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14 January 2005



You know, as I write this, Nil By Mouth is on IFC. A film I really liked, but no, I don't want everything to be like this.

What I failed to mention in my post -- a pretty important fact -- is that I'm looking for these qualities in contemporary films. I would need your shrink's digits if I thought Singin' In the Rain was anything less than perfect.

As I said in my post, I can do happy, but it's got to be minus the sentimentality. Take a film like Moolaade -- an incredibly powerful, uplifting film about a very serious subject. Sembene tells this story without resorting to the manipulative, heartstring-tugging tactics that have become all too common. It's a film I highly enjoyed this past year.

I've got more to say about BB, but I've got to get some sleep.


I'd be interested in the conversation moving to "We Don't Live Here Anymore" at some point. Puff307 above writes that it's "utter mediocrity" but "not crap", which makes no sense to me, both because to me "utter mediocrity" necesarily equals the worst kind of crap, and because I want to know more about why "We Dont Live Here" was mediocre.

To me it certainly wasnt any of the things that 'mediocre' implies: cliched, visually plain, routine, too similar to too many other films. Yet I ultimately didnt like it all that much - to me the story lacked depth, and was kind of a dead end. It didnt go anywhere interesting. The acting was great, I remember being quite impressed with the way the sound was done in places, the way some of the scenes wrapped together, and for a while the story was involving...but it didnt lead anywhere that offered me any idea or feeling to cling on to.


Filmbrain never said characters had to be unlikable - just flawed. You know, like all real people.


Actually, Luke, not to jump on Filmbrain here, but he did say, "Films with characters I don't particularly like are far more compelling," and that's what I was referring to. Otherwise, I agree with you completely ... all the best characters have some flaw, just like the rest of us. But a "flaw" doesn't have to be something negative; rather just an imperfection.


Well, in my defense, an unlikable character is usually that way due to some flaw.

For example, there's a lot I personally don't like about the two characters in Before Sunset, yet I wouldn't call those characters unlikable. The reason the film works for so many people is the ease in identifying with either the characters or the situation -- myself included. However, as I said in my year end review, I just found the whole thing a bit too precious, especially coming in the same year as Woman Is The Future Of Man.


This discussion has got me thinking a fair amount about what I look for in the movies. It's not to feel soothed or agitated. And it's certainly not to see narratives of redemption (or failed redemption) though there have been great movies in all of these modes.

I think if one thing draws me to movies and to the primal immediacy of watching images on a big screen, it's to see characters engaged in existential conflicts and moral problems. Though its become something of a cliche of late, I think the post-9/11, pre-facist national climate has had a noticeable effect on our cinema of discontent.

Whether its the unhappy-in-love story of Joel and Clementine or the coarsened romanticism of Jesse and Celine, the best love stories were about the struggle between finding intimacy and maintaining autonomy. What struck me most about "Eternal Sunshine" and "Before Sunset" (less so, "Sideways") was that the lovers were portrayed as *equals* and the movies took their separate and shared concerns seriously. These movies were realistic about human beings, and perhaps both suggest unhappy outcomes in the long run, but they're shot through with an engaged and convincing optimism. (Sorry to beat up on "Sideways" which I do think is a bit of a lopsided male fantasy, and which puts a happy ending on its rather pessimisstic view of the same problem.)

I'm glad to see "Spiderman 2" discussed here, because I think it is a stealthy exercise in post-9/11 optimism. I was genuinely moved by the scene where New Yorkers on a subway banded together to protect an unmasked (humanized) Peter Parker from the evil Doc Ock. In fact I was more moved by this moment than anything in "I Heart Huckabees" a movie ostensibly designed to speak to the frustration of NPR-liberals like myself. Peter Parker's existential crisis (whether to be a superhero or a regular joe- see also "The Incredibles") was much more compelling than the fuzzy-headed navel-gazing of David O' Russell's characters.

For that matter the simple heroism in "The Incredibles" was more convincing than the hip nihilism (and apologia for US militarism) found in "Team America." The characters in "Hero" struggled with similar questions about allegiance to land, country and lovers. No mere exercise in nationalism, Yimou's (no stranger to repressive Chinese censorship) movie asks each of his characters to make a moral choice, and in the process asks the audience to sort through the consequences of these decisions.

I guess above all, what interested me in all of the movies I saw this year was seeing characters making choices in a complicated moral universe. This made Vincent Gallo's solipsism, Eastwood's bathos, Gibson's sadomasochism and Godard's didacticism seem like footnotes to the moral seriousness and human optimism of the year's best movies.

By the way, thank you for having this discussion. Though I was addicted to the Slate movie club, it had an air of elitism that kept from chiming in.


Oops, sorry Aaron. Forgot about that line.


BY the way, I'm bowing to blooperreel right now for making my points far more eloquently than I could (although it seems I enjoyed Huckabees more). All the films mentioned are the ones that made my Top 10 list, and it seems in roughly the similar order of preference blooperreel mentions.

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