtwood Smith's more psychotic lines.

Kyle: wow...only one pic in common (The Princess Bride) between the two of us--kinda surprising. I caught the last hour of TPB on AMC about two months ago (if we ever had a sponsor for these movie things, it should really be AMC, since they seem to air about 65% of our 80s and early 90s selections on an endless loop), and it reminded me that I really should re-watch the whole movie at least once a year. Seems a shame that, twenty years later, the only lines I quote routinely (from this highly quotable film) are "inconceivable" and "only an Australian..." (for my money: the best bit in the movie).

Feel like I missed boat with John Candy, since I don't particularly love him in anything...and I can't really explain why. And: I use that Carl Weathers line all the time with Carrie...and she never gets it, even though I (semi-)patiently explain its roots every time.

1988.....A Fish Called Wanda: In short, the funniest movie I've ever seen, and probably my favourite movie of all time (it's neck-and-neck with my 1994 selection, which you'll see in our upcoming installment). Perfectly written, perfectly acted and the perfect example of a classic character-and-situation based British comedy. It is an absolute crime that Kevin Kline didn't get nomina....wait a minute, Kline WON the Oscar?! Holy crap! That was probably the single most deserving Oscar awarded during the entire 1980's. Kline is indescribably funny as lunatic/not-at all-stupid-crook Otto West.

Runners-up.....(You may notice that I've listed eight runners-up instead of the usual four. This is because Kyle and I agreed on a clause that we're calling the "We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat" rule. We're each allowed up to three years where we can expand our number of honourable mentions past the usual limit, with a final cap of 10. Kyle used his first card for his 1984 entry, and I'm cashing in my first card now, since 1988 was a helluva year.)

The Accidental Tourist: I'm a big Anne Tyler fan, and this is by far the best adaptation of one of her difficult-to-film novels. The Accidental Tourist is also a great suggestion for screwing someone over in charades.

Die Hard: High in the running for best action movie ever made. Alan Rickman was jobbed out of an Oscar nomination. My favourite anecdote about this film is a tie between these two: 1) Rickman's famous facial expression when he's falling from the building was created when the stunt director told Rickman he'd let go of him on the count of three, and then let him go at the count of one, and 2) for years after Die Hard, similar common-man-in-tough-situation thrillers were pitched to Hollywood studios as 'Die Hard on a boat' or 'Die Hard on a plane,' etc. This culminated in a legendary pitch where a young screenwriter completely un-ironically tried to sell his script as 'Die Hard in an office building.'

The Last Temptation Of Christ: Maybe this is my agnosticism talking, but I fail to see how a devout religious person could be anything but moved by this film. Martin Scorsese made a brilliant account of Jesus' struggles to live up to his divine birthright and his avoidance of sin, and ended up being crapped on by conservative religious groups. Scorsese should've tried to get some endorsements from the Judean People's Front (or, failing that, the People's Front of Judea).

The Naked Gun: The first time you watch this movie, you'll think it's the funniest thing you've ever seen. Some parts of it get corny the second time around, but man, that whole sequence at the Dodgers game is still pure gold from start to finish. Favourite gag: for me it's either the scoreboard blooper involving the tiger, Frank walking around the wall as he enters the lab, or "Hey, it's Enrico Palazzo!"

Rain Man: Easily Tom Cruise's best of his "punk pretty boy who grows up" roles, and a truly great performance from Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman's performance has been parodied so much over the years that you forget just how good he was in this movie.

Rattle & Hum: There was pretty much no chance I was going to omit U2's concert movie. As an actual "concert movie" it's surprisingly pointless, but hey, it's still 100 minutes of live U2 songs. Highlights include the seminal version of 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' and great renditions of 'Bad,' 'Running To Stand Still' and 'With Or Without You.'

The Thin Blue Line: This probably would've been #1 in most other years. An absolutely riveting documentary investigating the murder of a Texas police officer in 1976. The movie did nothing less than free an innocent man from a life sentence and basically pioneer the crime-reenactment genre as we know it.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: Maybe a little dated today, but the concept of a feature-length movie mixing both live-action and animation was absolutely state-of-the-art back in 1988. This movie was the talk of the schoolyard in its day, both for its concept and for the earth-shattering fact that Disney characters and Looney Tunes characters would be sharing the screen together! Gadzooks! Christopher Lloyd was the (human) MVP of the movie for being completely terrifying every moment he's on the screen, climaxing in the immortal "I talked" scene.

Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Bull Durham, which seems impossible given how big of a baseball fan I am. I've also never seen 'Midnight Run,' which I'm told is a comedy classic.

Kyle: this is more like it. I think you hit on four of my five with your selections (and the one you missed--Bull Durham--you've, inexplicably, never seen...again: how is this possible?). But now I'm going to seem like a huge doucher, because I'm going to admit that I've never seen AFCW in its entirety, which is also pretty unforgivable. We should probably move on.

A Thin Blue Line
is on my "to see" list, since I really like Errol Morris's work. Love the Die Hard story. Do concert movies ever have a point? (Lone exception: Pink Floyd's The Wall, where I believe the point was to freak the shit out of stoners at four in the morning.) Finally, as for Accidental Tourist, I feel like this is very doable in charades (note: I pride myself on my charades ability, and once got a crowd in Korea--fine, they were American, but we were in Korea--to get Moulin Rouge in under five seconds; spoiler: it involved me acting like a cow and milking myself): (1) movie gesture; (2) three words; (3) first word: small gesture; (4) third word: pretend like you're unfolding a map, look puzzled, point at map, point at something in the distance, simulate taking photos; (5) second word: trip over something, or pretend as if you've just bumped into someone and do the hand apology (simulating a car accident would also probably work).

Hey did I just invent a new game (word charades)?

Mark: You gave me hell over not seeing Hoosiers and you haven't seen A Fish Called Wanda?! Our *third* fight is going to be a doozy.

1989.....Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: In a year filled with great movies, 'Last Crusade' got the nod based on the fact that if I lined it up with all of my runners-up and had to pick just one to watch, it would be my choice. There's just too much goodness to ignore: the great tank chase/battle sequence, 'X marks the spot,' River Phoenix's uncanny channeling of Harrison Ford, the great circus train chase at the beginning, the origin of both Indy's hat and his nickname, "Zis is how ve say goodbye in Germany," the boat chase through the Venice canals, "No ticket," the genuinely chill-inducing scene in the Grail Chamber that is capped off with "He chose...poorly," and finally, every single word that came out of Sean Connery's mouth. He and Ford were perfect as father and son despite being roughly five days apart in actual age. This was a perfect film to cap off the Indy saga.....wait, what Crystal Skull movie? Sorry, I don't know what you're talking about.

Runners-up.....(cash-in number two!)

Back To The Future II: Maybe a little guilty of naval-gazing at times, but it manages to stay just un-complicated enough to add layers to the original without going totally overboard. I'm just disappointed that 2015 is only six years away, and we're no closer to hoverboards than we were in 1985. Get on it, Hasbro and/or Rand Corporation!

Batman: The one downside to the success of the Nolan/Bale Batman films is that Tim Burton's two Bat-pictures have been retroactively lumped together with Joel Schumacher's two abominations. Talk about unfair; Burton's 'Batman' still holds up as a very cool adaptation of the comic, though still very much within a comic-book mindset.

Do The Right Thing: Spike Lee's answer to Orson Welles syndrome, where the first movie (ok, technically not his *first* movie, but his first major movie) is such a masterpiece that he spent the rest of his career trying to live up to it. I guess to continue this analogy, 'Inside Man' becomes 'Touch Of Evil' and Mars Blackmon becomes the Paul Masson wine commercials. If Lee makes a cameo in Transformers 2, I'm onto something. DTRT was years before its time and yet completely of its time as one of the best-ever films about race and community relations.

