My Favourite-ist Movies Ever

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  gilbertgumphrey's Rating My Rating
The Shawshank Redemption 1994,  R)
The Shawshank Redemption
My most favourite film. Perfect in every way, shape, and form. Beautiful, powerful, mesmerizing, haunting, exceptional, enjoyable, wonderful, intelligent, uplifting, moving - there aren't enough words in the English language to describe how amazing this film really is. From top to bottom, Frank Darabont, the writer/director, achieved success. The performances are wonderful - has Morgan Freeman ever done a better voice over narration? The cinematography is perfectly suited for the story. The camera work is terrific, but never distracting. The music by Thomas Newman is one of the very best of musical scores. And of course, Darabont himself - debuted with this film, deserved the Oscar he never got, and wrote probably the most literate, thought-provoking, and awe inspiring screenplay film has ever seen. I read an email where 50 priests, pastors, and other religious figures listed their favourite films, and 38 out of those 50 all said Shawshank. It's well deserved. If ever there was a film to change someone's life (as this movie as for me - I attribute 90% of my success with Alycia, my lovely girlfriend, to this movie), than this would be the flick. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Heck, now I wanna go watch it again for the 1000th time.
Vertigo 1958,  PG)
My second favourite flick of all time. Alongside Raging Bull and above all, Shawshank Redemption, these movies are as perfect and wonderful as film can be. It's Hitchcock's best film; yes, no scene is as iconic or important to film history as Psycho's shower scene, but it's a more mature, focused, and personal film all around. Hitchcock wore it all on his sleeve for this picture - the obsessive, controlling love for a blonde, the unattainable dream that is more important in chasing than achieving, the hypnotic desire for murder and murderous notions...all these themes and more are addressed in the film, and all of them describe Hitch better than any autobiography has. The movie isn't just his normal suspense/thriller, although there are moments that are creepier than anything else he's done, excepting Psycho of course (like the nun's voice in the end, coupled with the scream - gives me terrifying goosebumps just thinking about it). It's also a romance/drama, with intensity not expected of Jimmy Stewart (the controlling madness he exudes in the last act is frightening). There are some scenes that stick with you and never let you go - the suicide, the nightmare, the Scene D' Amour, the climax. It's a haunting, mesmerizing, evocative, disturbing flick, no question. But it's also dramatically powerful, which isn't something I say often about movies before 1960ish. Oh, I almost forgot to mention Bernard Herrmann's wonderful score, that enhances every scene it plays under. Great, great, great film. A true masterpiece.
Raging Bull 1980,  R)
Raging Bull
To anyone who doesn't like this movie - your loss. Raging Bull is quite simply the third of a top 3 echelon of movies that can be labelled as being "perfect", meaning without any flaws to my own eyes. There is not a frame I would change on Raging Bull (along with the other two perfect films, Shawshank Redemption and Vertigo). It's hard to describe to someone who hasn't seen it (or even some that have, Alycia :D) why this film is so haunting, so evocative, so powerful. Because when one asks you to describe the movie, it sounds as dull as dishwater. Narratively speaking, this is a straightforward movie - violent and mentally unstable boxer has huge ups and huge downs both in and out the ring. Essentially, yeah, that is the barebones plot of the film. But that's like saying the plot of The Wizard of Oz is a young girl gets lost and eventually comes back home. There is more to this film than meets the eye, and take repeat viewings to fully see the poetry being used. Some scenes have twisting dialogue - De Niro, in his best and most psychotic performance, always circles around people, suspicious, trying to bust them for sins they may not even have done. The boxing scenes are shattering in their brutal violence. The cinematography and music displays true, unendurable sadness, a tragedy which sometimes we don't see yet. He's just dancing around the ring - why the Shakespearan music? Because Scorsese, who makes the best film of his stellar career here, damn well knows what he's doing. If the film was made today, it would be softened for audience comprehension - La Motta would be a tragic figure who's fate was imposed upon him, with friends and family who loves him, who tries his best but fails, and maybe even some voice overs to explain what's going on in his head. None of that is in this picture. Scorsese doesn't let up - we barely sympathize with this monster, even when we wanna beat him as hard as he beats his wife. He desires redemption, but is too weak and unstable to ever try for it. And we never see what's ticking in his head - the closest reveal to his true emotions we see is when he's in prison, having just lost everything, and begins punching the walls screaming "Why? Why? Why?" It's the most powerful scene in an incredibly powerful film, which never ceases to haunt me and get under my skin. Brilliance from start to finish, and don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise :)
12 Angry Men (Twelve Angry Men) 1957,  PG)
12 Angry Men (Twelve Angry Men)
For a film with such a seemingly simple plot, 12 Angry Men is very emotionally complex. Every time I watch it, I find something new to be intrigued, excited, and moved by. Like all great movies, 12 Angry Men doesn't bang you over the head with its brilliance - the greatness of the film quietly sneaks up on you, then grabs hold. First time I saw it, I was impressed enough to give it 4 stars, but by the next day, I couldn't wait to watch it again. I just never grew tired of rewatching the flick, and now, maybe 5 months and 8 viewings later, I must concede that this is truly one of the smartest, strongest, and greatest films ever made.

The key to 12 Angry Men's power is it's universality. I can't imagine how difficult it must've been for the filmmakers and actors to create 12 people with such distinct personalities and yet contain human elements every one of us can identify with. There are no villians in this movie, simply miguided individuals whose opinions and prejudices all can change and evolve over the course of the movie. There's not a single person I can't see a little bit of myself here. There's the man who takes light of everything with inappropriate jokes. The discriminated against, and the discriminators. The man trying to keep everything organized, and the other guy too shy to speak up. The fellow who just wants to wrap everything up so he can see the ball game. The hero. The bully. There's a little bit of all of us here, and that is vital to the movie's appeal.

The film is as perfectly acted as an ensemble piece can be. Every actor, from the big names like Henry Fonda to the old, nameless man (who keeps getting oddly unsettling close ups in the picture), play their parts with no flaw. On first viewing, you may only be able to barely discern all the men, but after 3 or 4 viewings, you can recognize all of them as well as your own family members. The dialogue is exacting in the way that it shuffles between who the personalities of the men are and going over the actual details of the murder case in question (which is always, by far, the most interesting element of the flick). Often the writers will find a way to mix the trail with those personalities, such as the man only disliking the accused because he's racist (which race the accused was, is never mentioned, because it's not important). But it's in this subtle mix that the flick surpasses how simplistic the one-setting plot could have been, and 12 Angry Men becomes, in a different kind of way, as complex as a political thriller.

Sidney Lumet directed, who's in his late 80's now and still going strong (his 2007 film Before the Devil Knows Your Dead was one of the best flicks of that year). This, however, was his ultimate masterpiece, where he utilizes lighting, camera angles, long takes and the use of the focal length (grows smaller as the film progresses in order to make it feel more claustrophobic) to create suspense, drama, and tension out of what could have been a very dull scenario. And it's not a film wrapped in a tidy bow - the resolution to the murder case, and how eventually all the men other than Fonda grow to change their opinions, is thought provoking in that they could've been wrong, and maybe the accused actually was the murderer. Ultimately, though, it's the strength of the characters, and how they all become better people over the course of 90 minutes, that makes this film so involving, powerful, and damn near perfect. Sick of Transformers blockbusters raining on your parade and dulling your mind? Go rent 12 Angry Men and see how movies USED to be made.
Magnolia 1999,  R)
JFK 1991,  R)
The Godfather 1972,  R)
The Godfather
What's left to say about The Godfather? What many consider to be the perfect movie (except maybe Peter Griffin...and my girlfriend), this is an exceptional piece of work that is just....sublime. As gay as that sounds, it really is. Strange, how a movie that's almost all talking manages to be the "ultimate guy movie". Great, great stuff.
Psycho 1960,  R)
Not to be confused with Gus Van Sant's masturbatory remake. This is Hitchcock's second greatest film - surely his most popular and iconic, and probably the greatest thriller ever made. Yes, the shower scene, in the appropriate setting with chuckling friends and popcorn, can be laughably dated. But watch it with the lights off and no one in the house with the sound cranked, and trust me, it'll still get you.
Chinatown 1974,  R)
A wonderful, wonderful film. People say it's neo-noir, but I can't imagine how it could be considered anything but the quintessential film noir. Mystery, murder, wide-brimmed hats, femme fatales...this movie's got it all. Very complicated and hard to follow at first, but after 4 or 5 viewings you'll be mesmerized.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc) 1928,  Unrated)
Schindler's List 1993,  R)
Schindler's List
No matter how great and nearly perfect this film is, it's almost impossible to say you "enjoy" it. Up there with Requeim for a Dream for being the most disturbing and saddest film ever made, this is definately Spielberg's finest achievement and not one that's ever completely forgotten. Great flick.
It's a Wonderful Life 1946,  PG)
On the Waterfront 1954,  Unrated)
Baraka 1993,  Unrated)
It's very difficult to describe the experience of watching Baraka without sounding ridiculous. Certainly, it's hard to talk about the movie to people who haven't seen it without making it sound like the most boring flick ever made. One has to describe it like this - a 90 minute long documentary with no words or talking, mostly focused on nature, life, death, human suffering and the world's beauty. It doesn't sound thrilling - that's probably why I avoided watching it for so long. But let me assure you that words about the film are just as useless as words in the film. It's one of the most breathtaking, beautiful, eye-popping, stunning movie-going experiences you'll ever have. I thought my top 20 movies of all time was completely untouchable - I haven't added a new movie there in years. As soon as Baraka was finished, it made it on there. That's really saying something; hell, Dark Knight didn't even bust my top 20.

