Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Buster H. McHenry Presents...TELEVISION Episode 1

This is a new full length TV show or most likely new Web show, I made called BUSTER H. McHENRY PRESENTS...TELEVISION. This is the pilot episode and is not the complete final cut. This is just a preview of a possible show, I am going to make here and there. Click on the link and enjoy.


Thank You.
Eli Osman

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Episode 10 - Interview w/Andy Milligan

In this strange episode, Eli Osman interviews Andy Milligan, director of the 1989 film "The Weirdo". Eli chats with the director after a screening of "The Weirdo" at the OCAT Theatre in Portsmouth, Ohio. Enjoy.


Episode 9 - Hastily Put Together Best of 2009 List

We are popping out episodes like gangbusters. In this episode, Eli Osman chats with Tucker Battrell from http://thiscoleslawmakesmesick.blogspot.com. They quickly put together their top ten favorite movies of 2009 and also discuss the best movie of 2010 and the rest of the willennium. Enjoy.


What to look for in 2010. The Year Cinema Peaks.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


In September, Andrew Ford and I went to a B-Movie festival in Indiana. This is a special recording of our thoughts on that trip.



Episode 8 - Interview w/Bucksnort S. Bucksnort


In this new episode in several months, Eli Osman interviews musician songwriter Bucksnort S. Bucksnort from Boise Idaho. They chat about music, influences, movies, and stories from the past. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Top 25 Films of 2009, Part III [Die Darkman Die]

In a year where there were this many great films - in such a variety of genres and whatnot - to single out 10 would have been impossible (hence all of the other lists). But if I had to pick 10...and clearly I did...THESE are indisputably THE 10. I have debated this list, re-arranged films over and over again until I finally just could not do it anymore. These are the films I enjoyed the most this year, the films I'll watch over and over again (and on Blu-Ray now that this is an option).

These are the films that were, and this is the year that was.

The Top 10 Films of 2009:

#10. Observe & Report (Dir. Jody Hill)

I love everything about this film. It was down to the wire, whether or not this film belonged in its current #10 slot or if it should be higher. Or even lower, the next couple of rungs on this list aren't too shabby. Eventually, it settled here at the bottom of the top, at #10. And, frankly, it just feels right to place it here. Somewhere between a lot of the prestigious awards-crop, the over-achieving blockbusters, and the pleasant surprises of the year on my list, there had to be a spot for an absolutely brilliant, vicious, and almost unremittingly DARK comedy. Although World's Greatest Dad made its case as THE dark comedy of the year, it ultimately just didn't have the sure directorial hand behind it that this film does.

And part of this just comes down to how much I LOVE Jody Hill. I was slightly underwhelmed by The Foot Fist Way at first glance, although upon further viewings it's held up nicely. And Eastbound & Down is, well, amazing, but this film may be his crowning achievement. What's refreshing about it isn't just its sense of humor, but rather its overall aesthetic. Hill uses a handful of what appear to be flubbed lines or botched takes, and just lets them roll on in a way that feels like improvisation, but isn't cut to seem nearly as polished or natural as it is in something like Knocked Up, or even Pineapple Express. In fact, often they're cut to appear deliberately awkward. The entire film has a sort of off-the-cuff feel to it that makes all of the dark humor hit that much harder. Not to mention, Hill is more than a touch accomplished when it comes to using musical cues in his films. Although there may be a handful too many, my face still lights up every time I hear McLusky's "Lightsaber Cocksucking Blues" start up.

What's most refreshing about this film for me is its anarchic sensibility. You've got this lead character in Ronnie Barnhardt (portrayed impeccably by Seth Rogen) who is absolutely obsessed with law and order in his mall, so, naturally, some of the best moments of the film are when he just lets loose. Such as when he and a never-better Michael Pena just bash the hell out of a bunch of skateboarders in the mall parking lot. Or when he takes on an entire department's worth of police officers as they try to force him to leave the mall. Or even at the end, when things finally start looking up and then we're struck with one of the most haunting visions from a year filled with more than its fair share: the overweight streaker running in slow-motion through the mall as Rogen chases him to the Pixies' overused-but-appropriate-here "Where Is My Mind."

The way that that sequence ends quite possibly got the biggest laugh from me out of any film released this year. And considering what's to come on my list (and some of the absolute dreck I've forced myself to sit through), this is nothing short of an accomplishment.

#9. Up in the Air (Dir. Jason Reitman)

This is a movie that does just about everything right. It proves Reitman can tell a layered, nuanced story in a way his previous films hinted at but never quite achieved (and the less said about Juno, the better), but more importantly, it proves that Reitman can bring some truly great, understated performances out of his actors, and that...really, he has something to say as a filmmaker.

In myriad interviews (or at least the one I heard), he mentions how he prefers to use all of his films to explore an issue without really coming down on either side of it, and I feel this film paints both sides of an admittedly oblique thematic conceit with much more depth and, again, nuance, than either of his previous films. Both stated their concerns too blatantly, laid out both sides of an issue too clearly, and seemed like they were trying too hard. Here, Reitman wisely relies on the performances of an excellent cast to bring things out of the material, rather than giving them lines to spout off or positions to take on either side. He shows a confidence in his material that's been absent from his two previous features, but ultimately could only have been acquired through the trial and error of those films.

This film shows that, for all of his earlier films' weaknesses, he's learned the right lessons and has taken, with this film, strides in the right direction towards correcting them. This isn't a perfect film - there are loose ends and false starts sprinkled throughout, but the film has the wisdom to end with some ambiguity, and send you out of the theater still thinking about it.