Field of Dreams: The cliche of guys not marrying women if they don't like 'Field Of Dreams' is probably a bit overdone but....well, I dunno, I'm hesitant to even risk it. James Earl Jones' "Baseball is the constant." speech is slightly comical now in the wake of the 1994 players' strike, but it still raises some big-time goosebumps. Has anyone been able to ascertain why Kevin Costner is only good when playing athletes? And, while we're answering questions, can someone explain to me why James Earl Jones wasn't a slam-dunk Best Supporting Actor winner (or even a nominee) in 1989?

Jesus Of Montreal: Yay Canadian content! Great film about actors performing a passion play in and around the city of Montreal, and the guy playing Jesus getting somewhat carried away in his role. The end twist involving the 'resurrection' (I wouldn't dream of revealing it here) is both extremely clever and moving.

Road House: The definition of 80's cheesy unintentional comedy. I will drop what I'm doing and watch RH whenever it comes on. My favourite Road House part was, as I stated in a past post, "that Swayze and Brad Wesley lived literally 50 damn yards away from each other. Road House is perfect as it is, but it would've been even more perfect with more scenes of Swayze and Wesley shaking their fists at each other across the pond."

When Harry Met Sally: This one is pretty fresh in my mind since I saw it about a month ago. It would've placed anyway, but the recent viewing just reenforced the fact that this is one of the truly good romantic comedies. Meg Ryan at her peak, Billy Crystal at his likable-guy peak before he became insufferable (is Crystal a fan of both NYC baseball teams? He's a sports bigamist too? Jesus) and I had forgotten how funny Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher are as Harry/Sally's respective best friends. And the orgasm scene is STILL funny.

Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Crimes & Misdemeanors, Say Anything, Driving Miss Daisy.

Kyle: Great call with Last Crusade. I love that movie. Whoever came up with the Grail tests at the end (please don't be George Lucas, please don't be George Lucas...) is a fucking genius.

Another great call with your Lee-Welles comparison--I never would of thought of that. I feel like Spike should gain 150 pounds to really sell it (this is far more likely to happen if he relinquishes his highly visible Knicks seasons' tickets...which is unlikely to occur.) Surprisingly, I've yet to see
Road House--this despite paying every month for the Road House network (Peachtree TV). Less surprisingly, I haven't seen Jesus of Montreal either. The only thing that appears out of place is BTTF2, which does not hold up very well (and, yeah, I apply this test fairly inconsistently...going so far as to avoid movies that I like if I'm afraid they'll appear dated today--see WFRR? Still...) My buddy Eric Mayr (yes, the one that danced on his knees at the wedding) and I would often discuss just how many DeLoreans exist at any given time in BTTF2--I think it's gotta be at least four. Thoughts?

Mark: Well, when they're back in 1955, two exist (the one they're using for the BTTF1 scenario and the BTTF2 one). I guess two would exist in 2015 (the one they're using and the DeLorean that exists in the present that presumably hadn't been destroyed yet). So that is indeed four, but spread out over two time periods...oh, I guess by the end of the film, Doc has one in 1885 and Marty has the other one in 1955. So is that two more to the overall total? Hey, why is my nose bleeding? Is that Jeremy Davies? *faints*

1990....Edward Scissorhands: I'm not sure if it's necessarily Tim Burton's best work, but 'Scissorhands' is the film I'd pick as the best example of what Burton's movies are all about. This was Depp's first real breakout role, and actually a surprisingly underrated one given his later career. Though covered in makeup and latex, Depp never leaves any doubt as to what Edward is feeling. The payoff scene of Edward creating the snow with his carving is arguably the best visual of Burton's career, rivaled only by the shot of Ewan McGregor in the field of flowers in 'Big Fish.'


Back To The Future III: After the complications of BTTF3, Zemeckis ends the trilogy with a more straight-forward time travel story in the Old West. Kyle, I'm sure that Carrie has been this movie, what's her rating of Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson's Irish accents, on a scale of 1 to 10? Negative eight?

Goodfellas: Tough call ranking this one behind 'Scissorhands,' but given that Goodfellas lost the Oscar to Dances With Wolves, coming in second behind a Tim Burton fantasy is much easier to swallow. One of my old film professors once spent a full hour on a lecture about the famous 'Henry enters the nightclub' tracking shot and were it not for time constraints could've gone on for easily another 60 minutes.

The Grifters: Great con man movie that, unlike virtually every other con man movie in history, doesn't rely on an easy-to-predict plot twist of who's really trying to rip off who. Includes a very good non-Cusackian role from John Cusack and arguably Annette Bening's best performance ever. Plus, the screenplay is by Donald E. Westlake, one of my favourite authors.

Miller's Crossing: Man, I found room for three gangster movies from 1990 and NONE of them were Dick Tracy? That movie was a staple of my childhood! Sure, "Miller's Crossing" is objectively better in every way, but...uh...Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles! Lack of stunt-casting aside, Miller's Crossing is awesome. I'd argue it's the first real home run from the Coens, though I haven't seen 'Raising Arizona.' John Turturro's entire stretch of dialogue when Gabriel Byrne is taking him into the woods to get shot is a masterpiece of speech. He goes from sad to pathetic to hilarious because he just never shuts up. It loses a few points for the lackluster job done by the usually-great Marcia Gay Harden. She plays a femme fatale who's allegedly so alluring that two otherwise reasonable men are willing to plunge the city into a gang war just to spare her brother. In the words of Michael Bluth: her?

Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Misery, Dances With Wolves, Ghost, Pretty Woman. Boy, did I miss the boat some of the big movies of 1990 or what?

Kyle: somehow, we both discussed Edward Scissorhands at length and neither of us mentioned the truly excellent Seinfeld episode where it played a prominent role (the one with the barbers). Disappointing. If it's not Burton's best work, what is? Ed Wood and Batman are certainly in the discussion (Big Fish, despite its best efforts, is decidedly not), but I feel ES has held up the best.

Goodfellas happened to be on CTV last night at two in the morning. I hopped on right when Henry was in jail for the first time, and (predictably) saw it through all the way to the end. Phenomenal movie. Though the transition from Pesci getting shot to Henry being full-blown paranoiac (though, technically, he's not so much paranoid about the helicopters as exactly right) cokehead never stops being jarring. It's almost as if Scorcese was behind the camera, then checked his watch (obviously I have no idea how movies work...) and said "Jesus, we're already at the 110 minute mark! I gotta wind this thing down! Scrap pages 190 through 235 of the script.") As for Marcia Gay Harden...I'm starting to wonder if she's secretly terrible. For every movie she's great in (Pollock and, I guess, Mystic River) she really hams it up in another (The Hoax, The Mist). And, presently, she's chewing scenery on Damages.

And I asked Carrie about the accents in BTTF3. Her response was: "well...I don't actually remember the accents, but I assume they were horrible." So there.

Mark: I'd add Sweeney Todd and maybe Pee Wee to the best-of-Burton debate. Sleepy Hollow isn't the best, but it's underrated. Also, the general rule of thumb in script-writing is one page equals one minute of screentime, so unless Scorsese was replaced by Oliver Stone, I don't think a page 235 was a factor.