So yes, Baraka is a documentary. Yes, it has no dialogue. No, it is not silent, and no, it is not ever remotely boring. There isn't a minute of this movie that goes by where I'm not endlessly fascinated, stunned, overwhelmed, overpowered. Even when the film becomes, momentarily, creepy and disturbing and endlessly sad, it's still impossible to look away, to break your eyes from the beauty on screen. Cause yes, as lame as it sounds, this is truly a beautiful movie, maybe the most beautiful I've ever seen. The first half hour alone is enough to make you not only feel spiritually uplifted, but to actually think this crazy-ass world of ours is not so bad afterall.

Of course, after that first half hour, the movie turns away from showcasing beautiful landscapes, gorgeous nature scenery/footage, and bizarre yet incredible tribal chants, dances, and ceremonies. The middle section of the film focuses on humans, and mostly not the good stuff either. There's a ten minute sequence that is almost completely time-lapse photography of a large Asian city, and it's impossible to watch it without your jaw hitting the floor (I'm not so jaded as to not mention I've now seen this film twice stoned, and this part never fails to make me gasp :P). How they managed to get such slow, fluid camera movements during the time lapse is something I don't know, and don't really want to know. Let's keep the mystery. The movie also begins to focus on the human tragedies, such as homelessness, poverty, and even the Holocaust (this is where the movie becomes a little too creepy and tedious; one of it's very few flaws). But the last half hour goes back to focusing on ancient ruins, more tribal customs, and even more gorgeous nature scenery, and ends with a scene of almost transcendant quality.

I know that the movie was filmed by a crew of only 3 people, taking 14 months to shoot in over 25 countries. The footage they brought back is not what you'd expect, and that's why it's so stunning. The camera work is simply some of the best I've ever seen, in any film. It almost always moves, in such a smooth and flowing manner, gliding around or into some of the most intersting things I think this world has to offer. There's no standard shaky-cam documentary work going on here. The editing is more invisible than the cinematography, but just as important. It holds on shots for a long enough time that we can encompass all the wonderful things within the frame, but not so long that it loses our attention. Special attention must be paid to the music, which is simply one of the best film scores I've ever heard. I can't think of any other example where music and visuals were so indeliably linked in a movie. Mute this film, and you won't enjoy it. Half the experience is in the music, which is so weird, so unexplainable, yet so unmistakably beautiful and haunting and relaxing and enlightening. Very little of the film is played without music, and that's a good thing - the scenes without music wind up becoming slightly more tedious than the others.

I haven't done a good job at explaining the film. Well, maybe I've explained the content, but not the impact it has on the viewer. Many of you will be bored to death by the movie - that's fair, I guess. I showed it to three other film school friends last night, and two of them were so relaxed it put them to sleep. But I can't get enough of it. I'm not really sure what it all means, or what the special significance is behind the shots and why they were put together in the order they were. All I know is - this is not your ordinary, every day documentary, nor your ordinary every day movie. It's better than that. There's no voice over narrations telling you about the cultures we see. There's no subtitles on the bottom explaining what country we're in. There's no boring behind-the-scenes stuff explaining how the camera crew worked and what it all means. There's simply the visuals, and the music, and there they are, and here we are. Yes, the movie gets a little too creepy, and yes, it runs for a little too long (in my opinion, they should've cut out that entire disturbing sequence of the film, which sort of spoils the epic-beauty groove of the flick). But even with these flaws, it's one of the most powerful films I've ever seen. I love it to death. Go see it.
Pulp Fiction 1994,  R)
Pulp Fiction
Yeah, Tarantino's a dick. But that dick's got some holyballing style, man. This movie's great fun from start to finish. Perfect dialogue, some distrubing and horrific violence to go with the laughs, and probably the most iconic storyline in modern cinema. My only complaint is that it's a little too long - Tarantino, like all his movies, could've cut it a bit more. But it's a minor quibble to a terrific film.
A Clockwork Orange 1971,  R)
A Clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange is a brilliant, devious, disturbing masterpiece; a film that is unlike any other, and love it or hate it, you will never forget it. It's not a movie for everyone - indeed, it's a film few will ever have the courage to watch, and even fewer will like. But watching it remains one of the great movie-going experiences I have ever endured. The first hour is nearly perfect, and if it wasn't for a middling and muddled second act, this movie would be top 10 of all time, easily - perhaps even top 5. But even so, with all it's flaws (and for a 5 star movie, it has many), this is still a top 20 films of all time movie, and it's fantastic viewing.

Clockwork Orange is one of the most popular and beloved post-modern films of all time. The best way I can describe it is that Stanley Kubrick, the writer/director genius, goes for feeling more than actual logic. The whole is more than the sum of it's parts in this film. There are shots and scenes that seem to go on way longer than they should. Passages of dialogue are so strange and dreamlike, you wonder if this whole movie is just a nightmare of a certain character (this is heightened with the made-up language used by the futuristic gangmembers). People, for the most part, do not act or react in ways we would normally see in real life. But this is the point Kubrick was trying to make. In this film, all the characters are clockwork oranges, and all are only facades of what real, decent human beings should be. This amplifies the movie's haunting, nightmarish quality, and makes it all the more disturbing.

What I love most about the movie is it's synergy with visuals and music. Has any other movie been more successful primarily due to this relationship between the shots and the score? Kubrick rotates between a dsiturbingly electronic score by Wendy/Walter Carlos and, more popularily, classical music by Beethoven, Mozart, etc. What this does is make the movie more powerful than it otherwise would be. The subject matter itself is strange, yes, and frightening - but not overly original. We've seen apocalyptic, futuristic, dystopian sci-fi flicks before (even when the movie was first released in the 70's, this wasn't anything new). But what the film is about doesn't make it great (although it helps) - it's HOW Kubrick presents it that makes this flick a masterpiece. In the first hour alone, Kubrick gives us more classic, wonderful, amazing, and deeply unsettling scenes as almost any other movie - the opening shots, the fight with another gang, the group rape/beating made famous for the main character bellowing Singin' in the Rain, the attack by the waterfront, the threesome in fast motion, the attack on the cat-lady. So many amazing scenes, made more amazing by Kubrick's innovative use of melding classical music, montage editing, bizarre camera set ups, and other tricks. Indeed, some of these scenes, like the orgy sped up in super-fast-motion with the "Charge!" music playing in the background, are mostly just Kubrick showing off. But thank God that someone, ever, had the balls to show off as much as he did, as intensely as he did.

One of the ballsiest things Kubrick did with this film was to make us, the audience, complicit with a maniacal, raging, raping, murdering psychopath. The main character of this film is Alex, played brilliantly and horrifically by Malcom McDowell, and he is one of the greatest villians in film history. The things he does in this film are absolutely despicable. But we are eventually made to sympathize with him as the experiments the government does to him to make him "normal" and "good" are almost as monstorous as his own crimes. By making the lead character such a loathsome individual, only to eventually show him as much a victim as a perpertrator, Kubrick makes us feel almost unclean by the end of the movie. It's completely effective in shaking us to the very core. This is enhanced by showing the entire film through Alex's perspective, often by filming in long angle lenses to distort those around Alex. He's never a good guy in this movie, but he is always completely interesting and intriguing.

I mentioned before that the film is flawed. That it is. As much as I adore this film, there are definitely aspects I wish I could change. One is the pacing. Make no doubt about it - this is often a tough film to sit through. But most of this comes from the second act. The first hour, as I mentioned, is perfect. The last hour, while not without it's momentum problems, is haunting, powerful, mesmerizing, and thought provoking, as everything from Alex's past comes up to bite him on his now-weakling ass. But the twenty minutes in between are pretty rough. Almost all of the prison scenes go on for way longer than they should, and are ultimately kinda boring - if Kubrick had cut out 10-15 minutes overall from this film, most of those minutes being from this middle segment, it would be a much stronger motion picture. But this is a relatively minor quibble, when you see how great the rest of the flick is.

As I said before, this isn't a movie for everyone. It's infamous for it's sexual and grotesque violence, but what you should realize is that this movie isn't actually as violent as it's reputation suggests. Oh, it's disturbing all right. But if violence means blood and gore, then there's very little of that here. The violence this movie does contain is of a sexual nature, with several rapes, the most famous being the Singin' In the Rain one. These scenes are incredibly disturbing, and not just because they show (but never explicitly) women being raped. I mean, lets be honest - when every CSI and Law & Order episode in existence is about a woman being raped and killed, we've almost become desensitized to that sort of thing. But those episodes do not show rape the way Kubrick shows rape, with distorted camera angles and bizarre lighting and classical music blaring. The effect is incredibly unsettling. This is what makes the film both disturbing to watch and unforgettable to experience. I mean it when I say this movie is more of an experience than an actual film to watch, which may explain why I forgive it's many flaws and simply take it all in. As agonizing as the violence is, Kubrick's direction and McDowell's acting elevates it to, quite simply, art (yes, I know that sounds pretentious, but fuck it, this is a pretentious movie). The film also has a lot of political and sociopolitical things to say. I won't try and bluff my way to pretending that I know what the movie is talking about. Clearly, the issue of free will is definitely being defended and offended in this film - is brainwashing the psychopathic Alex into becoming sick at the mere thought of violence beneficial to himself and society, or even more demonic than his own sins? The movie never really comes out and says. And the ending requires much thought, as the government seems to make an agreement with Alex to continue his reign of terror so long as they save face and appear to be the good guys. Honestly, I'm not exactly sure what this film's message is. But to be honest, I don't care. I'm from the Phenomenological school of film analysis, which places the experience and feeling and emotions of film watching higher than the actual interpreting of it's meanings. So even though Clockwork Orange is very intellectually stimulating, it is even more important from an emotional point of view.

