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13 January 2005

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James Russell

OK, I'll bite...

The Dreamers.
Didn't see it. May hunt it up on DVD.

Dogville.
Shit. I really don't have much time for creative artists who hate the characters they create to this extent.

Passion of the Christ. Fahrenheit 9/11.
Both triumphs of hype more than anything else.

I ? Huckabees.
Aspired to the condition of Charlie Kaufman. Fell way short.

Matt

Of course, Huckabees was one of last year's best -- not this year's. The Dreamers and Dogville, however, are 2003 films. If you go of the IMDb, which I do.

Matt

The Dreamers
Bertolucci's sublime love letter is not to the fervour of May '68, and nor is it even to the movies. Instead, it's addressed to cinéphilia itself -- and such a wonderful love letter it is, too. One of 2003's best.

Dogville
Von Trier's best and, again, one of 2003's; unlike James, I do have time for creative artists who hate the characters they create -- even if it's not at all the way I'd go about making a film myself. After all, I don't go to the movies to have my generally optimistic world view confirmed -- I go to see other's world views, even the sadistic ones, expressed -- I go be challenged. Von Trier, God bless him, doesn't mind challenging anyone [I greatly enjoyed his torture of Jørgen Leth in The Five Obstructions as well].

The Passion of the Christ
Lethal Weapon 5: Jesus Christ Goes to the Movies; violence as fetishistic, not-so-obscure object of desire, religious or otherwise, for Mel and his disciples; a Jesus Christ for fourteen-year-old boys, action movie fans and the Christian Right -- three groups that, disturbingly, can have their faith [in both God and the movies] confirmed with a bit of good old fashion flaying.

Fahrenheit 9/11
I like your old stuff better than your new stuff. Where an implicitly angry film like The Corporation calmly examines and discusses -- or 'speaks,' as I put it elsewhere -- Moore's film, which is explicitly angry, acts impulsively and messily -- it 'yells'. Moore has gone from writing op-ed piece to ranting on a street corner; his anger [which is a good thing] is so acute that his film lacks structure and rationality [which is not]. No wonder it didn't win the Palme d'Or at Ca...oh, wait a minute. Yes, it did.

I Heart Huckabees
One of this years very best. Hilarious on a comedic level; revolutionary on a political level; and, like a Yin to Dogville's Yang, muchos revolutionary on an ideological level -- was there a more profoundly optimistic picture made this year? -- was there? Schwartzman and Whalberg are Others made in Heaven.

Meanwhile, I can see where you're coming from in your assessment of the picture, James -- even if I don't agree with you -- and I agree that this next wave of Indiewood/new-New Hollywood filmmakers seem to be becoming more and more influenced and inspired by one another. In fact, I wrote about it briefly in August last year [and in March as well], just before Armond White [who labelled them "the Eccentrics"] and Rex Reed ["the new group of anarchists"] did in The New York Press and The Observer respectively.

Aaron

Matt: A quick note about the fallacy of IMDb -- the year's they list are usually based on the first time the film showed anywhere, at least according to IMDb. So, since Dogville, for example, premiered at Cannes in 2003 and then played a bunch of film festivals, it is dated 2003. However, I think most of us are calling films "last year" or "2004" based on public, "regular" theatrical release schedules in the US. Dogville wasn't distributed theatrically here until March 2004, and the Dreamers came out last summer too.

Matt

Yes, I know -- I just don't see any real point in doing it that way, I guess; it might work for critical discussions of a year, but twenty years from now, in my opinion, it'll be misleading to talk about Dogville in relation to "the films of its year" and be discussing, say, Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion of the Christ [maybe not on a sociological level, but perhaps on an aesthetic one]; in other words, when we're talking about Dogville we should also be discussing, say, Elephant or The Fog of War.

Besides, I'm Australian and saw Dogville on December 26th, 2003...!

James Russell

Dogville was a Boxing Day '03 release here in Australia. I'm surprised it took longer to emerge in the US.

James Russell

Another thing I've just picked up on:

I wouldn’t put [Huckabees] on a ten-best list because I think it’s too much of an acquired taste.

Why should that make a difference? If you thought it was one of the ten best films you saw last year, why not put it on the list? Which I suppose raises further questions about who we make these lists for. Just a thought, anyway...

Filmbrain

Matt --

Your comment about Dogville is at the core of my position on many of the films I liked this year, and I'll probably be bringing it up in my post later today. For example, I get tired of people telling me that they hated We Don't Live Here Anymore because they hated the characters (or found them too miserable).