1991....The Silence Of The Lambs: It's interesting to note that while 'Silence' spawned a new wave of psychological horror/procedurals, it didn't exactly spawn the kind of copycat imitators that other singular films (i.e. Pulp Fiction) did. That's because TSOTL is just a weird movie from start to finish. It's oddly shot*, the story takes more than a few strange turns-- some credit goes to Thomas Harris' novel on this point, though it's not as satisfying as the film is --and there is never any sense of closure, even when Buffalo Bill is captured. The whole film is an exercise in escalating unsettledness. What else can be said at this point about the great Anthony Hopkins? Just look at the difference between Lecter here and Lecter as played by Brian Cox (a good actor in his own right) in 1988's "Manhunter," the original version of 'Red Dragon.' Hopkins took what was a fairly creepy character in the hands of a good actor and elevated it to a legendary screen villain. Fun fact: Hopkins only has 16 minutes of screentime in the movie. Talk about doing more with less. [Kyle: wow...he could've won Best Supporting Actress twice in 1999!]

* = or, in a way, familiarly shot for fans of Jonathan Demme. You'll notice that some of the low-angle and slightly off-kiltered close-ups that Demme used to frame Lecter were first used in Stop Making Sense (like here). Psycho Killer, indeed.


Beauty And The Beast: For my money, still the best of the new-age Disney cartoons. I think the Gaston character is currently appearing on the new season of Survivor under the name 'Coach.'

Defending Your Life: A mostly-forgotten comedy by the underrated Albert Brooks, about a lawyer who dies and then must literally stand on trial in the afterlife in order to get into heaven. Most of the humour comes from the fact that 'Purgatory' is depicted as, basically, a Florida retirement community.

The Fisher King: Robin Williams and the most underrated actor of the last 20 years Jeff Bridges make their list debuts. Terry Gilliam's most fully satisfying feature film.

Terminator 2: One of the five best action movies ever made. Holds up very well in spite of the early 90's release; the FX are as cool as ever, and the only real scene that dates it is John Connor's punk buddy's mullet ("Yeah!"). Like any great thriller, it saves its "Okay, this just got silly" moment for the very end when Arnold shoots a thumbs-up before going into the molten lava.

Most notable movie(s) I haven't seen: Barton Fink, Grand Canyon, Thelma & Louise. Maybe I could save time by seeing the mash-up of all three, wherein Thelma & Louise's husbands are both such finks are it forces them to drive into the Grand Canyon.

Kyle: good pick (it's my #2). Probably the all-time best example of "we should've left well enough alone" (I though Hannibal was seriously awful...though the Red Dragon remake was pretty solid). Over/under of a movie sweeping Best Actor, Actress, Picture, and Director again: 18.5 years. Place your bets (I'm thinking that Leaving Las Vegas got closest). It wouldn't surprise me if it never happened again.

Fisher King...meh. Do you really think it's better than
Twelve Monkeys? That might be the upset of the series. I don't think I've laughed at something Albert Brooks has said or done since...actually, I don't know if I ever have* (but I've only seen about four minutes of DYL).

Finally: do you know how I know you're gay? You include Disney movies in your top five. (Kidding...sort of. I always preferred Aladdin.)

* = The Simpsons Movie

Mark: Just to add to the difficulty for TSOTL, they also won the Best Screenplay award. It, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and It Happened One Night are the only three films to pull off the five-for-five. So I'd guess that if another movie is going to do it, it'll have to have a long title.

Kyle's Picks (1986 - 1991)

Have to say: for our first post, I found it extremely difficult to limit myself to five movies (hence my 1984 entry, which consisted of seven films), but this time through, I felt I was really grasping at straws. Nevertheless....

1986: Hoosiers: I'll start with my most predictable pick of, not only this part, but the entire series. Enter Hoosiers, my all-time favorite movie. Eight things I love about it: the soundtrack (done by Jerry Goldsmith--for whatever reason, I could never get my hands on a CD version of it, so I resorted to recording it onto a tape with my ghettoblaster, then--of course--playing the tape over and over again while I shot baskets Ghostbusters stick moment it would seem); the scene where Coach Dale unconvincingly tries to convince Jimmy to play and Jimmy goes something like 16 for 17 (missing only his final shot); "one thing: I play, coach stays. He goes, I go"; the five minute montage that ensues (with Jimmy joining the team), which is pretty much the most thrilling thing ever; the fact that, when I watched this in the theatre when I was seven I was convinced they were going to lose the state semifinal (the one where Ollie comes in and grannies the winning FT); when Coach Dale gets them to measure the dimensions at the seemingly massive Fieldhouse where the state final was to be played (chill); every second of the state championship game (which is brilliantly edited); and "I love you guys." (Hold on, I'm going to cue it up again.) When Jimmy hits that jumper in the state championship, I cry every single time...and I'm not even slightly ashamed to admit it.

That this movie finished second behind Bull Durham in the best sports movie ever poll on ESPN should have been ESPN's cue to stop covering sports forever. An absolute fucking travesty that. Anyway, I'm officially blathering, so we should probably move on, but I'll leave you with this questionMark: what's the second best basketball movie ever? (And, no, High School Musical doesn't count.) It's almost certainly Hoop Dreams, but if we're excluding documentaries, I'd argue that it's not White Man Can't Jump or Above the Rim (though the latter is extremely watchable), but rather the criminally underrated Love and Basketball, featuring Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Mark: No love for 'Blue Chips'? C'mon, Bob Cousy hit all of those free throws take after take! Seriously, I'd toss an actual vote towards Spike Lee's "He Got Game," and a semi-serious vote towards that stalwart from your previous list, 'Teen Wolf.'

Kyle: Blue Chips, game footage aside (and the ten minute sequence where Nick Nolte recruits his star class) is pretty terrible...and He Got Game is basically one great scene (the Allen-Washington one-on-one game) sandwiched between 110 minutes of crap (and that's leaving aside the preposterously poor ending). Teen Wolf is up there, but I'm standing by my original answer(s).

Other Nominees...

Ferris Bueller's Day Off: There's long been a story (quite possibly apocryphal) that, upon seeing this movie, Jack Nicholson seriously contemplated retiring after seeing this movie (reasoning that, if this was the kind of movie people wanted to see, he couldn't provide/had no interest in providing that), which has struck me as somewhat of a hysterical overreaction. Screw The Breakfast Club (which has always struck me as incredibly artificial...and not in a funny way like Ferris) and Sixteen Candles (I'm not a girl!), FBDO has always been the quintessential high school movie for me. Some fun facts about the movie: did you know that Ferris was supposed to have a younger brother and sister in the movie, but they cut it out for time? Or that Broderick was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work here? (That, some fifteen years later, Broderick went back and basically took on the role of Mr. Rooney in the suberb Election? Genius.)

Stand By Me
: great movie. Happy to report that, having seen it less than a month ago, it's aged much better than you might expect. Not much else to say (does anyone not love this film?), so let's focus for a second on the sheer awesomeness of Stephen King's Different Seasons, a novella which contained the stories that were adapted into The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, and Apt Pupil. (The fourth story, incidentally, is "The Breathing Method," and it's so profoundly stupid--short version: a mother being decapitated while giving birth plays a prominent role--that it's safe to say King isn't going to go 4 for 4 here.) Anyway, I realize that Apt Pupil isn't much of a movie, but the story itself is, I assure you, spectacular. So, yeah, not a bad book.

I wonder how Oliver Stone feels about his (arguably) most accomplished film (though you could probably make a case--and I will--that this should really be JFK) is more or less remembered for its moving score ("Adagio for Strings"--which, it turns out, was actually written in the 1930s...oh) ...and not much else. Which is kind of a shame, because although Platoon doesn't exactly re-invent the cinematic wheel (good vs. evil! In the form of sergeants! You'll never guess how it pla--oh, you figured it out? OK.) , it's awfully engaging.