Anyways, I gotta wrap this up. I love this movie. It's a darkly comic, savagely violent, brilliantly directed masterpiece. But it's not for everyone. It took me years to build up the courage to show my girlfriend this film, primarily because I knew once she saw it and surely hated it, she wouldn't get intimate with me for days afterward (which really did happen). Yes, she hated it, as many have and always will. But that's the kind of flick it is. It pulls no punches, and every one of those punches hits you right in the gut. It's an amazing work of art, and without its mediocre second act, it would be very nearly perfect.
The Third Man 1949,  Unrated)
The Third Man
What an enjoyable film this is. I wish more people I know have seen it, because it's just so darn fun to watch. Orson Welles gives my favourite performance in this strange sort of pseudo-thriller, and of course, there's Anton Karas score performed on the zither. If you don't know what a zither is, you haven't heard the score, and if you haven't heard the score, you haven't seen the film.
Taxi Driver 1976,  R)
Taxi Driver
Watching this movie again, I was reminded of how important it is. Not just in terms of it's highly influential movie-making style (this was the first widely seen Scorsese movie, and he hit it right out of the park), but as a scathing social commentary on how we as a people view and treat violence. Yes, leasha - it IS clever in that regard. In terms of an actual film, it's Marty's second best and one of the top 15 films I've ever seen. The first time I saw it, admittedly, I was disappointed - I expected Punisher-style revenge ultra-violence, when really that doesn't come until the final 10 minutes. The movie is mostly the preperation for that massacre as you watch a racist, slow-thinking, horribly motivated psycho gradually slip into madness and violence. When the massacre finally does arrive, it doesn't disappoint and results in one of the most horrifically violent scenes ever filmed. Now onto the social commentary. First time I saw it, I didn't get it. I took the last couple scenes at face value - could've been a dream, could've not, but at either rate, I thought the morals of the film were questionable. Now I understand that they were taking a satirical jab at how we see violence in that the violence itself doesn't bother us - it's the context it's in. If Travis Bickle had pulled out his gun a second sooner at Palantine, he would've killed a "good guy" and been labelled a terrorist. But he missed him, then went to kill "bad guys", and therefore was labelled a hero. It's still killing, but we don't care - I mean, when people go to war they still kill people. Why is that Ok but shooting a man on the street is not? These are questions most revenge pics don't make us ask, but this one does. A brilliant, disturbing masterpiece.
Requiem for a Dream 2000,  R)
Requiem for a Dream
Is there any movie out there more emotionally exhausting and painful to watch than Requeim for a Dream? Even Schindler's List gave us a smidgeon of hope. Requiem for a Dream gives us no hope, no respite, no escape. It's one of the most brilliant, harrowing, powerful, forceful, haunting, and exceptionally depressing films I've ever seen. To my lovely girlfriend who I finally forced to watch this movie and is now probably traumatized and disturbed for life - think how I felt, the first time I watched it, being a mere 14 years old. It rocked my world. I remember sitting in my basement one fine Sunday morning, ready for a morning movie, having taped this the night before off IFC because of a couple good reviews I read. And when it was over, I was literally shaking. Hell, this was one of the first R rated movies I had ever seen, and what a way to start. I sat through the whole end credits, my mouth still agape, hardly even blinking. In fact, now that I think about it, I believe this is the first film that truly opened my eyes to the power of film, and how a movie can be so much more than just a movie. Indeed, Requiem isn't just a movie - it's an experience, a lesson, a message to all addicts of anything to wake the hell up. I showed this to a close friend a couple weeks after my first experience with the film, the same time he was experimenting with drugs. When it was over, he said "I'm not even gonna take Advil anymore". And he didn't, for quite a while. When was the last time a movie could literally change your life? As great as Pi was, and as wonderful as The Fountain is, this film is Darren Aronofsky's finest achievement, and many years later I still believe it deserves a place in my top 10 movies of all time. The experience of watching it is simply like no other. It moves you to tears while making you shake in disturbance. The flick follows the lives of 4 people - three drug addicts by choice, the fourth by accident. I do not know which story is the most painful, the most resonant, the most heartbreaking. I think it would have to be Ellen Burstyn's portrayal of the elderly mom in the movie who gives the film it's most potent power. In one of the best performances I've ever seen, she gives us a character who's alone, unhappy, dealing with a drug addicted son, then recieves a glimmer of hope that she'll be on television. But before she reaches the cameras, she wants to lose weight to make her son proud, and after dieting fails, she moves on to diet pills. Now, I don't know if the television aspect is a hoax or not. But what's important is that her blind hope in something better happening in her life results in her becoming addicted to pills that are a lot worse than normal diet pills, and her life spirals out of control. In fact, every character in this movie from the very first shot is on a constant downhill spiral. That's what makes this movie so difficult to watch and rewatch - as brilliantly made as it is, it's the most depressing and despairing thing you'll ever see. Unlike Shawshank Redemption, which told us that hope is what keeps us alive, Requiem tells us that hope is indeed good, but we fuck up to much to ever achieve it through various addictions and obsessions. The key to the movie is that it's not just about drug addiction. It's about how something as powerful as drug addiction can replace our natural addictions to everything else in life, such as hope, dreams, love, sex, what have you. Every character in the movie is brilliantly portrayed in this fashion. You see early on that they can all escape their inevitable decline into Hell, but they refuse. They need their fix, more than anything else. And when Jennifer Connelly's character begins to prostitute herself for heroin, your gut will be churning. And when Burstyn's character becomes completely batshit crazy, you suddenly understand all those dressed up wacko's on buses and park benches, screaming out and flailing their arms around. As grim, bleak, and unsettling as the film is, it is completely valuable to everyone who not only wants to learn a damn important lesson about life and it's addictions, but also to anyone willing to see filmmaking at the highest order possible. Aronofsky is a brilliant director, showcased here more than ever. Is there any other film out there that more accurately and astutely presents the world seen through the eyes of a drug addict? Aronofsky uses rapid fire cuts, hazy lighting, fantastic camera angles, fast motion and slow motion, and a hundred other tricks to show us how these people see the world. It's effectivity is astounding, and disturbing. Like I said, the story is about a downhill spiral. But what makes it so haunting and unforgettable is that it's a downhill spiral to FOUR individuals, some of whom deserve their comuppance, others who don't. Drugs and the addictions to it destroy the lives of every character in this film, and your heart literally will break while watching it. Technically speaking, the film is a marvel. The music by Clint Mansell is some of the best ever composed. The cinematography is effective, the editing is fantastic, the performances are all splendid, and the screenplay is perfect in giving us everything we need with absolutely no fat. There's not too many long monolouge's in the film, because it wouldn't be appropriate to these people (although Burstyn does have one, in the middle of the film, about becoming old and lonely that will make even the coldest person get misty). And if you think the first two acts of the film are disturbing, you ain't seen nothing yet - the finale of the movie, where Aronofsky cuts back and forth between every character as they reach their horrible destinations, will rock your socks off. Requiem for a Dream, in short, is a masterpiece, one of the greatest films of all time. It's also one of the most difficult viewing experiences you'll ever endure. If you're brave enough, or if you have an asshole boyfriend who doesn't care if he ruins your day (sorry again leasha :P), then watch this movie and be just as astounded as the rest of the world.
Fargo 1996,  R)
The little film that could. I don't think anyone was really expecting this movie to be as dark, disturbing, brilliant, dramatic, and wickedly funny as it is. I'm not a big Coen brothers fan, but it would be hard for this movie to ever leave my top 20. Great performances from McDormand, Macy, and especially Buscemi, who never gets enough credit for crafting such a wonderfully real villian.
The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde inseglet) 1957,  Unrated)
The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde inseglet)
If there was ever a movie that I would call "hypnotic", then this would be it. There's an endless fascination for me to watch The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman's greatest triumph), because I still have no idea why it is so powerful to me. Like another masterpiece, Gates of Heaven, this movie exists in it's own little world, touching down upon us lowly humans if we're only so lucky. The Seventh Seal is an undeniable masterpiece - a flick so evocative, involving, powerful, and really just bizarre that watching it almost becomes trance-like - you don't know why it's getting to you so much, but it is. The film's been getting flack lately, it seems, because it's so blunt, so un-subtle, and dare I say - so dated. Well, yeah. That's part of it's charm. Bergman made this before film's had to avoid mentioning the Jesus word, before Christianity could only be referenced as a controversial topic, and before God became a serial killer (Final Destination and The Reaping anyone?). His characters openly question God, religion, the Catholic Church - just about all the things that people dare not mention in films anymore, which is a shame. For me, what it does is emphasize how important and how strong this flick is - it wears it's heart on it's sleeve and it's balls in it's pockets, for everyone to see. Many scenes stand out in people's memories, like the huge crowd self-flagellating themselves, or the confession in the church to Death, or the witch burning, or the final and strangely both sad and uplifting Dance to Death. And, of course, the popular and rightly famous chess scene with Death on the beach (although the main character plays chess with Death on more than one occasion, and once even tries to cheat - see, we humans always try to cheat Death! Subtle, ain't it :D). The thing many people lambast or praise this movie for is that they consider it to be Bergman simply questioning God's existence yet again, but I think that's oversimplifying it. To me, Bergman would make a church not for the followers, but for the company. With this film, he's asking all of us to join him in questioning - he wants the reassurance of a wide audience that we understand his inner turmoils and torments. Well, at the very least, I sure do. And with this evocative, mysterious, beautiful, lyrical, poetic (yes I know I sound incredibly snotty), wonderful, epic, audacious, masterful film, I can't see how there will ever be a healthy and inquisitive world without it.
The Polar Express 2013,  G)
The Polar Express
It's hard to explain in words exactly how, and why, I love Polar Express so much. It's not the kind of movie you'll find on many aspiring 20 year old male filmmakers top 20 of all time list. It's my favourite hardcore Christmas movie (because while technically It's a Wonderful Life is better, it also only has about 15 minutes to do with Christmas). It's my favourite animated film. It's one of the best movies period I've ever seen. A lot of people throughout my life have had trouble believing that, because admittedly, it does seem like an odd choice. But I can't lie about my feelings, and there isn't an atom of my being that doesn't want to hug Pol-Ex every time I watch it. Even just thinking about it, I get goosebumps and tingles all over, and there are several moments in the flick that still make me misty.