I also think it's a cop-out to say Lars hates his characters. That's insane. What writer would waste his/her time doing something like that? I think he loved them -- loved giving them hateful qualities.

liz

good question about huckabees ... my unwillingness to list it says a lot about my relationship to the movie, which is one of less admiration than affection. i guess i just think that a ten best list should be, somehow, defensible, and i didn't feel like defending huckabees against all comers -- i agree it's obscure, self-important,off-putting at times, but i was just moved by its intellectual ambition (and i also laughed all the way through, while some people around me were getting up and leaving.) after all, "best" is a different category than "favorite," however much they may overlap. i know we can agree to disagree about the 11 movies i listed (in fact, that's the whole point of lists!), but i'll always secretly feel that whoever doesn't get them is, at some level, wrong. huckabees i don't feel that about - you can hate it and still be right.

dave

I am frankly sick of people trashing Dogville because the movie it is "sadistic." Instead of taking Von Trier for the serious artist that he himself peddles to a public hungry for some sort of serious discourse if only to reaffirm the importance of their own beliefs (or opinions), he should be taken as the bully he is and his latest film should be experience on the most visceral of levels - an exciting, never boring, exploitation film - a pure unadulterated genre movie wrapped up with a Brechtian bow. Instead of feeling bullied by him, the audience should just indulge in their own perverse complicity in what they see as sadism. Is it brilliant? Maybe. It is certainly not difficult, which is why, Dogville is, god forbid... fun? Hell, I loved it.

re: Brown Bunny

I think that the comparisons to Two-Lane Blacktop (and the New American Cinema's road movie in general) are superficial at best. Yes, both take place on the road, both have little dialogue, and both end in a freeze-frame. The similarities end there. Simply, these movies are literally Man VS. Machine. Where the Brown Bunny is a subjective mediation on man's loneliness in the world and his inability to let go of a reified past, Two-Lane Blacktop is an objective recount of abstracted individuals interacting with a mechanized, commodified world. Both movies show an inability of characters to transgress the situations and move beyond individualist slants but the same could be said for a movie like Taxi Driver, too. For me, Brown Bunny was one of the year's best - I even saw it twice.

Jay Seaver

I am frankly sick of people trashing Dogville because the movie it is "sadistic."

Can I trash it because it's boring? Granted, "boring" is a pretty difficult assertion to prove; there aren't any videos of me sitting in the Coolidge, looking at my watch, pondering whether that "free popcorn" offer of Clinton's still held after the movie started. I don't care that it's mean-spirited, I care that nobody says or does anything remotely interesting. All through the movie, I felt that von Trier had a point that he wanted to prove, and even if it was one with merit, he was going about it with obvious strawmen and a condescending attitude.

daveheaton

Liz wrote: "after all, "best" is a different category than "favorite," however much they may overlap."

To me this logic is absurd...and also widely accepted. I assume you mean 'best' is something you can intellectually defend, while 'favorite' is just taste, but to me all good film criticism stems from taste, from someone writing honestly about what appeals to them, and then analyzing why.

The game of trying to determine what's the "best", what's the most important, what's going to mean the most to people in 50 years, etc. is the reason most top 10 lists this year are boring and the reason most film criticism is a circle of echoes. So many of the 2004 lists, especially among mainstream critics but also everywhere else, are too narrow in scope, because they only take into account what writers perceive to be the movies that it's ok to call "the best" (that have the stature or whatever which that implies).

Eddy Faust

I had to take a shot at THE DREAMERS. Now, Jean-Luc Godard is my favorite film-maker (I have most of his 1960s films on DVD). 1960s culture is a big interest of mine. I love the French and I especially love attractive French women with large breasts. And, I'll come right out and say it, I find the notion of incest engaging. This would make me the prime audience for THE DREAMERS...yet, I HATED this film. I hated it more than any other film this year (okay...with the exception of King Arthur). And it made me ashamed to be a film-geek for a couple hours. Bertolucci really dropped the ball on that one.

cinetrix

Oooo, King Arthur sucked. My otherwise wonderful sister-in-law rented it around New Year's and it was like Antoine Fuqua had extended the accidental, posthumous metal video from Tapeheads into a shitty, feature-length film. All that hair, all that murk, all that woad yield a flick that was far from all that.

But why should I be surprised? Look what the man did to Chow Yun-Fat...

Matt

"I also think it's a cop-out to say Lars hates his characters. That's insane. What writer would waste his/her time doing something like that? I think he loved them -- loved giving them hateful qualities."

If von Trier hates anyone, it's the audience -- but even then, he hates them enough to show them their faults and forces them to think about them, which in it's own way is a sort of love in and of itself.

