Critic’s Mind

 

If Owen Gleiberman’s frankly told memoir “Movie Freak” isn’t quite the best book I’ve ever read, it’s the most essential to me. For all his stupendous talent I don’t think anymore I wouuld want to trade places with him. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s the copious critical wit of our age. But at a cost, he soaked up a lot of personal and professional sludge in his time. An aside, I do appreciate Michael Mann’s “Manhunter” (1986), I give it an A- (find that Michael Mann flick on Amazon). But I’d never watch it forty times. I do admit to times of my life, like Owen, to overwatching too many movie titles as a substitute and extention to my own life. That’s bad, in retrospect. You lose focus, you forfeit connection to real people. I love movies, but when it’s too much, too many titles in one month, I regret it. — 3-10-16

How taboo-smashing was that Oscar’s opening monologue with Chris Rock… and how goddamn inconsistent and scattershot were the rest of the loaded topic race jokes that happened the rest of the night. I’ll say this for the effect on the award show: Sylvester Stallone didn’t win Best Supporting Oscar for “Creed” because of political reasons. If he’d won, the [spurious] race card backlash would have just hurt him for years. — 3-1-16

My ten favorite Robert DeNiro performances in order: 1. Raging Bull (1980); 2. Taxi Driver (1976); 3. The Deer Hunter (1978); 4. Cape Fear (1991); 5. The King of Comedy (1983); 6. GoodFellas (1990); 7. Heat (1995); 8. This Boy’s Life (1993); 9. Casino (1995); 10. The Godfather Part II (1974). Putting this list together reminds me of why I love DeNiro despite his sell-outs. I could have come up with twenty titles. — 1-28-16

Didn’t see “Dirty Grandpa.” I do know I was super pissed-off at Robert DeNiro for his half-assed work in the crummy “Grudge Match.” The vitriol is so heated against DeNiro though for his latest that some say he should retire. I’m disappointed in DeNiro for his tasteless choices, but unlike many who has said he’s been lousy for a long time, I’ve at least noticed that he’s done some fine work in recent years. Those titles would be “American Hustle,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Being Flynn,” “Limitless” and the very underrated “Stone.” DeNiro will bounce back. But admittedly, he’s no longer my favorite actor. — 1-22-16

Tangerine Kiki RodriguezI’ve come to hate commenting on the Oscars, yet I’m compelled to say something again this year. Now they’re saying there’s a lack of diversity in the list of nominees. Now they’re saying this?? Samuel L. Jackson is just about the greatest actor of our time and hasn’t been nominated since 1994. Not for 1997’s “Jackie Brown,” a role that I think no one else could have done, in 2012’s “Django Unchained” white actor Christoph Waltz wins even though Jackson single-handedly made me re-think everything I ever thought I knew about racism in this country — I’m not even sure the movie would have had the substance to justify the overdone violence in the movie if not for him. No one has ever apologized to Spike Lee for not nominating “Malcolm X,” an epic far more stupendous than “Lawrence of Arabia.” Never a Korean actor nominated. And if you’re looking for me to say something totally irreverent about 2015, one of the three most jaw-dropping, dazzling performances of the year was transgendered Kitana Kiki Rodriguez for a little movie called “Tangerine” that’s simply too subversive a pick for anybody except the critics to have noticed. — 1-14-16

R.I.P. Alan Rickman, actor who was a master at the art of droll (February 21, 1946 – January 14, 2016). Five to see: “Die Hard” (1988); “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (2006); “Love Actually” (2003); “Galaxy Quest” (1999); “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” (2013). — 1-14-16

Ten best films of 2015 (read complete article): 1. Ex Machina, 2. Mad Max: Fury Road, 3. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, 4. Bridge of Spies, 5. Inside Out, 6. The Big Short, 7. Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, 8. The Walk, 9. Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, 10. Spotlight. — 1-6-16

R.I.P. Vilmos Zsigmond, cinematographer (June 16, 1930 – January 1, 2016). One of the masters when it came to visions and light. Five to see: “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971); “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977); “The Deer Hunter” (1978); “The Black Dahlia” (2006); “The Witches of Eastwick” (1987). — 1-5-16

Annie Hall_ Best-1977-FilmsFlashback, Ten Best Films of 1977: 1. Annie Hall, 2. That Obscure Object of Desire (France), 3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 4. Eraserhead, 5. Star Wars, 6. Sorcerer, 7. Slap Shot, 8. Three Women, 9. The Spy Who Loved Me, 10. Saturday Night Fever. Honorable Mentions: New York New York, The Hills Have Eyes, In the Realm of the Senses (Japan), Suspiria (Italy), High Anxiety. — 1-2-16

Come and See_1985Flashback, Ten Best Films of 1985: 1. Come and See (Russia), 2. The Falcon and the Snowman, 3. Out of Africa, 4. Witness, 5. Brazil, 6. The Purple Rose of Cairo, 7. Back to the Future, 8. Streetwise, 9. Lost in America, 10. After Hours. Honorable Mentions: Mask, Runaway Train, Blood Simple, Re-Animator, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. — 12-30-15

I am going to be late a couple weeks posting my 2015 year’s ten best and worst list, due to urgent family obligations. I am still catching up on some titles. This I can say, I only gave 5-stars to a single film this year: Ex Machina. — 12-30-15

Grading the Hunger Games movies: “The Hunger Games” (2012), grade B+. “Catching Fire” (2013), B+. “Mockingjay – Part I” (2014), C. “Mockingjay – Part II (2015), C+. Just like the books, by the time it got to the revolution portion with its vapid conflicts (Julianne Moore as the new self-anointed power of the freed districts is especially inane), the saga just petered out. It’s not satisfying, it’s not dissatisfying, but you just sort of resign yourself to its half-baked imagination. Jennifer Lawrence works as hard as ever, but she too often resorts into screeching indignation. You lose a little love for it the more it grinds on. — 12-6-15

Grading the Rocky movies: “Rocky” (1976), grade A-. “Rocky II” (1979), B. “Rocky III” (1983), C+. “Rocky IV” (1985), B-. “Rocky V” (1990), C-. “Rocky Balboa” (2006), B. “Creed” (2015), B. The original is something of a small miracle that taps into ground level realism, and the rest are mixed bag guilty pleasures. Especially “Rocky IV” which is so shamelessly ridiculous that it’s hysterically watchable. The formula in the ring is mostly the same: Rocky wins Round 2 but it gets smacked around in most of the other ones, usually showing vitality again in Round 8 and 12. — 12-2-15

As we approach halfway through the decade, I want to confess to six films that I originally underrated. Cloud Atlas, original grade 2.5 stars | now 5 stars. I had never been so wrong about a film in my entire life. Here’s a profound sci-fi film not bound by conventions, single time periods, or simple themes. Flight, original 3.5 stars | now 4 stars. The humor to off-set the dark themes sometimes feels misplaced. But now I’m over that, and see this is one of the most ingenious screenplays of recent years. Denzel Washington is electrifying. Silver Linings Playbook, original 3.5 stars | now 4 stars. A well-crafted Hollywood romance programmer. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are infectious, however, and their charms and foibles are something that have made a lasting imprint on my mind. Django Unchained, original 3 stars | now 4 stars. I simply didn’t understand Quentin Tarantino’s subversive approach to showing how truly ugly and hopeless the age of slavery was. Most mind-altering are the survival tactics of Samuel L. Jackson’s Uncle Tom, which is easily one of the best performances of the decade. Inside Llewyn Davis, original 3 stars | now 4 stars. I really judged the Coen Brothers’ screenplay of this Greenwich Village period piece as meandering, but when I saw it again everything fit inevitably, and necessarily, and it’s just so damn haunting. Get On Up, original 3 stars | now 4 stars. I don’t know what made me think at first why I thought it was too commercial. But this radical James Brown biopic is quite unconventional, and the scenes of the 1940’s poor South are indelible. 11-24-15

My seven favorite James Bond movies in order: “Casino Royale” (2006), “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977), “Goldfinger” (1964), “Moonraker” (1979), “Octopussy” (1983), “You Only Live Twice” (1967), “Never Say Never Again” (1983). Keep in mind, fun is fun. Click here for Underrated James Bond article that I wrote three years ago. –11-3-15

Dont Look Now-Flick-1973Film Recommendation: “Don’t Look Now” (1973). I’ve always said if you loved M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t love this one, too. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie play a British married couple who begin couples rekindling in Venice following the death of their daughter. They have sex (famously “unsimulated” according to legend), they meet a psychic, and they start noticing a figure in a red raincoat recurring in the canals. The husband is a skeptic, the wife develops a keen belief. Edited with a fragmented design, you watch it as if it is in puzzle assembly mode. Director Nicolas Roeg is one of cinema’s most underrated stylists. — 10-25-15