Again, it's difficult to describe. This is one of those movies that haunts you in a good way - it gets under your skin, in your mind, and just melts your cold little heart. I felt like the Grinch post-Christmas the first time I watched it...I could practically feel my heart growing three sizes that day. I remember only seeing it because I wanted to impress a girl I liked. I remember being alone in the theatre when it started. And I remember giggling and laughing like a little kid the whole damn way through. Easily the best theatre experience I've ever had (and I didn't even get to see it in 3D, like so many other lucky bastards did). All of my friends and family (except the girl of course, who I'm still dating now), didn't believe me. When the movie was released on DVD a year later, I finally convinced all of them to watch it with me, if only to shut me up. And they were all floored - I still remember their faces of disbelief when I told them it's actually an action/adventure film, and then how stunned and entertained they were when it turned out I was right (I think this is how it worked with audiences too - if memory serves, the movie opened at #5 at the box office and disappointed financially, but then the strangest thing happened; the movie stayed there. Week after week, it never left the top 5 at the B.O, and that's not something that happens, ever, considering it stayed there for about a month. Of course, after Christmas, it dropped out of the top 10 immediately - but the word of mouth was quite clearly a powerhouse).

The Polar Express is a masterful entertainment; powerful, moving, action packed, mysterious, incredibly Christmas-y, and a rollar coaster ride of fun. I'm stunned that so many people dislike the movie, considering I've yet to meet anyone personally who doesn't love it. Yes, the film is a little creepy - the characters, because of the motion capture CGI used, do seem a little ethereal and otherworldy, and there are a couple scenes (like the ones with the screaming puppets), that could be unsettling to really younger viewers. But that's what makes this movie so special. It doesn't regurgitate the usual blah Christmas cheer in every kid movie. It tells a dramatic, operatic story, filled with danger and creepiness, and when the train skids off the tracks, a kid almost falls off to her death. The very best children movies over the years have all realized how important this level of seriousness is, and Pol-Ex shines with it.

I watch it every Christmas, usually several times, and it never fails to give me a warm, tingly glow inside afterwards, where the Christmas spirit really sticks right into me. This is the kind of movie that the term "warm fuzzy feelings" was made for. Some dislike how it's all about Santa and presents and therefore, they think it must be about the cold commercialism of Christmas. Wrong. The film is about faith, and believing in things you can't see or touch or hear. In a way, can't this supplant to Christianity, or Judaism, or even Scientology? The flick is the perfect allegory of religious belief - indeed, even Santa Claus himself in the film admits that he is only a "symbol" of the true spirit of Christmas. But I'm probably scaring off people by talking theologically about a kid's movie (when was the last time a children's animated film made you think?). Pol-Ex, as I mentioned before, is an action/adventure film of startling excitement and energy. The first half is admittedly much better than the last half, where magical and suspenseful action scenes come one right after the other, where the Hero Boy must race on the skii's of a ghost on the top of the train, to the train zooming down steep angles without a brake, to racing along breaking ice to get to the other side of the lake before they drown. These scenes are expertly filmed and paced, and still manage to get my blood pumping.

The last half is dominated by the North Pole itself, where the elves have a New York accent and seem a little gruff and unpleasant, and where Santa himself is a less jolly, more business-like version of what we're used to. The special effects, by the way, still hold up to this day (yes, I know it's only 5 years old, but often special effects don't look good for very long - try watching the original Spider-Man today and you'll see what I mean). The motion capture gives everything a slightly unreal or "off" element to it, but even then, we accept this in the terms of the world and the story we're watching. And still, we can see a warmth and humanity to the character's expressions (especially Hero Boy's), that are usually lacking in CGI films. The main reason I think Zemekis chose this route, though, is because of the freedom it gives him with his camera. He zooms the camera everywhere, flying through walls and out across the sky, showing us angles and movements that would be completely impossible in live action (plus, can you imagine how chintzy this movie would look if the characters were real actors surrounded by greenscreen environments? It'd look like Attack of the Clones). There's a long take early in the film where Zemekis follows a golden ticket blown away by the wind, showing it's journey across the countryside until it magically arrives back in the train car it left, and the sequence is nothing short of amazing - and would've been impossible without the animation technology used.

Lets see, what else can I gush about. The screenplay, while essentially just a Go There-Come Back journey, is exciting, dense, and surprisingly literate, with some really great lines tossed in for good measure (my favourite being, "That's the thing about trains. Doesn't matter where they're going - what matters is deciding wether or not to get on"). The music, by Alan Silvestri, is some of the best of recent years, juggling haunting themes and a wonderful Christmas type theme that blasts you back in your seat whenever it's often played. I dunno, I guess technically speaking, the flick has some flaws. I might've liked to see Santa a little jollier. The Know It All Kid and pansy Billy kid kinda get on my nerves. The story starts treading it's wheels after a while, like I mentioned earlier - the stuff in the North Pole, for the most part, isn't as interesting as the journey there. But pish posh it all to hell, this flick is great. Damn rights, it's a bloody masterpiece, and anyone who doesn't realize this is a fool - or at least, to be more fair, a Scrooge.

Final note: avoid the 3D DVD at all costs. I was so super-pumped to finally be able to see it in 3D that buying the DVD was like an early, unexpected Christmas. But alas, it's the worst 3D presentation I've ever seen. Nothing pops, it's all incredibly dark and muddy, and worst of all, it's like you're watching the movie drunk, with everything having awful double vision. I couldn't even watch five minutes of it before returning the DVD to the store. A sad chapter in an otherwise lovely and wonderful experience.
The Fountain 2006,  PG-13)
The Fountain
The best movie I've ever seen in theatres. Gorgeous, breath taking, wonderful, amazing, eye popping, mind boggling. To me, it was like listening to a great symphony orchestra - you can't nitpick the details (who ever says "they used B sharp twice in that one stanza"?), but you take it in as a cohesive, immersive whole. It spoke to me, it touched me. As well as my girlfiend - we were so stunned after seeing it (as was the whole audience, who said through almost the entire end credits without budging), that we went and saw it 2 more times. Hugely underrated, this is a true masterpiece and top 15 films I've ever seen.
How to Train Your Dragon 2010,  PG)
How to Train Your Dragon
Every once in a long while, a movie will come out of nowhere with no expectations or anticipations, and make you fall in love with it. How To Train Your Dragon is that kind of movie. Its taken everyone by surprise - an animated feature that isn't Disney or Pixar, and yet here it is, with a shockingly impossible 98% on rottentomatoes, and audiences are spilling their guts about how great the movie is. Here's the craziest part - all that hype STILL doesn't live up to the actual experience of Dragon. It's the most magical, wonderful, gorgeous, breathtaking, and awesome film I've seen in years. It's even better than Avatar, and that was my favourite movie of 2009 (it's just as visually stunning, but unlike Avatar, you don't cringe every time someone talks).

It's tough to write a review like this and not sound like a gushing fanboy, or to use a retarded amount of hyperbole. But I'm afraid that's what I gotta do. Not only does is this movie a glorious return to the classic animations of yesteryear, it's a legitemately good fantasy/adventure story, deserving comparison with E.T (Dragon is better, by the way). The animation is sharper and more detailed than possibly any other cartoon - the scales of the dragons, the ripples in the water, the hairs on people's heads and especially Gerard Butler's beard...I mean, they look so good they're almost lifelike, and this is just supposed to be a silly kid's cartoon, right?

That's what the advertising had us to believe. The trailers made this movie look like the kind of zany, wacky kids stuff that we've been having to deal with for years. Now, I like those kind of movies, when done well (Dreamworks, actually, has always done them the best - Over the Hedge and Shrek are way better than almost every Pixar film). My favourite cartoon of last year, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, was the definition of zany, wacky fun. But they aren't the animations I grew up with, and loved the most. See, Dragon is made more for people my age than anyone else - those that grew up in the second Golden Age of Disney, where animated films like Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Mulan weren't the exception, they were the norm. They took their stories seriously back then - sure, there were cuddly creatures and comic relief, but the films were nevertheless epic, audacious, operatic, dramatic, and often very sad and moving. Since then, what have we got? Not much. Cartoons forgot how to be serious - even the best Pixar films, like WALL-E and Up, often neglect their mature stories for over-the-top action sequences or stupid cartoony characters (can you tell I still find Pixar highly overrated?). Apparently, we needed filmmakers from the old days to remind us of this - Dragon was created by the guys responsible for Beauty and the Beast, and you can tell.