Aliens: I recall enjoying this one much more than the first, which I believe puts me in a distinct minority.

movie from 1986 that I probably should've seen by now: The Fly (one of Carrie's favorites)

Mark: Jack Nicholson, in 1987, appeared in The Witches of Eastwick, so he's not exactly the best barometer for high-quality motion pictures. As for Stand By Me, I totally forgot about it in my list, quite possibly because I haven't see the movie in at least 18 years. That's the one where Jack Bauer kills a terrorist in the woods and some children happen upon the body before it's eaten by a cougar, and the kids are then frightened by a survivalist (Kevin Dillon), right?

Kyle: I think so...but one of the kids also gets amnesia...and radiation poisoning...and a nerve gas attack. (Yeah, I really beat that one to death. Sorry.)

1987: Full Metal Jacket: huh. This is, at best, Kubrick's 6th or 7th strongest film (trailing the obvious big three--Clockwork, 2001, and Strangelove--plus The Shining, but also probably Lolita and The Killers). That might not seem especially damning, given how talented Kubrick was, but I'll also add this: I'm not even particularly fond of FMJ. (All of this, of course, points to 1987 being a particularly weak movie year.) Anyway...back to Jacket: the first section is spectacular (with Vincent D'Onofrio, Matthew Modine, and R. Lee Ermey acting their guts out), but the second part (which, when it arrives, is totally--and deliberately--jarring) is markedly less interesting. Still, it looks fantastic. That Kubrick was able to make coastal England look like a bombed-out Vietnam is, of course, staggering. But let's set that aside. The real marvel is the basic training footage. Note in particular the long tracking shots (used throughout the training scenes) where Ermey (as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman) berates his men. Or the looooong stationary shots when Pyle is singled out by Hartman (there's also one where it's just Pyle gazing at something seemingly just off camera, and it's clear that he's slowly unraveling). Finally, there's the use of shadow and light during Pyle's meltdown, which makes a disturbing scene that much more horrifying. So, yeah, I've kind of talked myself into this pick.

Other nominees...

The Princess Bride: I don't think I love this movie as much as most (the god-awful Scrubs episode dedicated to it didn't help), but I still love it.

The Untouchables: I was going to say that this movie has the dubious distinction of being the only Brian de Palma directed film that I actually like, but I forgot about Casualties of War (incredibly disturbing...and probably would've been better if Michael J. Fox decided to play it as the Wolf, but still pretty good), Carrie (awesome) and Mission: Impossible (awesome), so never mind. the hell is he a famous director? This is baffling. Five good movies in 49 years (I'm spotting you Blow Out)? His lifetime achievement montage is going to be incredibly uncomfortable (or: 45 seconds long).

OK, but there's no denying that this is one of his better efforts. Fun (spoilerish) fact about the film: Any police officer seen drinking alcohol on-screen in this film is killed (h/t imdb). Never noticed that. Also (hilariously), John Candy was the studio's first choice to play Capone.

House of Cards: Mamet's first movie. Saw this not too long ago and it's...pretty good (again: 1987 = weak). I'm positive it'd be better with anyone other than Lindsay Crouse (aka Buffy's prof that worked for the Initiative in season four) in the lead role, who is just so awful (is it possible to be both wooden and robotic in a performance? If so, she is), that it has to be seen to be believed. She's spectacularly bad. An absolute career-killer. The other thing is, while this may have been a cutting edge con man movie in 1987, it has not aged particularly well. The twist (when it comes) is so obvious that you'll only be shocked if you haven't seen...any of the following: Matchstick Men, The Grifters, The Game, Heist, The Score, all of Sawyer's flashbacks, or the episode where Gary and Sam convinced the gang at Cheers that the Old Town Tavern was being run by a gangster. (I was convinced that the twist itself was a twist. Alas, no. It was just blatantly telegraphed.) That said, I'd probably watch Joe Mantegna do his taxes for 105 minutes, so I'm giving it a thumbs-up (and the first thirty minutes are super).

Raising Arizona: this film--a perfectly serviceable if unmemorable outing by the Coen Brothers--is basically a protest vote against the incredibly overrated Wall Street. That is all. movie from 1987 that I probably should've seen by now: Empire of the Sun or Broadcast News

Mark: I'd be interested in taking the stopwatch to FMJ and timing exactly how long the boot camp segment lasts. My vague recollection is that it lasts a little over an hour, and the war sequence lasts the remaining 50 minutes of the movie. Honestly, Kubrick should've just endeavored to stretch the training portion to 90 minutes and just made that the whole movie, since the war sequence is wholly unnecessary and tacked-on. I don't know if Kubrick just felt that taking years to make a 90-minute film wouldn't have been worth it or what. Fun fact: R. Lee Ermey was hired as an advisor for the film, but ended up playing the role of Sgt. Hartman based on an audition tape wherein Ermey improvised 15 minutes' worth of original insults.

Re: House Of Cards. I enjoy most of Mamet's plays/films, but I'd argue that his greatest flaw is that he generally writes female characters very poorly. Then, compounding the problem, he does a fairly poor job of casting these roles in his films so he can't even salvage the problem with a good actress (his wife, the terrible Rebecca Pidgeon, has come close to ruining many a Mamet film). [And the woman Mamet divorced to marry Mrs. Pidgeon? None other than the aforementioned Lindsay Crouse.]

Re: De Palma. He holds a special place in the heart of many film theorists, as he is widely considered to the most derivative director of the last 30 years. He steals, copies and 'pays homage to' (his take on it) many shots and filming ideas from countless better films without an original idea of his own. De Palma is the P. Diddy of directing. Oh, btw, John Candy would've gotten an Oscar nomination if he had played Capone. There is no limit to my appreciation for John Candy's talent. That guy was an acting machine just waiting to explode (unfortunately, his heart exploded first).

Kyle: lots of good trivia from FMJ, including the fact that, mid-shoot, Ermey nearly died in a car accident, forcing them to delay filming for several weeks. (Bonus points, too, for Ermey playing House's dad and the Janitor's dad on Scrubs.) Anyway, I feel like you should go back and re-watch FMJ, since it hangs together in the second half rather better than you might have remembered (it's far more nuanced than, say, Platoon). Plus: Adam Baldwin (!) plays Animal Mother.

1988: Big: just a wonderful movie. I hope that when Tom Hanks retires he gets his due for his performance here, because he's pitch-perfect. (Remind me again why he doesn't do comedies anymore?) No one else (in 1988) could've played the part the way Hanks did. (I know he was nominated for Best Actor at the time, but I feel like Big is often dismissed as "minor Hanks"). All of which makes this following factoid all the more interesting: Hanks was initially offered the part, but turned it down. At this point, the part was offered to (wait for it...) Robert DeNiro (!?!)...and we'd likely still be discussing the scene where Billy inexplicably beats a man in his office to death for stealing his drink box were it not for the fact that DeNiro asked for a ridiculous $6 million for the part (the film was ultimately made for about $18 million). Hanks ended up being available...and made a third of what DeNiro sought. So...yeah. Wild, no?

As much as it pains me to give Penny Marshall any credit whatsoever, her tactic to: "give star Tom Hanks an idea of how a 12 year-old would behave, director Penny Marshall filmed each "grown-up" scene with David Moscow (Young Josh) playing Tom Hanks's part, who then copied David Moscow's behavior" (h/t imdb) was right on the money. Beyond that, the movie doesn't require much dissection, so I'll close with this: Elizabeth Perkins = statutory rapist? Probably best there wasn't a sequel.

Mark: Wait a minute, so Hanks just copied the kid's actions? That doesn't seem terribly fair. That's the 1980's equivalent of "Depp based his whole performance off of Keith Richards." If De Niro had been able to pull off this role, that would've shot him into the upper tier of great actors, rather than peaking in the second tier. And, finally, I've never seen Big. Oops.

