Friday, January 23, 2009

The Annual Oscar Post

Most red-blooded American males spend this time of year geeking out about the Super Bowl.

I don't give a fuck about the Super Bowl.

Instead, I the shameless movie geek redirect that energy to a markedly different sort of Sunday night programming: the Academy Awards. I admit that they're utterly trivial (while, clearly, a bunch of guys in tight pants tackling the shit out of each other over a piece of inflatable pigskin isn't), but I think they're fun. They recognize excellence in something I care deeply about, and that's all that matters to me. And even though there are about 9,000 other awards shows, as far as film goes, the Oscars are still singlehandedly the most prestigious. So that's exciting, right? Right.

So every year after nominees are announced, I do this here Oscar write-up. Well, the nominees were announced yesterday morning, so here we are. It's a pretty straightforward breakdown: I list the nominees, give my personal preference (Should Win), my prediction of the actual winner (Will Win -- and sometimes these even correspond to each other, oooh aaah), and then write a few short comments. It couldn't be simpler. Unless of course I just didn't do it, which would be much more practical.

Let's check it out.

Best Picture:
The Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire
Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire
Comments: All in all, a very strong lineup. Of these, The Reader is the only one I haven't seen (and I don't have much desire to), while the other four all very handily made my Top 10 List. They're all deserving in their own right. However, Slumdog Millionaire is the little engine that could. It's a juggernaut and it has near-universal support behind it (and, for what it's worth, it's also my personal favorite). If there's an upset, it'll be Benjamin Button (my second favorite, incidentally), but I don't see that happening.

Best Director:
The Nominees: Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire), Stephen Daldry (The Reader), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Ron Howard (Frost/Nixon), Gus Van Sant (Milk)
Should Win: David Fincher
Will Win: Danny Boyle
Comments: Again, it's a race between my two favorite films and, frankly, of those nominated, my two favorite directors (funny how that works out). The Academy has an irritating habit of rewarding the film itself over how well directed it is, which is why I predict Boyle's going to win, but it's not like he's undeserving: Slumdog IS a very stylish and expertly made film. However, Fincher's work on Benjamin Button is just better. It was just about the prettiest and best-directed film of 2008. Also, I'm a bit biased, just because I think Fincher's one of the best out there. And that is a bit of a monkeywrench: the Academy does tend to reward based on past achievements. So it's a race not just between Button and Slumdog, but also between Se7en/Fight Club and Trainspotting/28 Days Later. We'll see.

Best Actor:
The Nominees: Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon), Sean Penn (Milk), Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler)
Should Win: Frank Langella
Will Win: Mickey Rourke
Comments: It's Rourke. Anyone wanna argue the point? It's a shame, too, because I honestly think Langella, Penn, and Pitt were all much better in their respective roles. Yeah, sure, Rourke was good, but it wasn't Oscar-caliber. They're just hopeless romantics looking for an underdog. They've found him. So tough luck, Mr. Langella. If it were me, your brilliant work as Richard Nixon would not go unrewarded. As it stands, well, to paraphrase Bogart: you'll always have Watergate.

Best Supporting Actor:
The Nominees: Josh Brolin (Milk), Robert Downey, Jr. (Tropic Thunder), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road)
Should Win: Heath Ledger
Will Win: Heath Ledger
Comments: Every year there's at least one sure thing. This is it. Ain't no way Ledger's losing. I'd bet every cent I own. (But some serious lulz @ Downey actually getting nominated for Tropic Thunder. Rock on, dude. Rock. On.)

Best Actress:
The Nominees: Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married), Angelina Jolie (Changeling), Melissa Leo (Frozen River), Meryl Streep (Doubt), Kate Winslet (The Reader)
Should Win: Anne Hathaway
Will Win: Kate Winslet
Comments: The biggest shocker here is that Winslet was nominated for The Reader and not Revolutionary Road. Regardless of which film, though, I still think her chances of winning are pretty damn good. She's been nominated six times now (which, for a 33-year-old, is beyond amazing), and it's just "her time" to win. If I were to choose, I'd go for Anne Hathaway's mindblowing work in Rachel Getting Married (my second-favorite performance of last year, after Mr. Ledger), but she's just a minor player. Being nominated is her reward; that's all she's gonna get.