The story is touching. The characters are believable, and while not always loveable, certainly rootable. You'll be surprised at where the story goes - I thought I had it all figured out many times, but there were small instances (like the "love interest" hating his guts for a long time, or the father really wanting his kid to succeed, or the fact that the dragon actually gets into serious, legitimate trouble), that surprised me. For the first time in a long while, I didn't know if everyone would survive at the end of the movie. The relationship between Hiccup and the dragon Toothless is just as moving as that of Henry and E.T. There are sequences here, like the dancing/drawing between boy and dragon, or the test drive across the water, or the romantic flight amongst the clouds, that are so beautiful and perfect I honestly got a little misty on more than one occasion.

I kept expecting the movie to step wrong; to go too far or not far enough, but it never did. It remained a stunning, gorgeous adventure film from beginning to end, satisfying not only all of my hopes that classic Disney could return (although I really didn't expect that to be in the form of their main competitor company), but also all my childhood dreams and fantasies of something magical like this happening. The action is eye popping. The 3D is just as immersive and powerful as Avatar's. The comic relief scenes are, thank God, not just pop culture references but genuinely funny moments that emerge organically from the story. And the music by John Powell is everything I've been dying to hear for years in a film score - gloriously thematic, fully orchestral, heroic and fantastical and amazing from beginning to end. I've been saying for a long time that Dreamworks is better than Pixar - after being moderately impressed with WALL-E and very impressed with Up, I changed that status. Now, I'm changing it back again. How To Train Your Dragon transports you to another world and never stops being as epic and involving as a live-action film. That's something Pixar has never done, and if there were musical numbers here, you would swear you were watching classic Disney. This is honestly the best film I've seen since Dark Knight, and possibly even better than that. Go see it, RIGHT NOW! You won't be disappointed.

Final note: Am I the only one infuriated that this movie is being completely fucked over at the box office in favour of Tim Burton's shit-tastic Alice in Wonderland? This film is literally the antithesis of that one - where Timmy's fantasy vision was grubby, grungy, dark, and cliched in every single way, Dragon is bright, magical, beautiful, exciting, action packed, and glorious to behold in 3D. And it probably won't even make half as much money as Alice. There is no justice in this world.
Jaws 1975,  PG)
GoodFellas 1990,  R)
The problem writing about as great, influential, and popular a film as Goodfellas is that it's almost impossible for me to say anything about it that hasn't already been said. But watching this film again last night for probably the 15th time, I was reminded of just how stellar, how wonderful, how powerful and how joyous the film is. It's not Scorsese's best, but it's damn close, and the style of it's direction is more the now "typical" Scorsese style than any other of his films. In fact, I realized that my own style of filmmaking is more influenced and inspired by this film than any other, which is strange since it's only barely in my top 20 (considering what a masterpiece it is, I think it's pretty clear how hard it is for any movie to make that top 20). Scorsese imbues this film with so much energy, so much exuberance, so much passion both for the story and the sheer act of making movies, that it's impossible to turn this movie off once started. I've become notorious to myself the past couple of years for rarely ever being able to sit through a movie on DVD all at once, without any breaks, but last night I sat and watched Goodfellas almost straight through. It proves how amazing this film is to watch, and how it sucks you into the violent and exciting world of these gangsters. The storytelling is masterful in a sneaky sort of way, because Goodfellas really doesn't have much of a plot. It's about characters and the world they inhabit, and Marty-boy shows us this with all the highs and lows accompanied. The camerawork, editing, and pacing of the film is pure Scorsese - this film showed us how a soundtrack and careful song selection can increase the greatness of any scene, and the frenetic pace of the final scenes get us right into the mind of the drugged out Ray Liotta. The acting, from top to bottom, is superlative. De Niro is as great as always, Ray Liotta is grounded and lets us empathize with the least bad of the bad guys, Lorraine Bracco is always believeable as a woman who should really get her shit together. Even the background performers who are only in a couple scenes are fresh and always real. Then, there's Joe Pesci, who gives one of the best performances I've ever seen, and is frightening as the psychotic villian of the flick. Then there's the violence. Paying close attention to it last night, it's actually not as violent a film as it's reputation would have you believe. It always gives the feel of violence, the sense of impending violence, but when the wrath actually takes place, it seems almost quaint by today's Saw-like standards. When someone is shot with a gun, for instance, rarely does blood spray out everywhere, covering the camera (I know, obviosuly, there are some exceptions, but just hear me out). But often, like when Spider is shot, we don't see the impact. Scorsese cuts too much - we see brief shots of violence occuring, but it's obscured, and the aftermath is just some red patches of blood on Spider's shirt. Scorsese understands, unlike most directors these days, that the aftermath of violence is what makes it disturbing, not the actual event. Having said that, the film's gore is indeed brutal, swift, and unexpected. The Layla sequence, where several bodies are discovered and eventually ending in Pesci's payoff, is such a wonderful sequence, so well timed, with an ending that is both just and horrifyingly unexpected. It's a perfect scene in a movie littered with them. There's the classic "What's so funny about me?" scene, where the camera never shows off or tries to bring more intimidation and fear into the scene - what's happening is damn well both freaky and funny enough. There's the scene where Ray Liotta's world unravels before his eyes and culminates with his arrest. There's the intriguing scene where the amount of onions in a homemade sauce is given more time and attention by the characters than any of the murders and mayhem surrounding them. There's the ending, which on first viewing seems anti-climactic (being a gangster film, we're kinda expecting a bloodbath of some kind), but is actually ingenious in it's development and realism (plus, Scorsese really shows off by having the voice over become an out-over, for lack of a better term). And throughout the film, we always have the sense of Scorsese's love of the cinema, always in the mood to interest and entertain us. This flick is a masterpiece - audacious, influential, shocking, and terrific fun. If you're one of the 10 people on this planet who haven't seen it yet, what're you waiting for?
The Godfather, Part II 1974,  R)
Face/Off 1997,  R)
Yes, 5 stars. There's no denying it - this is a great movie. Screw everyone who says differently! Ok, not really. Cause they would have a point. My dad thought this movie was dumb as bricks, and it's a fair enough statement to make. But if "guilty pleasure" is defined as you just loving a movie to death when many people don't, then this would be one of my highest guilty pleasures. Along with Batman Begins, it's the best pure action flick I've ever seen. Pundits be damned - just try and watch this movie and not laugh out loud at the fun of it all. But maybe that's why I like it so much - it's not just excessive action from start to finish (although it has some of the best and most entertaining action setpieces of any film). It has a brain in it's head, a twisty-turny plot, some well defined characters, a deliciously evil villian, and some scenes that are more dramatic than they have any right to be. A great, great movie (also, if anyone out there like me is thrashed for loving this film, remind them that it came out the same year as Titanic and was MORE critically acclaimed. It's true).
Seconds 1966,  R)
Back to the Future 1985,  PG)
Metropolis 1927,  PG-13)
Rear Window 1954,  PG)
Rear Window
One of Hitch's seminal classics. Enjoyable from start to finish, this is just the kind of movie that's impossible not to like. It's got laughs, and it's got some terrific suspense - and, above all, it's got Jimmy Stewart in one of his best performances.
Synecdoche, New York 2008,  R)
Synecdoche, New York
Anyone who's gazed at my Favourite Movies list knows I don't give 5 stars out easily, to any movie. As it stands, there's only been 36 movies awarded with the highest star rating from me - not very many, when you consider I've seen probably close to 700 films. I couldn't even give this movie 5 stars first time around, awarding it 4.5 and moving on with my life. Then I couldn't stop thinking about it. Not 3 minutes went by in my whole day that the words "Synecdoche New York" didn't pop up in my mind. So, not 15 hours after watching it the first time, I watched it again. Now I can completely understand one thing (if not the plot itself) - this is a brilliant, maddening, audacious, beautiful, wonderful, depressing, disturbing, haunting, glorious mess of a movie. Has any film better and more accurately described itself than with this dialogue exchange between the two main characters - "You're so perfect." "I'm a mess".

Yes, this movie is a perfect mess, much like how Watchmen was a perfectly flawed mess. There's no film going experience like Synecdoche New York. Love it or hate it, there will never be another movie like it. Maybe that's the way it should be. I can't imagine too many other filmmakers actually wanting to plumb this deep into our souls - because, oh yes, that's what the movie does. It shows us life, it shows us death, it shows us our lives, it shows us our deaths. Charlie Kaufman, the writer/director (who I'm honestly this close to beating up with a fork, I'm so jealous of his talents), is trying to present to us what life is really like. He just happened to choose the medium of film - someone like Dostoevsky chose novels, well, that was his own medium. I'm not at all ashamed, by the way, of comparing this wonderful movie to Dostoevsky. Eat it.

It'll be too much for many of you. It happens. When a critic (and there was many) called this movie "pretentious", he actually wasn't wrong. I hate most pretentious flicks, but this one actually DESERVED to be pretentious. It's weird, it's off putting, it's completely bizarre and often hard to follow. Kaufman condensces timelines with this movie like no other film director has - one shot, it's the present day, next shot, it's a year from now, and the next shot after that, it's 17 years later. Amazing. What balls on this man. But you have to wonder - has that much time actually, really passed? Is the main character dead? Is he dreaming? Is he (my own theory), God? I don't know. I'm not even going to begin trying to analyze or explain or theoreticize the film. I'm not smart enough. Most of us aren't. The experience of watching this movie, however, wasn't as intellectual of one as I expected, given the poor box office and wildly mixed reviews. I compare this movie to my first viewing of The Fountain, the best movie of 2006. The first time I saw it, I had no idea what was going on (now I do, of course - maybe after many viewings of Synecdoche, I'll understand it better too). But I likened it to a great piece of music - it all works together into such a beautiful, mesmerizing whole, that it would almost be a shame to go back and scrutinize or pick apart individual bars or stanzas. Just enjoy the music.