Kyle: Wow (the Big thing and the De Niro thing). I would certain qualify as a De Niro doubter (wait until 1995, when I shit all over the vastly overrated Heat), but even I think old Bobby is first tier. Godfather II, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, The Deer Hunter (which, incidentally, I hate), Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Mission, Untouchables, Goodfellas, Midnight Run, Awakenings, and This Boy's Life? That's not bad. That he hasn't been in anything decent since Meet the Parents (nine years ago)--aside, interestingly enough, from his brief appearance in the very good (if overlong) The Good Shepherd, which he also directed--certainly works against him, but he's gotta be top tier.

Other nominees...

Die Hard: was tempted to make this my #1 for '88, but it's probably a bit too one note for that (says the guy that picked Hoosiers for 1986). Still, Die Hard remains totally awesome.

Rain Man: if you're like me, you probably remember the kick-ass blackjack montage, Hoffman and Cruise driving in that convertible, the K-mart reference, the People's Court reference, Hoffman's meltdown re: the bathtub, the toothpick scene, and the thing with the jukebox...and that's probably it. Case in point: do you remember why Cruise is driving Hoffman across the country? Me neither (I looked it up: it's to meet with Cruise's lawyers). Doesn't make it a bad movie, just one that, in retrospect, doesn't amount to a whole lot. There's no there there.

(Also, somewhat inexplicably, I own this soundtrack--instrumental only--on vinyl. Like: I actually made a point of going out and buying it.)

The Naked Gun: afraid to watch this again, for fear that it's secretly dreadful...but, my God, was it ever funny twenty years ago.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?:
see explanation for previous nominee. (Am I wrong in thinking that this movie was remarkably mature--and I'm not even talking about the LaserDisc version, where, if you watch it in slow motion, you can see Jessica Rabbit's naughty bits in places--for a "kids" movie? I would love to see a feature in Psychology Today comparing movies we watched as kids--Gremlins, WFRR?, Temple of Doom--to the movies kids today watch--the Disney and Pixar catalogue, SpongeBob, etc.--and then a determination of how much more fucked up we are than the current generation as a result.)

Bull Durham: lots of fun, and I'm willing to acknowledge as much, so long as people admit that it's a cute romcom...that just so happens to feature baseball players...and not the other way around ...and not the other way around. Case in point: the scene with the mound visit where the players and coaches are discussing what a suitable wedding gift is? Delightful...but would never in a million years happen in an actual baseball game. Am I being petty? Absolutely! But I'm also not wrong.

movie from 1988 that I probably should've seen by now: Dangerous Liasons...also: J'Accuzzi.

Mark: Wait a minute, Die Hard is one-note?! It's an action movie! How many notes does it need? Also, in regards to Rain Man, remember Valerie Golino? What the hell happened to her? She was in tons of movies in the late 80's/early 90's and then just dropped off of the face of the earth. I suspect she went to a top-secret clinic in Zurich, had her Italian-ness surgically removed and then re-emerged as Rashida Jones.

Kyle: lol. Yeah...that was actually a stupid thing to write about Die Hard. ([grumble, grumble] "I wanted more character development...") My bad.

1989: Say Anything...: '89 strikes me as a really deep draft class with no real Hall of Famers. By which I mean, Say Anything...--which I didn't see until 2003 or so--is, pretty clearly, a wonderful movie, but it ain't exactly cracking anyone's all-time Top 10, is it now? I just happen to like it slightly more than anything else that came out in 1989. That's alright. Some years are like that. Like many mid- to late-80s movies, I feel it's victimized by its one iconic scene (Cusack holding the stereo over his head outside Ione Sky's house), in that people tend to remember that part at the expense of the rest of the film. (Other examples: the jewelry case scene in Pretty Woman, the giant piano sequence in Big, and the batdance in Batman...ok, maybe not that last one.) Here, the ending serves to obscure the fact that this is probably the best writing Cameron Crowe's ever done. (That this is the same person that would go on to write and direct the positively atrocious and virtually unwatchable Elizabethtown--ostensibly, also a romcom--is kind of staggering.)

Excellent performances here by Cusack, Skye (WTHIGOW her, btw?), and John Mahoney....and full credit to this film for beginning as what seems like a forgettable generic romantic comedy, but actually delivering so much more. Make no mistake, it's still a romcom, but at least it's one that presents the viewer with realistic obstacles between the two leads. As an added bonus, John Mahoney is one of the few token romcom parents that actually brings something to the table (I won't spoil if you haven't seen it, but suffice to say his C-story becomes a B-story about two-thirds of the way through the movie, and an engaging one at that).

Mark: Man, aside from Full Metal Jacket, I haven't seen ANY of your top picks yet. This is getting sad. I think Ione Skye literally didn't work again until she played Ann's mother on Arrested Development ("I want to please you secularly!")

Kyle: I forgot that was her! Nice.

Other nominees....

Do The Right Thing: this is going to sound so stupid, but do you know what DTRT is great at? Conveying heat. It's basically impossible to watch this film and not empathize with Mookie, in that cramped apartment with that tiny fan, sweating his balls off...and just being miserable. May seem like a small thing, but it hooked me. This is also why I'm a bigger fan of Summer of Sam than pretty much anyone I know. If you catch it again (though it's never on, so you'd probably have to rent it), note Spike Lee's use of orange, red, and yellow filters throughout. Half the time NYC seems like it's about to explode (literally), which, thematically, is of course perfect for a movie about serial killer on the loose.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:
secretly awesome, the final third in particular.

I was going to ask whether you thought this was the 2nd or the 3rd best movie in the series, but I went back and double-checked your best superhero movies list from last May and saw that Batman Begins was #1 (now, presumably, #2) and that the original Batman is #7 (now #8), so that settles that. What really surprised me is that you seem to have Batman and Batman Returns (#9) as more or less even, while I think the former is far superior to the latter, which really foreshadowed the campiness the series would quickly descend into. Anyway, here's perhaps a better question...who is a better Batman/Bruce Wayne: Bale or Keaton? Hint: my answer might surprise you.

Field of Dreams:
terribly sappy, but it's hard not to like this movie. My problem now is that, as a result of a frequent exchange between Misha (erstwhile blog contributor) and (friend of blog) Jeff Teolis, the emotional heart of the movie--"hey dad, wanna have a catch?"--now causes be to descend into a giggle fit paroxysms of laughter.

movie from 1989 that I probably should've seen by now: My Left Foot: note that, had Carrie been aware of this at the time, there's about a 25% chance she wouldn't have accepted my proposal...)

Mark: Bale is the better Bruce Wayne, but Keaton (though I totally don't subscribe to the 'Bale makes his Batman voice sound too silly' theory) is the better Batman. I wouldn't call 'Returns' any campier than the original; I mean, Joker pulled a 15-foot long gun out of his pocket and shot down the Batplane. That seems higher on the camp scale to me than Penguin's circus of crime. And wait, how is Last Crusade 'secretly' awesome? That's one of the few movies I know of that everyone loves.

Kyle: I think you're spot on about Keaton vs. Bale (although I will say that I like Keaton's interpretation of Wayne--suave--better than Bale's--kind of detached). As for Last Crusade, I say "secretly awesome" because I feel like #3 is treated as almost an afterthought to Indy fans. Everyone loved Raiders and thwn disliked/tolerated/or were indifferent to Doom. So when Crusade came out, everyone was relieved that it was more Raiders than Doom...and seemed content to leave it at that, when in fact Crusade is every inch the movie Raiders is and may, in fact, be even better.