Best Supporting Actress:
The Nominees: Amy Adams (Doubt), Penelope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Viola Davis (Doubt), Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler)
Should Win: Penelope Cruz
Will Win: Penelope Cruz
Comments: Although Kate Winslet cleaned up both lead and supporting categories at the Golden Globes, she was left out here, which levels the playing field again. So I'm back to my original prediction that Penelope Cruz is going to get her due for her standout work in That New Woody Allen Film. She should, too: she's dynamite in that part. If there's a dark horse waiting in the wings, it's Viola Davis. At this point, the buzz is such that it could go either way. But for right now I'll place my bets on Cruz. I may regret it later, but there we go.

... and of course there are a bazillion other categories, for which I could waste a hell of a lot more time writing about, but these are the big ones. We'll see how accurate my predictions are. At this point, I'm fairly confident about all of these, but the buzz over the course of the next month could prove me wrong. Still, Ledger and Rourke are in the bag, hands-down, and Winslet's not looking too bad, either.

Also: are you people really that surprised that The Dark Knight didn't get nominated for more of the big awards? Really? C'mon. Despite how good the film actually is, it's still a "superhero movie." Film snobs, unless they're unapologetic geeks like myself, don't go for that sort of thing. They get their rocks off watching Kate Winslet play a Nazi pedophile. There's been a lot of talk about how both the film itself and Mr. Nolan's direction have gotten snubbed, but frankly I'm not surprised at all. I would've been more surprised if they had gotten the nod. The film will get its due by means of Heath Ledger and some of the technical awards, but that's about it. So it goes. We all know how great the film is, though, so with that out of the way we can just sit back and watch the evening unfold as it will.

30 days! Or ... however long. I don't pay much attention to these things. I just know I'll be watching when it does happen.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Movie Roundup: 1/18/09

I figured I should do this one more time before school swoops in and steals my soul again. I've spent the last (and final, sadly ... or is the promise of actually having something to do really so bad?) week or so of my break re-visiting some old favorites while discovering some, er, interesting new flicks. Same format as before, same scale, same everything. Just different movies. Which is great, 'cause I don't think I could handle The Spirit again just yet.


American History X (Tony Kaye, 1998) 84
The movie that made Edward Norton a star, and deservedly so. His work here as a violent skinhead who gets a taste of his own medicine is nothing less than riveting. It's a prime example of a single performance (still Norton's best, by a long shot) elevating an already well-made film into the realms something much greater. The movie as a whole is likely the most brutal examination of racism I have encountered in a film (as much as I like Crash, this makes that one look like Sesame Street), and its impact is indelible. This is only my second time watching the film, but even after the first time I think I'd have had immense trouble forgetting the infamous "curb scene." It's among the nastiest, most mirthless acts of violence I've ever watched onscreen; it gives me chills just thinking about it. But that's a testament to how well done this is: it's sobering as hell and it tugs at the heartstrings unapologetically, but it never feels ingenuine. It's that believability that makes it such a forceful, potent piece of work. Factor Norton's should've-won-an-Oscar performance (he was nominated, but lost to Roberto Benigni) back in there and you have an unsettling film that's every bit as great as everyone says it is.

