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My Favorite New Movies of 2009

[Update: 2010 is here] [and 2011 is here]

Here are my favorite new movies of 2009, like you care. I’m drawing from the films I saw in the theater this year, some of which were “officially” released a year or two ago. But they’re all new.

NOT one of my favorite films this year

…So, Mr. Cranky, what did you like?


#1. Les Plages d’Agnès (The Beaches of Agnes) (2008, Agnès Varda, 110 min)

Agnès Varda with Chris Marker

2000’s The Gleaners and I saw Agnès Varda confirmed as one of our greatest living directors. She has directed at least one masterpiece per decade since the 1950s: La Pointe-Courte (1955), Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962), One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977),Vagabond (1985), and A Hundred and One Nights of Simon Cinema (1995); (well, I think that last one’s pretty great). Her most recent film belongs with Gleaners on this list. Varda’s chief talent is that she doesn’t set out with any stereotypical film in mind; rather, she looks around and proceeds to make films (and other art) from what’s on hand. The results look like nothing that anyone else ever has, or ever will, make.

#2. Visage (Face) (2009, Tsai Ming-Liang, 138 min)

I love you, Tsai

This is probably the best new film I’ve seen this year, although I can’t really recommend it. Although I can write about it at length: I promise to post about it in detail, and about Tsai in general.

In the meantime, if you like Tsai’s work…then you don’t need me to tell you to see this. And if you haven’t seen The Hole (1998) or What Time Is It There? (2001), I’d recommend starting with them. They’re two of the most beguiling, oddest, most charming, sweetest, most surprising, melancholy, bittersweet, most romantic movies of our time.


Rita Tushingham, on her way to the beach with Agnès

Puffball (2007, Nicolas Roeg, 120 min): Nicolas Roeg’s newest feature is no patch on his 70s and 80s masterpieces (Performance, Walkabout, Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bad Timing, and Eureka) and it isn’t exactly a return to form, as some would claim. Rather, it’s something new, and entirely enjoyable for what it is: sexual combat. (Perhaps it is a return to form?) This time, however the battle is mostly between women (and Kelly Reilly proves a fierce match for her opponents, the magnificent witches Miranda Richardson and Rita Tushingham). Characters cast spells on one another, and no one’s shy about concealing their bodies—Roeg is always deranged, dirty fun. This one is more conventional than his previous films (by his own steep standards), but it will still amaze, or confuse.

Another nice thing about Bright Star: when Keats finally recites the title poem to Fanny Brawne, he's already written it—he doesn't make it up on the spot

Bright Star (2009, Jane Campion, 119 min): This actually is a return to form for Jane Campion, a consistently misunderstood director who, her detractors aside, can be utterly sublime: Her adaptation of Portrait of a Lady is one of the greatest films of the 1990s (and I don’t care if no one else agrees with me on this one). Bright Star deserves every kind word that’s been said about it, and is a ridiculously engrossing and moving film. My favorite aspect of it, though, might be the subtlety of Campion’s feminist critique. Early in the film it’s established quite clearly that Fanny Brawne has a profession and an income; she and Yeats and those surrounding them then spend the rest of the film patiently waiting for Yeats to earn a shilling so that he and Brawne can marry. Campion need say no more.

This is also a film about writing that actually likes writing, and poetry (and respects that writing is hard work).

Greenaway once again allows an actor to actually act, not just wear a costume

Nightwatching (2007, Peter Greenaway, 134 min): After years of repeating himself, Greenaway has turned experimental—by incorporating mainstream film techniques like shot-reverse-shot. And close-ups. And exterior scenes. I couldn’t believe my eyes! But my eyes were so happy. Greenaway also allows Martin Freeman to give the most expressively humanized performance in one of his films since Brian Dennehy in The Belly of an Architect. This is Greeenaway’s most exciting film since The Baby of Mãcon (although it’s not quite that exciting). (The DVD Special Edition includes his 2008 documentary Rembrandt’s J’accuse, which might be the funniest, goofiest film that Greenaway has ever made. It’s good to see his sense of humor has returned.)