My five favorite Ridley Scott films in order: “Blade Runner” (1982), ” Black Hawk Down” (2001), “Alien” (1979), “Matchstick Men” (2003), “Thelma & Louise” (1991). — 10-22-15

Here is a list of the five best shoestring budget films that come out in the last five years: 1. Monsters (2010, $500,000 budget. The only intellectual monster movie that comes off the top of my head, it’s also radiantly shot); 2. Tangerine (2015, $100,000. Transgender prostitutes on Santa Monica Boulevard and Highland, and other assorted lowlifes. Wow, these are some of the daily problems for the likes of them! 3. Compliance (2012, $270,000. Working class people cower to mindless authority, based on an upsetting true incident); 4. Coherence (2013, $50,000. After neighborhood power goes out, a dinner party enters a Twilight Zone-inspired fifth dimension); 5. Room 237 (2012, N/A. Wacko theories on Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “The Shining,” but the more you listen, the more you believe some of them might likely have deliberately stemmed from Kubrick’s abstract genius). — 10-21-15

A list of my 15 favorite directors of all-time with one essential title per each. I’ve chosen their most essential film that reflects their range of skill, sometimes the case it’s their best film. Favorites listed in order: 1. Stanley Kubrick (“Barry Lyndon”); 2. Martin Scorsese (“Taxi Driver”); 3. Joel & Ethan Coen (“The Hudsucker Proxy”); 4. Steven Spielberg (“Minority Report”); 5. Kim Ki-Duk (“3-Iron”); 6. Quentin Tarantino (“Jackie Brown”); 7. Terrence Malick (“The Tree of Life”); 8. Alfred Hitchcock (“Vertigo”); 9. Luis Bunuel (“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”); 10. Woody Allen (“Annie Hall”); 11. Billy Wilder (“Sunset Blvd.”); 12. David Lynch (“Blue Velvet”); 13. Brian DePalma (“Carrie”); 14. Clint Eastwood (“Unforgiven”); 15. Preston Sturges (“Sullivan’s Travels”). Just missing this list is Paul Thomas Anderson whose last film was the impenetrable “Inherent Vice,” thus, a demerit. — 9-10-15

Grading the Mission: Impossible movies: “Mission: Impossible” (1996), grade: B+. “Mission: Impossible II” (2000), C. “Mission: Impossible III” (2006), B-. “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” (2011), A. “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation” (2015), A. It’s too close a call which of the last two is best. Gut instinct, “Rogue Nation” might be the best one in my opinion, time will tell. — 8-6-2015

Grading the Terminator movies. The original that jump started James Cameron’s career is still the best in my opinion: “The Terminator” (1984), grade: A-. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), A-. “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003), C. “Terminator Salvation” (2009), C-. “Terminator Genisys” (2015), D. — 7-12-15

Here is a list of 15 films that got good to lukewarm reviews in their day but really have had a resurgent cinephile following in contemporary years. Or another way to put it, they’re major classics now even when they weren’t given respect then: “Once Upon a Time in the West” (1968); “The Gambler” (1974); “Sorcerer” (1977); “Slap Shot” (1977); “The Shining” (1980); “The Thing” (1982); “Runaway Train” (1985); “Joe vs. the Volcano” (1990); “Point Break” (1991); “Groundhog Day” (1993); “Seven” (1995); “Gattaca” (1997); “Jackie Brown” (1997); “The Grey Zone” (2002); “Burn After Reading” (2008). Click here for full article. — 6-30-15

Five extraordinary Samuel L. Jackson performances nobody talks about: “Jackie Brown” (1997); “Django Unchained” (2012); “Unbreakable” (2000); “Lakeview Terrace” (2008); “Jungle Fever” (1991). Jackson gets way under the skin with these roles, he is utterly possessed by them. — 6-14-15

This weekend Cameron Crowe has taken a critical drubbing of his latest “Aloha,” which many critics are calling the worst of this career. Yeah, it’s bad. But is it really worse than his last, “We Bought A Zoo” with the always reliable Matt Damon who came out bland, with a film itself that left me barren memories of actual animals? Or the gooey “Elizabethtown” with an insipid Orlando Bloom? Whatever the case, Crowe has struck out three times in a row. His case is now a more embarrassing fall from grace than James L. Brooks. — 5-31-15

Grading the Mad Max movies. “Mad Max” (1979), grade: C. “The Road Warrior” (1982), A-. “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985), B. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015), A. — 5-24-15

Point-Break_1991 Underrated Summer-Thriller_Flick MinuteFilm Recommendation: “Point Break.” Bank robbers masked as the ex-Presidents versus a FBI agent fresh out of the academy, or, Patrick Swayze vs. Keanu Reeves. What seemed silly in 1991 is now seriously awesome to me now. No computerized special effects. Punchy dialogue, a plot that holds water, dazzling camerawork, the most astonishing skydiving sequence ever shot. They don’t make them like this anymore; today’s action movies are far too fake for me to get excited about. — 5-8-15

Ex Machina” is my first 5-star film off the 2015 roster. — 4-30-15

Recently I’ve been glued to the A.V. Club poll of the top 100 films of the first half of the decade, click here it’s a great article. I want to add ten titles that failed to be mentioned, not my ten best but ten that aren’t obvious and have been generally overlooked: the feel-good music drama “Begin Again” (director John Carney); the South Korean race against the clock thriller to takedown a serial killer “The Chaser” (Na Hong-jin); the diabolical murder plot that’s the French film “Love Crime” (Alain Corneau); Woody Harrelson as a chilling sociopathic cop in “Rampart” (Oren Moverman); the wordless trance documentary “Samsara” (Ron Fricke); the beguiling sex-crazed documentary “Tabloid” (Errol Morris); the multi-narrative French film preoccupied with child protection case studies that is “Polisse” (Maiwenn); the grown-up German sex and food comedy “Soul Kitchen” (Fatih Akin); the brainteasing Hitchcockian thriller “Source Code” (Duncan Jones); and the fine South Korean drama of Alzheimer’s and the shame of covering up a death that is “Poetry” (Lee Chang-dong), which truly should be ranked among the very best films of the decade. — 4-28-15

Larry Clark’s riveting true crime story “Bully” (2001), with Brad Renfro and Nick Stahl, is the best film I’ve seen in the last several weeks (grade: A-), so excuse me if I could say I flipped out when I saw the 54% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert gave it four stars, calling it “a masterpiece on its own terms, a frightening indictment of a society that offers absolutely nothing to some of its children… and an indictment of the children, who lack the imagination and courage to try to escape.” Every critic who disliked it seemed to have gotten up on their soapboxes and over-emphasized the sex scenes between minors as obscene, which is distortion. This is a circumstance of legal adults playing teen characters having sex in a seamy unvirtuous environment, not salacious voyeurism of actors being made to have sex for useless titillation. Or, this is about that subject, yes the subject, of teens indulging in debased activities and not an exploitation of it. Critics seem to have punished Clark for making “Kids” (1995) previously, and chose not to see the fascinating sociological horror here of kids without conscience hatching an incompetent murder scheme. — 4-15-15

I finally caught up to “The Theory of Everything” (2014) and then “A Brief History of Time” (1992) a week later. Funny how “The Theory” is inadequate with expressing Stephen Hawking’s work and ideas but succeeds with putting a human face on the man, while “Brief History” is inadequate with rounding him out as a complete person to emotionally connect with but yet outlines his genius astrophysicist work comprehensively enough. I suppose I liked “Brief History” better because I had “The Theory” as a warm-up. “The Theory of Everything,” grade: C. “Brief History of Time,” grade: B-. Neither would satisfy on their own, but weirdly, I give the whole experience of watching them both a grade B. — 3-31-15

My five favorite David Cronenberg films in order: “eXistenZ” (1999), “A History of Violence” (2005), “The Fly” (1986), “A Dangerous Method” (2011), “Crash” (1996). — 3-8-15

Widow-of-St-Pierre_French film (2001)Film Recommendation: “The Widow of St. Pierre” (2001, France). On an island off Newfoundland in 1849, a man is condemned to death after a drunken murder. In the time it takes for a guillotine to be transported from Paris, the police captain and his wife of the small village befriend their prisoner and persuades the townsfolk that while his actions were senseless, he is not a monster. Bigwig politicians are insulted by the townfolks’ budding compassion. I’ll go out on a limb and proclaim it as one of the ten best French films ever made. — 3-1-15