Ashes of Time Redux (Wong Kar-Wai, 1994/2008) 51
A gorgeous trainwreck. I realize the film probably deserves much lower than what I'm giving it, because it really is pretty awful, but I'm a sucker for visuals. I realize this is the cinematic equivalent of liking someone 'cause they're hott and leaving personality on the backburner, but sue me. I'm shallow. And regardless, I still hate this damn movie. Ashes of Time is well-shot to an extent that it actually makes the incoherence of the rest of the film even more frustrating. Why would Wong Kar-Wai waste such excellent cinematography on such a jumbled, indecipherable, and frankly disinteresting mess? And then, why would he feel the need to resurrect said mess to do a "redux" version? Given the assumption that his new "definitive" cut is an improvement, god help me if I ever have to sit through the original. According to IMDb, the original is seven minutes longer. You don't understand the weight of this. Time is a vacuum with this film. Seven Samurai feels shorter than this thing. An extra seven minutes might very well kill me. But hey, at least they'd be pretty.

The Big Lebowski (The Coen Brothers, 1998) 91
One of my all-time favorite comedies, if only for the fact that every single scene is some sort of absurd comic gem. One of the things about seeing it multiple times is that you learn to not expect it to be a smooth, coherent narrative in the traditional sense. Sure, there's a story, and for a comedy it's almost ridiculously twisty, but you can tell storytelling's not what the Coens are going for this time. They're just fucking around, and the result is that the story ends up riding shotgun to the randomness and absurdity that dominates the whole affair. This'll drive lots of people crazy (and the film does have its avid naysayers), especially if they don't know exactly what to expect, but I think what the Coens have whipped up here is brilliant. The thing is overflowing with memorable scenes, characters, and quotes ("I hate the fuckin' Eagles, man!"); you'll be surprised how often parts of it will come back to you in day-to-day life. It's wonderful, and it's one that gets better and better the more you watch it. I just love it.

Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) 87
"Ya know what happens to nosy fellas? Huh? No? Wanna guess?" Roman Polanski's Chinatown is almost unquestionably among the greatest of all detective films: it's one of those that has both become a milestone in film history, and one that I greatly enjoy on a personal level. Calling it Polanski's best work is a no-brainer, and citing it as Jack Nicholson's finest two hours probably isn't too far off the mark, either. Film noir is my favorite genre, and this is just about as complex and hard-freakin'-boiled as they come. It may elude the casual viewer at first just why the film is called Chinatown, but stick with it: it has one of the grimmest, most hardass (which is to say, ideal) endings I can remember on a film, and by the time the credits roll all will make sense. "Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown" may be the most wrenching non-sequitur ever spoken on the silver screen, but man. The gut-punch it packs is something else. A great, great film.

Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977) 81
Fuckin' weird. David Lynch's debut film is much more a continuous stream of surrealist mindfuckery than it is a coherent narrative. To even attempt to describe it would be completely beside the point, and assigning a score to it is about as easy as achieving world peace. With our extant technologies, it's pretty much impossible. Acceptance of this one all hinges on whether or not you're a David Lynch fan. I am, so I give it a really high score, but I'm quite aware that most people ain't gonna be willing to put up with this nonsense. And though I can without hesitation call it brilliant, I too draw the line at calling it enjoyable. This is my second time, and it's still a remarkably uncomfortable experience. But I guess it's supposed to be. I admire it greatly, and even though I own it, it's not the sort of thing I'd ever bust out on a Saturday night and kick back to. I waited two and a half years between viewings #1 and #2. I think I can safely say I've filled my quota 'til June 2011.

The Hidden Fortress (Akira Kurosawa, 1958) 79
Er, how had I not seen this before? This is the film that George Lucas openly admits he took most of his ideas for Star Wars from, and while not a direct copy, it's very easy to see where he drew his inspiration. Truth be told, this is much more lightweight than the bulk of Kurosawa's work. His usual themes of humanity, redemption, and honor are present, but displayed under the guise of an adventure/comedy instead of a deeply moralistic samurai parable (Seven Samurai, Rashomon, etc.). Even still, it feels inherently Kurosawa, and like nearly all of his samurai collaborations with Toshiro Mifune, it's pretty much awesome. Honestly, this thing's just a lot of fun. Mifune's always a badass, the bumbling peasants are consistently amusing, the cinematography is great (but of course), and overall it's another gold star for one of the best-ever filmmakers. If there's one minor quibble I have, it's that the duel scene seems to go on for a really long time. Other than that, this is rockin'. And to think I got the Criterion disc used at Hastings for, like, $7 or something. Whatta steal.

Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) 97
If "masterpiece" is a word I throw around too much, Pan's Labyrinth is the sort of film that makes me wish I didn't, because that's exactly what it is. Guillermo del Toro's estimably mature adult fantasy is among the extremely few near-flawless cinematic achievements of the decade (or ever, for that matter); I have now seen it a good five or six times and still cannot shake the effect it has on me. It gives me everything I could want from it: it's brutal, it's creepy, but more than anything it's profoundly sad. The scene where Ofelia imagines herself standing in her father's lavish court is one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever seen, especially given the context in which it happens. Not to mention the spine-chilling Pale Man scene, which must be the single most recognizable sequence from any film in a rrrrreally long time. But seriously, neither words nor a near-perfect score can do justice to how phenomenal this is. If you haven't seen it, go watch it this instant. If you have seen it, go watch it again. You'll be glad, I promise.

Repo! The Genetic Opera (Darren Lynn Bousman, 2008) 55
I see lots of movies. Quite a few. Enough to make me think I'm past the point of ever seeing another movie that'll have me gaping at the screen, thinking "WTF" for its entire duration. Repo! The Genetic Opera almost effortlessly convinces me I'm so fucking wrong about this. I have to qualify that 55: this is not a movie I could ever give a straight-up score to. It's not. It wouldn't work. I'm only taking a guess at this, but that final score appears to be an average: if I gave this an 85 for sheer entertainment value and a 25 for how good it really is, that'd just about even it out. This movie is terrible. It's so goddamn bad. But it's entertaining as shit. Go watch it, and I defy you to take your eyes off the screen for even a moment. You won't be able to. So, er, I really don't know what to say about this. It's an instant cult film, for sure (like many have said, it's like the lovechild of Rocky Horror and Sweeney Todd by way of Blade Runner ... and it's got Paris Hilton in it). Am I glad I saw it? Er, well, yeah. Would I watch it again? Er, well, yeah. So I guess, technically, that makes me part of its cult. But I really, really, really don't want to think that way. If you've seen this, you know what I mean.

Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008) 68
About ten years ago, Sam Mendes directed a little suburban relationship drama called American Beauty. Remember that one? Wasn't the happiest film ever, was it? Well, now he's gone and directed Revolutionary Road, another suburban relationship drama that successfully makes his prior Oscar-winner feel like a rollicking good time by comparison. Man, this is a harsh, harsh movie. I'm not going to deny it's very well done (the performances in particular are stellar, and I'm banking on Kate Winslet finally winning an Oscar for her work here), but it's nothing I would want to subject myself to ever again. You see it once, you get the point; you've seen what there is to see. You see it twice, you're really just engaging in masochistic behavior. By this token, Revolutionary Road falls into a curious class of film: one that if done well will be depressing, but one that if not done well will still be depressing. Thank god it's done well.

Seven Pounds (Gabriele Muccino, 2008) 47
Ick. Contrived, saccharine blah. It doesn't do anything you don't expect it to, and doesn't do any of these expected things interestingly (it attempts a nonlinear editing style to try to conceal the "big twist," even though we the not-stupid viewers basically have it figured out within 15 minutes). The only legitimate surprise is that it features what may in fact be the single most ridiculous scene involving a jellyfish I have ever watched. But you have to sit through, like, 95% of the movie before you get to that. Which is to say: not worth it.

All right. Three movie roundup posts under my belt. I think I've successfully convinced myself that I am, in fact, going to maintain this stupid thing like I said I would. (Ha, watch it die now. Though really, I like this format. I'll be keepin' it up. Though with school ... yeah. The updates'll be slower comin' and all that, but no worries. The day I stop watching/loving movies will be the day I die, and I don't anticipate that day for quite some time. And with that, I am outta here. Adios.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Movie Roundup: 1/8/09

Whoops. I hadn't meant to go so long in between updates. But here I am again, new year and all. Whee. Same deal as last time. The scale's still the same, the orange still means I had seen the film before, and so on. Let's go.