Miyazaki adds yet another unforgettable scene to his vast collection

Ponyo (2008, Hayao Miyazaki, 103 min): Yet another absurdly imaginative and cathartic feature from Hayao Miyazaki, who makes only masterpieces. Not effortlessly, though, as the effort is apparent at every moment: he makes it look easy only because it’s always so much fun. Miyazaki is easily one of the greatest living directors, and Ponyo finds delightful new expression for his pet obsessions (negligent fathers, the working class, the ravaged landscape, magical transformations…).

Bill Murray goes nuts and attacks the rest of the cast

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, Wes Anderson, 87 min): Delightful, and a great addition to Anderson’s filmography, simultaneously expanding his range and narrowing it.

An artsy foreign film that establishes character relationships with its two-shots

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, David Yates, 153 min): Excellent cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel (Amélie, Across the Universe) distinguishes this entry, making this the best Harry Potter film since Alfonso Cuarón’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (which I maintain is the greatest kid’s film of the Noughties—this generation’s Time Bandits).

Alongside Agnès Varda, probably the best performance I saw all year

Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino, 153 min): Another strong film from QT prompted me to rewatch his previous features, leading me to finally acknowledge that he’s one of our best directors—so welcome to the club, Mr. Tarantino; I acknowledge you.

A bit more subtle than it looks

Whatever Works (2009, Woody Allen, 92 min): By the midway point, I was thinking that this was one of Woody Allen’s worst films. By the ending, I was thinking that it was one of his better ones, at least of more recent vintage. I’ll need to see it again, but I found myself charmed. The ending is one of his most subtle, and the entire film is more complicated—and ambiguous—than it may seem. An excellent follow-up to last year’s Vicki Christina Barcelona, which is a film that I think will ultimately rank among his finest.

Not acually a scene in the movie, but I wanted to put something, and the guy deserves recognition

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Review (2009, Mike  Stoklasa, 70 min): In the waning days of 2009, YouTube finally delivered one of the best features of the year. This creative review is better than several movies I saw this year—it’s funnier and better edited, at least—not to mention a fine work of criticism. And you can go watch it right now!


Beautiful, but somewhat bewildering

Il Divo (2008, Paolo Sorrentino, 110 min): I’ve been eager to see something by Sorrentino for some time now, and while I admired this, his third feature, it ultimately proved too obtuse for me. I’d watch it again, though, and I remain eager to see his first two films.

A foreign film that dares to keep a beautiful woman in focus—even at the expense of her male colleagues!

Jerichow (2008, Christian Petzold, 93 min): A loose remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice by one of the leading members of the new Berlin School. …It was fine.

Director Zack Snyder joins the Watchmen (codename: "Mary Sue")

Watchmen (2009, Zack Snyder, 162 min): Essentially a three-hour advertisement for the graphic novel, the long-awaited film adaptation does have a few moments of its own—like the superb opening title sequence.


Trivializing a massacre

Katyń (2007, Andrzej Wajda, 118 min): It probably plays better in the Polish, and to Polish audiences. I thought the film well-intentioned, but it suffers from Wajda’s shoehorning the story’s remarkable true events into every war-film cliché in existence. Wajda has long struck me as the Polish equivalent of Stephen Spielberg; this film only strengthened that opinion.

Surprisingly boring (or not all that surprising)

Christmas on Mars (2008, Wayne Coyne with Bradley Beesley and George Salisbury, 83 min): The Flaming Lips couldn’t have made a worse film if they’d tried—and the shame is that they didn’t. Imagine if they’d put in even half the effort of one of their live shows? Or played a few of their catchy songs?

In the good version of this movie, you don't have to wait two hours to get to the ghosts

Paranormal Activity (2007, Oren Peli, 99 min): If there was any paranormal activity in this film, I missed it, but I’ll admit I tuned out after the first hour (which consisted of a couple standing around complaining about one another—and their performances were convincing, but I’d rather watch Bergman. Who even gives you ghosts sometimes!).

Not even Ricky Jay can save Redbelt

Redbelt (2008, David Mamet, 99 min): Mamet, what the hell are you doing? I suppose any new film by the guy has to be of some interest, but his last strong film was ten years ago. (Fun fact: If Mamet directs one more feature, he’ll have directed as many as Kubrick. He’s already directed as many as David Lynch—although with Lynch, it’s getting hard to keep count.)