I mentioned how Charlie Kaufman is trying to show us the reality of our lives with this movie. That I do know. It really does go by in a big, blurred, too-fast moment. In one of the many perfectly written monologues in the film, Philip Seymour Hoffman's character tells his huge cast that we are all going to die, yet secretely believing we won't. It may seem like a long lifetime, but to the view of the Earth, it's but a fraction of a second. See, this is the kind of movie that'll make you think of stuff like this. And it is, really, kind of a mess, a clusterfuck. I don't care. What an epic, audacious film it is. The screenplay is magnificent. The acting is superb from top to bottom. Kaufman, in his directorial debut, shows fantastic restraint and a great visual eye. The sets, including of course the impossibly massive warehouse the play is taking place in, are eye popping. And the music, by Jon Brion, is so beautiful within the film, it's surprising to find that a solo listen on CD is obtrusive and incredibly annoying.

I guess I'm not really describing the movie very well. I haven't mentioned the plot at all. But I don't wanna spoil it for everyone. Suffice it to say, you very well might hate this movie with every atom of your being. You also might think it's absolutely brilliant. To me, it's one of the greatest films of the decade. I became so emotionally involved with Philip Seymour Hoffman's character, which is not something I expected, considering how quickly through time he moves and how much of a lonely dick he often is. But I felt for his loneliness. The movie painfully spoke to me, as it will for many others, even if they don't wanna hear it. Basically, it's the film that I was hoping Benjamin Button would be. Go see it right away, even if you know it'll crush your gentle spirit (sorry leasha :P). Then see it again. And again.....

