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House of Flying Huckabees
Brian Abrams, Aaron Aradillas, and Phil Dellio talk movies, part 2

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From: Aaron
Date: January 3, 2005, 2:12 PM

Hey guys,

First of all, to go into a movie expecting anything more than that it be competently made is a set-up for disappointment every time. One of the uglier trends to spring forth from a pop culture-obsessed society is a rather unhealthy sense of entitlement. For anyone to sit in a darkened theater with the attitude of "Show me or else," creates a mood of contempt on the part of the moviegoer, which leads to indifference, which leads to the acceptance of whatever is released into the marketplace, which finally leads to mediocrity. This is probably why I have little patience for comic-book fanboys who get on message boards and scrutinize every detail of the latest Marvel adaptation. Has anyone ever thought that maybe all this second-guessing of the casting, screenplay, and director of big-budget extravaganzas might be what's causing studios to play it safe? To fully appreciate movies you must be willing to give yourself over to them. As for the reviews: save 'em for later. This is easier said than done. Nothing does a movie a greater disservice than having preconceived notions of what a movie should be.

Second, to call Michael Moore the "anti-Wiseman" is at once obvious and beside the point. While I've appreciated the stately, objective style of Mr. Wiseman, I find documentarians like Errol Morris and Mr. Moore, whose smashing of invisible taboos in nonfiction filmmaking has re-invigorated the documentary over the last 15 years, to be better suited to our sped-up media-coverage times. In fact, it was the one-two punch of Mr. Morris' The Thin Blue Line and Mr. Moore's Roger & Me that showed me documentaries didn't have to be straightforward reporting of the "facts." Some critics, notably Pauline Kael, found the manipulations of facts and re-organizing of events to fit a narrative drive to be morally questionable, even dangerous. She may have a valid complaint. Personally, I feel that in an era of "spin," docs like Fahrenheit 9/11 contain more of the questioning-of-authority spirit that is part of a certain strain of the American population than any "fair and balanced" news outlet.

In response to Brian's "tidbit" of "insider hearsay," it saddens me to say that it is based on some faulty logic. Parker & Stone's Team America was not a blue or red state movie. Its demographic audience was anti-authority twentysomethings who appreciate the subtleties of scatological humor and too-cool-for-school posturing, which we all know crosses all political boundaries. Parker & Stone practice a form of back-of-the-classroom rebellion that is entertaining only to a point. That point is when their contempt for "The System" is exposed to be the posturing of a couple of insiders who are still under the illusion that they're still outsiders looking in. They're like a couple of Dennis Millers with better culture references.

More to the point though, I want to make it clear that I am aware that The Passion of the Christ's core audience was Christian middle America. What I'm trying to get across is that they weren't the only ones who appreciated the movie. Furthermore, to use the red state-blue state label to identify someone's political orientation is one thing, but to use it as way of categorizing entire regions of America is an insult to any independent-thinking person who chooses to live in a so-called "red state." You don't have to be a Jew to be offended by the anti-Semitism in The Passion of the Christ, nor do you have to be a Christian to be moved by the bloody spectacle of Jesus' final 12 hours on Earth. Same goes for Fahrenheit 9/11. I defy anyone not to be moved to tears by the sight of grieving mother Lila Lipscomb overwhelmed by the realization that her son is dead.

Speaking as a liberal or a centrist or a blue-stater who resides in a red zone, I just find the analyzing of issues along color lines to be both regressive and petty.

On a slightly more positive note, let's talk about the surprising number of good biopics. (The one big exception being the Spacey-does-Vegas biopic of Bobby Darin, Beyond the Sea, which I'll get to in a minute.) While I agree with Phil's assertion that a well-researched documentary trumps any big-screen biopic, I also feel that a big, glossy film version of someone's life has its own special rewards. Mainly, biopics are the ultimate test for actors who dedicate themselves to disappearing into someone else's skin. What could be better for an actor than to know their performance made an audience forget there was a real-life counterpart to their character, if only for a couple of hours? Foxx does this in Ray. Liam Neeson channels the obsessive need for data as pioneering sex researching Alfred Kinsey in Bill Condon's liberating sex comedy Kinsey.