Alas, not as loopy as I'd hoped.
Surprisingly, not as loopy as you may think

The Spirit (2008, Frank Miller, 103 min): Alas, I didn’t find this as deranged as so many claimed; I found it mostly boring. Mr. Miller, next time, please be nothing but loopy!

Also not as loopy as you'd think

Antichrist (2009, Lars von Trier, 104 min): I like von Trier’s films, I really do, but I can’t get behind this one. It strikes me as lazy overall, and the first hour of the film put me to sleep. And the “outrage” surrounding it at Cannes is clearly a PR stunt; the ultimate “shocks,” while certainly grisly, are tame and pointless compared to many other far superior films. Seriously, his film is less controversial than Hostel (2005), or any of the dozens of other torture porn installments since—meaning that it’s reactionary. (It’s also no more critical about anything than those films.)

ALTHOUGH ALTHOUGH ALTHOUGH—to Lars von Trier’s credit, I think he’s ahead of the curve in one respect. He understands that YouTube is rapidly replacing television, and so his new film is really an extended internet meme:

THIS IS STAR TREK!!! Check out that subliminal breast-like lamp

Star Trek (2009, J.J. Abrams, 127 min): Big Hollywood’s puerile co-option of the franchise, and a betrayal of everything Gene Roddenberry had the courage to stand for. It’s also garish, awash with bad lighting, jerky camera work, distracting cuts every three seconds, and the by-now ubiquitous fight scenes populated with CGI stunt-doubles struggling over chasms. What’s most odious about this film, however, is its depiction of women. There are precisely five female characters in this boy’s fantasy. Two are babes who appear in their underwear and are lusted after by the other male characters. The other three are wives or mothers who appear onscreen only to give birth or die or otherwise disappear conveniently, prompting the men to go off and have their fun. (Kirk’s mom doesn’t even attend his little party at the end. Well, having birthed him, she was no longer needed!)

In the better version of this movie, you never see the other side of Frank Langella's face

The Box (2009, Richard Kelly, 115 min): I remain a booster of Southland Tales (2006), but with this third feature, Richard Kelly has revealed that he really doesn’t know how to make a film. It’s too bad. Well, at least he still has potential…

Happy viewing in 2010!

With much love,

Mr. Cranky

  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

28 thoughts on “My Favorite New Movies of 2009

  1. i enjoyed Whatever Works a lot. i pretty much like all Woody Allen’s movies, though, even the outright crappy ones.

    also, i loved Christmas On Mars. so…

    and Visage, haven’t heard of it, but it looks like there’s women standing in a snowy forest and that kind of sells me.

    1. I wanted to like XMAS ON MARS. Maybe it was just me. I saw it at a midnight screening with a bunch of enthusiastic fans, but nothing happened. It didn’t feel to me like anything was happening in the film.

      I, too, though, tend to like every Woody Allen film. They’re a genre unto themselves. But I don’t try to force them on others. I’ve learned that, if people don’t like them, you can’t make people like them—it’s just that way.

      VISAGE has a lot of women in snowy fields. Usually involved in musical numbers.

  2. “This is probably the best new film I’ve seen this year, although I can’t really recommend it.”

    Can you expound on that one?

    1. Sure thing!

      For starters, as with Tsai’s recent feature The Wayward Cloud (2005), there’s simply no chance in hell that Face will get a US theatrical run (although here’s hoping). This time, however, the problem lies less with the inclusion of graphic sex involving watermelons, but rather the project’s rather formidable inscrutability.

      Face is, hands down, Tsai’s most difficult work to date, an astonishingly challenging film from a man whose work thus far has been reasonably accessible (albeit extremely self-referential and fairly slowly paced). And while I don’t think that “difficulty” is a sign of greatness (it isn’t), it is a sign that this one is not the best film of Tsai’s to start with. (For the record, I do think that it’s a great film, but that few audiences will have the patience for it. That’s not a boast—”I can handle it but others can’t”—just an honest opinion. I counted thirty walkouts in the screening that I attended.)