1990: Goodfellas: the best movie of the decade...though my pick for '91 is close. I love how the movie covers 25 years (where a less confident director probably would've gone for half of that). I love the editing (tons of quick cuts). I love the soundtrack (though Scorcese would quickly become a parody of himself by doing the exact same thing with Casino, with seriously diminishing returns). And I love the intense paranoia of the third act. With a strung out Henry driving to the airport to pick up their drug mule, the helicopters buzzing overhead, and the tight handheld camera work, you, too, start to feel just a little bit twitchy. Finally, I love how Ray Liotta (do you remember him? He used to make really good movies...) unexpectedly breaks down the fourth wall in the film's penultimate scene. Just a fabulous film.

Other nominees...

Pretty Woman:
yeah, yeah, "wanna know how I know you're gay? You have Pretty Woman on your list of best movies for 1990." Screw it, I think it's winning.

Reversal of Fortune:
oddly, though Ron Silver's Alan Derschowitz is ostensibly the film's central character (it's based on his book, after all), it's Jeremy Irons (as Claus van Bulow) that carries this film. Without him, I have no doubt this would be totally forgotten. Worth seeing if you haven't already.

Miller's Crossing:
The best film noir this side of, say, Chinatown (and that's pretty heady company). I would give almost anything to shoot a scene as gorgeous as the forest execution. (Although, evidently, I'm not nearly so gay for it as Richard Corliss, who put it on his list of the 100 best films ever, and breathlessly described it as: "[film] noir with a touch so light, the film seems to float on the breeze like the Frisbee of a fedora sailing through the forest." Sure.)

Edward Scissorhands:
a sublimely executed dark fantasy. Easily my favorite Burton (and, come to think of it, Depp) movie. Amazingly, in a review I imagine he wishes he could have back, Roger Ebert panned the movie (click here for the suprisingly harsh review--dare I say he "shreds" it? Oh my god, I'm so sorry.)

movie from 1990 that I probably should've seen by now: Dances with Wolves

Mark: Goodfellas was pretty awesome, no question. Arguably his best directing job....though of course, not better than Kevin Costner's directorial flair (*shakes fist at Academy*). 'Pretty Woman' is a TERRIBLE movie. Virtually unwatchable. The funny thing is, if it had been done as a satire or as a drama, it would've been worthwhile. But as a straight romantic comedy? Give me a break.

Kyle: see, now you've put in the awkward position of noting that, about twenty paragraphs ago, you said you'd never seen Pretty Woman. Pick a side, Mark, we're at war. As for Dances with Wolves, it virtually running the table in 1990 (except, very tellingly, in the three acting categories where it was nominated) never really stops being annoying.

Mark: That's weird, upon further review, I did in fact list 'Pretty Woman' as one of my movies I haven't seen in 1990, in spite of the fact that I've actually seen it. Strange typo. I guess I could go back and fix it, but in the interest of letting the historical record stand, let's let my error be a stain on this post for all time.

1991: JFK: also has the distinction of being the only movie I can ever recall having an intermission (thank you, Capitol!). JFK happens to be the first movie I was ever really passionate about in a critical manner, in that I devoured absolutely every book I could get my hands on about Kennedy for the the 12-18 months following the film's release. (And no 13-year old should ever be as excited as I was when JFK took home its lone Oscar--for cinematography.) Nearly two decades on, I can see now that it's by no means a perfect movie--Kevin Bacon's character is totally extraneous and could easily have been cut from the film (which makes the fact that his character turns out to be a composite of several people--something I later discovered--even more annoying); the stuff with Garrison's family is pretty tedious; and so forth. But there are moments in movie that are so spectacular (Garrison talking to Donald Sutherland's X on that park bench, which leads into possibly the best montage ever committed to celluloid that doesn't involve the Hickory Huskers or Rocky scaling the tallest mountain in Russia) and so compelling (the trial itself, which is superbly executed), that I can easily forgive everything else. I think it's brilliant.

Mark: Kyle, stand back, since I'm about to blow the mind of your 13-year-old self. JFK actually won TWO Oscars, one for cinematography and one for editing. The editing Oscar, btw, may have been the most deserved award in the history of the Academy, given that Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia managed to cut Stone's directorial diarrhea into a somewhat coherent narrative. Over/under on the amount of Jack Daniels shots drunk by Hutshing and Scalia during the editing process: 312. Your list is making me feel like a dick. I either haven't seen your top choices, disliked them (JFK) or thought they should be halved (Full Metal Jacket). But I liked Goodfellas! That makes me a good fella in your books, right?

Kyle: No. (Wow...two Oscars! My worldview has been shaken.)

Other nominees...

The Silence of the Lambs: could easily be #1 for this year (it's undeniably great), but I gave JFK the nod because I feel it's slightly (considerably?) more audacious. (If you think about it, Lambs is very much a two-person play--no, Mark, not like Love Letters.) Here's a question: how come I never hear anyone talk about TSOTL kicking off the torture porn era? Admittedly, it's a bit of a stretch, since the Saw and Hostel series (along with lesser fair like Turristas and the Ruins) don't emerge on the scene until 2004, but can't their roots be found in the harrowing scenes between Buffalo Bill and the girl in the hole (Catherine Martin)? You could, I suppose, make a case that this all dates back to Friday the 13th and Halloween, but those are straight-up slasher movies. This intrigues me.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: two Costner movies in one year? Holy shit! Look, I've always felt that, provided you can get beyond the lack of an accent on Costner's part (and if you're still pissed he didn't even try, I urge you to check out Thirteen Days, a tremendous movie that Costner single-handedly nearly torpedoes with his horrific attempt at a Boston accent), this movie is pretty damn entertaining. I'm more than willing to concede that movie works far better when you're 12 than when you're nearly (sob) 30.

Terminator 2:
Despite my bitching about T2 in my write-up of the original (btw, I really liked Peter's comment about T2 being an inversion of T1--had never thought of it quite that way), I'm still a big fan of the second one...I just think it's kind of empty. My thinking is this: you can't really identify with Sarah Connor in the film (because she appears to be batshit insane), or John Connor (a whiny bitch), or The Terminator (seems silly now, but in '91, having just seen the original, I was convinced Arnold was going to turn on them). Which leaves us with...the T-1000. Now, make no mistake, Robert Patrick is amazing in the role (one of the ten best villains in history--not sure why he isn't commonly regarded as such), but if the villain is far and away the most interesting part of the movie, well...I dunno, it's strange, isn't it? [obligatory Dark Knight reference here]

The Commitments:
can't believe this one is nearly twenty years old. That's kind of depressing. Truthfully, I barely remember anything about this film, aside from it being a rollicking good time and having a kick-ass soundtrack. That's enough.

movie from 1991 that I probably should've seen by now: Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse

Mark: Interesting point about 'Lambs' and the torture-porn movies. I guess the difference, ultimately, is that a) Demme is actually a good director, whereas the Saw and Hostel movies are made by a cavalcade of hacks and b) there is very little actual violence or gore in TSOTL. The terror is almost entirely psychological, which is obviously far creepier than just showing, say, Buffalo Bill skinning a woman.

The best part about Prince of Thieves is Alan Rickman (note: this sentence can be re-used for virtually every Alan Rickman movie). I'm intrigued by this upcoming Robin Hood movie that Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe are working on, where Crowe will play both Robin Hood AND the Sheriff of Nottingham. My favourite production anecdote thus far has been that Sienna Miller was fired from the role of Maid Marion and replaced by Cate Blanchett because Blanchett was closer to Crowe in age. What great reasoning. They couldn't have just said "Cate Blanchett is a way, way better actress" rather than looking like idiots for making it seem as if they just now realized the 20+ year age gap between Miller and Crowe? This movie is off to a roaring start.