Then there's the dark side of biopics which is on display in the misguided, Beyond the Sea, a love-fest for one. Unfortunately, it's Spacey, not Darin, who's getting all the love. From its movie-within-a-movie framing device, to its scenes of older-Bobby-talking-to-young-Bobby, to the poorly staged and poorly integrated musical numbers, to the sight of Greta Scacchi being de-sexed as Sandra Dee's monster of a stage mom, to the succession of bad hair pieces, I left Beyond the Sea knowing less about Bobby Darin than when I entered the theater.

Not to come off as a total cynic, I'll leave on an up note and pose a question. Do you think it's about time for people to stop being surprised when Leonardo DiCaprio gives a great performance? His turn as the young, brash, eventually doomed Howard Hughes in The Aviator is one of the highlights of the year. Martin Scorsese takes his gliding-camera style to new heights as he turns the early years of Hughes' life into a Technicolor romantic-adventure of the highest order. Scorsese looks through his viewfinder and sees a fun-house refection of himself in Hughes' willingness to risk losing everything in order to achieve perfection. You can feel Scorsese's kinship with Hughes' determination in crafting the best, whether it's a movie, a bra, or an airplane. Hughes' obsession with seeing his lumbering Spruce Goose take flight can also be seen in Scorsese's desire to see long-gestating projects like The Last Temptation of Christ and Gangs of New York get to the big screen. Don't let these Scorsese-Hughes parallels fool you, The Aviator is indeed about the young Mr. Hughes as his time in Hollywood provides the basis for one of the best period epics ever made. You haven't seen star-studded reveries until you see the way Scorsese re-creates the Cocoanut Grove nightclub where stars gathered, hooked-up, and separated while moving to a swinging beat. The Aviator's slow decline into darkness is mesmerizing as the powers that be try to crush the spirit of this tool-bit manufacturer from Texas, which leads to the film's most haunting sequence: A slowly-going-mad Hughes locked in his screening room trying to keep the outside world from crashing in. (Read Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls to find the moment in Scorsese's life that mirrors this sequence.) This scene is only topped by Hughes' triumphant, crowd-pleasing showdown against a Senate Committee that wants to destroy his reputation. The scene illustrates how much Hughes had to lose in order achieve perfection.

the aviator

The great supporting cast is lead by Cate Blanchett's scarily funny performance as Katharine Hepburn. Blanchett's Hepburn matches DiCaprio's Hughes insecurity for insecurity as they create one of the most memorable screen couples in recent memory. The rest of the fine cast includes Alec Baldwin (smarmy as ever), Alan Alda (even smarmier), John C. Reilly (hilariously frazzled), Jude Law (showing more charm and sleaze in his one scene as Errol Flynn than he did in all of Alfie), and Kate Beckinsale, who is surprisingly touching in her portrayal of Ava Gardner. The Aviator is a great and moving entertainment. It is also my choice as the best film of the year.

Be back later with the rest of my list.

Cheers,
AA

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From: Phil
Date: January 4, 2005, 12:50 AM

Aaron and Brian:

I guess I'm up.

I'll leave the Mel Gibson movie to you guys. You couldn't pay me enough to see it.

I like that She Hate Me is on Brian's list, even though I haven't seen it and even though the reviews were pretty bad. (One more "even though": and even though I thought the last three Spike Lee films I saw, Summer of Sam, Get on the Bus, and 25th Hour, were all big mistakes.) I still retain a lot of admiration for just about every film of Lee's from Do the Right Thing through to He Got Game--flaws and all, of which there are many--and I think Jungle Fever, Clockers, and at least half of Malcolm X are pretty great. So I still root for him, and he seems to be kind of a forgotten figure at the moment. I hope he gets his Jackie Robinson film made one day.