I'd be remiss not to mention just how many excellent supporting turns there are (Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Danny McBride, etc.), or the comparisons I've read of Reitman to someone like Sydney Pollack (which, surprisingly, aren't as unwarranted as they may seem), or how the audience erupted with knowing laughter when Sam Elliott showed up (well, the 7-8 other people that were in the theater liked it), or simply how fascinating it's been to watch Reitman grow as a filmmaker, seeing every one of his films in theaters (although Juno had the misfortune of following Walk Hard in a double-bill, a fate that would cripple many much stronger films). In its own particular way, this film's one of the most rewarding theatrical experiences of the year. It's the kind of film I haven't really seen in theaters since Sideways, and arguably its bittersweet tone is much more prescient than that film's was. Ultimately, it's the kind of film that more Oscar-bait should aspire to be. Reitman is living, breathing proof that more filmmakers should come from English-major backgrounds, because he knows character and he knows storytelling. There, I said it.

Also noteworthy? That opening credits sequence.

#8. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Dir. Wes Anderson)

Before the American Express commercials and his underwhelming Darjeeling Limited, there was a Wes Anderson who everyone could love. He made great films, that were frequently quite humorous, and though some of them - such as The Life Aquatic - had some strange tonal shifts, in the end, they were still the work of a singular, interesting filmmaker. And then he crafted what was ultimately a forgettable film with The Darjeeling Limited, and subsequently found himself in a position where he needed to work himself back into the good graces of film fans everywhere. And he did. With aplomb. With aplomb to spare, even!

This is a remarkable, warm little film. It's crafted with the attention to detail and endearing quirks of character Anderson is notorious for, and yet here it just feels fresher than it has in a long time. His explorations of family dynamics and upper-middle-class-intellectual-living seem suited in their own strange way to this tale of a family of foxes, and Anderson manages to craft some of his most memorable characters out of Jason Schwartzman's Ash - a bit of an outcast at school and at home, who struggles to prove himself at every turn, and his cousin Kristofferson - who's just...awesome in every way.

The animation style is perfect, and no doubt what we all expected from Wes Anderson, with its emphasis on the hand-crafted nature of stop-motion animation, but I don't think anyone expected it to feel this fresh or be this compulsively watchable. And, to top it all off, Anderson's soundtrack choices again prove to be an absolute stroke of genius (the soundtrack to the film is impeccable), even down to his casting - and stop-motion animation - of Pulp's own Jarvis Cocker as 'Petey.'

The film wasn't quite the box office success it could have been (perhaps audiences were more wary of auteur-helmed childrens' films after Where the Wild Things Are?), but I've no doubt this will become a perennial - perhaps even a Thanksgiving tradition. Regardless of its release date, it just feels right to watch this with a belly full of turkey and tryptophan slowly-but-surely inducing an afternoon's food coma, doesn't it? And I would be remiss were I not to mention before the end of this, um...treatise, of sorts, one of the finest moments in the film: Owen Wilson's description of everyone's favorite pastime, the immortal Whack-Bat. There have been few scenes committed to film that are as blissfully entertaining as that little gem.

#7. District 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp)

What did this cost - $30 million? $35 million? Let's double that for the extensive marketing budget, what is that, about $70 million? Now let's subtract any favors Peter Jackson might have asked his friends at WETA for, and let's say the budget skyrockets up to about $100 million, after marketing and with all favors marked back up to their original price. Hell, it might go from $35 to $100 on marketing alone, but that's beside the point. The point I'm making here is that, as great as it was that this film was allegedly 'cheap,' the film's greatest achievement is that it is, quite simply, GOOD. It doesn't matter how much it cost - Peter Jackson used what remained of his post-Lord of the Rings clout to bankroll a film for an unknown filmmaker with an unknown, non-actor, in the lead role. And he managed to, covertly, craft a $100-million-dollar investment package for Sony, which they thankfully bought hook, line, and sinker. It's as much a triumph of cleverly-worded proposals as it is true moxie.

But, regardless, this film is incredible. The best comment I've read anywhere about this film - likely the one that comes closest to what excites me most about it - comes from Massawyrm's list of the Best Films of 2009 (via Aintitcool), where this came in at the number one spot. His words:
"If you weren’t old enough for ALIEN or ROBOCOP or THE THING to melt your brain and become part of your DNA like it is with so many of us – this is what it felt like."
And the simple truth is: he's dead right. This film came out of nowhere, it is unapologetic genre fare at its most grimy and relentless extreme, and on top of that it's FUN, it's an insightful and subtle commentary on both immigration and apartheid, and it announces a major new talent that simply feels worthy of mentioning within the same breath as such genre luminaries as Ridley Scott or Paul Verhoeven or John Carpenter. And on top of all of this, it's not like any of us expected this film to deliver on this level, and if any of us did, we sure kept it to ourselves. It was the buzz coming out of its screening at Comic-Con, and the clever/inventive marketing blitz that built up this film to the opening weekend it had. And no, it didn't set the box office on fire - opening to about $30 million and then tripling that (and change) isn't exactly a shabby box office return, but it's hardly the makings of a phenomenon like The Hangover or The Blind Side (and, by the way, whoever greenlit those two films at Warner Bros. should be bathing in liquid gold right about now), but that doesn't change the fact that this film's success MEANS something. We're already getting more films bankrolled on the basis of technically-adept, effects-heavy short films (see: Sam Raimi and Mandate Pictures bankrolling a feature-film project for Federico Alvarez on the basis of HIS $500.00 short film, Panic Attack). This could be the new method studios will use to discover some of the genre filmmakers of the future.

But for all this film's grand meaning in the overall tapestry of film culture and worldwide box office returns, this film's greatest success in my opinion is that it features Guns That Make People Explode All Over the Place.

#6. A Serious Man (Dir. The Coen Brothers)

No one is as consistent as these guys. This is their third film in a row that has been as remarkably detailed and well-conceived as it is hilarious as it is depressing as it is thought-provoking. Granted, Burn After Reading was a bit of a lark - but nobody makes that kind of film as well as these guys. After No Country for Old Men, I thought they couldn't possibly make another movie THAT good. But they've come damn close two years in a row, and closest with this little gem of a film. Part of the time I find them maddening filmmakers, as their films - this one included - tend to be almost overly cerebral without any compassion for their characters, which I suppose makes them comparable to Hitchcock in that respect. But with this film, I feel like they've come closest to crafting something that's intelligent, while still being deeply compassionate towards its Job-like protagonist.

Yes, they put Michael Stuhlbarg's character, Larry Gopnik, through the ringer with this film. And I don't know if it's specifically his performance that does this or not, but you really feel for his character here. Here's a man who's really trying to just live a good life, and at every turn he's absolutely confounded by fate, or by God, and he just doesn't understand. He goes looking everywhere he can think of for help, but it's nowhere to be found. His brother, Arthur, is trying to compose an equation he refers to as 'The Mentaculus' that will solve everything, and his efforts - although somehow more practical - are equally futile.

And even at the end, the last time we see him he's heading to the hospital to pick up the results from a test we see conducted in the earliest frames of the film (again, the Coens are impeccable craftsmen), and his son is last seen outside of the school, heading with the other students to go back inside...and there's a tornado, bearing down on them both.

As haunting in its implications as their infamous ending for No Country (which I happen to LOVE), this film manages to match the sentiments of their earlier work with the density and biting humor of something like Barton Fink (which will likely prove their crowning achievement) to craft something wholly unlike any other film you've ever seen. And I haven't even mentioned the prologue of this film - which is arguably one of the finest scenes the Coens have ever crafted. Unfolding at a 1:33:1 ratio on the theater screen, an elderly Jewish couple in some European village sometime in the 19th century is visited by what the woman claims is a dybbuk, or an evil spirit (take THAT, The Unborn!). The husband doesn't quite believe her, but nonetheless, he's spooked. What unfolds afterwards is the film in microcosm, in a way only the Coens seem to be capable of expressing. This entire film is the story of a man struggling to come to terms with the unknown, and with it, the Coens have crafted yet another masterwork.

#5. Up (Dir. Pete Doctor)

They are now 3 for their last 3. Cars remains their only anomaly, but Pixar has gotten back on its feet after that minor disappointment to rattle off a hat trick of awesome with 2007's Ratatouille, last year's Wall-E, and this film (which could be their finest to date). The first 10-15 minutes of this film are absolutely devastating. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a robot. Never before have I so quickly been reduced to tears by a film. If some foolish person needed any more proof of Pixar's absolute mastery of visual storytelling after their work to date, look no further than here.

And though I feel this is their finest work to date, I can't pretend the film doesn't have abrupt tonal shifts (such as, let's say...from that opening to...the rest of the film), but they are all executed with a nuance and subtlety that the major tonal shift in the middle of last year's Wall-E simply wasn't. So they've figured out how to make their tonal shifts less abrupt, and I think it's safe to say they don't really have any other problems as storytellers. They are in a league of their own, at the head of the class, bar none, the finest and most consistent storytellers not just in animation but in filmmaking, period.

Although this film starts off with its entire audience silently weeping, the story that unfolds shortly thereafter is pure adventure, and frequently hilarious. Some of the jokes are executed a bit too on-the-nose, but they are few and far-between, and with the character of Dug ("I was hiding under your porch because I love you..."), they've crafted the most downright adorable and frequently hilarious character of the year. It's really difficult for me to think of anything I just don't really care for about this movie, as it gets everything right. After the slight tonal shift of the opening - which, really, if that's the only thing I can find to argue with in the entire film, I'd probably be better off commending their ambition for even attempting such a feat - this film just takes off, both literally and figuratively, and by the end we're left with the feeling of having gone on a remarkable adventure. This is what Disney used to do so well, and what Pixar has always done well. They really do make films you want to revisit over and over again.

Let me just boil this down to its basics. Pixar makes animated films, ostensibly for children, and somehow decided to make the lead character in this film a cranky, geriatric old man (who is most decidedly not a fan of flashdancing). They then spend the first ten minutes focusing on his lifelong relationship with his wife, and their inability to have a child, her sickness, and subsequent death. And THEN we get talking animals. For all of their merits, it's worth noting that the fine folk at Pixar also possess a pair of massive, brass balls.

#4. Star Trek (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

On paper, not only is this a film that shouldn't work. It flat out doesn't work at all. With plot holes massive enough to fly the Enterprise through, a relatively inexperienced filmmaker at the helm, and two of the three writers who brought us this summer's most empty entertainment delivery vessel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen...not to mention that this film has the audacity to have a character named Captain James Tiberius Kirk who is NOT played by William Shatner. This film simply does not work at all, in any capacity, whatsoever, in perpetuity.

But it does work. Through the pure, alchemical filmmaking on display here, Abrams manages to not only prove his worth as a filmmaker, but to restore a sense of vitality to the entire blockbuster experience. I mean, not only is this film successful from an entertainment standpoint, its ramifications for the business are immense. Decades after the first blockbuster (Jaws or Star Wars, depending on which planets happen to be in retrograde), Hollywood was in sore need of being reminded just what blockbuster filmmaking was all about, and Abrams delivered. He revitalized Star Trek as a franchise, and - if I may be so bold - made the finest Star Trek film to date in the process.

If you haven't seen this movie yet, you have - it's literally every other blockbuster ever made, beginning with Star Wars in particular and then moving on down the line - but this film proves that getting rid of the blockbuster formula isn't the solution to the increasingly vapid summer entertainments we've been receiving. Sometimes you've just got to love the formula that much harder to get it to work for you. You can tell Abrams truly loves his job, and loves this material. There's even a major segment of the story that Abrams took out of the film in order for the film to 'be a better ride.' You know who else thinks of films primarily as amusement park rides? That'd be Steven Freaking Spielberg - who, regardless of his latter-day transgressions (Amistad, anyone?), is the King of the Blockbuster. For better or worse, he's even the reason I love movies (See: Jurassic Park), so let's just say I can think of worse people for Abrams to model his career on. I mean, had I seen this film when I was, like, 10? I mean, I geek out over it now (they're sky-diving in space! And the redshirt's in a red suit!!!) - but when I was 10? Forget about it. There are very few films that get me THIS excited about the possibilities of filmmaking.

And it had Tyler Perry in it! I mean, come on, people. If that doesn't do it for you at the end of the day, I don't know what does.

#3. The Hurt Locker (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

That this film was budged from its number one spot - which it had occupied since LAST January, when a festival screener copy leaked online - really shows just how awesome this year's crop of films has been. From what I can gather, this film premiered in September, 2008, at Toronto, only to be picked up by Summit and, inexplicably, held onto for a limited release this past summer. Now, I don't know about you, but I think this film certainly could have benefited from the marketing push given to other films from Toronto '08 like Slumdog Millionaire or The Wrestler, two films that are quite frankly inferior to this one, but I digress. The film didn't do so hot at the box office this summer, either. But it persisted. And it's emerged here, at the end of the year, as a front-runner for the Oscars. Based solely on its merits as a film.

I just want to make sure I'm able to illustrate how appreciative I am of this. In recent years, films like Zodiac and frequent-best-of-the-decade-list-topper Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind have received rave reviews in their spring releases, only to fall out of the Oscar races towards the end of the year. This film has been popping up on a massive number of critics' top 10 lists, and as we approach the Academy Awards, it's looking to be a shoe-in for one of the ten Best Picture slots, with Bigelow likely to get at the very least a nomination for director, and possibly even a win if her husband's 9-foot-tall-blue-cat-planet isn't somehow deemed more impressive by the Academy than her achievement here (because frankly, it isn't). I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to see such amazing films get pushed aside in favor of films like Atonement and Juno and - perhaps worst of all - the one-two punch of Million Dollar Baby/Finding Neverland from 2004.

So it's nice to see a truly great film get the respect it deserves at the end of the year. That's all. It's a little film about a bomb tech squad working in Iraq that's been compared to something like Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Wages of Fear (and rest assured, it stands on that film's shoulders), and it could cap off the decade in film by winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Don't we all need that, as a country? Or, at the very least, as film fans?

And a few words about Kathryn Bigelow before this entry draws to a close - first of all, THIS is the film she's been building up to making her entire career. Until this film, Near Dark was her crowning achievement - and for the longest time the last word on vampire films in general, and then Point Break came along - and we can all agree that film was remarkable in some way. After that, she made Strange Days, a film that somehow managed to survive Juliette Lewis, and then kept relatively quiet until 2002's K-19: The Widowmaker, which upon closer inspection seems like a dry-run of sorts for this flick, down to a handful of recognizable cast members. Okay, one cast member - the Chaplain from this film had a bit part in K-19.

In closing, this isn't a perfect film - its ending is a touch rushed, and not quite fully-realized - but it's an impeccably crafted thriller, and it is unquestionably Bigelow's finest film to date.

#2. In the Loop (Dir. Armando Iannucci)

This should come as no surprise to anyone I talked to over the summer, because right after I saw this film, I could not shut up about it. I love everything about this movie. It led me to the wonders of 1990s British television, which in turn led me to Chris Morris - who debuted on Armando Iannucci's first television show, The Day Today, and later would go on to create the format of comedy with his show, Brass Eye, that Sacha Baron Cohen would soon appropriate. In 2000, Morris seemed set on re-inventing comedy as David Lynch-esque horror show with the unsettling and frequently terrifying 'comedy' show Jam. And, of course, Iannucci had a hand in Steve Coogan's most recognized persona, Alan Partridge - and even did a handful of episodes of his own program, The Armando Iannucci Shows. So I essentially spent the entire summer falling in love with British sketch comedy and discovering just how far comedy itself could go, and that's all a result of this film. Which I have seen FIVE TIMES at this point, more than any other film on this list.

If you'd let me borrow five minutes of your time, I'd attempt to show you the beginning of this film and then implore you to watch the rest. This is the film on my list that I absolutely HAD to share with people. This is probably the only film on this list I could watch on repeat and not get sick of. Ladies and gentlemen, this film managed to catch me completely off-guard, and happened to cater to my own particular warped sensibilities so much that it even influenced me from a career perspective, as I've recently focused on writing satirical comedy rather than...well, anything else. In any other year, this film would be number one on the list, but I just couldn't quite give it the edge. If I have to be completely honest, there's about 5 jokes out of the 10,000 in this film that fall a bit flat. So I have to downgrade it from the funniest movie ever made to, simply, the most biting political satire since Dr. Strangelove.

And I simply cannot recommend it enough. I haven't even really begun to discuss its many assets - from Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker, a character that has absolutely mastered the art of swearing, to Anna Chlumsky! from My Girl! In a small role! To James Gandolfini, perfectly cast as a general...well, I forget his name at the moment, we'll call him General Flintstone. This film is remarkable in every way. They even manage to make use of the wet blanket of a villain from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, Tom Hollander, as the closest thing to a protagonist the film really gives us, and he shows his true talents perhaps lie in comedy rather than half-baked villain-ry. And it would simply be irresponsible of me to not mention Steve Coogan, who absolutely KILLS it in a small role as a man concerned about the stability of a wall bordering his mothers' garden.

I cannot recommend this film enough, and would like to take the opportunity to mention that this film, The Hurt Locker, and Moon all reach DVD and Blu-Ray next Tuesday, on January 12th. So starting January 12th, none of you have any excuse. You all have the ability to better your lives immeasurably by checking out all of these films if you haven't already at a Blockbuster or Movie Gallery near you. Or possibly Netflix.

#1. Inglourious Basterds (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

I had to do it. In case you haven't noticed during this entire year-end countdown, I love films and filmmaking And I think it's fairly clear that Tarantino also loves films and filmmaking. So it was inevitable that this would show up, and really the only logical conclusion once you reached #2 on the list. This could be the film of Tarantino's that is MOST in love with films and filmmaking, if that's possible. But this film also has the added benefit of not being indebted to Tarantino's favorite films. Sure, there are homages and references throughout - check Le Corbeau being placed on the marquee at Shoshanna's theater. Tarantino's well aware that film was produced by a German film company established at the beginning of their occupation of France, and that it nearly got its filmmaker, the apparently prolific Henri-Georges Clouzot, banned from directing in France ever again. And I could go on and on - from the overt references to the films of Leni Riefenstahl to the work of G.W. Pabst to the Hugo Stiglitz-inspired Wild Bunch flashback, to the bizarre-but-quite-excellent use of David Bowie's song written for Paul Schrader's 1980s remake of Cat People (which is not a particularly good film), it's just a given that you're going to get a lot of this when you go to see a film by Tarantino.

What's different here is that the homage and references don't seem at all to be the focus, as they were in his inferior half of Grindhouse, or in the Kill Bill films. Here, they seem more a means to an end. And what an end it is. Tarantino takes his precious time setting things up. Much has been made of the opening scene being 20+ minutes, but what of the rendezvous at the bar with Diane Kruger's Bridget Von Hammersmark? That's got to top out at close to 30 minutes, at least. Both scenes end with a flurry of violence Tarantino isn't interested in wallowing in, as he has in the past. He's not sneaking you past the slicing of the ear to show you the mangled cop's face, he's giving you the impact and the speed with which such violence occurs, with little of the end result. Not that there aren't lovingly-choreographed scalpings aplenty, or the face of the Fuhrer in close-up, being pounded by bullets into mush.

And the ending really is the most remarkable aspect of the whole film. Everything builds up to this. Tarantino spends the whole film raising the level of tension incrementally, punctuating it with short blasts of violence but never giving us the full impact until the ending. The ending is where everything comes together - all of the many disparate plot strands come to a head at the end, and Tarantino's gamble - that he'd really be able to pay off all of the built-up tension with this ending - pays off a hundred-fold. The Basterds' mission and Shoshanna's plan end up succeeding beyond any of their wildest hopes, World War II is brought to an end not solely through their efforts, but also through the assistance of one of Tarantino's most indelible creations, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz - whose name is already engraved on the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), and above it all is Shoshanna - lying dead in the projection room alongside a German war hero, her face projected cackling onto the smoke as it rises from the nitrate film prints that have long ago burnt through the screen. It's the grandest finale of the year, and, ultimately, the best film of the year as well.

Brad Pitt's final words in the film have been mentioned in nearly every review I've read thus far, with more than a handful of them declaring him correct in the implied sentiment, that this truly is Tarantino's masterpiece. Clearly, I'm inclined to agree.


Films I have seen since beginning this list, and films I still have not seen:

Have Seen:
Big Fan (Dir. Robert Siegel) B+
The Girlfriend Experience (Dir. Steven Soderbergh) B-
Brothers (Dir. Jim Sheridan) C+
The Informers (Dir. Gregor Jordan) C-
Whiteout (Dir. Dominic Sena) D [This definitely would have made my Worst-of-the-Year List, truly horrendous]

Still Haven't Seen: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, A Single Man, A Prophet, Love Exposure, Broken Embraces, Crazy Heart, The Messenger, Summer Hours, Still Walking, Gomorrah, Red Cliff, Tetro, Me and Orson Welles, Passing Strange, and...um, The Lovely Bones.

I'll post thoughts on those as they arrive on my hard drive/in a theater near me, whichever occurs first. A handful of these are already on my hard drive, actually. I don't believe Tetro has subtitles, though. Not sure if it needs them. So are the curiosities of illegal downloading as the last recourse of a man far too distant from any major metropolitan area. The whims of limited release schedules are the absolute bane of my existence.

I said earlier that I hoped this would be the last time I made one of these lists - or at least, the last time that I wrote this much for one. If it is, then so be it. I'm off to achieve some small measure of employment and lower my standard of living considerably in order to improve my morale somehow. I know, it sounds strange. It is.

- Andrew Ford

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Top 25 Films of 2009, Part II [The Quickening]

Let's hope this feels canonical, or even approaches some half-hearted grasp at comprehension. Last year's list? A mere child's folly.

#20. Antichrist (Dir. Lars Von Trier)

[Disclaimer: For the love of God, do not Google-image-search the word 'Antichrist' by itself. Such hellish imaginings as populate the minds of serial murderers lie therein...]

It almost goes without saying that those with delicate sensibilities should steer clear of this one. Von Trier has made a film that - for its first hour - is an absolutely masterful horror film. His grasp of film language is evident, and his mastery of it is displayed over the bulk of this film's run-time. And then...things get tricky. I've seen the film twice now - once through an absolutely horrid, watermarked-all-to-hell transfer, and the other time through a masterful Japanese Blu-Ray rip. I think it's a bit of an understatement to say my opinions towards the film needed at least a second viewing to sort out. I still think it loses its way in its last half hour, which doesn't feature all that much violence and carnage, but what's there is condensed to its most effective bits (*shudder*) - but I think its first hour is MUCH stronger than I initially gave it credit for.

Again, this is not a film for everyone, but as the primal howl of an artist in torment (debatable), or as the ultimate practical joke executed by an egotistical filmmaker with complete command of his craft on his most adoring audience - the crowd at Cannes, and by extension, many other unsuspecting innocents (MUCH more likely), this film is equally successful and positively unforgettable. I'd argue that this film is simply impossible to love - but I'm afraid it's merely extremely difficult to love it after a couple of viewings. I don't know that I'll ever watch it again, but I'm also certain I'll never forget it. Rarely do films dare to garner such a visceral reaction from the viewer. This is what a so-called 'art-house horror film' HAD to be. One eventually had to be made (I'm sure some have been attempted...does Ingmar Bergman's Hour of the Wolf count?), and it had to be this divisive, this bold, this full of itself, and this impeccably crafted.

It is what it is, and its first hour is as strong as many films released this year. Even though I feel the film loses its way in its final moments, that doesn't change the fact that they moved me to revulsion and true terror as they unfolded. Few other horror films dare to be this provocative, and if only for that fact alone, Von Trier's achievement here is commendable.

#19. Crank 2: High Voltage (Dir. Neveldine/Taylor)

Goodbye, any credibility I may or may not have built up at this point. Let me begin by first saying that this film cannot but pale in comparison to its predecessor. Neveldine and Taylor were able to forge a particular type of alchemy with the original Crank that simply is not present here. Of course, this film has ample charm of its own. While the pacing may not be quite as breakneck as the first film, this film's still over before it feels like it's even started. It's MUCH more violent and over-the-top in a way that seems almost designed to weed out casual fans of the first one. And, to top it all off, we've got a wonderful little Lloyd Kaufman cameo as the coda to a sequence where Jason Statham turns into a Godzilla-sized man-in-suit monster for a fight scene in the middle of an electrical grid.

In case you haven't noticed at this point, or somehow know absolutely nothing about this film, it's worth noting the level of crazy this film operates on is absolutely remarkable. A sex scene in the middle of a horse racing track? A fake British chat-show dream sequence? A head, attached to wires, in what I can only presume is a vat of amniotic fluid? And the head TALKS? And it's SUBTITLED?!

The cameos are plenty (David Carradine, Geri Halliwell, Corey freaking Haim, Clifton Collins Jr., Bai Ling), and the entire film unfolds as some kind of X-rated Looney Tunes cartoon. Even the relatively major faults within this film (Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite's reprisal of what is essentially his character from the original, and his Full-Body Tourette's is absolutely PAINFUL to watch, and takes you completely out of the film every time it comes up) are ultimately glossed over by how freaking FUN it is. Not to mention the way in which the film was made, with possibly hundreds of tiny HD cameras utilized (and at times destroyed) to capture, in full 1080p, the wonders of human sushi and the kinetic energy of a body flying through a car windshield. That the shooting ratio for this film - shot in 29 days, mind you - was roughly equal to that of Apocalypse Now (!). I mean, everything about this film is inexplicable and all the more remarkable for it. It is perplexing that a major studio would even release a film like this, let alone finance it and call it a wise business decision. As film fans, it would simply be irresponsible of us NOT to be grateful for every single frame of this film.

I suppose I should express my disappointment in this film's lackluster take at the box office, but really, would we have it any other way?

#18. Collapse (Dir. Chris Smith)

What's remarkable about this film is how ambivalent you leave it feeling towards its subject, ex-Los Angeles police officer and creator of the From the Wilderness newsletter, Michael Ruppert. The picture he paints of our current economic situation and our reliance on foreign oil is terrifying in its implications, and yet...how credible as a source is this man? His reactions to many of Smith's questions regarding his legitimacy at least seem to be answered in a frank and honest manner, and oftentimes provide even more food for thought, as when Smith asks him point-blank what he thinks about people who label him a 'conspiracy-theorist.' To which he replies, "I don't deal in conspiracy theory. I deal in conspiracy fact."

Towards the end of the film, Ruppert's arguments take on a grim inevitability, as he rattles off economic facts and oil statistics, and then he just stops. He literally can't go on - and it just pulls the rug out from under the viewer. Smith ends his film focused more on the man than his message, and by the end we're left with a portrait of a wounded, frustrated man nearing the end of his life - a life he's spent struggling to get this message out. Whether or not this film is a warning of things to come - whether or not Ruppet is a man howling on the edge of the village to anyone who will listen about the coming maelstrom crowning over the horizon, this film is never less than riveting and, hands-down, the finest documentary film of this year.

I'm sorely tempted to link to this online, as it's highly unlikely it will be available through any other medium for several months, but I'll simply trust in whoever's reading this to - should they wish to see the film - know how to search it on Google.

#17. The Box (Dir. Richard Kelly)

I am well aware that I am in the minority on this one, but I find this film absolutely riveting from start to finish. I find the performances solid, I find the story intriguing, I find its structure maddening in the best possible way, and I find that I'm nowhere near as bothered that this film's reach exceeds its grasp as many other people seem to be. Kelly's film is remarkably complex, and at times ham-fisted in its earnestness, but I find something so endearing about its failures...it's kind of inexplicable, the affection I feel for this film.

I've literally placed this as high as I possibly could on the list while still being able to sleep soundly at night, but at the same time I'm not certain it doesn't belong higher, really. One thing that Kelly seems to be more interested in crafting than any other filmmaker is true mystery in his films. I can understand how this can be maddening to...most sane people, but I love the lengths he goes to, trying to keep vague and understated in his lofty ambition while remaining compelling and emotionally resonant. Can we not all agree, at this point in his career, that Kelly has at the very least demonstrated that he is second-to-none when it comes to utilizing songs in his films? He's learned every lesson properly from someone like Scorsese on perfect song choice and placement, and there are precious few other filmmakers capable of executing any one particular trait quite so well.

I haven't really talked about the plot of the film, such as it is. Kelly uses his plots as excuses to create atmosphere, and here there is plenty of it (aided immeasurably by an excellent original score from the Arcade Fire and Owen Pallett). The plot that is here is intriguing, and the premise - such as it is - fully realized, but I completely understand the problems people have with this movie. They are, almost perversely, the very things I love about it.

#16. Avatar (Dir. James Cameron)

We were promised many things in advance. That this film would be some sort of 'game-changer' and that it would absolutely revolutionize cinema. And, from the looks of its absolutely unreal box office performance, it could do just that - but it won't be purely because the effects are spectacular (and believe me, they are), but rather because the movie-going public has really responded to this movie. Is it because we've long been wanting to fetishize a fully-CG creature such as Ney'tiri, but have always had to claw our way out of the uncanny valley? I recall when Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was released, what was one major method they used to promote the film? Photo spreads of its all-CG lead. In fact, that film has a lot of things in common with this one, but I digress...

The story isn't anything miraculous, but the world Cameron has created here is nothing short of remarkable in everything from its scale to its admittedly-1970s-van-art aesthetic. The technology, as well, is up to the task of telling this particular story in a way that would have been unfathomable over a decade ago, when Cameron had the original idea. While there are always plenty of people who will bemoan what could have been - and there are cases to be made for a much stronger film that was abandoned in service of this particular work, see Devin Faraci from CHUD's write-up of Project 880, Cameron's treatment, for starters - there's also something to be said for simply allowing what Cameron's ultimately deemed worth crafting to stand on its own. Additionally, it's not like we can't at this point expect the material from the treatment which was left out of the film (for what are most likely length-related concerns) to not be explored in one of the handful of sequels this property will surely birth, given its ridiculous box-office take to-date.

Evaluated on its own merits, and outside of its context as what Cameron promised would be a 'game-changer,' this film is solid even in spite of a handful of stumbles (dialogue in particular). And as a theatrical experience, it's quite difficult to make a case for it as anything other than not just one of the best offered this year, but one of the best ever crafted. It's not as if Cameron suddenly forgot how to shoot impeccable action sequences. This is the same man who made Aliens, he's going to deliver a fun, riveting experience at the movies. Perhaps the only detriment to this film is that it likely won't hold up on a home theater system, viewed outside of the 3-D environment for which it was specifically crafted.

#15. The White Ribbon (Dir. Michael Haneke)

This is a film I feel woefully unprepared to discuss in any intelligent manner without watching it at least a couple more times. While watching the film, I had a curious feeling that something was just...off, in some way. I love Haneke as a filmmaker, and at the start of this film it felt very much like it could unfold as a typical Haneke film. And, to a certain extent, I suppose it does, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting, and I spent most of the time waiting for the other shoe to drop.

What Haneke gives us here is a haunting film that, ostensibly, is meant to serve as some kind of exploration of how the seeds of evil are sown, and how, specifically, the children of this small town would grow up to become the perpetrators of World War II - highlighted by the end of the film, in which news of the beginning of World War I reaches the small town. This allows plenty of opportunity for Haneke to stage absolutely sublimely-shot sequences of violence, against man, horse AND cabbage - although much more effective are the sequences of violence he implies. As when a mentally-handicapped child from the village is discovered in the woods, near the end of the film, battered and nearly blinded. It speaks to Haneke's unique and invaluable gifts as a filmmaker that this film's stature in my mind has only grown in my mind since first viewing it.

Of all of the films in this Top 25, I could most easily see this film rising into the top 5 of my list with future viewings, but for now I can't in good conscience place it among that company. And I feel certain that part of my initial reaction was simply the mindset I was in when I viewed it - first thing in the morning, a bit sleepy and melancholy. This is a film that needs to be viewed in full possession of one's faculties, and with a mind prepared for an in-depth analysis of everything Haneke's putting on the screen.

In summation, I cannot recommend this film highly enough, and am possibly short-changing it even with that sentiment expressed.

#14. Police, Adjective (Dir. Corneliu Porumboiu)

This film is DRY. Its first FORTY minutes establish a tone that will frustrate as many as it intrigues. As you can probably tell by its placement on this list, I found the film to be an absolute blast from start-to-finish. Its deceptively simple tale of an individual attempting to subvert a rigorously-implemented system through what he at first believes to be simple, logical reasons - and comes to learn are, if anything, the exact opposite...is absolutely hilarious.

Modern Romanian Cinema is apparently entering its golden age of sorts, and of the three films I've seen (this, Porumboiu's equally-hilarious 12:08 East of Bucharest, and the impeccably-crafted but wholly depressing 4 Months, 3 Weeks, & 2 Days), this is quite possibly my favorite. Or, at least, the one I plan to watch the most.

This film's final scene sprawls over 25-30 minutes, if I'm not mistaken, and primarily in one shot. In this shot, the lead character is essentially shown the error of his ways in the most inexplicably mannered, rationally-presented, almost POLITE manner possible, and yet I was simply in awe as the scene built with every twist of the knife, every crisply-worded statement. When the police chief calls for a dictionary, I almost lost it. And yet, though I've mentioned how excellent the final scene is (and it's one of the absolute peaks of cinema this year, in my humble opinion), I can't come close to describing its cumulative effect - nor how engrossing I found the rest of the film to be. From the almost overly-long portions of the film following the lead as he tails a teenager suspected of dealing pot, to the long stretch where our lead character just stands, waiting for his subject to leave the house, in front of a wall upon which are graffitied the immortal words: JOHN and CENA. Everything about this film just clicks with me.

For fans of the Coen Brothers' sense of humor, and for adventurous fans of foreign cinema, this is an absolute must-see. Of course, this is also a film that I could easily see myself alone in loving, but I hope to introduce its loving, hilarious deconstruction of language to as many people as humanly possible and, in some small measure, make the world a better place.

#13. Adventureland (Dir. Greg Mottola)

Greg Mottola is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers. After his first feature (the quite fine, tiny 90s indie The Daytrippers) failed to really garner him any additional offers, he toiled in television for a while before cashing in his Apatow connection (Mottola worked on several episodes of Undeclared) for a return to the big-screen, with one of the better Apatow-produced comedies, Superbad. And then, of course, Mottola gave the world the rare gift that is this film, a sweet, unsentimental coming-of-age comedy that is arguably the film I identify with more than any other from this year.

Everything about this film rings true, from the performances (Kristen Stewart proves she can act, but is clearly not much of a box-office draw), to the awkward humor, to its perfectly-realized atmosphere. Mottola has crafted with this film a small wonder. It manages to capture the awkwardness of these post-collegiate years with maturity and nuance, while never sacrificing any of the warmth Mottola clearly feels towards the characters. Even the most outsized personalities on display here (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig's characters) have moments of true tenderness, and no character is left short-changed or presented in any way that rings remotely false.

I find myself in a similar situation to this film's protagonist - graduated with a pretty meaningless degree, soon to be forced into some sort of soul-crushing manual labor (if I'm lucky). Having worked in an amusement park before (however briefly), I even have my own personal "Rock Me, Amadeus" - and that is "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Good god, if I ever have to see that again, just shoot me now.

This film died a most-unceremonious death at the box office this spring, but it's destined to become a coming-of-age classic on par with American Graffiti or Dazed & Confused.

#12. Where the Wild Things Are (Dir. Spike Jonze)

I had to do the right thing. I had to see this film again after what was, hands-down, the worst theater-going experience of the year, and possibly in the top 10 worst theater-going experiences I have EVER had. Worse than when I got sick during the Last of the Dogmen trailer before Kazaam. Worse than the screening of 1408 with those chatty prepubescent bitches and their insufferable laser pointer. This theater-going disaster was frequented by such notables as "grandmother who misses a phone call, checks her messages, and calls her daughter-or-whatever back even though everything was covered in the message because I could hear it because the volume on her phone was all the way up because her aged ears don't work properly, oh, and by-the-way, your grandson's sitting next to you the entire time woman and you're not only ruining the movie for me, you're ruining the movie for him and possibly his life if this kind of behavior is indicative of how you treat him all of the time..." and the equally-notable, and possibly even more disruptive: "tourette's adult in the first row."

So, of course, I had to see this again - which I have, through means both illicit and somewhat defensible, given this film's release ended almost as soon as it began in most cities (not a crowd-pleaser). I have to say, it remains one of the wisest decisions I've made all year. Because, for everyone who will tell you that this film had them absolutely bawling from frame one, or that the film captured the true essence of what THEIR childhood was like...well, for me, it was more just...the humor. A lot of the humor does come from that "childs' perspective" of sorts - but simply the way that everything is presented once Max reaches the island [insert title of the film]. Nothing is questioned, however outrageous, and everything is gleefully bizarre and, well, hilarious. Not that these characters aren't presented with a depth of feeling and a warmth that belies a lot of the humor at first glance, which I think could be part of what's divided people so much on this particular film.

At the end of the day, I still feel the film's a touch too long and that its second half drags in a way its first absolutely doesn't, but that doesn't change the fact that this is a film many - including myself - will treasure for the rest of our lives. It is a film my generation will show their children (whether or not that's a wise decision is another issue altogether, as this film is often frightening in its particular, strangely unsettling way). But more than any of these things, it's a film that's truly something we haven't seen before. From the characters - a mix of practical effects and CGI that is absolutely seamless - to what I've been remarking upon this entire time: its overall tone. There simply are no other films like this one, and its final pair of scenes: Max leaving the island as the Wild Things howl after him into the sunset coupled with the briefest of codas when Max arrives home and watches his mother fall asleep - are as emotionally resonant and haunting as anything else I've seen in a cinema this year.

But seeing it in Nelsonville was a bad choice.

#11. Moon (Dir. Duncan Jones)

As nuanced in its execution as any other film on this list, this film also boasts one of Sam Rockwell's finest performances (although I'll always be partial to his immortal turn as Chuck Barris in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind). In a perfect, just world, this film would have garnered him some serious Oscar buzz, but, alas, despite the best efforts of the internet (Duncan Jones's Twitter account, @ManMadeMoon, has been stumping for Rockwell all year), I fear any accolades for Rockwell are once again to be sorely absent from this season's awards.

As a fan of science fiction and twisty, complex stories that are prepared to ask some serious thematic questions, I find this film absolutely stunning. In addition to this, its low-budget nature implores that I root for it. I mean, model work? How else are you going to film on the freaking moon with a $5 million dollar budget? And the film looks remarkable - you'd never know it was so cheap to make, and that's an absolute testament to the craft and passion that went into this project. And, of course, there's the simple fact that Duncan Jones here proves himself to be an immensely talented filmmaker.

Of course, to give away...anything, really, regarding the plot would do the film a great disservice, as the many pleasures of this film lie in its secrets, and the way the plot gradually unfolds. As I said in my honorable mentions, it's been a remarkable year for genre cinema - and particularly science fiction. This isn't the last sci-fi film on my list, but it is handily the most impressive in every respect. Given its resources and given its unproven talent, no one had any reason to expect as much from this film as it gave us. This was one of a handful of films I saw twice in theaters this year, and the second viewing was absolutely essential, as it confirmed that this wasn't simply a film reliant on its twists. So while I do refuse to divulge any major plot details, the film holds up even after the knowledge of what occurs in ways many twist-based films simply do not. This a testament to Sam Rockwell's performance, of course, but also to Duncan Jones' and screenwriter Nathan Parker's facility as storytellers and clear knowledge and respect for their films' science fiction forbears.

I'm prepared now to follow Duncan Jones wherever he goes, whatever he deigns to make. I was deeply saddened to learn funding had fallen through on his planned follow-up, Mute, but I feel certain that whatever he approaches next will reek of the same perfectionism and attention to detail with which he's crafted this most minor of sci-fi epics.

Nos. 10-1, to be posted sometime soon. In the next couple of days. Before the end of the week.

- Andrew Ford