      One of the hallmarks of Tsai’s style is that every new film of his is built on every previous one. For example—and I could cite hundreds of examples—What Time Is It There? (2001) includes a scene in which a character tries to buy a Grace Chang CD, only to be told that the vendor doesn’t have any—a sly reference to The Hole (1998), which ends with a title card that reads: “In the year 2000, we are grateful that we still have Grace Chang’s songs to comfort us.” (The Hole was produced as part of a series of films speculating as to what the year 2000 would be like.) Tsai’s optimism doesn’t obscure his pragmatism.

      Every new Tsai film gets denser and denser in its allusions to the previous films. I don’t know what it’s like to approach a new one cold (I jumped on board with What Time Is It There?, which is a good place to do so), but it seems to me that Tsai is making fewer and fewer concessions to new audience members. I find this a curious choice, but it’s Tsai’s choice. Those who know the earlier films are rewarded, and those who don’t—I don’t know what they do. He’s building his own arcane little corner of the film world. A brilliant little corner, but an increasingly hermetic one.

      Face follows in this recurrent tradition, but even more so. Insanely more so. There are whole sections that may not make much sense to anyone unfamiliar with every single one of Tsai’s previous features. For example: the final shot of the film is a reference not only to the final shot of What Time? but also the final shot of Tsai protégé Kang-sheng Lee’s little-seen 2003 directorial debut, The Missing, which Tsai produced. Of course you can watch the scene without knowing that—but I don’t know how much sense it would make, really. (It also helps to know that Tsai himself is standing onscreen in that last shot, and for the first time in any of his features—he’s finally showing his face, so to speak.) (He’s said that he considers the film a self-portrait.)

      Simultaneously, Face is built on a large swath of François’s Truffaut’s filmography, continuing a thread begun with What Time?, which sucked in Jean-Pierre Léaud and scenes from The 400 Blows (1959). For example, there’s a wonderful little scene where Jeanne Moreau, Nathalie Baye, and Fanny Ardant meet and get drunk. Tsai doesn’t do anything to integrate this scene into the film: he just brings those three women together and proceeds to watch them. He doesn’t tell you who they are (they are all playing themselves). He just assumes that you will recognize them, and that you will know how each one of them is connected with François Truffaut. …That’s asking a lot of most US audiences!

      I don’t think that Tsai is being snobbish or anything; rather, I think he’s so in love with Truffaut’s work that it’s simply second-nature to him. It probably wouldn’t even occur to him to explain any of this to anyone (and his films require a real active attention). Not to mention that the film was a French co-production (it was funded at least in part by the Louvre, “where it’s become the first entry in the museum’s permanent film collection”); in France, those three actresses don’t need any introduction. But in the US…

      Another, perhaps better example: There’s an amazing scene where Fanny Ardant goes to Taipei, and is sitting in actor Kang-sheng Lee’s apartment (his real-life apartment, which has appeared in almost every Tsai film since The River (1997). (This apartment is by now like a second home to me.) And while she’s there, she’s kept silent company by the ghost of Lee’s character’s mother (Tsai regular Yi-Ching Lu, whose character dies in this film). Meanwhile, Ardant thumbs through a book on Truffaut’s work. (Ardant was Truffaut’s partner at the end of his life.) The scene is an astonishingly moving observation of how we continue to live with loved ones, and our memories of them, long after they pass on. (Tsai made the film in memory of his own mother, who recently passed away.) But to really get the scene I think the audience needs to know who Lee’s mother is, what this apartment is, who Ardant is, etc. (It also helps to have seen What Time?, in which the character of Lee’s father dies—in his last shot he’s sitting in the same chair where Ardant is sitting—as well as Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003), in which the ghost of that father (playing himself now) watches a film of himself as a younger man.)

      Maybe my description of this scene conveys something of how everything in a Tsai film is wound very tightly around everything else, as well as itself. After a while, it becomes echoes crashing into echoes. I find it ingenious, and beautiful—truly sublime, beyond logic or even sense. It’s transcendent. And I’ve never seen anyone else making anything like it, except maybe Proust. (And imagine starting to read In Search of Lost Time with Time Regained.)

      Tsai is a genius, and he’ll go where his genius leads him. I will follow; he’s probably my favorite contemporary filmmaker. But he isn’t making it easier to sell his new films. Sigh.

  3. thanks for turning me on to that star wars review. i hadn’t seen that. really funny. points to i think the greater problem with a lot overly CGd movies.

    1. Yes, he makes several good points, I think (as well as being hilarious). I really like the part where he compares the opening of THE PHANTOM MENACE with the original STAR WARS. Rather illustrative.

      His reviews of the Star Trek movies are also quite entertaining—more nitpicky, but well done and very funny.

  4. Thanks for the post, really enjoying it. I’m still struggling with Allen’s most recent efforts and I think I detected some of the same equivocalness that I’ve felt in your assessment of “Whatever Works,” even if you ultimately give it the stamp of approval. I also enjoyed this film, but I can’t decide if I actually like it or not. If the ending is “subtle,” then its subtlety seems to reside within the very fact of its overdetermined nature. I really want the orgy of self-realization at the end of the movie to belie the film’s richness, but as of now I’m not sure what to make of it.

    Les Plages d’Agnès as the top pick–damn straight

    1. Hi, Jonathan—good to hear from you!

      Here’s what I liked about he ending of Whatever Works. (Spoiler warning! Although I’ll try not to give too much away.)

      1. Like you say, everything falls into place very neatly—like clockwork. You can see where the plot and the character relationships are all going a good twenty minutes before the film wraps. (I happened to like that, although I can imagine some not liking that. In fact, I was reminded of the ending of Jacques Rivette’s 2001 masterpiece Va savoir.)

      2. But beyond that, the ending is very optimistic. In fact, it might even be the most optimistic ending of any Woody Allen film. Right?

      3. Maybe not, though: I think it’s optimistic only on the surface. In fact, the more I think about it, the more troubling I find it. (Another movie that works this way is Hsiao-hsien Hou’s Café Lumiere, which I originally thought was a sweet little film…but later concluded (after a few more viewings) is instead a terribly sad tragedy.)

      In WW, Boris is the sole voice of pessimism. As the other characters find happiness, he’s the only one who remains unhappy. He’s alone and miserable and eventually decides to kill himself. But he fails to, and his pessimism is eventually crowded out by a love affair and the other characters. So even Boris is swept along, accepting love as a reason to live…or “whatever works.”

      But even then, Boris remains the most perceptive character in the film, making it easy to read the film as everyone simply deluding themselves—Boris included. Consider the film’s final lines. Boris addresses us (the audience), and then the others chide him: “Hey, Boris, who are you talking to?” And he says to us: “See? I’m the only one who sees the big picture.” (I love the pun here, picture coming to mean at the film’s end the film itself.)

      4. Then I think back to how overly formal the ending is—how it’s so “overdetermined,” as you put it. And I think it becomes possible to see Allen as saying, “Life is bleak and terrible, but love can help you forget about that for a while. And, in my movie, I can make the ending a happy one.” (Allen is of course the only one who really sees—and controls—this big picture.) But it could easily have gone the other way. (Rivette does something very similar in Va savoir, but to much stronger effect.)

      So I think that the orgy does belie the stated conclusion. (Ebert does, too, comparing it to Rohmer’s films. It’s no coincidence that WW follows the similarly Rohmer-like Vicky Christina Barcelona, which has an extremely unhappy ending.)

      Allen does this a lot in his films, although he often buries it, and doesn’t always get credit for it. For instance, I’m always surprised when people read the ending of Another Woman (1988) as a happy one. I think it’s one of his bleakest movies (although when I taught it, none of my students agreed with me). Very obviously, Mia Farrow’s character, Hope, disappears at the end of the film—Gena Rowland’s character even says something like, “I went to look for her, but she was gone.” And then Rowlands resolves to change her life.

      But hope’s gone! And I think that what we’ve learned about Rowlands’s character—how cold and defensive she is—rightly makes us suspicious of her. At the start of the film, she seems happy and professional, and to have her act together, but by the end we see that she’s a total mess, and extremely unhappy (not to mention that everyone around her now openly hates her). And I think it’s clear that, when she resolves to change, she’s deluding herself, and that she will live with that delusion for the rest of her life. Which is a kind of separate peace—but it’s also terribly, terribly bleak. She surrenders to an illusion to maintain her sanity. But hope of any real change is gone—it’s too late.

      (Wild Strawberries of course also inspired another one of Allen’s bleakest films, Deconstructing Harry. Something about Bergman makes everyone pessimistic…)

      I think that Allen has learned that he can’t directly state things like this—audiences don’t like it, and his films turn clumsy when he tries to directly state his own fears. So he now buries that pessimism. But it’s still there! And better, as well, for being buried.

      Cheers, Adam

      P.S. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is in post-production. Here’s hoping for a fall release.

  5. Liked Bright Star, totally agree on REDBELT, Oh my god, that ending. I started fast forwarding.

    I might be wrong but going off other comments you’ve made, I thought you might be against artists that get overexposed/overpraised – e.g. McCarthy, Haneke, Von Trier (to an extent) and I thought we could bond over Tarantino, but now that I know you like him…

    I was a film student in 94 and was quickly sucked in and saw his film 4 times. I think Kael (and I’m not a Kaelite) said it best, “Funny but shallow.”

    Well, we’ll always have Tarkovsky…

    1. The ending of REDBELT was my favorite part. I was like, “OK, let’s just go completely into la-la land.” But the whole thing, the ending especially included, just doesn’t work. WINSLOW BOY was the last solid Mamet film, I thought. Although he remains ever interesting.

      I do think (as of 2009) that Tarantino is a great director. All of his films are impressive, usually for multiple reasons. They’re technically interesting, very watchable, intelligent, fairly unique (despite—or rather because of—how much he steals). They’re also relatively small-minded and shallow (although I think they’re getting better). But so’s Jerry Lewis so…

      It takes all kinds. After the guy’s made eight impressive features, I think it would be snobbery for me to not acknowledge how good a director QT is. How many excellent films does a guy have to make? Charles Laughton directed only one.

      But there’s the rub: I doubt QT will ever make anything as good as NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. (Well, who will?) I think he’ll always make good films (I hope so), but will he ever make a film as sublime as a Tarkovsky film? Right after seeing INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS I rewatched LAST TANGO IN PARIS, and I was reminded of how truly excellent cinema can be. IB is a lot of fun, very impressive, maybe even a great film. But it isn’t anywhere near the league that LTIP.

      Kael would agree with that!

      Anyway, out of all the various contemporary US directors, I think QT’s better than most of them. Although I guess he belongs more to the New New Hollywood crowd (Coens, S. Lee, A. Lee, Wang, Bigelow) than the current Movie Brat crowd (W. Anderson, P.T. Anderson, Solondz, Singer, Nolan). Inasmuch as that matters. Ranking directors is only ever so interesting.

      An aside: I think the value in “best of” lists is twofold. For one thing, such lists help people—everyone, critics includes—find movies to see. But beyond that, they help critics focus on which films deserve the most attention the soonest. Consensus views will only take one so far, but the truth is it’s impossible to see everything new that comes out. I saw maybe 800 new films in the 2000s? And from that could name maybe 35 films I truly adored, and another 120 or so that I thought were really good. The rest were, IMHO, mediocre or worse. And I saw, what? One-tenth of what came out? Not even that. There are just so many movies these days! (And have always been.)

      So if people are going to get a handle on what’s out there, and where to focus, then it’s important for people to speak up about what they like/don’t like/think. I think.

      Meanwhile, it’s silly to think that one could name the ten best movies that came out in a single year. There are probably at least 100 films worthy of serious attention from 2009 alone. And that will appeal to different audiences and sub-audiences…

      As for overpraised/underpraised, I will admit to getting irked when that happens, but I don’t think it’s what primarily motivates me. Rather, I tend to just like what I like (and the converse), and then not be shy in sharing them. I don’t care that everyone loves, say, Almodóvar. He doesn’t do anything for me, so I’m not all that interested in either praising him or attacking him; I’m just not interested. Meanwhile, I’m happy to stick up for a film no one else seems to like, such Campion’s PORTRAIT OF A LADY, which I really adore.

      But I also think VERTIGO is really great. And CITIZEN KANE. Can’t get more clichéd than that.

      And I’ll say that what bothers me more is when there’s only one opinion or view about things. I tend to focus there, maybe because I’m somewhat contrary. For instance, everyone is so in love with Cormac McCarthy right now, it makes me want to say nasty things about the guy. Just so there’s not just one narrative out there (and these things are usually narratives designed by PR firms, then sold to consumers). I’d rather there be a diversity if opinions about things. Hell, there are things I like about CM’s work. But I don’t feel any need to say them right now, because they’re already being said by everyone everywhere. Why echo others? (Unless you think they need to be echoed.)

      And ultimately I think it’s more interesting what one can say about a film, not whether one “loves it” or “hates it.” Most movies can be really interesting to talk about, regardless of how one feels about them. (I subscribe to the David Bordwell school.) I saw SHERLOCK HOLMES last night and would love to talk about it. It’s pretty interesting and there’s so much to say about it, especially in relation to the stories, other Holmes films, etc. As for how good a movie it is? Meh; I’m sure I’ll have forgotten it in a few more days.


  6. Love the site and the post. However, I found it interesting that in a list chock full of films requiring a fair amount of patience you criticize Paranormal Activity for not “getting to the ghosts” quick enough. Also, I don’t know if you’re worried about coming off as elitist or not, but are you really going to name drop Bergman, of all people, during a Paranormal Activity review?

    Sorry to be nitpicky, I really do enjoy the list and think you’re a great writer, even though I personally loved Antichrist :)

    1. Hi Evan,

      Thanks for the feedback. My problem with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is that it’s boring, not that it requires patience. Nothing happens for 99 minutes. Or so it felt to me. And yet it sells itself as a scary ghost movie. I like my scary ghosts movies to be scary. And to have ghosts in them. Putting it all in the last two minutes doesn’t cut it for me. I quickly lost patience with watching the young couple talk and complain and talk and complain in what was really more like an episode of MTV Real World. Not my thing.

      The Bergman movie I mentioned is really quite pulpy and entertaining, not all that highbrow. I wasn’t thinking of it as name-dropping, but as an actual suggestion of a better ghost movie! But if I had to choose one more in keeping with the style and tone of PA, I’d go with BLAIR WITCH, even though I see PA’s now made more money than it.

      I don’t mind films that require patience, but I like when the filmmaker rewards that patience. Tsai’s FACE, for instance, is long and slow, but Tsai gives you a lot in return: Gorgeous visuals. Musical interludes. Clever connections to other films that flesh out a complicated little world he’s been creating for over a decade now. It takes a while for it all to come together, but I was never bored.

      I didn’t see much that captured my interest in PA. It was badly shot, badly recorded, and seemed all concept, with one “surprising” twist at the end. Nowhere near enough for me! (Secretly, I want to be entertained, like any viewer.)

      Those who love ANTICHRIST can have it. Me, I’m sticking with Von Trier’s KINGDOM series. (Which is better than PA in every way, come to think of it…)


  7. Hello! I’m from Italy, so I apologize for my poor English. I ended up reading your blog starting from the article “Nolan vs. Nolan” written by David Bordwell. I also read your long post about TDKR: I totally disagree with you about that topic (I’m more in tune with Slavoj Žižek’s analysis of that movie), but surfing on your websites I really appreciate your huge work about cinema. I was really impressed by your culture and passion. I don’t understand how old are you, but I suppose you are really young, and this only increases my surprise. Just a correction: “Il divo” is Paolo Sorrentino’s fouth feature, not third. His previous three films “L’uomo in più” (2001), “Le conseguenze dell’amore” (2004) and “L’amico di famiglia” (2006), in my opinion, are between the best italian movies of the last decade. From my point of view the adjective “obtuse” for “Il divo” is frankly unsuitable. Maybe the movie is too bound to the recent history of Italian politics to be fully appreciated by a foreign spectator. I noticed your last tweet: “Nostalghia”, shoot in Italy, is a huge movie. I also apologize for the confusion of my comment on things so different. Thank you!

    1. Hi Michelangelo,

      Thanks so much for your comment! And thanks for the correction regarding Sorrentino, whose work I’m only starting to become acquainted with.

      I’m writing more about Nolan’s movies in a book I’m currently working on. It may surprise people because I am trying to say some nice things about him :)

      I hope to hear more from you—I’m always happy to hear where I’ve gone wrong!

      Cheers, Adam

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