Kyle: I can't decide if the version of Sienna Miller being canned I read about is more or less embarrassing. Allegedly, she was let go because Crowe had gotten too fat (and refused to lose the weight) and Miller looked preposterous next to him. I mean, that's a dig at both Crowe AND Blanchett (of course, so is the age thing...albeit to a lesser extent). Agreed about Rickman. He's all kinds of awesome.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Worst Street In Toronto

This is a deep category, but my vote goes to St. Clair West, specifically between Keele and Young. This street is fucking clown shoes. Half of it is under construction, the other half should be. The lane markers are like suggestions that nobody follows, due to their being fainter than an Irish ghost. One particular half-block of buffoonery had the center streetcar track under construction, as well as the far lanes on BOTH SIDES OF THE ROAD undergoing work. This left drivers with roughly eight inches of room on either side to squeeze their vehicles through. It was three inches more than I needed with my Echo, but how in the world do city buses get down that street? Do they? Have there been a steady stream of buses disappearing into potholes like the popcorn truck going down Springfield's Main Street? I don't know what cause St. Clair is the patron saint of, but it sure isn't calm driving.

The best street in the city is Lawrence. Good lanes, little congestion, but my vote is mostly based on the legitimately gorgeous woman in the car behind me. I almost did an actual spit-take while glancing in my rearview mirror during a red light. Imagine a combination of Sarah Shahi and 1993-caliber Teri Hatcher. And, even better, she was clearly eye-fucking the shit out of me. I mean, she was staring straight the sexy back of my head, no doubt, or perhaps the even sexier back of my seat headrest. And when I put on my sunglasses when the sun moved out from behind a cloud, she PUT ON HER SUNGLASSES TOO. We call this the ol' miming trick in the flirt business, folks. Sadly, she turned left on Allen Road and drove out of my life, never to be seen again. This is what I get for not following The Hardy Boys' Detective Handbook's advice on always noticing license plate numbers. I could've hacked a Ministry of Transportation site, discovered her phone number, called her up.....okay, yeah, I see where this could be considered creepy. This is why Frank Hardy is currently serving four years for sexual assault. Not straight-arrow Joe; after his beloved Iola was car-bombed in the first of the Hardy Boys' Casefiles series, Joe turned to his best chum Chet Morton for comfort. Let's just say that the solution to the Mystery of Pirates' Cove ended up being 'booty.'

I used the 'capitalize words for comic effect' gag twice in one entry. I am a POOR WRITER.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Markademy Awards

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't seen Waltz For Bashir, Frozen River, The Visitor, Paranoid Park, Let The Right One In and The Class. But otherwise, this has been probably by best year yet for watching movies. Between living in Toronto, matinee screenings and theatre-hopping, I've gotten to see pretty much everything I've wanted to see. (Yeah, that's right, rule is that if the price tag exceeds $30 for a movie ticket, large popcorn and drink, then I'm helping myself to a second film. 'Thou shalt not steal' ranks behind my personal credo of 'thou shalt not be gouged.')

Brief prediction for the actual Oscar ceremony: this 'new format' that the producers are working on is going to be an eyesore that may deal a dancing-with-Snow-White-esque blow to Hugh Jackman's career. There's a very easy way to trim down the Oscar ceremony; just cut every dance number and montage aside from the Best Song performances and the "here's who died" roll call. Let the winners speak for as much as two minutes minimum each, because they just won a fucking Oscar, show some respect. Quit trying to squeeze the ceremony into three hours --- just accept that it'll be between 3.5 or four and live with it. Start the thing an hour earlier if it's such a big problem.

The only total tossup amongst an overall fairly predictable set of categories. Penelope Cruz won most of the critics' awards, but Kate Winslet captured some of the major guild awards plus the Golden Globe to put her into the driver's seat. Except, however, Winslet's performance in The Reader ended up being nominated in the lead category, thus leaving Supporting once again wide-open. (N.B. I'm at a loss to explain how Winslet's role in 'Reader' could've possibly been construed as anything other than a lead performance. She's physically on screen for two-thirds of the film. Her character and relationship with Michael are the driving force of the story. Winslet winning a supporting Oscar for this movie would've been like Helen Mirren winning supporting for 'The Queen.') So, Cruz is once again the prohibitive favourite, but her buzz seems to have died down. Could Viola Davis' acclaimed five minute-showstopper of a performance win the day? Or maybe Amy Adams, as a pseudo-makeup for her not being nominated for 'Enchanted' last year. Or, Marisa Tomei becomes a double Oscar-winner, Jerry! Interesting note: statistical guru Nate Silver predicted that the Oscar would go to the one nominee that almost nobody is talking about, Taraji P. Henson. I'd still say Cruz will probably win, but I'm suddenly very scared to be picking against a Silver prognostication.

Tough call. I'd really have no problems with any of them winning save Henson, who was an unremarkable as everything else in Benjamin Button. I think I'd ultimately have to go with Tomei, who creates a great alternate story of her own aside Mickey Rourke's tour-de-force. One 'Wrestler' review made the great point that you could easily make a different cut of this movie called 'The Stripper' dealing with most of the same themes. Plus, it would be some nice vindication for Tomei to win again after her first Oscar was considered to be a running joke for about a decade.

Alterna-ballot: Saffron Burrows (The Bank Job), Marina Hands (Tell No One), Jane Lynch (Role Models), Frances McDormand (Burn After Reading), Kristin Scott Thomas (Tell No One)

Is there any way Heath Ledger couldn't win? I mean, normally I wouldn't even have a second thought about this, but given how the Academy shafted The Dark Knight in every other major category, they wouldn't possibly throw one final FU by giving the trophy to someone else, could they? In all honesty, it would be genuinely cruel to give the Oscar to anyone but Ledger, not just for his sake, but for the sake of the would-be winner as well. A guy like Michael Shannon (a relative unknown getting the biggest acknowledgment of his career just by being nominated) would be tarred forever as 'the guy who stole Heath Ledger's Oscar.' It would be even worse in Shannon's case given that his Revolutionary Road character was, more or less, a Joker-esque chaotic element character in 1950's suburbia. And I'm not just focusing on Shannon --- poor Philip Seymour Hoffman would be 2-for-2 in arguably undeserving Oscar wins over Ledger, since many felt Ledger's "Brokeback Mountain" role should've earned him the statue over Hoffman's Truman Capote in 2005. Josh Brolin, the least deserving of the nominees, would also feel a backlash. The only one who could escape unscathed is probably Robert Downey Jr., since he's awesome and a win would complete his big comeback year. All four of these other nominees did very good work (even Brolin, though I didn't think he should've been nominated), and it would be unfair for them to take the brunt of a media firestorm due to an Academy screw-up. I'm probably overthinking that will more than likely be a surefire win for Ledger, but this is what happens when AMPAS decides to ignore the best movie of the year due to a stupid reason. It makes a brother paranoid.

Ledger, in the biggest slam dunk this side of Dwight Howard.

Alterna-ballot: Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight), Ralph Fiennes (In Bruges/The Reader), Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-Lucky), Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight),

As mentioned earlier, Winslet's 'Reader' performance ended up being the one in the Best Actress category, rather than her role in 'Revolutionary Road.' Good call by the Academy, since her 'Reader' role was better, and it'll likely be good enough to earn Winslet her first Oscar after five unsuccessful nominations. All signs point to Winslet winning --- Meryl Streep has two Oscars already, Angelina Jolie has won already, Melissa Leo's nomination is in itself a victory a la Michael Shannon, and Anne Hathaway's nomination is enough to get her considered as a serious actress (though 'Bride Wars' makes it a two steps forward, one step back situation).

Ironically, as much as I love Kate Winslet, if I had a vote, she'd be going 0-for-6. The best actor in the world, Meryl Streep, brought her A-game to 'Doubt,' and I just felt she did a better job of carrying that film with an equally difficult role. Interestingly enough, while Streep received mostly plaudits for her role, the only naysayers were reviewers who had seen the original Broadway version of 'Doubt' and noted that Streep just couldn't quite live up to the standard set on the stage. Who was that Broadway Sister Aloysius? None other than Cherry Jones, currently delivering a passable-to-good performance as President Taylor on 24. Clearly there's only one way to settle this debate --- cast Streep as, say, Chloe's mother. I would literally pay to see that happen.