Final Note: I'm going to take this opportunity to express how incredibly annoyed I get when a film critic uses the word "self-indulgent". You probably read it in just about every review for this flick. Here's what's so annoying about it - the paradox of the word destroys the entire point of your review, every time, because it simultaneously can't apply to any film, and applies to every film. Here's what I mean - critics always use the word "self-indulgent" when describing an epic, ballsy, out-there movie they don't like. Basically what they're saying is "The filmmaker tried too hard for me to like it, and I didn't like it, so fuck you". But how can a movie be self-indulgent, when all the filmmaker wants to do is tell a great, original, interesting story? And simultaneously, EVERY film is self-indulgent in some way, because every film director, wether it's for Synecdoche New York or Meet Dave, wants to be well liked, well respected, and highly praised for his efforts. So if you read a review and it calls a movie "self-indulgent", take the rest with a huge grain of salt.
Minority Report 2002,  PG-13)
Minority Report
Spielberg's most underrated film is actually my second favourite of all his works. It's got everything - mystery, science fiction, suspense, drama, and superb action. Special effects and music are terrific too. It all boils down to a movie where time travel actually is done realistically and few plot holes abound. Plus, it's got a great Tom Cruise performance. Yes, those exist.
Waking Life 2001,  R)
Brokeback Mountain 2005,  R)
Brokeback Mountain
As much as everyone believes, this is not a "gay" movie. It's a beautiful and haunting and tragically sad story about two people in love - isn't that more important than what kind of genitals they have? Yes, the gay aspect gives is a dangerous resonance that wouldn't exist without it, and if the characters weren't gay, then the moving and poignant last act wouldn't have occured. Still, this movie should be seen by everyone, pro-gay or anti-gay, who want to see a great story told brilliantly.
A Beautiful Mind 2001,  PG-13)
A Beautiful Mind
Ah, I love this flick. Haters be damned - this warms the cockles of my heart. Crowe gives the Oscar worthy performance he should've had in Gladiator, Connelly is as great and hot as always, and of course Ed Harris blows everyone out of the water. A magical drama that'll definately stand the test of time.
No Country for Old Men 2007,  R)
No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men makes so many perfect choices and takes so few wrong steps that when you think it actually, finally does take a wrong step, you still have to question yourself - did it actually do something wrong, or do I just need to watch it again? It's a testament to the greatness of this film that it was as flawless as it was for as long as it was. The last twenty minutes of the film I have a problem with, and by that, I mean I think I have a problem with it. I'm really not sure. But I'll discuss my reservations over the ending later, after I've finished gushing about the stellar, haunting, beautiful, suspenseful, horrifying, wonderful flick that is No Country For Old Men. I've always stated that the Coens need to focus more on their violent dramatic thrillers than their comedies, because really - who thinks Intolerable Cruetly is a better movie than Fargo or Miller's Crossing? Here, the Coen's nearly out-do themselves, and I mean it when I say the first three quarters of the flick are even better than anything in Fargo. Every shot, every scene, every line of dialogue rings so true, never takes a wrong step, that I nearly hugged the screen in joy. The movie opens with a brilliant monologue from Tommy Lee Jones, who can play a weathered man beaten down by life better than anyone. Roger Deakins, the cinematographer, shows off his beautiful compositions, and within the first two minutes of screen time we realize this film is going to be more about the consequences of death and of people's choices more than the actual events themselves. The whole movie leads up to this realization. After this monologue, we are introduced to Anton Chigurh, brilliantly played by Javier Bardem (who will win an Oscar for sure). He's the most frightening man I've ever seen in a theatre (because I have never seen Hannibal Lecter in the theatre, and he's the only villian in cinema that scares me more). He strangles a cop ruthlessly, blood pouring from the victim's neck as he stares up at the ceiling, a smile creeping around his lips, his eyes bugging out and his horrible black hair cut sprawling out over the ground. Minutes later, he escapes, pulls over a man, and kills him with decompressed air. It's one of the best introductions to one of the best characters I've seen in modern films. In the cinema, I was worried. We were sitting directly behind a group of teenagers who smelled like pot and whiskey. The entire theatre was packed - and I mean, literally, no available seat anywhere. I was scared they would talk throughout, be bored by a slow beginning, and ruin it for me. This scene gripped them immediately, and just like the rest of us, the film never let go. In fact, it's easily one of the most gripping suspense thrillers I've ever witnessed (so much hyperbole in this review, I know, but I can't help it). More than once - nay, more than 10 times - I was gripping the edges of my seat, scared shitless, watching Anton approach his next victims with his huge shotgun or decompressed air. In several scenes, such as the first showdown in the hotel and the second shoot-out/chase in another hotel and city streets, the Coens clearly are taking some pages from Hitchcock himself in building tension to an almost unbearable level. Of course, the movie is more violent than any Hitchcock film, but even then, it shows restraint. We know, for instance, that almost every time Anton leaves a character in a scene, that character is dead. We don't always need to see the actual murder, and the Coens know this. We'll see him washing chicken feathers out of a farmer's truck, or checking his boots for blood, or asking someone "what's the most you've ever lost in a coin toss"? The performance, script, and direction all combine to make Anton Chigurh a character that'll haunt your nightmares for years to come. Having said all this, the other characters in the movie are no push-overs. Josh Broilin's "hero", as we'll call him, is excellent throughout. He's tough as nails, but we can hear the fear in his voice slowly crawl up the more he gets to know who exactly is chasing him. Tommy Lee Jones is cool and collected as always, and especially in the final scenes, is brilliant. Roger Deakins manages to pull off a very neat trick, by being the cinematographer in the two best shot films of the year (this one and Assassination of Jesse James). The music by Carter Burwell is interesting because I never heard any music at all until the final credits - and I'm usually purposefully listening for it; so either Burwell hardly composed any musical score, or the movie had me gripped so much I didn't even notice. Considering that this is a violent chase movie, far more action packed than any other Coen brother's film I've seen, they still manage to give us some of their very best dialogue. In fact, this is one of the first things me and my girlfriend mentioned after the film was over, how good the dialogue was. The Coens have a wonderful knack for writing dialogue that never sounds like anyone you've heard, but yet you always believe 100% that the character you're looking at really would say that. It's lyrical and yet very sparse at the same time, and always with a hint of black comedy. Many times I found myself chuckling at the dialogue and then immediately horrified by the actions soon following, and even though this is apparently very faithful to the book it's based on, I believe the majority of this credit belongs squarely to the writer/director team. Just wait until the coin-toss scene arrives between a gas station attendant and Chigurh. Every line, every shot, every glance from both actors is so pitch-perfect that I nearly creamed myself when it was over. As if the actual suspense scenes aren't intense enough - the Coens managed to make simple talking-head shots unbearably tense. Now, onto the ending, which I will try and discuss without revealing anything (still, though, if you haven't seen it you should stop reading now). I felt a vague sense of dissatisfaction when it was all said and done. There's a major surprise about 20 minutes before the ending, which I kinda saw coming but not in the fashion it was shown in. The Coens love to pull the rug out from under viewers, and this is no different. However, I feel they may have taken a small mis-step. Not letting a major, expected payoff happening is one thing, but to deny us seeing why it didn't happen is confusing and hard to take. A major off-screen death like this would be murder for lesser filmmakers, but even though I felt slightly disappointed, I still nodded my head sagely and understood what they were getting at. The final scene I also had slight problems with - I felt the final shots of Chigurh should've ended the film, and then when the actual final scene ended, it's poignancy was ruined by the audience giving it a bad laugh. And I didn't really blame them, because ending on such a note and having the credits pop up so quickly made it feel kinda like a joke, and a lot of people responded with laughter. Still, though, these are minor quibbles (even though I have a bad feeling they're what's stopping me from giving this film 5 stars). If you don't have a problem with open-ended conclusions, you're likely to wet yourself from how great this movie is. I might've wanted the final 20 minutes to go a different way, but that can't stop me from seeing how brilliant and near-perfect the rest of the production is. Go see this film immediately, and witness one of the best suspense/thrillers of the decade.
The Lion King 2011,  G)
Blue Is The Warmest Color 2013,  NC-17)
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial 1982,  PG)
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring 2001,  PG-13)
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 2003,  PG-13)
There Will Be Blood 2007,  R)
There Will Be Blood
The story of There Will Be Blood begins and ends, essentially, with a liquid getting on someone's boot. Funny, how Paul Thomas Anderson can make a moment so small and subtle be so important. Many people won't catch this, and truth be told, many people won't understand much of the film. That's not me bragging about my own intelligence, it's me applauding PTA, the brilliant writer/director of this and other masterpieces like Magnolia and Boogie Nights. Even with as seemingly broad a movie as this, he can make it so subtle, so haunting, so intense, that it gets right under your skin and stays there. TWBB is not as great or as perfect as I foolishly hoped it would be, but that doesn't detract from the fact that this is a masterpiece, and PTA deserves all the accolades he's been getting. At the center of the attention is Daniel Day Lewis, who as you well know by now, delivers a powerhouse performance. It really is a show-stopper. His character of Daniel might seem one-dimensional to some, but he is in fact very complex, and DDL shows us this without ever telling us this. With a twitch of the eye, or the faintest hint of a smile, we gradually see what's going on in Daniel Plainview's head, and it's not pleasant. Really - how ballsy is it, to make a big epic film where the main character is a despicable louse? Plainview doesn't always seem to be such an asshole, but by the end he's a snivering, selfish, monstorous bully, and we get to watch that degrading with building unease. Watching this character is like seeing a train wreck in slow-motion. It's a fascinating character we don't often see in films, and made even more fascinating by DDL's pitch perfect performance. The other performances in the film are good as well - Paul Dano was rather unnerving, and I thought the young child who played DDL's son was really good. Speaking of Paul Dano, I felt what was a flaw in the film was having him also play Eli's twin brother. The movie never really explains this, and while I eventually figured it out, I could feel the confusion in the audience and I thought things would be far better if a different actor played this character (then again, it does make the ending even more poignant, and even gives the possibility of them being the same person...). As I've said many times before, Paul Thomas Anderson is a God among insects, and this film further proves that. It's one of the most well-shot flicks I've seen in a long time. PTA is the Master of the tracking shots, and in this movie, every shot was perfectly composed, perfectly lined up, always moved and panned and tracked in ways I didn't expect but were absolutely stunning. There's one scene where an oil derrick blows up, and not only is it a catalyst for the emotional dissolving of Daniel's character, but it's one of the most well directed scenes you'll ever see. The way the camera moves, the lighting, the intensity, the danger, the suspense, the all combines into something that'll blow you away. So his direction (and the cinematography), is amazing. The music has also been the subject of much appraisal. I'm not as in love with it as many people are - on solo listen, it's rather painful, but during the movie it does add a definite sense of constant unease, tension, and is just plain bizarre (although there were times it was too close to the music in The Shining, and took me out a bit). The screenplay, as expected, is wonderful, but also is the result of one of my biggest problems with the film. The first hour and a half are just about perfect. PTA has a knack for writing lyrical, beautiful dialogue that nevertheless sounds completely realistic. But then I felt the focus was lost, a little. The conflict between Eli and Daniel, which is by far the most interesting aspect of the story, is neglected as Daniel is met with his long-lost brother. The scenes they share allow him to confide his hatred in people and we really get to see inside Daniel's psyche more, but there were times I was starting to feel antsy, and wished the movie would go back to Eli and Daniel's relationship. However, the storyline with his brother has a startling end, and it makes the audience gasp even though it's actually to be expected. I thought this would signal the return of Eli, and indeed the baptismal scene which follows immediately after is a masterwork of over-the-top yet still subtle acting - watch DDL's face as he both mocks what's going on and is being torn up inside. But then Eli disappears again, replaced by DDL's son returning (he had sent him away because he couldn't deal with his new-found handicap), and they don't really meet again until the last scene of the film. I dunno....I felt this last half of the second act was a little disjointed and not focused as strongly in the right places as it should be. Nevertheless, we are then led into act 3, which is a source of frustration with many people. Me - I loved it, and it's what makes this movie go from 4 stars to 4.5. What an audacious, ballsy, innovative way to end the film. I'll try not to reveal too much, but let me say that after watching this man slowly descend into madness and wealth for 2 hours, it all culminates in secrets revealed, revelations made, and violent punishing of sins. If I told you that the confrontational last scene in this huge, beautifully shot period piece epic took place in a make-shift bowling alley, would you be surprised, confused, disappointed? I rejoiced. How wonderful that a filmmaker can dare to go where we least expect, and maybe don't even want. DDL's final speech is both comical and poignant, and I was reminded of the ending of Aguirre, where things start to become loose from reality and enter this poetic realm of horror. The final scenes probably aren't perfect, and surprisingly this points to Daniel Day Lewis himself, who I thought went too far in his depiction in these final scenes and especially his old-man walk is about as convincing as ten year old's pretending to be an old man in a school play. But it was audacious, it was strangely beautiful, it was shocking, and it was the best way possible to end this story. All in all, There Will Be Blood is a wonderful film, one that will stick with you and won't ever be forgotten. It's not the best film PTA has done; actually, it's not even the second best film he's done. But taking this movie into account with Magnolia and Boogie Nights, I don't think it's hard to say that when Scorsese and Spielberg die, our world will have a new Filmmaking Master.
Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981,  PG)
Pi 1998,  R)
A great little film that's an inspiration to aspiring filmmakers everywhere. Aronofsky created this wonderful little sci-fi suspense flick with a budget of like 60 thousand and a black and white camera. The shots, editing, lighting, all of it combine to make one helluva ride. Plus, it gave my dad a headache, so I guess it must be great.
Gravity 2013,  PG-13)
Jurassic Park 1993,  PG-13)
Samsara 2012,  PG-13)
Warrior 2011,  PG-13)
Sansho the Bailiff 1954,  Unrated)
Cidade de Deus (City of God) 2003,  R)
Cidade de Deus (City of God)
A modern masterpiece that is just as dazzling the 5th or 10th or 20th time you see it as it was the first. Roger Ebert makes a dubious claim on the front of the cover - "One of the best films you'll ever see" - but it's actually true. This flick really is amazing and eye-popping in every sense of the word. It's compared to Goodfellas a lot, but in fact - it's better than Goodfellas. The story is tighter, there's much more of an actual plot, and I would even dare to say that it's even more visually inventive than Scorsese's masterpiece. At any rate, this is a great film that would be even more popular if the majority of filmgoers weren't so scared off by subtitles. City of God is an exuberant dance of a film, celebrating the making of movies as much as the story itself. It opens with a fury of cuts and bizarre camera tricks, and by the time the camera pans around the main character as he quickly morphs into a little kid a decade ago, you realize that this movie won't be like most, and it only keeps getting better from there. Like Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction, the film feels more violent than it actually is - these three filmmakers all understood that the context in which violence is placed is much more powerful and disturbing than simply copious amounts of blood and gore (there really isn't much blood in this movie, considering). What's disturbing here is that little children, prepubescent boys, partake and are involved in the violence just as much as the adults - they kill and are killed and no one gives a shit. That's the powerful message this movie is making about the slums in Rio de Janerio - if you don't know how to operate a gun by the time you're old enough to walk, you'll probably wind up dead. The film also isn't told in a linear manner - the narrator constantly makes detours and explains background stories about the characters, but it always aids the story and is always entertaining. That's the strangest and best thing about this great film - as disturbing, violent, and tragic as it is, it's always fun to watch because of the brilliant camera work, cinematography, and screenplay. City of God (and what an ironic title, eh?) has a likeable hero, believeable supporting characters, a tragic underdog, and a despicable but realistic villian who's end always reminds me of Scar in The Lion King. This is a masterpiece - and it really is one of the best movies you'll ever see.
Upstream Color 2013,  Unrated)
Doubt 2008,  PG-13)
Strange, how such a quiet and subtle movie could wind up being far more entertaining, interesting, and even thrilling than the big budget epic adventure film Australia. Everywhere that Australia, as a movie, fails miserably at, Doubt excels. This is a brilliant, fascinating, intense, haunting, and strangely beautiful film, and if all that sounds pretentious, then get used to it - this is an indie flick, baby, and it's not for the lovers of Death Race. But for all those out there who are either courageous filmgoers or are dating a courageous filmgoer, you'll be hard pressed to find a better film out there in theatres this month.

Doubt is a very subdued drama involving a bunch of small details (such as the length of a man's fingernails or a lightbulb that keeps fizzing) that eventually add up to a big and rather heartbreaking whole. Unlike other Oscar contenders such as, say, Revolutionary Road (which I also did still like), not every line is screaming out "NOTICE ME!" and not every scene is "WATCH THIS AT OSCAR TIME!". The movie has these sort of stand out moments, yes, where the actors belt out monologues and emotions reach a flaring point, but they sneak up on you; whereas in Revolutionary Road, the couple were screaming and fighting and crying before the opening credits started.

Every actor in this flick deserves an Oscar nomination. When was the last time you were able to say that? Meryl Streep is in fine form, as always - her character appears, in the beginning, to be a brutally cold bitch, but she gradually becomes the "heroine" of the story, and we wind up sympathizing with her. Amy Adams is perfectly cast as the timid and hopelessly naive young nun, Philip Seymour Hoffman is stupendous, and Viola Davis, who's only in one scene, is already garnering Oscar talk. The direction, by the director of Joe Versus The Volcano, is understated and all the more powerful for it. We never notice any camera moves or tricks, and that's damn right for this material, as is the cold and bleak cinematography by Roger Deakins (he's kinda like Bob Dylan for cinematographers). Even the music by Howard Shore is short, evocative, and barely noticeable (and this is coming from the composer of the Lord of the Rings movies).