"I care that nobody says or does anything remotely interesting."

As you yourself noted, that's a purely subjective assessment. It's a shame you don't get more out of it.

"I hated it more than any other film this year..."

Eddy, you've not really give much reason for disliking The Dreamers. You just listd the reasons you should have liked it and then moved on. How's anyone supposed to argue with you? As I'm itchin' to do, admittedly...!

Aaron

OK, briefly (no for reals, yo!), while I do not argue that King Arthur did in fact suck, I think it probably sucked even more for you because you saw it on video. I actually really wanted to like the film, and there are things about it I did like. The alternative story/mythology was interesting; the cast (particularly Clive Owen) was great; and, for a Disney release, I was pleasantly surprised to see how graphic they still made the battle scenes, including smeared blood on the swords. They tried for a movie that had a more "realistic" representation of that time in history, and at times, it succeeded. But Fuqua doesn't know how to tell a damn story; all he does is make pretty music video-like pictures ... which happen to be enhanced on a ginormous screen.

Eddy Faust

Matt, you're right. I think the fact that THE DREAMERS was targeted for someone like myself, yet I disliked it so, caused me to think more in terms of "wow, I really should like this film but I don't" than criticizing specific parts. You're also right that it's more a love letter to cinéphilia than anything else. But I don't know how "sublime" a love letter it is. The pacing and mood is outright sluggish; the cast (and I guess this is my main sticking point) were pretty but quite vacant. And did any of them ever dive deeply into their film love? Simply making a reference to a film or having some one-dimensional debate (Keaton vs. Chaplin) isn't enough to effuse me with their "passion". What does it say about someone's personality whether or not they like Hendrix or Clapton? None of their arguments ever got past the surface. And my, save for a few cinematic reenactments, these kids were a miserable lot! Even sex seemed to be a painful exercise. It was set in the 1960s, but unfortunately the film seemed drained of any spirit from that time period. I need more than just seeing a march/demonstration tagged at the end to feel I’m among revolutionaries. The lead characters just seemed like bored, spoiled 21st Century brats…detached from any TRUE history and/or movement. The worst part was when the American lead's rude behavior during dinner was justified by him becoming engrossed in the metaphysical properties of a cigarette lighter. Come on! This was such a sophomoric attempt at intellectualism. Jean-Luc Godard (who Bertolucci references most in the film) has more philosophical depth in one second of his best films than Bertolucci mustered for this entire outing. And why make a film that's a love-letter to people who love film? Talk about narcissism. People who love films love films...and THAT'S what they want to see. I don't need to see pretty, vacuous actors acting out a scene from Band Of Outsiders to feel that I'm part of some exclusive order of society. Apparently, Bertolucci does.

Matt

"I need more than just seeing a march/demonstration tagged at the end to feel I’m among revolutionaries. The lead characters just seemed like bored, spoiled 21st Century brats...detached from any TRUE history and/or movement."

For me, that's exactly the point -- they're dreamers -- bored kids -- Bertolucci's isn't as nostalgic a film as people perhaps expected, but critical. The kids sleep through the revolution until it literally comes in off the street [I paraphrased that line from somewhere else], and then they emerge as clueless -- politically, socially, morally -- revolutionaries for the sake of it. Out of the cinema and the house, they're just kids.

That's one of the reasons I like the film. On one level, it's the love letter I was talking about, but at the same time, on another, more subversive level, it's critical of cinéphilia -- darkened rooms and, despite the bonds that can be formed between film lovers, isolationism -- as well. I think in some respects it's also a way of Bertolucci re-evaluating the whole idea of May '68 -- if the revolution was being lead by confused and angry kids like these, then maybe it was in vain. What you say about the one-dimensional cinema debates is a subjective opinion, though I can see where you're coming from, but The Dreamers itself is far more complex: a love letter, a questioning of the past and ultimately a coming of age -- I think Bertolucci's realising in this film something that no-one seemed able to realise at the time: that it's better to live humbly for a cause -- political or cinematic -- than to die nobly for one.

Eddy Faust

The three characters seemed pretty clueless in the cinema and their house too.

Still, not a bad way of looking at the film, Matt. Maybe if I liked the lead actor a bit better (or at all), I'd be able to connect with his character and his end decision to not take part in the demonstration would have carried far more wait, emphasizing your overall take of the film.

Matt

Yeah, he sure wanted to be Leonardo DiCaprio, didn't he?

Filmbrain

Jake Gyllenhaal (sp?) was slated for the role, but wasn't comfortable with the nudity. (Unlike his sister.)

Eddy Faust

He was like the softcore porn DiCaprio.

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