Alterna-ballot: Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), Samantha Morton (Synecdoche, New York), Kristin Scott Thomas (I've Loved You So Long), Elsa Zylberstein (I've Loved You So Long)

While I said earlier that most of the major races are predictable, the Best Actor race is only predictable in the sense that the Oscar will go to either Sean Penn or Mickey Rourke. Pitt is there on his movie's coattails, Richard Jenkins joins Shannon and Leo in toasting their careers and while Frank Langella might've been a contender in another year, the awards season has been all about Penn and Rourke. Like a classic wrestling match (or political campaign), the two have gone back and forth in winning critics' and guild awards, but I think in the end, it will be Rourke putting away Penn with a Ram Jam off of the top rope. The Academy loves a good comeback story, and Penn did just win an Oscar five years ago....though had Peen been beaten by Bill Murray in 2003, then suddenly this matchup would've been one of the Hollywood annals. The gifted but troubled veteran coming back for one career-defining role vs. the acclaimed but multiple-loser nominee in a showcase important role. While I think Rourke wins, Penn is still a strong dark horse, given the Academy's love of 'Milk' and a general sentiment that Hollywood will want to make a pro-gay statement in the wake of Proposition 8. If it's the latter, maybe they should go back in time three years and not have Brokeback Mountain lose the Oscar to fucking Crash.

I enjoy Langella as much as the next guy, and I didn't see 'The Visitor' so I can't judge Jenkins fairly, but for me this is also a two-horse race between Penn and Rourke. My determining factor was, simply, there are a few other actors in Hollywood who could've played Harvey Milk as well as Penn did. But nobody could've delivered as Randy The Ram to the extent that Rourke did. 'The Wrestler' was a film that was made or broken on the lead performance, and Rourke didn't just make the movie, he elevated it to instant classic status. Fun fact: apparently the studio was going to give Darren Aronofsky a bigger production budget if he cast a bigger-name actor (specifically Nicolas Cage) as Randy the Ram, but Aronofsky turned down the extra money in order to keep Rourke. Thank god for Darren Aronofsky. Nick Cage, god love him, would've turned this movie into Rocky III.

Alterna-ballot: Francois Cluzet (Tell No One), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino), Colin Farrell (In Bruges), David Kross (The Reader)

Danny Boyle has this one in the bag. There is virtually no scenario where Van Sant, Howard, Daldry or Fincher pull an upset. Nate Silver, btw, gives Boyle a 99.7% chance of winning, and really, where do you ever see anything with a 99.7% success rate? There isn't that much of a chance that I'll finish this post. I could be distracted by an internet quiz or go make a sandwich or the language center of my brain could suddenly shut dowkggertyjergksrgprekgsmgrkgjrpgrkgjrkgjslppplb

CHRISTOPHER FUCKING NOLAN....ahem, er, yeah, Danny Boyle. He does a great job of balancing fantasy with brutal realism, and an Oscar is a great way to solidify a career that has had its ups and downs. Props go out to Van Sant and Howard for making their films more than just standard historical bio-pics. Also, props to Daldry for joining Scorsese and Eastwood as the only directors this decade with three Best Director nominations (nothing against Stephen Daldry, but that's a pretty surprising stat). As for Fincher, well, uh, hey man, I still like Se7en. Though I'm not a big 'Button' fan, that doesn't mean I didn't think you had one major directing achievement in 2008.

Alterna-ballot: Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Jonathan Demme (Rachel Getting Married), Jon Favreau (Iron Man), Mike Leigh (Happy-Go-Lucky), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight)

Slumdog shooter Anthony Dod Mantle is the favourite, leaving Dark Knight's Wally Pfister pfucked over and Reader's Roger Deakins wondering whose leg he has to hump to get an Oscar, given that the cinematographic legend will now be 0-for-eight nominations. I doubt that the Academy would have the balls/sense of humour to do this, but my hope for Sunday's ceremony is that host Hugh Jackman talked his buddy Christian Bale into presenting the cinematography Oscar and then bitching at the winner for standing in his sightline.

As usual, this is the "we really liked your movie, but not enough to put it up for any of the really big awards, but I hope you'll like this nomination, so cheers!" category. It's possible that Academy darling Mike Leigh could pull an upset and capture his first Oscar, but this one is in all likelihood going to 'Milk' writer Dustin Lance Black.

Simon Beaufoy will take this as part of the Slumdog Sweep. Though it would be a great practical joke if the Academy broke into Eric Roth's house, stole his 'Forrest Gump' Screenplay Oscar, and presented it back to him, except painted brown and with an added base made out of Lego. Then they could say, "See? We can also make your 'Gump' work longer and less interesting." Zing!

As much as I've complained about 'The Dark Knight' not getting anywhere with Oscar voters, its snub was somewhat predictable. The much bigger and more completely inexplicable snub was Bruce Springsteen's "Wrestler" song not being nominated. I was legitimately floored when I read the list of nominations and didn't see the Boss pop up. Slumdog's "Jaiho" will win the actual award, but my alterna-ballot here is obviously Springsteen's track, "Little Bird" from Synecdoche, New York and "Dracula's Lament" from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I would've taken whatever money I had left over from paying Meryl Streep to be on 24 and put it towards seeing Jason Segal, a keyboard and a bunch of puppets performing during an Oscar ceremony.

It's pretty clear that by this point, it's not a question of if 'Slumdog Millionaire' will win Best Picture, but more a question of how many Oscars will it win along the way. 'Slumdog' can't throw a perfect game since, with two Best Song nominees, it has to cancel itself out, but it's quite possible that the movie goes 9-for-10. Maybe WALL*E or Dark Knight beats it in one of the sound editing categories, too. Again, as much as it galls me that Dark Knight didn't make the final cut, it bothers me a bit less since Slumdog is a genuinely great movie in its own right and a deserving winner, and three of the other nominees (Reader, Frost/Nixon, Milk) are all very good, well-made films. 'Benjamin Button,' meanwhile, is this year's recipient of the THIS Got A Best Picture Nomination?!?! Award, joining such past luminaries as Munich, A Beautiful Mind, The Full Monty, The Hours, etc.

Slumdog was the best of the nominees, but forget about that, now it's time for the prestigious winner of the Markademy Award for Best Picture. The envelope please....pause to make small-talk with the unseen envelope-hander a la Bob Saget on America's Funniest People....and the winner is, The Dark Knight. I think the TDK snub that most irritated me was the lack of recognition for the screenplay. Upon watching the movie a second time, I was struck by how there is literally not a wasted moment in the entire 2.5 hours. Every single plot element is set up and then paid off five, ten or even 100 minutes later. There's enough in this script for five films. Hell, you could make a 90-minute thriller solely based on Batman going to Hong Kong to get Lau, and that plot point just takes up the first sixth of the movie. The biggest difference between a good movie and a bad one is that bad movies almost inevitably take too long or don't take long enough to set their story in motion. The Dark Knight sets about twelve plates spinning in the air and manages to keep them all balanced until the very last shot. Forget it being ambitious for a "comic book movie" --- this was one of the most ambitious movies of any year, and the Academy's failure to nominate it is just another black eye on the Oscar ceremony. The point of the Oscars is that they're supposed to celebrate the best of the cinema in 2008, and to try and make that claim without Dark Knight among the top nominees is, pardon the pun, a joke.

Honourable mention: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Happy-Go-Lucky, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler