Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Top 10: 2015

Last year, I kind of punted on an introduction for my top ten. I was still processing my dad's death - I am still processing it, but it was still very fresh - and I needed to just enjoy movies without feeling pressure to explain or defend why I like the stuff I like. I'm past that point now, but the way I look at movies and why they matter to me has changed a lot in the past few years, both because of my dad and because, this year, I made a movie. I've made things before, but this was the first legit production I've led, with a professional crew, fancy equipment and 12-hour production days (or more). The movie's finished now; we've got exciting news ahead that I can't share yet, but I can't wait for all of you to have the chance to check it out. I was at the start of this experience a year ago, and now that I'm on the other side of it, it's also changed the way I look at movies and, especially, film criticism.

This isn't going to turn into an anti-criticism screed that amounts to "You think you can do better than me?" There are a number of critics I read regularly, and a handful that have helped shape the way I look at movies. But going through the filmmaking process has made me realize how often people writing about movies make assumptions about a filmmaker's choices that have little relation to how movies are actually made. I realize now that even the most brilliant filmmakers, the ones that seemingly orchestrate every tiny detail in advance, must have to make a hundred choices a day that they weren't anticipating because of the countless variables beyond their control. The best critics understand this, but more and more, I find myself rolling my eyes at the ones who make assertions about a director's intentions when they couldn't possibly know what was going through the filmmaker's mind when they made a particular choice on the day (if it was even their choice to make). Even Kubrick had to wing it sometimes.

Editing was a particularly eye-opening experience; as I was obsessing every day over, say, whether to make a particular shot twelve frames longer or eight frames shorter, I couldn't watch other movies without being extremely conscious of every cut and wondering about the balance of artistic and practical considerations behind each one. In the case of my favorite movie of the year, Mad Max: Fury Road, I marveled at how George Miller and his editor, Margaret Sixel, took a gargantuan amount of raw footage from what was, by all accounts, a grueling shoot, and fashioned it into a film that is not just coherent but will serve as a model of thrilling, economical and emotionally compelling action moviemaking for years to come. But a smaller movie like my runner-up choice, Carol, is as much of a marvel in its own way, a delicate masterpiece of gestures, glances and subtle details that accumulate to devastating effect.

I started this blog a little over ten years ago - looking back for my top tens last month was a little awkward, and I hope that I'm a better writer and have stronger judgment than I did then. Obviously, I don't write here as often as I used to. Between making a movie and trying my best to keep up with the different sites I contribute to, there's not a lot of time left over for the blog, which is a good problem to have. I like to keep it open for this and other annual traditions like Halloween (which I whiffed last year) and the White Elephant Blog-a-thon, and for old times' sake. When I started this blog, I never imagined anyone other than my close friends would read it, and I'm grateful for the opportunities it's led to and, especially, the people I've gotten to know because of it. The Muriel Awards, and the people I've met through them, were one of the first of those opportunities, and it's been exciting to watch them grow to the point where the company I'm in as a voter is frankly ridiculous. I'm not sure when the Muriels begin announcing their winners this year, but keep an eye on their blog for the results.

My top ten:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road 
2. Carol
3. Creed
4. Crimson Peak
5. Magic Mike XXL
6. Brooklyn
7. Straight Outta Compton
8. Mistress America
9. It Follows
10. Inside Out

The rest of my Muriels ballot:

Best Lead Performance, Female

1. Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
3. Rooney Mara, Carol
4. Cate Blanchett, Carol
5. Nina Hoss, Phoenix

Best Lead Performance, Male

1. Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight
2. Michael B. Jordan, Creed
3. Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies
4. Michael Keaton, Spotlight
5. Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Best Supporting Performance, Female

1. Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
2. Jada Pinkett Smith, Magic Mike XXL
3. Rose Byrne, Spy
4. Sarah Paulson, Carol
5. Jessica Chastain, Crimson Peak

Best Supporting Performance, Male

1. Sylvester Stallone, Creed
2. Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
3. Tom Noonan, Anomalisa
4. Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina
5. Rick Springfield, Ricki and the Flash

Best Director

1. George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Todd Haynes, Carol
3. Ryan Coogler, Creed
4. Guillermo del Toro, Crimson Peak
5. Gregory Jacobs, Magic Mike XXL

Best Screenplay

1. Phyllis Nagy, Carol
2. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, Mistress America
3. Ryan Coogler and Aaron Covington, Creed
4. Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley, Inside Out
5. Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa

Best Cinematography

1. Edward Lachman, Carol  
2. Fernando Velázquez, Crimson Peak
3. Emmanuel Lubezki, The Revenant
4. Matthew Libatique, Straight Outta Compton
5. Mike Gioulakis, It Follows

Best Editing

1. Margaret Sixel, Mad Mad: Fury Road
2. Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver, Creed
3. Eddie Hamilton, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
4. Mary Ann Bernard, Magic Mike XXL
5. Ryan Denmark and Hye Mee Na, Chi-Raq

Best Music

1. Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
2. John Williams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
3. Disasterpeace, It Follows
4. Junkie XL, Mad Max: Fury Road
5. Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham, Mistress America

Best Documentary

1. Call Me Lucky
2. The Look of Silence
3. Amy

Best Cinematic Moment

1. Magic Mike XXL - "I Want It That Way"
2. Mad Max: Fury Road - Furiosa's scream
3. Creed - "I'm going to knock that son of a bitch down."
4. Ricki and the Flash - "Drift Away"
5. Anomalisa - "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"
6. Kingsman: The Secret Service - "Manners maketh man."
7. It Follows - Opening shot
8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Kylo Ren vs. Finn & Rey
9. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - Turandot
10. Furious 7 - Skyscraper jump

Best Cinematic Breakthrough

1. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor, Tangerine
2. Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
3. Marielle Heller, The Diary of a Teenage Girl
4. David Robert Mitchell, It Follows
5. Céline Sciamma, Girlhood

Best Body of Work

1. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Anomalisa)
2. Matthew Libatique (Straight Outta Compton, Chi-Raq)
3. Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
4. Kurt Russell (Furious 7, Bone Tomahawk, The Hateful Eight)
5. Richard Jenkins (Bone Tomahawk, Spotlight)

Best Ensemble Performance

1. Straight Outta Compton
2. What We Do in the Shadows
3. Brooklyn
4. The Hateful Eight
5. Magic Mike XXL

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Top 10: 2005

1. Munich (Spielberg)
2. The New World (Malick)
3. A History of Violence (Cronenberg)
4. The Devil's Rejects (Zombie)
5. Grizzly Man (Herzog)
6. The Squid and the Whale (Baumbach)
7. Brokeback Mountain (Lee)
8. The Proposition (Hillcoat)
9. King Kong (Jackson)
10. Broken Flowers (Jarmusch)

Ten years ago:

1. Munich
2, A History of Violence
3. Grizzly Man
4. The New World
5. King Kong
6. The Squid and the Whale
7. Brokeback Mountain
8. Last Days (Van Sant)
9. Broken Flowers
10. Sin City (Rodriguez & Miller)

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Top 10: 1995

1. Dead Man (Jarmusch)
2. Seven (Fincher)
3. Heat (Mann)
4. 12 Monkeys (Gilliam)
5. Safe (Haynes)
6. Crumb (Zwigoff)
7. Before Sunrise (Linklater)
8. Casino (Scorsese)
9. The Usual Suspects (Singer)
10. In the Mouth of Madness (Carpenter)

Ten years ago:

1. 12 Monkeys
2. Seven
3. Safe
4. The Usual Suspects
5. The City of Lost Children (Jeunet & Caro)
6. Casino
7. Crumb
8. Dead Man Walking (Robbins)
9. To Die For (Van Sant)
10. Braveheart (Gibson)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Top 10: 1985

1. Ran (Kurosawa)
2. Brazil (Gilliam)
3. After Hours (Scorsese)
4. Fright Night (Holland)
5. Day of the Dead (Romero)
6. The Purple Rose of Cairo (Allen)
7. Lost in America (Brooks)
8. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Schrader)
9. Blood Simple (Coen)
10. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (Burton)

Ten years ago:

1. Brazil (Gilliam)
2. Ran (Kurosawa)
3. After Hours (Scorsese)
4. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Schrader)
5. Blood Simple (Coen)
6. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (Burton)
7. Day of the Dead (Romero)
8. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (Miller/Ogilvy)
9. Re-Animator (Gordon)
10. Back to the Future (Zemeckis)

Friday, January 08, 2016

Top 10: 1975

1. Nashville (Altman)
2. Jaws (Spielberg)
3. Barry Lyndon (Kubrick)
4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Forman)
5. Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet)
6. Black Moon (Malle)
7. The Passenger (Antonioni)
8. Jeanne Dielman, 25 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Akerman)
9. The Mirror (Tarkovsky)
10. Night Moves (Penn)

The list I made ten years ago:

1. Nashville (Altman)
2. Jaws (Spielberg)
3. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Forman)
4. The Passenger (Antonioni)
5. Dog Day Afternoon (Lumet)
6. The Day of the Locust (Schlesinger)
7. Tommy (Russell)
8. Dersu Uzala (Kurosawa)
9. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sharman)
10. Love and Death (Allen)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Zombie

#11 (tie) - 11 votes

Before the month is over, I wanted to share this contribution from Vanessa Vinci on Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2 (aka Zombie). Thanks, Vanessa!

Lucio Fulcis Zombi 2 (aka Zombie, aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) is probably the most obscure late 70s Italian gorefest that everyones heard of and generates some fantastic Abbott and Costello-style descriptions of the movie itself:

If I havent seen Zombi 1 or 2, can I watch Zombi 3?

Zombi 2 is the first one, there is no Zombi 1.

So Zombi 3 is Zombi 2?

Zombi 2 is Zombi 2.
Then whats Zombi 1?
Dawn of the Dead.

Thanks to Italian copyright law, Lucio Fulcis Zombie, the first in the Zombie Flesh Eaters series, borrowed the popularity of Romeros cynical allegory and used it to return audiences to the voodoo-inspired roots of White Zombie or I Walked With a Zombie. After the chilling opening scene where a seemingly abandoned sailboat drifts into the Hudson (as perfect a horror opener as ever was and used in everything from Dracula to The Strain), the action shifts to the mysterious island where interloping doctors have been tampering with local superstition to find a scientific explanation for zombie-ism. Here, though, there is no witch doctor, no grand evil mastermind puppeteering the undead for a greater scheme; the dead are rising and both science and magic are equally useless at explaining or controlling the devastation.

Plot, acting, characterization and dialog arent the movies strong points. The characters are the kind of stock horror movie folk where the men stick around places that are clearly unsafe far longer than self-preservation would dictate while the women are prone to things like topless scuba-diving in shark ridden waters. The zombies dont move very fast, but with this crowd they dont have to.

Fulci keeps the stripped down storyline of Romeros Dead movies but without the better actors. What he does use well is atmosphere: like Night of the Living Deads secluded farmhouse and Dawns shopping mall, Zombie combines the sweltering tropical setting with the relentless drumming score to create a world where everything feels fetid. When his zombies start rising en masse from a cemetery with their worm-ridden orifices it makes total disgusting sense because of course anything buried in the dense island loam would show the worst kind of putrefaction.

In todays zombie-saturated pop culture Zombie still deserves credit for one of the most beautiful sequences in a zombie film and one of the most brutal. Eyeball torture is a universal fear and, unlike any comparable scene in a torture-porn flick, desensitization never enters the equation. Even Un Chien Andalou doesnt have those squishy sound effects to amp up the experience. And that zombie vs. shark sequence. What an awesome, almost balletic interaction between two apex predators, neither of whom knows what to make of the other or even how to experience the other except by taking a big olebite out of it. The scene is colorful, eerie and totally mesmerizing, like the all the best moments of the film.

U.S. Release Date: July 18, 1980 (Also released that week: Cheech and Chong's Next Movie, Honeysuckle Rose, The Little Dragons)

Friday, October 30, 2015

'70s Horror Poll: Complete Results

Alas, I think it's time for me to admit defeat. I've been running month-long, Halloween-themed lists and such at Cinevistaramascope for a few years, and it's been a pleasure, especially with the polls I've run last and this year. But I have to be honest - it seems that, between writing for other sites and finishing and promoting the premiere of my movie, I've fallen way, way behind on the '70s poll this month. So, I'm faced with two options:

1. Write about 17 more movies in the next 24 hours or so and post a bunch of rushed, subpar writing.

2. Publish the full list now.

So, I've decided to breathe a little and publish the full list below. I'll still eventually write about the remaining movies, but I'll admit that allowing myself to do it at my own pace is a relief. I hope it's not too much of a disappointment for all of you. Also, I'll be running the one piece I received from a contributor later today. Hopefully I'll have the time and energy next Halloween to commit to a longer project, but as it is, being so busy with writing and making movies that I don't have much time to blog is a pretty good problem to have. Thanks again for your lists, and have a happy Halloween!

The List:

1. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) -26 votes

2 (tie). Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) - 25 votes

2 (tie). Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) - 25 votes

2 (tie). The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) - 25 votes

3. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978) - 24 votes

4. Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976) - 23 votes

5. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) - 20 votes

6. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) - 18 votes

7 (tie). Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974) - 17 votes

7 (tie). The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) - 17 votes

8. House (Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, 1977) - 15 votes

9. Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977) - 14 votes

10. The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979) - 13 votes

11 (tie). Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975) - 11 votes

11 (tie). Zombie (Lucio Fulci, 1979) - 11 votes

12 (tie). The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971) - 10 votes

12 (tie). Don't Look Now (Nicolas Roeg, 1973) - 10 votes

12 (tie). Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1979) - 10 votes

13. Martin (George A. Romero, 1977) - 9 votes

14. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978) - 8 votes

15. Nosferatu the Vampyre (Werner Herzog, 1979) - 7 votes

16. Messiah of Evil (Willard Huyck, 1973) - 6 votes

17 (tie). The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976) - 5 votes

18 (tie). The Tenant (Roman Polanski, 1976) - 5 votes

19 (tie). Daughters of Darkness (Harry Kumel, 1971) - 4 votes

19 (tie). Piranha (Joe Dante, 1978) - 4 votes

19 (tie). Sisters (Brian De Palma, 1973) - 4 votes

19 (tie). The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (Sergio Martino, 1971) - 4 votes

19 (tie). Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) - 4 votes