The Scale
90-100: Blissful, orgasmic cinema. This is something extremely special.
80-89: An excellent, unmissable film. I probably own this (or will) and you should, too.
70-79: A very strong film well worth seeing.
60-69: This is good. It has some problems, but it's still an enjoyable piece of work.
50-59: The gray area. Certain things work about this, other things don't. It depends on mood and taste.
40-49: A mediocre or lackluster film. There's nothing offensive about this, but it's just very uninspiring.
30-39: Plain bad. Don't go near this, please.
20-29: Incredibly terrible. Only worth a viewing if self-torture is desired.
0-19: Hooooo mama.

Better Luck Tomorrow (Justin Lin, 2002) 84
Wow, this was excellent. I saw it for the first time when I was in high school and remember liking it then, but I seriously wasn't prepared for how well it holds up. If anything, I liked it even more the second time. I finished it feeling shaken, nerves rattled. Even though it's all pretty understated and frequently very funny, there's something rather disturbing at work here, and it gives the film a darkness I find difficult to describe. Maybe it's because I can relate to the characters way too well: the "we have everything, so now what?" mindset was frighteningly relevant during high school. Not only is it easy for me to see their motivations for doing what they do, it seems inevitable that everything in this film should happen just the way it does happen. The damn thing just works really, really well; I'm incredibly grateful for it (and the things that might annoy people -- for instance, the complete lack of adult authority figures like parents, teachers, and police -- are the things I consider among its greatest assets). The blurb on the DVD case chooses the three best possible words: funny, sexy, scary. In equal measure. A great film and, given a few more viewings, a potential favorite. (If I'd seen this when it came out and you'd asked me, I would've said Justin Lin was an extremely promising filmmaker. As it turns out, he's responsible for the more recent Fast and the Furious movies. Sigh. I guess a man has to decide between making art and making a living, doesn't he?)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Scott Derrickson, 2008) 32
I finally have a definitive answer: "Klaatu barada nikto" is, in fact, extraterrestrial for "really fucking bad remake." Words can hardly do justice to how atrocious this truly is. The only reason I'm springing for the 32 instead of anything lower is because John Cleese, no matter how small of a part, is a badass. But the rest of this is trash. Keanu Reeves gives a performance that probably would've been thrown out of a Keanu Reeves impersonation contest for being too wooden, Will Smith's offspring is constantly annoying, and Jennifer Connelly spends the entire time looking like she's wondering, "Wait a minute, I can actually act. What the HELL am I doing HERE?" Oh, and the story sucks. Nothing happens. Until the end, which isn't actually an ending because it doesn't resolve anything. Man, this was terrible.

Doubt (John Patrick Shanley, 2008) 72
All told, this was probably my 11th favorite film of 2008. In other words, this is the one that got screwed for inclusion on the illustrious best-list. So it goes. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it's a very small film. That is, unlike Benjamin Button or Slumdog or any of the other late-year Oscar hopefuls, it seems to exist in its own self-contained universe. It doesn't have much to say about anything outside its bubble; it's strictly concerned with its characters. This isn't a bad thing, mind you; it just wants a bit for that all-encompassing "oooh, this is life!"-type universality that Fincher's film embodies. That being said, everything about the production is very good. I know the story is supposed to be open-ended and ambiguous about answering the central conflict, but in my mind at least there's very little "doubt" about which series of events actually occurred (and, to my way of thinking, the film works better this way). Just the way Shanley presents his characters (Streep in particular) really makes me opt strongly for one particular viewpoint. But hey, there are clues a-plenty for either interpretation. That's why it's called Doubt, you see. I could be wrong. But I don't think so. See it and decide for yourself. It's a good one.

Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard, 2008) 75
Yup, the central historical/political film of this particular Oscar season actually managed to make it onto my end-of-year Top 10 List. And if you scroll down to #6 in the next-most recent entry I posted here, you can read all about what I thought of it! (Except now you know the numerical score, too.)

Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002) 69
Let me take a moment to set the record straight on this one: Quentin Tarantino did not direct Hero. In fact, the man had nothing whatsoever to do with it. He was just the go-to guy who put up the money for its American distribution (which, no doubt, we all thank him and his pocketbook for; the US was actually among the last countries this thing ever got released in!). In reality, it was directed by Chinese filmmaker extraordinaire Zhang Yimou, who probably in large part because of this film is undoubtedly one of Asia's most famous living directors. And while I still prefer both of Yimou's more recent martial arts excursions (House of Flying Daggers and especially Curse of the Golden Flower), it's impossible to deny this is a very good film. Few men have a sharper eye for the visually arresting and downright beautiful than Yimou, and every last frame of this thing is something I wouldn't be ashamed to hang on my wall. The he-said/she-said narrative is a bit of a jumble and lacks any particular emotional resonance, but of course that's not really why you'd watch a film like this. It's purty, the fight scenes are awesome, and it holds up to repeat viewings. 'Nuff said.

Lifeboat (Alfred Hitchcock, 1944) 59
A clever idea, even if it does outstay its welcome a bit. See, there's only so much mileage you can get out of a trapped-on-a-lifeboat story (nevermind that Life of Pi is one of the best novels I have ever read), even when Hitchcock is captaining it. Somewhere in the middle, it feels like the film starts to repeat itself. It never becomes particularly tiresome or boring, as Hitch always has a few tricks up his sleeve, but it also had me wishing that things had been shaken up a bit more than they were. But it does still arrive smoothly at its very World War II message of "kill all the Germans" (or is that the message?), and not all is lost by the time the credits roll. (Also, this was apparently taken from a story written by John Steinbeck. Interesting. I guess he had a special fondness for the "slightly monotonous story about likable people drifting aimlessly in a vehicle" plot device.)

Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999) 63
Way back in the day (this must've been 2002 or early 2003, because I don't think I was even in high school yet), before I had seen many movies and was still young and impressionable, I saw Magnolia and pretty much thought it was the best thing ever. Oooohwow a super long movie with a crazy amount of characters and like seventeen intersecting storylines? The thing's gotta be a masterpiece. So it went. And now, older and more jaded, I sat down to watch it for a second time to see if it still holds up. Does it? Well, kinda. While by no means a bad film, it's definitely not the end-all cinematic miracle I seemed to think it was. For one thing, the length and scope of the deal masks the fact that each individual story is utterly flat. By putting them together, there is a sort of sweeping catharsis; separately, none of the stupid things really go anywhere. Also, paradoxically, the thing's too long. 188 minutes is a crazy epic length for any film, and unless you're Kurosawa or Coppola or something, that's just too long. By the end, the thing really starts to feel drawn-out. Still, it's one hell of an ambitious movie and it's hard not to give it credit for that. Anderson was only in his late 20s when he made the thing, and I'll be damned if I'm responsible for anything so impressive by the time I turn 30. Especially something with such a ballsy final act. Seriously, it rains frogs.

The Man Who Wasn't There (The Coen Brothers, 2001) 66
In which the Coen Brothers, whom I am convinced could successfully write and direct any genre of film, make the closest thing to straight-up 40s film noir that modern cinema has ever seen. Seriously, they've got this down to a science: the black-and-white cinematography, the atmosphere, the shadows, the dialogue; it's really something. In fact, it'd be just about perfect if the story didn't completely self-destruct by the end. For the first hour, the film feels like it's going to be incredible; Billy Bob Thornton is creepy, and the tension keeps getting built up quite skillfully. And then something happens. I don't know what. But the train derails, and it threatens to take the entire film with it. Luckily, a fair portion manages to stay on track and the film emerges overall as a strange but enjoyable anomaly. Few filmmakers would take it upon themselves to even make an homage to classic noir, much less construct a life-size replica of it. It just goes to show what the Coens are both capable of and willing to do. Predictably, it tanked at the box office. Oh well.

Sabotage (Alfred Hitchcock, 1936) 67
Very old-school Hitchcock doesn't really work as an engaging suspense tale (it's clear he hadn't hit his stride just yet, although the signs are definitely there), but is nonetheless a skillfully made and entertaining piece of work. It also proves once again that the man had an incredibly bizarre sense of humor, as when a meeting between two criminals is halted so that they can stare into an aquarium tank and remark that a tortoise looks like it has a mustache. It's also unusually short, which I suppose was customary for the time (what with those pesky film stocks and all), so that doesn't allow it a whole lot of time to breathe or create any lasting mood, but that's all right. It's a fun movie. Despite its central plot points of bombing and death, it's light entertainment. It's enjoyable to watch. Though armed with the knowledge that Hitchcock would spend the next 25 years making films that were far superior, I still liked it quite a bit.

The Spirit (Frank Miller, 2008) 36
If Sin City ever met the old-school TV Batman by way of Re-Animator, the result would probably be something like The Spirit, Frank Miller's ludicrously misguided comic book adaptation. It's awful in the same way Richard Kelly's Southland Tales was awful: it thinks it's really awesome and ambitious, but it's really just a hilarious trainwreck. And I qualify my use of "hilarious": it's not that the movie itself is funny. It tries to be, but it isn't. It's the fact that it thinks it's funny that makes it so damn funny. There's a big difference. Samuel L. Jackson hitting Gabriel Macht over the head with a toilet and screaming "TOILETS ARE ALWAYS FUNNY!" by itself is not amusing. However, the fact that Miller even put it into the movie is goddamn hilarious. See what I'm getting at? The movie is a long series of one WTF after another. It's so bad it almost works. Almost. Did I mention it also thinks it's a hardboiled film noir? Well, it does. And that, much like just about everything else in this movie, is a bad move.

Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996) 74
In large part because Danny Boyle is currently riding the gravy train with, in my opinion, the single best film in theatrical release at the moment (Slumdog Millionaire), I decided to go back and bust out his breakthrough film Trainspotting for the first time in a couple years. It's largely as I remembered it: a fundamentally character-driven, storyless, but consistently entertaining black comedy about heroin addiction and the terminal low-lifes who suffer from it. If that makes it sound like I'm ripping on it, I'm not. That's just an honest description. I like it quite a bit. It's a fun, stylish flick that I feel illustrates a particular lifestyle pretty well without having to go to the heart-wrenching depths of, say, Requiem for a Dream (even the most disturbing scenes here, such as Renton's in-bedroom detox, have nothing on the last act of Aronofsky's film). Not to mention its soundtrack, studded with the likes of Lou Reed, New Order, and (especially) Underworld, is just plain awesome.

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky, 2008) 63
Honestly, if the credits (and hype) hadn't told me that Darren "Pull Out All the Stops and Then Some" Aronofsky directed this, I would've had no clue. Compared to films like Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, this thing hardly seems directed at ALL. It's very minimal, but that's good. It's what the film calls for. There's really not too much to say about it: born loser one-trick pony spends 105 minutes realizing he's a born loser one-trick pony and that, no matter what the stakes, he has to stand by that trick. There's your whole movie, right there. For what it is, it works. It's a bit thin, but then it doesn't try to do all that much. The Oscar Hype Machine is working overtime for Mickey Rourke, whose sure-to-be-nominated performance is definitely the reason to see the film (at the end of the day, though, I still greatly prefer Sean Penn's work in Milk and Frank Langella's lauded turn in Frost/Nixon). That, and -- genre differences aside -- it's still a hell of a lot better than The Fountain. Just sayin'.

I'm enjoying these posts. I'm pretty sure you can expect them to keep happening. They're fun. Later.