It won’t take five years with “Boyhood” before editorials, television criticism and internet rants collectively shame the Academy for making one of the all-time worst mistakes by not honoring the film and director Richard Linklater, whom has a brilliant career, one perpetually unappreciated however. — 2-23-15

Ten best films of 1989: 1. Do the Right Thing, 2. Born on the 4th of July, 3. The War of the Roses, 4. The Fabulous Baker Boys, 5. True Love, 6. Glory, 7. Casualties of War,  8. sex, lies & videotape, 9. My Left Foot, 10. Parenthood. What won the Best Picture Oscar? The reserved and safe racial relations picture “Driving Miss Daisy” redeemed mostly by Morgan Freeman’s careful performance of a black man living harmoniously among racist white communities by having mastered his tone and courteousness over the course of a lifetime. — 2-22-15

Ten best films of 1982: 1. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, 2. Tootsie, 3. The Verdict, 4. Blade Runner, 5. Gandhi, 6. The Thing, 7. Das Boot (Germany), 8. The Road Warrior, 9. Diner, 10. An Officer and a Gentleman. This was a rare year where the first six titles would have been worthy of a Best Picture winner, though E.T. to me is obviously the best, but alas, there can only be one winner. “Gandhi” is now considered overrated because it trumped other titles for the top Oscar, but it’s really one of the great sprawling, meaningful epics that recreates history as well as provides a manifest of what the man stood for. When it comes down to it, any new film buff should catch up with all of these titles. — 2-12-15

Ten films I once thought were great, during my young pretentious phase, that I can now surely live without: “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1930), “The Lady Vanishes” (1938), “Children of Paradise” (1945, France), “The Big Sleep” (1946), “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946), “Shane” (1953), “Rififi” (1955, France), “Juliet of the Spirits” (1965, Italy), “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (1974, Germany), “Diva” (1982, France). I mean, take the first title: Is it really comparable to, say, the poetry of Malick’s “The Thin Red Line?” The second title: I love Hitchcock, but let’s admit it, this one’s excitement is nil and the black & white is blah. Why watch some German kitchen sink drabness that is “Ali” when you can re-watch the lush and impassioned Todd Haynes’ film “Far From Heaven” with Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid? — 2-10-15

I revised my 2014 year’s ten best list to include new titles that I was late with catching up on. Click for article here. — 2-3-15

Nymphomaniac_Lars von Trier_Review_Charlotte-GainsbourgGreat female performances that Oscar failed to nominate: Charlotte Gainsbourg in “Nymphomaniac” (Denmark, 2014, pic left), Jessica Chastain in “The Tree of Life” (2011), Yun Jung-hee in Poetry (2011, South Korea), So-Ri Moon in Oasis (2004, South Korea), Naomi Watts in “Mulholland Dr.” (2001), Reese Witherspoon in “Election” (1999), Uma Thurman in “Gattaca” (1997), Julianne Moore in “Safe” (1995), Tilda Swinton in “Orlando” (1993), Juliette Binoche in “Damage” (1992), Gong Li in “Raise the Red Lantern” (1992, China), Jessica Lange in “Men Don’t Leave” (1990), Annabella Sciorra in “True Love” (1989), Shelley Duvall in “The Shining” (1980), Susan Sarandon in “Pretty Baby” (1978), Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), Catherine Denueve in “Repulsion” (1965), Marilyn Monroe in “The Misfits” (1961), Tatyana Samojlova in The Cranes are Flying (1957, Russia), Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), Beulah Bondi in “Make Way for Tomorrow” (1937), Barbara Stanwyck in “Baby Face” (1933).

Nightcrawler_Great Un-Nominated PerformancesGreat male performances that Oscar failed to nominate: Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler” (2014, pic left), Woody Harrelson in “Rampart” (2012), Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007), Bruno Ganz in “Downfall” (2005, Germany), Ewan McGregor in “Young Adam” (2004), Matt Damon in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999), Samuel L. Jackson in “Jackie Brown” (1997), Russell Crowe in “L.A. Confidential” (1997), Al Pacino in “Heat” (1995), Johnny Depp in “Ed Wood” (1994), Jeremy Irons in “Damage” (1992), Val Kilmer in “The Doors” (1991), Jeff Bridges in “The Fabulous Baker Boys” (1989), Tom Cruise in “Rain Man” (1988), Jeff Goldblum in “The Fly” (1986), Sean Penn in “The Falcon and the Snowman” (1985), Harry Dean Stanton in “Paris, Texas” (1984), Eric Roberts in “Star 80″ (1983), Robert DeNiro in “The King of Comedy” (1983), Dustin Hoffman in “Straight Time” (1978), James Stewart in “Vertigo” (1958), Kirk Douglas in “Paths of Glory” (1957). — 1-31-15

My Picks Best of the Best Performances 2014: Female: Charlotte Gainsbourg in “Nymphomaniac” (Denmark), Rosamund Pike in “Gone Girl.” Male: Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler,” Steve Carell in “Foxcatcher.”

Supporting female: Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood,” Tilda Swinton in “Snowpiercer.” Supporting male: J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash,” Mark Ruffalo in “Foxcatcher.” — 12-20-14

This is 40_Poster FilmFlip-flop: I was wrong with my original review of “This is 40” (2012). Sure, I gave it a 3-star recommendation, but it should have been a 4. I now think that it’s Judd Apatow’s best film, and his “40-Year Old Virgin” is just as addicting. With his 2012 film I can watch over and over, at any spot, whenever it plays on HBO. After I consulted my original review I honestly don’t know what I was irked with, there seems to be countless classic lines and true to life situations. Like the best of Woody Allen comedies, it is sheer observation of the human condition. Every supporting player sparkles. There’s no other way to say this: “This is 40″ is compulsively watchable. — 12-15-14

“The Graduate” (1967) has always been an estimable classic. In retrospect, the ending meant something different to me at 12-years old than it did when I saw it again at 25. You get this happy ending where love prevails. Then you see it again with newfound maturity and it’s a sad one. These people have nothing to say to each other, yet they’re going to end up together out of rebellious impulse to stick their noses up at their families, and go down a long black sound of silence hole together with no excitement left to be shared. It is a genius ending, really. — 11-26-14

R.I.P. Mike Nichols, director (November 6, 1931 – November 19, 2014). Nichols’ reputation will eternally endure because of “The Graduate” (1967), and sure, it’s terrific. Nichols’ best film however, to me, is “Carnal Knowledge” (1971) with Jack Nicholson which was Rated X at the time for extreme adult material (nudity, sexual innuendo, raw domestic fighting) about an immature man whose life quest is beaver-chasing, who holds no regard for intelligent women. Mid-section focuses in on the longest relationship of his life, there’s no way this guy is capable of having a longer one. The girl is played by Ann-Margret as a buxom bunny with feelings. He doesn’t love her, he destroys her even without intention. This film is the Nichols classic you’ve never heard of, and is a companion piece with his later film “Closer” (2004). Click for review here. — 11-21-14

I give the original “Dumb & Dumber” (1994) a grade of A-. It’s a cruddy and sloppy movie so why do I revere it? Because every scene has laughs, and the damn thing just flows so well. W.C. Fields and the Marx Bros. made sloppy movies eighty years ago that get much more revered in film history, and they’re not half as funny as the classic (yes, classic) Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels yuk-fest. Note: The sequel is not nearly as good. 11-12-14

The movie “Halloween” is synonymous with Halloween. It’s the most famous of John Carpenter’s movies. I’m only okay on it. See “The Thing” (1982) and “They Live” (1988) by Carpenter instead, both ridiculously entertaining. — 10-29-14

“Birdman” is likely to be my choice for worst movie of the year. Yes, you heard me. It has the most annoying ensemble of a-holes since Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park.” Click for review here. — 10-28-14

I think it’s about time Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” (1998) becomes a candidate for Best War Film Ever Made. Sure, “Apocalypse Now” (1979) is as iconic as any war movie and its impressions are infinite. But come on, in truth, I haven’t turned that movie on in ten years nor do I need to (I already know it in my mind and heart too well, it’s thoroughly digested). “Paths of Glory” (1957) is so powerful that it continues to upset me every time I watch it, which is maybe once every five or six years. But when it comes to Malick’s film, it is compulsively watchable, visually fascinating, poetic in multiple interpretations, evocative of so many different feelings and ideas at once. And it juxtaposes the horrors of war with natural beauty better than any film made. Period. You can click for review here that I wrote three years ago. But I don’t even think my review is solid enough to do it justice. I almost want to start over in the future I write yet another review of it. — 10-12-14

Cloud-Atlas_Ben WhishawFavorite Quote: “I understand now, that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention, if only one can first conceive of doing so. Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.” Robert Frobisher in “Cloud Atlas” (2012). — 9-25-14

Cloud Atlas” music by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil is my new favorite CD soundtrack. — 9-24-14

R.I.P. Robin Williams, actor (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014). Even if he made “License to Wed,” one of the very worst movies I’ve ever seen, I still liked him. Five to see: “One Hour Photo” (2002); “What Dreams May Come” (1998); “The Fisher King” (1991); “Awakenings” (1990); and the criminally overlooked “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984). — 8-11-14

After it seemed like I saw fifty crappy, inelegant, shaky-cam heavy, incoherent action films in a row, I’ve finally seen three good ones this summer: “Lucy,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” — 7-24-14

Boyhood” is my second 5-star film off the 2014 roster and the one to beat for best film of the year. — 7-18-14

R.I.P. Paul Mazursky, writer-director (April 25, 1930 – June 30, 2014). Rambunctious intellect and social observations ran through his films, but in a life-affirming and funny way. Five to see: “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986), an unsung masterpiece; “An Unmarried Woman” (1978); “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984); “Enemies: A Love Story” (1989); “Harry and Tonto” (1974). — 7-8-14

 

Inside-Llewyn-Davis_ Cat-Motif_Coen BrosFlip-flop: I now admit I was wrong with my original review of “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Sure, I gave it a 3-star recommendation, but it should have been a 4. The Coen Brothers only seem like they’re meandering and hitting the same repetitive notes, but on second viewing, the big ideas all fit together compacted. Llewyn’s Karma is terribly unkind, but the descent into failure for him has a lot to do with the hexing of Carey Mulligan’s Jean Berkey, a Beatnik Lady Macbeth. Llewyn is not a nice guy anyway, but she’s the worst human being here. Yet Llewyn is a brilliant folk artist, and when he does a song performances he steps out of his miserly facade. But nobody likes the way he actually looks, so no one in the world around him thinks he deserves a bigger audience than the one he’s getting. The Coens’ have weaved a disturbing, haunting parable of success denied and occupational dreams sullied. I love thinking about this film now. New grade: A-. — 6-30-14

The more Roger became a prisoner of his body, the more he seemed to escape into his rich and sophisticated mind. By the agreement of almost everyone I know, his writing in these last years was among the best he’d ever done, more personal and expansive, marked by a still-astonishing rate of productivity.” – Film Critic Scott Foundas (April 5, 2013).              — 6-15-14

I saw the Roger Ebert documentary “Life Itself” nearly a month before it comes out on July 4, and while I should normally wait until then to state my opinion in the opening day review, I can’t help but say it’s a tremendous documentary of not just a trailblazing critic but a great man. Even as an Ebert disciple, I learned things about him (and Gene Siskel) that I didn’t previously know. Update: Published review.  — 6-12-14

I don’t think I ever truly appreciated the rascally comic genius of Walter Matthau until I just saw “Cactus Flower” (1969). Goldie Hawn won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in her film debut, Ingrid Bergman is actually great with her middle-aged spinster breaking open her shell, but Matthau is wickedly fantastic as a womanizer always twisting his words and twisting the words of others for his own convenience. Genius. — 5-30-14

After you see “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” here are five more brilliantly silly movies that lampoon history to check out: “Duck Soup” (1933), “Blazing Saddles” (1974), “Love and Death” (1975), “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” (1975), “Top Secret” (1984). — 5-29-14

Ten monster movies that are better than “Godzilla” found within the last 10 years, listed in order of preference: “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006, Mexico), ”King Kong” (2005), “Monsters” (2010), “The Mist” (2007), “REC” (2007, Spain), “Cabin in the Woods” (2012), “Slither” (2006, pic right), “The Descent” (2005), “Pacific Rim” (2013), “Cloverfield” (2008).

Note: I originally had “28 Days Later” (2002) and “28 Weeks Later” (2007) on the list and decided they qualify more as zombie movies than monster movies, so I replaced them with two different titles. — 5-22-14

I wrote my review of “Godzilla” at 6 in the morning without morning coffee, and as a result, it was littered with grammatical errors. I have since revised it. — 5-18-14

I wondered if I made a mistake by placing “Her” off last year’s ten best list (I had it at #11) to include “All is Lost” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” ahead of it instead. I was right on. “Her” does not hold up well as entertainment the second time around. It’s such an original concept that’s significant, but the second half is mopey and stuck in a perpetual forlorn mood. I think Joaquin Phoenix is great, he is comically daft in ways that keep us pitying him, but tickled by his foolishness. Other actors would have bored us. “All is Lost” is actually riveting a second time, a tumble of obstacles and predicaments, and the sounds of the ocean storms are immersive! — 5-10-14

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” and accompaniment “Vol. 2” (Denmark) are my first 5-star films off the 2014 roster. — 4-16-14

Just found out my favorite living critic Owen Gleiberman has been laid-off from Entertainment Weekly. He’s too good for them, my once turn-to magazine has been declining in literary merit in recent years. Owen’s vocabulary and elucidations not only made movies an essential subject, but just the conducted words themselves were fun and exciting to read. Dare I say that, exciting. From the archives (somewhere online, hopefully) my five favorite Owen reviews are “Cape Fear,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Boogie Nights,” “Run Lola Run,” and “Requiem for a Dream.” — 4-5-14

One year ago Roger Ebert passed away. Lately I’ve been watching Ebert recommendations that were otherwise critically trashed. And Ebert was right, I’ve recently enjoyed “Matinee” (1993), “Guilty as Sin” (1993), “Chances Are” (1989), “Frequency” (2000), “Down Periscope” (1996), “Conan the Destroyer” (1984), “Goon” (2011). The only Ebert pick I’ve disliked was “Only You” (1994), the pretty to look at but harebrained European-set rom-com with Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey, Jr. But really, I’ve had some good times with these silly movies lately. — 4-4-14

The first disappointing music score by Clint Mansell is “Noah.” Flat. Tinkle. Echo. Screech. Blare. Without harmony, or notes that flicker or resonate. — 3-29-14

Citizen-Kane_Obituary-Scene-News-on-the-MarchThe first time I saw “Citizen Kane” at 14-years old, I thought, this newsreel scene is an interesting way to tell a story but how can this kind of storytelling technique be sustainable for an entire running length? Thankfully, it is a limited 9-minutes long and it turns into a “normal” movie after that. A second viewing only makes the newsreel scene more fascinating, especially with cutaways to a pet octopus and a soiree with Adolph Hitler. It took a few years for me to realize the trail-blazing audacity of Orson Welles’ vision. — 3-28-14

Shining_1980_Best-Horror-Film-Ever _Jack-Nicholson-Shelley-DuvallFilm Recommendation: “The Shining” (1980). The best horror film ever made and probably the best one there will ever be. Many devotees over the years have revered it for its supernatural elements, its haunted symbolism, its hypnotic camerawork that spells delirium and claustrophobia. I see something else: A parable of the world’s most loveless marriage. This is the one Stanley Kubrick film that scrambles the brain the longest. You can watch it several times over the course of a decade and find you are still working at unlocking its secrets. — 3-16-14

If I picked the winners with my votes: Best Picture “Gravity,” Best Director Alfonso Cuaron for “Gravity,” Best Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor for “12 Years a Slave,” Best Actress Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine,” Best Supporting Actor Michael Fassbender for “12 Years a Slave,” Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle,” Best Cinematography “Gravity,” Best Costume Design “American Hustle,” Best Film Editing “American Hustle,” Best Original Score “Gravity,” Best Production Design “The Great Gatsby,” Best Adapted Screenplay “12 Years a Slave,” Best Original Screenplay “American Hustle.” Update: “12 Years a Slave” won Best Picture, “Gravity” won a number of technical awards, and “American Hustle” got shut-out for being too cool. –2-26-14

I just wrote about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s best performance, click on “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007). If you get the DVD, there is lots to learn about the art and practice of directing from the feature length commentary by the late director Sidney Lumet, Ethan Hawke, and Hoffman as well as the supplemental doc “Directed by Lumet: How the Devil Was Made.” These are the best DVD extras I’ve come across in awhile, and I reassure you I watched the film with commentary again complete. — 2-24-14

R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman (July 23, 1967 – February 2, 2014). Two weeks later I’m still devastated by the loss of Hoffman. He was featured in 5 of 6 Paul Thomas Anderson films, and starred in a dozen or so more that were intelligent enough to be an Anderson film. Even a cash-grab like “Mission: Impossible III” he contributed intelligent menace. Click to read my full tribute. — 2-18-14

Map of the Human Heart_Best-Films-1990(s)Film Recommendation: “Map of the Human Heart” (1993). Spans four decades and spreads three continents, Avik is an Eskimo in the 1930’s who follows his childhood love Albertine around the world. Their first love is in a Canadian orphanage as pre-teens, then she is whisked away, grows up and marries another, when he traces her whereabouts he joins the Air Force so he can travel to her. I’ve long tired of hearing how great “Casablanca” is. “Map” is probably the most romantic movie ever made. Dreamy, passionate and sexy, it connotes those qualities for the entire length of the film and builds to a heartrending revelation. But I will reveal, this is the kind of love story that lasts a lifetime for these two. Jason Scott Lee is Avik, Anne Parillaud is Albertine, the director is Vincent Ward who boldly goes for high altitude aerial photography and the film entire is full of extraordinary shots. Grade: A+. — 2-9-14

Skyfall_ Flip-Flop _Macau China_Casino- Daniel-CraigFlip-flop: I now admit I was wrong with my original negative review of “Skyfall.” I’ve seen it twice now on Blu-Ray, and now think it’s a good one that, in hindsight, I probably overreacted to three or four things I didn’t like when I saw it in my theatrical review. I now see it’s virtues, the radiant cinematography for one, the idea of an attack on the ministry of defense as another, the brisk and crisp finale at Bond’s homecoming. I still think Javier Bardem doesn’t have enough insightful layers to his villain, Naomie Harris lacks charisma as the new Moneypenny, and Bond’s love connections continue to lack sizzle two films in a row (go ravage a new world-class hottie again, already!). “Skyfall” remains a minor entry, but there are legitimate indelible moments that add to the 007 legacy. New grade: B-. — 1-20-14

Oscar nominations 2014 announced. My Picks for Top 5 most shocking omissions: Robert Redford (Best Actor, “All is Lost”), Joaquin Phoenix (Best Actor, “Her”), Hoyte Van Hoytema (Cinematography, “Her”), Philip Messina (Production Design, “Catching Fire”), Jeff Nichols (Original Screenplay, “Mud”). — 1-14-14

My Picks Best of the Best Performances 2013: Female: Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine,” Amy Adams in “American Hustle.” Male: Mads Mikkelsen in “The Hunt” (Denmark), Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave.”

Supporting female: Jennifer Lawrence in “American Hustle,” Lupita Nyong’o in “12 Years a Slave. Supporting male: Michael Fassbender in “12 Years a Slave,” James Franco in “Spring Breakers.” — 12-26-13

Biggest Disappointments 2013: “Before Midnight,” “The Counselor,” “The Fifth Estate,” “Oldboy,” “Oz The Great and Powerful,” “Trance.” — 12-20-13

R.I.P. Peter O’Toole (August 2, 1932 – December 14, 2013), actor of the immortal 1962 epic “Lawrence of Arabia” and recipient of 8 Oscar nominations. His most underrated role, I feel, is of the Scottish tutor Reginald Johnston in the 1987 Best Picture winner “The Last Emperor,” his character educates the emperor in ways of the world that are unknown to his hermetic existence. — 12-18-13

R.I.P. Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013), one of the great men to walk the Earth. I am providing a link of my review of “Invictus” (2009) which featured the fine Morgan Freeman portraying Mandela. Also, take note, he appears in the epilogue documentary segment at the end of Spike Lee’s masterpiece “Malcolm X” (1992), time to see that one if you haven’t. — 12-6-13

Lana Wood_ Diamonds are Forever (Boobage)I got the Blu-Ray 50 Years Bond 23 film collection as an early Christmas gift. Fired up, I first put on, of all movies, “The Living Daylights” (1987) just to watch the opening and the end scene with Bond fighting on a cargo net falling out of plane. Then I put on the underrated “Diamonds are Forever” (1971), which is not only exciting, but might showcase more beautiful boobs than any other entry (I might have to vote it as the sexiest Bond ever). Next, I slipped in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) with one-time George Lazenby as 007, a tad overrated yet has sensational scenes I’ve always remembered, but I had to turn it off because it could be the one Bond movie you need your brain to watch, you actually have to pay attention. “A View to a Kill” (1985) is mindless, “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) has a cool motorcycle chase. When you own a set like this, you play the titles you recall the least first. See pic of Lana Wood, secondary Bond girl in “Diamonds.” — 12-5-13

R.I.P. Paul Walker (September 12, 1973 – November 30, 2013), good-looking carefree actor. Most underrated film in his entire repertoire is “Joy Ride” (2001), a film I don’t have a review for but I remember fondly as being a tense, queasy thriller. Sort of a more tormenting update of Steven Spielberg’s “Duel” (1971). — 12-1-13

After you see “Catching Fire” this weekend, I advise you to hit the library and read the following: “The Long Walk” (1979) by Stephen King, “The Running Man” (1982) by Stephen King, “1984” (1948) by George Orwell, “The Crimson Labyrinth” (2006) by Yusuke Kishi, “Battle Royale” (1999) by Koushun Takami, and of course, if you haven’t already, “The Hunger Games” trilogy (2008) by Suzanne Collins. — 11-21-13

Love Actually” (2003) has proved itself to be the most beloved romantic comedy of the last ten years, and I love it, too. Richard Curtis’ latest follow-up “About Time” (2013) is a charmer but not quite in the same league. Here is a list of five other great romantic comedies that I think you should see: “Crazy Stupid Love” (2011), “Soul Kitchen” (2010, Germany), “Flipped” (2010), “Waitress” (2007), “Big Fish” (2003). — 11-6-13

Re-Animator_1985 _Critics Mind Horror PickMy Halloween horror viewing pick for this year off of Netflix Instant is the gooey and gross, hysterical and wacko feature “Re-Animator” (1985, 91 Minutes, R) in which a scientist revives corpses to become the walking dead. Features a talking head, deadly-threshing intestines, teeth-gnashing by lots of mauling living dead, and lots of boob shots of a B-actress. Director Stuart Gordon somehow got away with doing a shrewd remix of the Hitchcockian “Psycho” soundtrack. Jeffrey Combs is the mad Dr. Herbert West; Barbara Crampton is the screaming babe with lots of boobage. This flick is so outrageous, you will be s#*%ing bricks. It’s like, totally underrated. — 10-30-13

Carrie” is so insipid and inconsequential that my immediate reaction was worst remake of a classic film ever. After calming down, I think that’s going too far. But here are some other horrible remakes: “Arthur” (2011), “The Thing” (2011), “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (2008), “The Invasion” (2007), “The Wicker Man” (2006), “Swept Away” (2002), “Rollerball” (2002), “Planet of the Apes” (2001), “Psycho” (1998), and now that I’m done with my internet research, I only now recall the worst remake ever has to be “Get Carter” (2000) with Sylvester Stallone replacing the venerable Michael Caine. — 10-19-13

My ten favorite Tom Hanks films in order: “Cloud Atlas” (2012), “Toy Story 3″ (2010), “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), “Joe versus the Volcano” (1990), “Cast Away” (2010), “Toy Story” (1995), “Forrest Gump” (1994), “Apollo 13″ (1995), “Big” (1988), “Catch Me If You Can” (2002). — 10-10-13

The only resistance I’ve heard from others about seeing “Gravity” is doubting Sandra Bullock. But if you had never ever seen Sandra before in a movie (theoretically), it wouldn’t be an issue. She’s new unto herself in what is the masterpiece of the year so far. — 10-8-13

Ron Howard has become a dependable hand in classical Hollywood craftsmanship as demonstrated by his latest film “Rush” (2013), “Frost/Nixon” (2008), “Cinderella Man” (2005), “A Beautiful Mind” (2001) and “Apollo 13″ (1995). I want to make it clear I think he’s a terrific mainstream director, actually I’ll add my love “Parenthood” (1989) which could be my favorite film of his. But his worst entries in failed or awful craftsmanship are “The Missing” (2003) and “EdTV” (1999). I’ve never quite forgiven him for those. — 9-26-13

Best Sex Addiction films: “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” (2014); “Nymphomaniac Vol. 2” (2014); “Shame” (2011); “Carnal Knowledge” (1971), “Auto Focus” (2002); “Crash” (1996), “Lies” (1999, South Korea), “Don Jon” (2013), “Exotica” (1995). — 9-18-13

Gummo 1997 Notorious Harmony KorineI was wrong about Harmony Korine. I had to see for myself rather than rely on the orthodox grandstanders who denounced him as a wallower in exploitation. I resisted “Gummo” (1997) for 15 years because haters created this portrait in my head of how sick and diseased it was supposed to be (drug abuse, mental illness sex, sexual abuse, prostitution, suicide, animal cruelty, euthanasia, depression are topics), but it was nothing to fear at all. I wouldn’t call his non-narrative avante-garde film flawless since it has its draggy torrents, but it is extraordinary in effort. Whatever his intent, I found it to be a warts-honest portrait of poor-white trash in America, a sub-culture of way lesser means much separated from the rest of Big America. And while I would never want to hang out with them, I found them as people. Sometimes ignorant, sometimes belligerent, sometimes pathetic, but all the while I see some of the characters seeking solace in their lives. The notorious dirty-water bathtub scene? The kid hasn’t grown up with a sane or competent mother, and nobody has taught him there is a cleaner way to have a bath. I’m sure this has happened sadly somewhere in America to kids too ignorant and deprived to know any better. Back to Korine, I haven’t seen all of his work. Not the first film he wrote “Kids” (1995), because I admit I’m still afraid of it. I didn’t like “Julien Donkey-Boy” but admired the effort. I do think his latest film “Spring Breakers” is his best film yet. “Gummo” is available on Amazon. — 9-12-13

List of Harmony Korine’s ten favorite films as shared in a 1999 print interview: “Pixote” (1981, Brazil); “Badlands” (1973); “Days of Heaven” (1978); “Fat City” (1972); “Stroszek” (1978, Germany); “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (1976); “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974); “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (1971); “Out of the Blue” (1980); “Hail Mary” (1986, France). I’ve seen them all except the last two. The aforementioned eight would make for some great home viewing throughout the Fall season. — 9-12-13

I don’t really care about a basic narrative. I don’t see a narrative in life. I see stories and I love stories, but I don’t ever see anything ever beginning or finishing, and I don’t feel like there is a middle to anything in my life. I just rather show scenes, and things that exist, and go on and on and on. I could care less about narrative. I think story is essential and characters are essential. As far as putting something in order, I think that is something that has been done for the past hundred years and been accepted. And I’m just not interested.” Director Harmony Korine — 9-10-13

I finally caught up with Stanley Kubrick’s first film “Fear and Desire” (1953), which is hard-to-find, if nearly impossible, because Kubrick wanted it sealed away and never shown again out of embarrassment. It can’t be mistaken for a good film, but every few minutes, you do notice a glimmer of greatness in his penchant for shot composition. The talent was recognizable even then, which makes it relevant enough to watch, if you ever happen to find it in obscure bootleg video stores. — 9-5-13

Two French crime sagas have come out in recent years, one good, one bad: “Mesrine” and “Carlos.” The one you want to see is “Mesrine” with a badass sociopathic performance by Vincent Cassel who plays France’s most tabloid famous gangster of the 20th century. The “Mesrine” title is divided into two parts, “Part I: Killer Instinct” and “Part II: Public Enemy #1.” Now for “Carlos,” it has a strong reputation, but I declare it long, clanging, and often jarring in story swings. — 8-27-13

Butler_2013 Critics MindLook at the list of name actors in Lee Daniels’ “The Butler.” Wow, if you paid them all by their regular salary, the film budget would be over $70 million at least and I know damn well the movie didn’t cost a quarter of that to make. All the actors on roll call must have worked this time for scale, or below scale. Particularly the actors who played former U.S. Presidents: Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Schreiber, John Cusack, Alan Rickman. Because it wasn’t about getting paid this time. This is an instance of a labor of love for these actors. Not just because they believed in the story, although, that’s certainly a reason. But for the reward of doing a project with Daniels (“Precious” fame) is what must have drew them in. — 8-15-13

My five favorite Woody Allen films in order: “Annie Hall” (1977), “Manhattan” (1979), “Midnight in Paris” (2011), “The Purple Rose of Cairo” (1985), “Radio Days” (1987). I rank his newest “Blue Jasmine” at number six. — 8-12-13

Once you have seen “Elysium” you might want to check out “Soylent Green” (1973). That film is one of the more depressing science fiction dystopias, it certainly isn’t for mass consumer tastes, but if you are open to pessimistic fables it might intrigue you. — 8-8-13

Don’t Look Now” (1973) and “Casino Royale” (2006) are the two that best implement Venice, Italy as a filming location. — 8-1-13

The Hunt” (Denmark) is my first 5-star film off the 2013 roster. — 7-28-13

Contact_1997 _Jodie-FosterFilm Recommendation: “Contact” (1997). Evidence I get things wrong once or twice. At the time when it first came out, I found the Robert Zemeckis space exploration picture well-crafted but lost in yakkety yak. Seeing it now, it’s visionary and perception-expanding, intellectually fascinating and beyond conventional. I would rank it among 1997’s ten best features. — 7-24-13

Contact_ Matthew-McConaghey SpeechFavorite Quote: “Are we happier as a human race? Is the world a better place because of science and technology? We shop at home, we surf the web… but at the same time we feel emptier, lonelier, and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history. We’re becoming a synthesized society…” and continuing, “We’re looking for meaning. We have mindless jobs, take frantic vacations. Deficit finance trip to the mall to buy more things that we think will fill these holes in our lives. Is it any wonder we’ve lost our sense of direction?” Palmer Joss in “Contact” (1997). — 7-24-13

My Top Ten Films of All-Time: 1. Spring Summer Fall Winter… and Spring (2003, South Korea), 2. Walkabout (1971), 3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), 4. GoodFellas (1990), 5. All That Jazz (1979), 6. Citizen Kane (1941), 7. No Country for Old Men (2007), 8. Aguirre the Wrath of God (1972, Germany), 9. The Wizard of Oz (1939), 10. Schindler’s List (1993). Detailed article and synopses: Click here. — 7-15-13

In regards to the new EW 10 All-Time Greatest Movies, Cousin Bleh on the comment board said, “Just posting the same 10 movies that everyone else posts is boring and sheep-like.” Agreed. Next Friday I decided right here on this page I will finally list my all-time top ten, and promise you they won’t be the same predictable choices you see everywhere else. Listing the obvious is rudimentary. Isn’t the point providing you new titles for you to discover? There should be something new you haven’t seen that’s on my list. — 7-4-13

I never understood Jay Baruchel until “This is the End.” He’s been a dweeb from low-brow dweeb comedies. But he finally embraces his dweebiness playing himself at a gut level in the new apocalypse comedy hit. He’s the guy who really wants the approval of one best friend (no one else), and doesn’t really want to hang-out with anybody outside his comfort zone. We’re looking at a guy content with his marginal success, he’s grabbed it, and has now taken the low road. Or at least that’s what his movie’s alter ego is projecting. Somehow, Jay the dweeb sneering at others with contempt is… absolutely hilarious. I’m still in love with this movie. — 7-3-13

Jim Carrey says he no longer supports the upcoming “Kick-Ass 2″ because it is too violent. I agree with him, but shouldn’t he have figured that out after watching the first “Kick-Ass?” He says he filmed it a month before the Sandy Hook tragedy and now in “all good conscience [I] cannot support that level of violence.” — 6-25-13

R.I.P. Richard Matheson (1926-2013), sci-fi novelist and screenwriter. My five favorite Matheson adaptations in order: “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (1957), “What Dreams May Come” (1998), “Duel” (1971), “The Box” (2009), “I Am Legend” (2007). — 6-24-13

Grading the Superman movies. “Superman” (1978), grade: A. “Superman II” (1980), A-. “Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (1980), B+. “Superman III” (1983), C. “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” (1987), D. “Superman Returns” (2006), C. “Man of Steel” (2013), B-. — 6-24-13

The 6-minute short film “The Blue Umbrella,” a lush fable of a blue male umbrella getting wind-blown deliberately to be closer to an attractive red female umbrella, is better than the feature main attraction “Monsters University.” If it looks half-way real it’s because it was shot by a technique called photorealism. Real objects were photographed and then painted over. The 1956 short “The Red Balloon” appears to have been an influence. — 6-21-13

Film Recommendation: “A Prophet” (2009, France). The harmless, ineffectual 18-year old French-Arab named Malik (Tahar Rahim) is caught for a petty offense, and his six-year prison stint schools him into becoming a hardened, adept crime boss who runs illegal rackets by the time he’s released back into the world. This story feels universal, it could happen anywhere. It’s in the pipeline at Sony Pictures for an American remake. — 6-20-13

R.I.P. Picking the best performance by James Gandolfini (1961-2013), I would choose an unlikely one. His supporting role as a blue collar worker being manipulated by attorneys in “A Civil Action” (1998). He was never more different than he was in that one. — 6-19-13

Finally caught up with completing the Griswold family saga “Vegas Vacation” (1997) after all these years. It’s no good, but I kept thinking scene after scene that if they just punched it up a little bit with smarter lines and plausible gambling they might have at least made something worth watching. Each scene is more dumbed down than it had to be. My dad slept through it. — 6-18-13

Seth Rogen is often accused of being the same guy in every movie. One definite exception where he daringly stretched himself was when he played the dangerous bi-polar disorder mall cop in “Observe and Report,” a character completely unaware of his abnormal behavior. It’s a performance that I say is worthy of DeNiro. And you might be unaware that he has played serious drama once, very effectively, in the masterpiece “Take This Waltz.” — 6-14-13

Grading Richard Linklater’s Jesse and Celeste trilogy. “Before Sunrise” (1995), grade: A. “Before Sunset” (2004), A. “Before Midnight” (2013), C. — 6-10-13

The weekend must have been exhilarating for Universal execs and writer-director James DeMonaco following their #1 hit “The Purge,” but frantic times they must be having, too. For I bet they are all in a rage to brainstorm sequel and multiple sequel ideas. It’s not hard to imagine we likely have another over-extended horror franchise on the horizon. — 6-10-13

Arija Bareikis is just a bad enough actress that we know, while appearing normal in her first scene, that she had to have been cast as one of the crazy purgers in “The Purge.” — 6-8-13

You might have recently noticed my recommendation of the 1979 “Zombie” but in your search it might come up as “Zombie 2.” Ironically, it happens to not be a sequel to anything. In Italy at the time, the producers wanted to cash in on the success of George A. Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” (now a horror classic), so the moniker 2 was a deliberate attempt at exploiting consumers. — 6-4-13

Will Smith has played lucky, persevering characters before who have battled depression. And yet he has made them work. I’m behind “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006), “I Am Legend” (2007) and “Seven Pounds” (2008). But you see a trend. He’s trying to dig deeper with each film, but he really sinks “After Earth” beyond all reason with his dour, dreary demeanor. Son Jaden (pic left) is slandered for his nepotism, but he has a fighter’s spark and is far from the worst element. So besides Will, it’s the lumpish direction by M. Night Shyamalan and listless screenplay by Shyamalan and Gary Whitta that makes “After Earth” fail. — 6-3-13

I’m all about telling people to skip “After Earth,” saving them from boredom. But the media reports stink. By Saturday morning, reports said the movie only pulled in $9.8 million (oh no, the horrors! the bomb!). By Sunday morning, the reports said it was Will Smith’s lowest grossing summer movie in 20 years. Hey, it’s not like he has had one summer movie for twenty consecutive years. Also, that the film crashed at $27 million. Sure, it cost $130 million. But this is hardly in league with “John Carter” economic catastrophe. “After Earth” is simply a dud, not among the worst movies ever. Yet the worst thing that happened over the weekend was this horrible Hollywood reporting. — 6-2-13

The most important director contribution of 2013 is this speech/manifesto/rant by Steven Soderbergh at the San Francisco Film Festival last month. This is as no holds barred a critique and vivisection of Hollywood and the politics that drive the business as you are likely to hear from anyone. A riveting 40-minutes. Watch it also as a preparation for Soderbergh’s terrific, rules-breaking “Side Effects” which came out on DVD/Blu-Ray. Video:

                      State of Cinema: Steven Soderbergh from San Francisco Film Society courtesy of Vimeo.

Favorite Quote: “Ivan is a philistine.” / “What’s a philistine?” / “It’s a guy who doesn’t care about books or interesting films and things. Your mother’s brother Ned is also a philistine.” / “Then I’m a philistine.” / “No. You’re interested in books and things. You liked ‘The Wild Child’ when we saw it.” / “Lots of people liked that movie. No, I’m a philistine.” Dad and son conversation in “The Squid and the Whale” (2005). — 5-17-13

“Plan 9 From Outer Space” (1959) and “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” (2008), in terms of technical incompetence, are candidates for the worst theatrical films ever made. Grade F would in theory be appropriate. But those two are delightfully awful, delightfully tacky. I’ve had many laughs resulting in geysers of laugh-tears from viewing them. Much more fun than technically proficient, machine-made and personality-free blockbusters. — 5-17-13

As if we didn’t see enough bombings on the TV news at home we now get them incorporated into the plots of our movies like “Star Trek Into Darkness,” stamped as relevant. Uh, no thanks. — 5-16-13

The Social Network” is the great film of twenty-first century capitalism and society just as “Citizen Kane” was of the twentieth. — 5-16-13

I don’t care what People Magazine says. FlickMinute says Olga Kurylenko (actress of “To the Wonder,” “Oblivion,” “Erased”) is the true 2013 World’s Most Beautiful Woman. I have spoken. — 5-15-13

I tend to think of “To the Wonder” as an Olga Kurylenko movie first, and a Terrence Malick film second. Even though I know it should be the other way around. Can’t help it. Her physical presence is artistic beauty on par with a Malick painting on planetary birth. Or a Malick painting on dandelion fields. Or a Malick painting on spiritual levitation… Malick or someone should just make paintings devoted entirely of Olga Kurylenko. — 5-14-13

With “The Great Gatsby,” I think we have this year’s winner for Best Art Direction. It’s too splashy not to be admired from even the film’s detractors. It’s $51 million opening weekend and counting won’t hurt its rep, either. — 5-13-13

Ray Harryhausen died today at age 92. I know he’s famous for “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963) and “Clash of the Titans” (1981), which is indeed great hands-on special effects work. But please go out of the way to see his work on the marvelously gaga “Mighty Joe Young” (1949) if you’re a Kong fan. — 5-7-13

I don’t know what kind of phony, pseudo-intellectual dips@&# era we are living in where that scratchy and decomposing-before-your-eyes “Rules of the Game” (1938) is regarded as a masterpiece while the underseen “Walkabout” (1971) is not. I feel the cataracts crust over my eyes during Jean “austere” Renoir’s so-called cinematic genius. My thoughts and feelings are in a cascade of awe during Roegs’ film. Film history should start over so we can establish givens correctly. Available on Amazon. — 5-4-13

Isn’t Robert Downey Jr. freakin’ great in “Tropic Thunder” (2008)? He should have been that year’s Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor. I mean, Heath Ledger painted the Joker into a sociopathic radical who terrorized an entire city with a white-hot rage in “TDK.” But I felt voters bent over backwards to honor his name posthumously, as if Ledger were to be denied a proper legacy or something. Downey molds into two characters at once, the actor Kirk Lazarus and the character he’s playing. Or as he says, “I know who I am! I’m a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude!” The Downey genius is unmistakable and the laughs are never-ending, dozens of viewings later. — 5-3-13

I can’t listen to The Lumineers song “Ho Hey” anymore. Feels like a warmed-over Cameron Crowe movie when I hear it. Reluctantly, I think of a Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst schmaltzathon. That would be Crowe’s crappiest film, “Elizabethtown” (2005). — 5-1-13

I didn’t think about it until director Ramin Bahrani brought it up, but his protagonist in his new film played by Dennis Quaid is inspired by Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.” But come to think of it, I’ve never seen any version (stage or film) of “Salesman” that is as good as Bahrani’s “At Any Price.” — 4-30-13

Great cinematic mind-benders: “Metropolis” (1927, Germany), “Un Chien Andalou” (1929, France); “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961, France), “Woman in the Dunes” (1964, Japan), “Persona” (1966, Sweden), “Weekend” (1967, France), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972, France), “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976), “That Obscure Object of Desire” (1977, France), “Eraserhead” (1977), “Three Women” (1977), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Body Double” (1984), “Brazil” (1985), “Blue Velvet” (1986), “Jacob’s Ladder” (1990), “Santa Sangre” (1990, Mexico), “Orlando” (1993), “12 Monkeys” (1995), “Crash” (1996), “Dark City” (1998), “eXistenZ” (1999), “Being John Malkovich” (1999), “The Isle” (2000, South Korea), “The Cell” (2000), “Mulholland Dr.” (2001, see pic), “Memento” (2001), “Waking Life” (2001), “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), “Time” (2006, South Korea), “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” (2006, Britain), “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006, Spain), “Enter the Void” (2009, France), “Inception” (2010), “Black Swan” (2010), “Source Code” (2011), “The Tree of Life” (2011), “The Skin I Live In” (2011, Spain), “Cloud Atlas” (2012), “Her” (2013), “The Congress” (2013). — 4-29-13, UPDATED

I wasted and damaged many hours of my life watching/studying Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, Robert Rossellini movies; letting “L’Atalante” (1934), “Il Bidone” (1955), “Au Hasard Balthazar” (1966), “Death in Venice” (1971), “Yi Yi” (2000) suck the life out of me and turn me into a bore. Those movies have long been hailed by many highfaluting snobs. But they won’t get you laid. Movies like “Lenny” (1974) and “Small Change” (1976), the joyous-optimistic comedies of Woody Allen, the suave Cary Grant, Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman and Denzel Washington movies, oh, and of course “All That Jazz” (1979, pic right)… those are the movies that taught me how to talk to girls, the ones that opened up my mind to the possibilities of life, enhancing and sharpening me in the social world. Movies are a reflective time or a diverting time. But bogging the mind on depressing pseudo-intellectual bores was a waste. — 4-28-13

Films I would be willing to watch on a Friday night: “Paths of Glory” (1957), “Sunset Boulevard” (1950), “Unforgiven” (1992), “The Fountain” (2006) and “Fellini’s Roma” (1972, pic left) in place of the others previously mentioned. But if I’m in a light mood I’m going “Groundhog Day” (1993) or anything Bill Murray. I talk movies with friends on Fridays. When inebriated I rant on this mural scene. Chapter 10 on the “Roma” DVD. — 4-27-13

When I was young and nerdy-pretentious, I went with the herd in believing “Grand Illusion” (1938), “All About Eve” (1950), “Seven Samurai” (1954), “The Seventh Seal” (1957) and “Andre Rublev” (1966) — as examples — were great films. Today, no way. I would never spend my precious Friday night watching one of those misanthropic snoozers. It’s hard enough to get through life. I want a pick-me-up comedy, or some inspirational story, or some cool mind-bender on a night like this. — 4-26-13

When I was 10-years old I would get Paul Newman and Richard Dreyfuss mixed up. Glad I saw enough movies to sort that one out. Once I saw “The Hustler” (1961), “Slap Shot” (1977), “The Verdict” (1982) Newman was unmistakable from that point on. — 4-25-13

For years I got “Beyond Rangoon” (1995), “Return to Paradise” (1998) and “Brokedown Palace” (1999) mixed up. Avoid the first one. “Paradise” with Vince Vaughn as an American who is propositioned to serve Malaysia prison time in exchange for friend Joaquin Phoenix’s pardon from a death sentence, is the best one and is well worth seeking out. Phoenix does some of the best crying acting I’ve seen. Rest of the cast is surprisingly exemplary. — 4-25-13

If I were to supply a list of the ten weirdest movies ever made, “Zardoz” (1974) with Sean Connery would be one of them. Click link to read. — 4-22-13

You might have noticed I’m giving a lot of 3-star reviews lately. All that indicates is that there’s been a lot of middle-of-the-road movies in 2013 that are watchable but stop short of approaching anything special. I nearly gave “42” a 3.5 star rating (I flirted with 4 until the realization it was going to cover only one pro season in Jackie Robinson’s career). Main point: There’s good concepts, good sequences, good distractions so far this year. But I am starving however to get films that are more ambitious. Very few outside of “The Place Beyond the Pines” and “Side Effects” demonstrate that powerful follow-through.  — 4-19-13

Best Films of the Decade 2000-2009 written three years ago, with “Spring Summer Fall Winter… and Spring” (2003, South Korea) ranked at the top. Click link to read. — 4-17-13

Spring Summer Fall Winter… and Spring” (2003, South Korea). Every time I see it I want to live inside the film. Living on a floating pagoda immersed in peace and quite, that would be wonderful. But I couldn’t do it for a lifetime like the Master does in the film. I am too addicted to modern technology and conditioned by fast city life. But it’s true my wish is to live inside this film as a meditation retreat for two weeks every year. Then sadly get back to my dependent reality. — 4-14-13

My original review of Terrence Malick’s magnificent, fierce, impressionistic head-trip that is “The Tree of Life.” Click here.

A film is, or should be, more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what’s behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later.” – Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). — 4-12-13

I was at the review screening for “42” the Jackie Robinson story and all I could think about is how much I wanted a Virgil’s Cream Soda. No reason. I just mused that in 1947 people drank more cream sodas than they do today. I was thirsty. I tracked one down at Whole Foods after the movie. Update: “42” has the highest opening weekend gross ever for a baseball movie at $27.3 million. Also, my Cream Soda cravings are over. — 4-10-13

It’s amazing how the masterpiece “Aguirre the Wrath of God” (1972) would have vanquished away into ancient history had Roger Ebert not have written compellingly about it, had he not venerated Werner Herzog. It’s known today as one of the best films ever made, and that’s all due to Ebert since no other critic bothered backing it up before him. Now we’re all behind it. 4-10-13

One of Roger Ebert’s final pieces was his retrospect review of “The Ballad of Narayama” (1983, Japan), an old-century period piece where the villagers enforce a tradition of throwing elders past age 70 off the mountain or once they’ve become of no use. I always remembered the film being “very good” in my memory, but it now takes on a new poignancy since it’s one of Ebert’s last pieces. See it when you can. — 4-8-13

 

Most overrated 2012 movies: “Lincoln,” “Skyfall,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “End of Watch,” “Easy Money.” Of those, at least “Lincoln” is worth a look. –12-26-12

I hand it to Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes that it has a terrific, grand entrance of James Bond when he enters the Macau, China casino on a dragon-boat with fired lanterns lighting the way. It would have been totally mesmerizing had I liked the movie up to that point. –12-22-12

I keep hearing that “Skyfall” is the best James Bond ever and that it is enriched by being the first 007 entry to dig deep into his childhood. Yet besides stepping inside the manor he grew up in and meeting an inconsequential caretaker, I don’t see it. What insight?? We came into his orphan background already when discussed in “Casino Royale” (2006) which provided far more shades of character. –12-22-12

Hitchcock” is such a paint-by-numbers biopic of Alfred Hitchcock that if you were a newbie and wanted to learn something about him, I’d advise you to watch one of his films instead. Start with “Strangers on a Train” (1951), “Rear Window” (1954), “Vertigo” (1958) or “The Birds” (1963). — 12-20-12

Watching “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) on cable. I am reminded again that it has some of the best shot composition that I’ve ever seen.” — 12-19-12

Most bastardized films that play on network cable TV are “Scarface” (1983), “Carlito’s Way” (1993), “Casino” (1995) and “25th Hour” (2002) because of the way they are mercilessly edited and censored. Better to always see them on DVD/Blu-Ray formats or at least no-commercial movie channels. — 12-17-12

It took me a few years to recognize it but I believe I was very emotionally moved by Woody Harrelson’s performance in “Seven Pounds.” — 12-5-12

Mychael Danna’s music for “Life of Pi” is the first soundtrack of the last couple of years that I’m enjoying listening to.” — 12-2-12

Life of Pi” is Ang Lee’s fourth masterpiece. The others are, listing in both ascending year of release and in order of preference,  “The Ice Storm” (1997), “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” (2000) and “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). — 11-30-12

Take this Waltz” is available on Instant Netflix but is wrongly cataloged under Comedy when it should be filed under Romantic Movies or Drama. — 11-29-12

It’s true. I regret not having given “Rampart” at least 4-stars (damn my 3.5). I embrace the ambiguous ending now which I can already foresee my own projection of what will happen next to Dave Brown. No rebounds for him. — 11-27-12

I wonder how many people who have seen all “Twilight” movies have bothered to see a vampire movie that matters, like “Let the Right One In” (Sweden) or “Thirst” (South Korea)? Probably few. Subtitled movies are tough for tweens. — 11-26-12

Is it me or does Elle Goulding’s “Lights” the only modern pop song that could have been successfully integrated into Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz?” — 11-25-12

Anyone that hits the ad to the right of the page helps me get recognized by Google, even if you X out of it immediately that’s okay! — 11-24-12

This space is where I will write quips about my personal life and on random critical observations. — November 21, 2012

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