My inclusion of Spider-Man 2 in my Top 10 is probably a lot more ambivalent than with Brian. I don't think there's ever a year where I wholeheartedly like 10 films--if I saw more than the 25-35 I generally get out to see, maybe there would be, but as is, I start to reach a bit at a certain point on every year's list. This year that happens somewhere between Word Wars and Baadasssss! There was a lot I didn't like about Spider-Man 2--I'd start by getting rid of every last scene between Tobey Maguire and his kindly old aunt, all of which were unbearably wholesome, and I fidgeted through almost the entirety of the love story, too, which I know provides "substance" for some of the reviewers who rhapsodized over the film. What I liked: Alfred Molina's great, just like he's great in Boogie Nights and Magnolia (he's also one of the few worthwhile things in Coffee and Cigarettes), and, what really surprised me--I can't believe I'm about to say something this trite--I thought the special effects were amazing. (Watch out, Joel Siegel, here I come.) I was just totally caught up in Maguire and Molina careening around the city, much more than I have been by anything like that since, I don't know, the big wave in The Poseidon Adventure when I was 11 years old.

Aaron...well, I don't know if we'll be co-hosting any film festivals anytime soon; we disagree about a lot. You actually set the bar at "competently made" when you go to see a film? You don't expect anything more, because you know you'd just be foolishly setting yourself up for disappointment? Wow--that's such a strange mindset to me. I basically want--maybe not expect, but sometimes that too--every film I see to be some combination of The Godfather, Sweet Smell of Success, and Nashville. I'm exaggerating, obviously, but I don't see the point of seeing something if you don't hold out some degree of hope that you're going to get a lot more than just competency. I especially don't understand your formulation that it's those moviegoers who go in with unrealistically high expectations (that would be me) who are somehow the cause of all the mediocrity that ends up in theatres, rather than assigning the blame to moviegoers who are content with competency (that would be you). The films of Rob Reiner and Ron Howard are very competent. They're also very mediocre most of the time--competency as an end in itself generally goes hand-in-hand with mediocrity, so if you're content with the competency of Rob Reiner and Ron Howard, their mediocrity is part of the package. That seems self-evident to me.

Which, more or less, is why The Aviator is so disheartening; it's an exercise in competency, and it might just as well have been directed by Ron Howard. I'm really not trying to be glib or cleverer-than-thou--to paraphrase Charlie in Mean Streets, you don't fuck around with the infinite, and you don't fuck around with Scorsese. He could take on Scary Movie 4 as his next project, and it wouldn't alter my boundless gratitude towards the man who made Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and GoodFellas a bit. I'll repeat what I wrote in connection to Gangs of New York last year: anyone who counts all, or some, or even one of those films among the cornerstones of his or her (yeah, I know, who am I kidding? his) moviegoing experience is doing Scorsese a disservice by fawning over tepid shadows like Gangs of New York and The Aviator, and also, I think, just deluding himself. I'd say Aaron accidentally gets at much of what's wrong with The Aviator very well when he writes of "Hughes' triumphant, crowd-pleasing showdown against a Senate Committee that wants to destroy his reputation." Yes. Triumphant, crowd-pleasing showdowns are kept to a minimum in Mean Streets.

Scorsese right now seems to me to be somewhere close to where Bob Dylan was in the late '70s and through the '80s; not necessarily in the precise quality of the work, but in the reluctance of many people to accept that it's just not the same guy who astounded them a decade or two earlier. I mean, obviously it is the same guy, but the place where those earlier films and albums came from--Taxi Driver and Mean Streets, Highway 61 and Blonde on Blonde--is as mysterious to him as it is to us, and is now permanently inaccessible in terms of ever replicating it. That's what I loved so much about the 60 Minutes interview with Dylan last month: his complete (and rare for an artist, most of whom are forever trying to sell you on the idea that they're "growing") honesty in saying that he has no idea where those earlier songs came from, and that even though he can do other things now, he can't do that again. I'm not saying that Scorsese will never make good, maybe even great films again--many people (not me) are passionate about Dylan's '90s albums. But if and when he does, I believe he'll first have to come out the other side of this fallow period, and that when you see The Aviator and Gangs of New York all over Ten-Best lists, and read that such-and-such is Scorsese's best film since GoodFellas, there's a clear echo of the way every new Dylan album after Blood on the Tracks would be widely reviewed as a return to form. Strangely enough, the next Scorsese film to appear will supposedly be his Dylan documentary--and, perhaps contradicting everything I've just said, I'm totally looking forward to it.

Calling Michael Moore the anti-Wiseman may be obvious--though I'm guessing Moore considers himself the natural heir to the Wisemans, Pennebakers, and Maysleses of the '60s, in stature if not in style--but far from being beside the point, it is the point. Frederick Wiseman's films were about high schools and hospitals and welfare agencies; Michael Moore's films are about Michael Moore, and that's why he's earned the admiration of millions and the enmity and distrust of just as many more. The question of how much he plays around with factual accuracy is not negligible, and it speaks directly to the trust issue: aware of the discrepancies Kael documented in her review of Roger & Me, and having winced over at least a couple of transparent bits of legerdemain in Bowling for Columbine, it stands to reason that I'm going to resist a lot of Moore's gee-whiz editorializing in Fahrenheit. But forget about that--Millhouse: A White Comedy, which I mentioned earlier, has a few rigged juxtapositions too. What it doesn't have, though, to its credit, is Emile de Antonio front and center, begging you to admire his courage, imploring you to appreciate his sensitivity, making sure at all times that you're fully aware of who's out there in the trenches fighting the good fight for the rest of us. That's the part of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine that makes me queasy. Columbine had that unbelievably self-serving spectacle at the K-Mart, where Moore does everything but grab a bullhorn and announce, "It's OK, everybody, I've confiscated all the guns and we can all go home now." In Fahrenheit, you've got the Lila Lipscomb sequence Aaron admires so much. Aaron, you've found someone who wasn't moved to tears; it made me squirm. Above and beyond the fact that pointing a camera at someone who's crying is a supremely unimaginative way to coax out a reaction from an audience--it's Dianne Sawyer, TV-type stuff--far worse was the way Moore nestled up to Lipscomb and provided comfort. That had nothing to do with Lipscomb, nothing to do with her son, nothing to do with anything except reminding us yet again that past all the showmanship, bravura, and wiseacre muckraking, Michael Moore is one exceptionally deep-feeling person. It reminded me of something I came across two or three times up here in Toronto, right after 9/11: people who made a point of writing how they broke down crying as they watched TV that day. Sorry, but that kind of thing creeps me out. Wiseman's Near Death spends six hours with doctors and families as they have to decide whether or not to pull the plug on a family member. It's an amazing film, in part because it's essentially the same grim scene over and over again. The thought of Wiseman stepping out from behind the camera to commiserate with one of these distraught families is inconceivable. Wiseman's an artist; Moore, at his best, is an entertaining, occasionally very funny gadfly, and at his worst he's Oprah.

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From: Aaron
Date: January 6, 2005, 6:03 PM

Phil and Brian,

I think Phil is under the impression that "competently made" movies are a dime a dozen. In fact, the multiplexes are filled with movies directed by hacks who wouldn't last one week in the Roger Corman School of Moviemaking. (Did you see the late-summer hit Without a Paddle?) Of course, I go into a movie hoping for greatness, but greatness is not something we see every day. (Even the so-called heyday of American cinema--the New Hollywood '70s--had its share of junk.) I prefer to walk into a movie cold, without any preconceived notions of what it should be, and come out surprised with what it actually is. One example: The Colin Farrell actioneer S.W.A.T., an unwanted TV-to-movie adaptation that turned out to be a well-made, late-summer good time with cool visuals, taut action sequences, and well-developed, B-movie-level characterizations. If I was to go into every movie expecting Godfather-like greatness I wouldn't last long as a movie critic.

Phil's assertion that "competently made movies" are represented by the works of Ron Howard and Rob Reiner says more about his Film Comment-like snobbery than what constitutes a good movie. The best work by Howard (Night Shift, Splash, The Paper, Apollo 13) and Reiner (This Is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men) have been wonderful, mass-appeal entertainments that require a light hand that more "serious" directors just don't possess. Just because their movies lack the "grandeur" of a movie by Coppola or Scorsese doesn't make them any less significant.

One more thing: knock off the Oprah bashing. Her ability to attract a name director (Jonathan Demme) to help her realize her dream of bringing a difficult, Pulitzer-winning novel about slavery to the big screen is reason enough to admire her. How many African-American women do you know whose name is more than just a name, it's a force in the culture?

Anyway, here's my list of the best films of 2004.

1. The Aviator

2. Sideways: Alexander Payne's remarkable two-buddies-hit-the-road-movie is all the more remarkable because it illuminates the lives of a couple of "ordinary" characters into something profound. Adapting Rex Pickett's novel into a marvel of loose-limbed comic riffs that build on top of each other, Payne and co-screenwriter Jim Taylor lay bare the dreams, fears, and anxieties of a generation of arrested-development men who've chosen to live lives of quiet desperation. That is, until a pair of good-spirited waitresses (Sandra Oh, Virginia Madsen) awaken--in at least one of the men--the possibilities of what life can offer. The instant-classic wine-as-self-descriptive-metaphor scene in which Miles (Paul Giamatti doing quiet desperation like no one else) tells Maya (a radiantly vulnerable Madsen) about his connection with pinot grapes will leave you a little dizzy, as these two lonely souls slowly realize that their lives might actually mean more than a hill of beans.

I'm pickin' up good vibrations she's givin' me the excitations

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/Before Sunset: Two love stories that seem to encompass all the possible configurations that love has to offer. Michel Gondry's sci-fi romance is, to paraphrase a much better critic (thanks Owen), a mind-bender heartbreaker. As Joel, the perpetual sad-sack who opts to have the memory of his darling Clementine erased, Jim Carrey taps into his tears-of-a-clown resources to give his most poignant performance to date. As Clem, Kate Winslet is a revelation as she shows how some loves can test your nerves and blow your mind. Eternal Sunshine shows us that no matter how hard we try we can never really forget the ones we love. Richard Linklater's urgent follow-up to his 1995 slackers-walk-the-streets-of-Vienna charmer, Before Sunrise, finds slacker-turned-novelist Jesse (a never-better Ethan Hawke) in a Paris bookstore where he--magically? fatefully?--is reunited with his one-night love Celine (a luminous Julie Delpy), an impassioned environmentalist, who trembles with apprehension and excitement at the thought of there being a second opportunity. The movie's closing scene is a beaut as Celine channels Nina Simone and tells Jesse, "Baby, you are gonna miss that plane." Jesse's two-word response contains all the hope, fear, and joy that love has to offer.

4. Kill Bill: Vol. 2: Quentin Tarantino's pay off to last year's best film isn't so much better as it is a fulfillment of the promises made in Volume 1. Tarantino, the original smash-up artist, tops Sergio Leone by making a Spaghetti Western with a heart. Every scene is charged with a heady mix of anticipation and dread as The Bride (Uma Thurman, displaying an awe-inspiring physicality) continues to cross off names on her death list as she tries to exact revenge--and find redemption. The movie culminates with a quietly moving domestic squabble as Bill (David Carradine in the performance of his life) expounds about the virtues of family and loyalty, all the while demonstrating how to make a perfect sandwich.

5. Kinsey: The greatest sex comedy ever made. Writer-director Bill Condon examines the life of pioneering--and still controversial--sex researcher Alfred Kinsey and pinpoints the moment when America, almost unknowingly, embraced its sexuality. Liam Neeson's superb performance shows us a man whose obsession with collecting data, whether it be from gall wasps or the "sex histories" of men and women, was blinded to the one puzzle he could not solve: Love. The conclusion of the film contains a powerful two-minute performance by Lynn Redgrave who, while giving her sex history, is startled to discover late in life that she has a sexual nature. Kinsey shows us how far we have come in talking openly about sex in this country. And how far we still need to go.

6. Open Water: Chris Kentis' no-budget, DV-shot, young-married-couple-stranded-in-the-middle-of-the-ocean thriller is like Jaws crossed with a John Cassavetes domestic drama. As Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis, who give life-like performances, fight, make up, fight again (all the while being circled by sharks), Kentis and creative partner Laura Lau tap into a child-like fear of abandonment like no other film ever made. The film's closing moments, in which fear and love are realized, accepted and transcended, has not stopped haunting me in the five months since I've seen the film.

7. Dawn of the Dead: A savage critique of our mass consumption society. It's also a kick-ass zombie action movie with pitch-black humor, arresting visuals and great ensemble acting by Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley, Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, and especially Michael Kelly as arrogant security guard, CJ, who learns what it means to be a team player. Contains the year's best opening credits sequence as a montage of the world devouring itself is set to the spooky-cool Johnny Cash tune, "The Man Comes Around." It's the end of the world and it never looked so cool.

8. Ray: One of the best rock 'n' roll bios ever made. Structurally the film is a little rickety but Jamie Foxx's towering performance wipes away all reservations as Ray makes us feel a man's life experiences like no other biopic since Malcolm X. Foxx transcends mere mimicry--Ray's swaying head movements, his infectious, southern-fried stutter--into a state of being. Foxx is Ray Charles. Directed by the vastly underrated Taylor Hackford, Ray is uncompromising as it shows how Charles didn't let his blindness from manipulating those around him. He did it his way.

9. Baadassss!: Mario Van Peebles' loving, no-bull tribute to his father, Melvin Van Peebles, and his making of the seminal blaxploitation epic Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is also one of the best movies about the movies ever made. Baadasssss! shows that in order for a film to get made a director must be equal parts dictator, manipulator, hustler and father-figure. In a bit of meta-casting writer-director Mario Van Peebles casts himself in the role of his father and finally becomes a star, as he exorcises the demons of his father's neglectfulness and casual cruelty in order to achieve his vision. What lies on the other side of the younger Van Peebles' performance is love and understanding. Also, the birth of Black Cinema in America.

10. Tarnation: In what will go down as a landmark year in documentary history, Jonathan Caouette's cathartic, home-movies-turned-into-horror-show examination of himself and his mother stands head and shoulders above the rest. Disregarding hallmarks of regular documentaries like narration and chronological order, Tarnation divides the screen into a series of beautifully-timed montages, set the year's most haunting song score, as we slowly realize that we're seeing the thought process of a scarred psyche. An early-childhood sequence set to "Wichita Lineman" will make you recast your own memories as a pop symphony. The heart of the movie is Caouette's mother, whose possible real life tales of abuse may hold the key to both of their sanities. The scene of Caouette's mother's endless dance with a pumpkin is as transporting and terrifying as anything in The Wizard of Oz.

Feel free to choose any of my selections as a jumping-off point for discussion, debate, admiration, or argument.

Oh, Phil, a "triumphant" moments in Mean Streets would feel a little out of place, don't you think? Of course, I'm being sarcastic but you get the idea. I think The Aviator shows Scorsese's joy of cinema that some critics have felt has been lacking from his more recent work. Look closer, and you'll see a movie just as personal as anything from his so-called glory years.

Cheers,
AA

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From: Phil
Date: January 6, 2005, 10:19 PM

Aaron and Brian:

Do you keep a whistle around, Brian? A referee's uniform? We may need you to step in.

This is devolving into personal sniping fairly quickly, and one of the mixed blessings of my life is that I'm pretty good at that kind of thing. (An exchange in Broadcast News I've always loved: Holly Hunter's boss derisively observes of her something to the effect that "It must be wonderful to know that you're always 100% right and everybody else is 100% wrong"; "No, it's awful," she says.) So I'm going address a couple of bizarre comments of Aaron's and then, the next time you hear from me, I'll move onto some films from my list.

"Film Comment-like snobbery"?? The first thing you need to do, Aaron, is get a much better point of reference as to what constitutes snobbery. I don't keep up with Film Comment anymore, but when I looked at it regularly through the '80s, it published some of the sanest, least snobbish film criticism around. I've got one issue sitting around the house, the May/June '98 issue devoted to Scorsese's induction into Lincoln Center. There are pieces by Gavin Smith, David Thomson, and Michael Wilmington, a reprint of an old Manny Farber/Patricia Patterson analysis of Taxi Driver, a reprint of Scorsese's excellent "Guilty Pleasures" piece from 1978, and a few other things. Their "Critics Choice" overview of then-current releases located near the front of the magazine includes ratings from David Ansen, Richard Corliss, Manohla Dargis, Ebert, Molly Haskell, Richard T. Jameson, and Andrew Sarris. This is your definition of snobbery? No, it's not, I'm guessing, you just didn't choose your words very carefully.

As to my own membership in this conspiracy of snobs, which seems to hinge on my inability to recognize the wonderful mass appeal of Ron Howard and Rob Reiner films, all I can say is you've got just about the lowest threshold for snobbery that I've ever encountered. Not being a movie critic, I'm happily free of all professional obligation to see Without a Paddle; if I did have to see a lot of films like that, then yes, maybe Night Shift would suddenly seem very special. Of the eight films you mention, I've seen all but The Paper. This Is Spinal Tap is great, which I've always believed has everything to do with Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean, and very little to do with Rob Reiner, who tips his hand right at the end as to how much essential contempt he has for what the other three guys are parodying, I believe, out of affection. Splash and Misery were pretty good from what I remember, Apollo 13 was a lot of hokum (allowing Ed Harris to chew up scenery mercilessly is your idea of a "light hand"?), and the rest were somewhere in between. And so what? I don't see any reason to revise what I wrote earlier: they're both competent directors, and if I valued competence as much as you do, I'm sure I'd like them a lot more than I do. I'll also mention in passing that it doesn't matter a bit to me how autobiographical The Aviator is for Scorsese; I go to movies (and listen to music, and read books) to understand myself better, not the person who created the work. That's the old auteurist line, that I'm supposed to take notice of and derive pleasure from all these little personal touches and bits of autobiography found in some otherwise negligible Otto Preminger film. (A simplification, I know.) Francis Coppola's Tucker, the film I was most reminded of while watching The Aviator, is probably every bit as personal to Coppola as the first two Godfathers, maybe even more so. It's also one one-hundredth the film.

Doesn't it bother you to see Jonathan Demme, a guy who did such great work from Handle With Care through to Silence of the Lambs, being hired ("attract"? like she didn't throw piles of money at him?) for some vanity project by a woman who's as responsible as anyone for promoting a pervasive kind of touchy-feely silliness that is the complete opposite of genuine feeling and emotion? That's a good thing? In fairness, I should mention that I haven't seen Beloved, and in relief, I'll mention that I never will. But I'll try to go easy on Oprah the rest of the way, being the only African-American woman who's a force in the culture.

Calling on Brian.

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From: Brian
Date: January 6, 2005, 11:38 PM

OK, well I'm glad everyone's list has been deposited in the Canadian movie-nerd bank. Now I want to change mine!

A small change, actually. I'm not going to remove any of the ten aforementioned, but rather, throw in an eleventh that--because it's such an important expression that will and should be talked about for generations on--needs no numeral rank.

So, can any of you tell that I re-watched Fahrenheit this afternoon? I'm sure that's the exact feeling all of you received when walking out the theater that June/July afternoon. Except for me, this second viewing reminded me just how much up in arms I was over the war-criminal, pro-caste, filthy-liar advocates of The Idiot who run our corporations, and by proxy, our government. Obviously the same reasons bear in my adoration for Lee's She Hate Me, carrying the same--if not more direct--Philip Rothian rage toward the bald, cigar-smoking, suspender-wearing, self-righteous, white cocksuckers in corporate America.

(Not that Roth has implicated as candidly toward this corrupted sect. But indeed the author's an excellent vitriolic matchup to Lee, who--by the way--could have made Robert Benton's blase adaptation of The Human Stain explode, going the same ways of its original text.)

Bring on any common criticisms of 9/11 you want: it's too manipulative and not honest enough about the administration; it's not hard enough on Bush; it gets tedious; it's full of shit. Whatever. Like Aaron said about how the truth of the documentary isn't so much the matter as it's "feel," I'll agree for this particular case.

I know, guys: enough about Fahrenheit already! I thought about taking course into more documentaries, but I'm going to rail/laud on your ten lists instead.

Phil, the last two days I watched Mayor of the Sunset Strip and Going Upriver. Very touching choices to have on your list, whether you've seen 35 movies or 135 movies. Clearly you've an overall "good" taste in movies; as for Aaron, well, I feel like pouncing for a bit.

But first, in all fairness, Aaron, you do have some very respectable picks in your ten. Glad to hear you enjoyed Open Water. It's a shame, too, that such a thrilling and--oddly enough--cerebral film would get mismarketed and misunderstood so overtly. Elements of Blair Witch? Sure. But why Lions Gate didn't treat Kentis' shark tale with more elegance and less schlocky slasher campaigning, I'll never know. We all concur on Sideways, which is no surprise to me. How can you not fall for such an enjoyably heartfelt film that--I'm willing to defend--did not subscribe to the formulaic structure of every other piece of Oscar bait this season.

And speaking of Oscar bait, here comes the Aaron-slamming. The Aviator and Ray? I have seen neither. So should I shut my mouth? Maybe. I won't go into criticisms of the actual film; as Walter Sobcheck would say, I "have no frame of reference." However, I will say that the reason I have not seen these two films was not out of inconvenience. Rather, I'm just not interested. Same goes for Finding Neverland.

In fact, let's take all three of those films for a second and look at their theatrical posters. Depp, DiCaprio, and Foxx all look like they're posing for Revlon. Yes, yes, Aaron, I know you're still raving over the wonderful year of the biopic, but seriously, by the time Kinsey hit in September/October, weren't you already burned-out to a crisp? For myself, Vera Drake and Tarnation are all the biopic (or, in Caouette's case, autobiopic) I need until the Oscar platter '05 rolls around.

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Oh, another thing. Kill Bill? Are you kidding? Aside from Garden State, I found Q.T.'s self-indulgent, masturbatory marathonic movie more offensive than Soulplane. (Passion of the Christ, for that matter.) I used to be a fanboy of the Tennessee rogue. His innovative dialogue from Pulp Fiction and True Romance and Reservoir Dogs and even Four Rooms rang in my head for years. Safe to say, "Zed's dead, baby. Zed's dead" rang in all our heads until, oh, how about when The Big Lebowski hit the screen?

Now is a different era. Now, because of the fanboys who lauded (and still laud) Q.T. for his movie-nerdy-ness, I guess it's acceptable for a director to pop ecstasy like Tic-Tacs, fire up some expensive Miramax cameras in China, and squeeze in as much film trickery and obscure pop culture homages as possible. Just because Lawrence Bender referred to the two volumes as a "rock show" doesn't make them good movies. Now I'm rambling and getting off track. OK, here's my point: I don't go to the theater for Movie Reference Jeopardy: catch obscure faces and scores and locales and say, "Oh, yeah, I saw that '70s Swedish rape film!" Does nothing for me.

I could go on about the Dawn of the Dead travesty, but instead, please, ask me why Garden State is so insulting.


Click here for part 3 of Brian, Aaron, and Phil...