But it's the screenplay where the movie really shines (and ironically, this is probably where the film will get the least amount of attention come awards time). Dialogue mixes both the sparse and poetic - do you have any idea how hard that is to write? Think about it; you must be mysterious but never confusing, ambiguous but never illogical, poetic but never show-offy. It must be great dialogue, but the audience must not notice. Seriously, for anyone out there who is not a writer - it's one of the hardest things in the world to do, like climbing Mount Everest or banging a Mormon girl. I wish I could do it well. Thank God some of us out there still can. The script for Doubt continually surprises in ways you don't expect. If you think what kind of film or story you're gonna get walking into Doubt, you may have to think again by the time the haunting and unsettling ending occurs. Many people were pissed off about the ambiguouity. These people wanted some sort of closure, or catharsis, and those aren't things you'll find in Doubt (at least, not in the usual movie sense). But that's what I loved so much about it. What a ballsy, audacious thing to do - make a movie about pedophilia (supposedly) in the Catholic church, and not only write it so well that the audience can never be 100% sure of the crime, but to also make it so that the priest himself is given a clear, concise voice, where he is allowed to express his opinions, his thoughts, his fears, and even defend his actions, although they may not be the actions he's being accused of. Life is full of these gray areas, but it's not something often explored in movies; we go to the cinema to see the good guys beat the bad guys, and that's that. Not here. Was Streep's character correct in her suspicions? Was she right in doing what she did? Was evil punished, or was it rewarded? We're never quite sure. That's the element that frustrated many viewers, but also the one that, I feel, gaurentees it a spot in the AFI top 100 list of all time in 50 years or so.

Doubt is a great movie, and fuck all who tell you differently. It is challenging, troubling, glacially paced, and occasionally tough to sit through, yes. But it's a rather amazing experience, to watch a filmmaker walk such a tightrope, and succeed. It may not be the supreme entertainment Dark Knight was, nor the jovial and exuberant display that Slumdog Millionaire is. But in it's own, silent way, it's just as powerful.
The Dark Knight 2008,  PG-13)
The Dark Knight
Please excuse what is possibly the crudest comparison I've ever used for a film review, but watching The Dark Knight is a lot like having the best sex of your life. Its exhausting, its rigorous, its intense, its sometimes painful, its mostly wonderful, and its completely explosive. And, at the end, it?s totally worth it. The Dark Knight, while maybe not the uber-perfect greatest film of all time people are telling you it is, is indeed the best film I've seen since The Fountain two years ago, and is probably the best comic book movie ever made. Its dark and twisted, yes, but also damn near perfect, and probably slightly better than the already amazing Batman Begins. Its pretty much everything I had hoped for.

Still, there is a twinge of sadness now that its all said and done. The excitement is over. The anticipation is gone. Sure, it'll be great to watch and rewatch this masterpiece and count up all the box office moolah its making, but nothing will ever be more fun than the months and years spent of intense anticipation, scouring the internet to find even just a picture from the movie, paying 10 dollars for a crappy movie just to see the trailer for Dark Knight before it. I've never anticipated a film more in my life - no, not even Episode 1 The Phantom Menace, and I even dressed up as Han Solo for that one. The Dark Knight, however, is one of the rare times where the experience is actually what you expect and hope for. There's few disappointments to be found here. Is the movie being a little overrated? Possibly - with all the huge acclaim for the picture, and it being ranked #1 on the imdb?s top 250 films of all time list, you half expect Jesus Christ to appear in the film. But for what it is, this is the best 10 bucks you're likely to spend in a theatre this year, and as I said before, its been so long since I've given any film a perfect rating that I actually got chills rating it as such.

The flick this one resembles most is not a previous Batman film or any comic book movie; its Michael Mann's Heat, a three hour long epic crime drama. Placing The Dark Knight in the same category as that flick is something many people are doing, and they're justified. This isn't Batman's movie; in fact, this isn't Joker's movie, either. This is Gotham City's movie. We spend time with almost every character in the flick - Batman gets about as much screentime as Bruce Wayne, who gets about as much as Joker, who gets about as much as Harvey Dent, etc. Even the supporting characters like Rachel Dawes and Lt. Gordon are given the appropriate amount of time on screen to warrant our sympathy and interest. This is probably the first ever superhero ensemble piece, and it works marvelously. There's even a cameo in the beginning of the film from a character in Batman Begins that resulted in a big wide grin on my face - some have called it confusing, but I found it to be wonderful.

The characters themselves drive the plot of this film, which is not a common occurance (and wasn't even the case with Batman Begins). The Joker is treated like the shark in Jaws (and has a bit of Jigsaw in there too) - no one can explain or understand his desire for chaos and mayhem, but he just keeps coming and coming, and what everyone else does is a catalyst to his violent actions. Batman is taken to Hong Kong in a spectacular scene, but otherwise stays in Gotham, being even more badass than usual (at one point, he breaks the feet of a gangster in order to extract information). We care about the characters, because the wonderfully written script by Nolan and his brother Jonathan takes time for us to get inside these characters thoughts and feelings. My little cousin cried repeatedly in this flick, and if you find that unlikely in a superhero action blockbuster, then you haven't seen Dark Knight yet. There are tragedies that occur in this movie that had me shaken and my mouth agape, and many of these were very unexpected. The character of Dent/Two-Face is one of the most interesting because of his underlying tragedy, which is why the ending of the film left me momentarily bitter (but I'll talk about that later, in a spoiler-warned paragraph).

The plot is dense, and often times hard to follow, but that's something I savoured. Bruce Wayne/Batman is given a bit of short-thrift in this flick - in order to make it a massive ensemble work, I guess sacrifices had to be made. We never see any more flashbacks to his parent's death, and that theme of past guilt and overcoming fear is completely forgotten about. Instead, new themes are utilized. The idea of the villains only existing to one-up Batman is discussed, as is the exploration of the duplicity of a vigilante, with every character seemingly trying to make Batman break his moral code. The idea that the supervillians will always win because they have no rules to follow is something often mentioned in the comics but never before in the movies - here, it is attacked viciously, with Batman often nearly reaching his breaking point. This not only adds drama, but also tension and suspense, as we keep waiting to see Batman become what he seems destined to be. The symbiotic relationship between Batman and Joker is also explored, and talked about in great depth in the last scene and also the best scene of the film, when Joker has been caught and Batman interrogates him. Joker tells him that he doesn't want Batman to die, because they both need each other, and at one point even exclaims "You complete me". If you think that's cheesy sounding, its suitably haunting and powerful in the flick itself. And Batman himself seems unable to do away with him, because then Joker would win - we've all seen the shot in the trailer of the Bat-Pod barely missing Joker in the street, but what you might not realize is that in the movie, this is the telling point of Batman and Joker's whole relationship, and in fact the entire film hinges on that one shot.

No review can be complete without gushing of Heath Ledger's performance. Far be it for me to change the trend. He's shocking in this movie - darkly funny, brutal, violent, chaotic, frightening, intense, hypnotic. You can't look away from the screen when he's around - it's one of the best performances of the decade, and surely deserving of its definite Oscar nomination. Christian Bale is strong again as Batman/Bruce Wayne, although because the character's past is no longer explored, he has less chances of showcasing his real abilities. Aaron Eckhart was also very strong as Two Face - the tragedy of his character is something fans of Batman Forever might not be aware of, but if you've seen Batman The Animated Series, you know how tough it would be to be Two Face. In short, the performances all around are strong, except for Maggie Gyllenhall. She was miscast from the start - all that was needed, really, was a cute face and a great set of tits to replace Katie Holmes (who I actually thought did fine in Begins), but Maggie is really funny looking, downright ugly in fact, and her performance grates. The screenplay is one of the best of modern films. The dialogue is surprisingly eloquent, thoughtful. This isn't your typical superhero flick where everyone just screams out inanities - these characters have desires, dreams, and fears etched in all of their passages. The suspense often reaches ultimate levels because for once, we don't know who will be alive at the end of the movie. No one is really safe, and that aids the film immensely. In terms of the film's technical prowess, its truly champs. The musical score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard is terrific and powerful, the cinematography is sharp and intense in scope (especially in IMAX theatres, which were sadly sold out when I was in the city), the editing is not as choppy as Batman Begins, and the CGI work is never noticeable or calls attention to itself.

Now. Onto the films flaws - for yes, as great as it is, it does have its problems. Maggie's inclusion is one. The new batsuit is another. It may be more comfortable for Bale, now, but the suit in Begins was perfect, and this one feels more sci-fi than darkly realistic. The second act feels a little choppy at times, maybe even a little rushed. And what?s maybe the most surprising flaw of all, there's very little action in the film, especially of the Batman-style variety. Oh, its an exciting movie, don't get me wrong. But the screentime for the action sequences are all surprisingly brief. The bat-pod chase, which I felt would be a huge highlight, was over almost immediately after starting (and nowhere near as good as the Batmobile chase in the previous film). And the final fight between Batman and the Joker probably only lasted about 30 seconds. Indeed, Batman himself is probably only in about 7 or 8 scenes, although I'd have to rewatch the film to be certain. However, its a testament to the success of the film that these big of flaws didn't bother me enough to dock it star marks. But there was one big disappointment in the end. I was going to go into big detail about how frustrating it was and how it blemished an otherwise superb motion picture, but I've read rumours and supposed "facts" online since seeing the film that disprove what I thought was real. However, I will still say
and continue with what I was going to say. The ends of the major villains are slightly disappointing. You can tell they really were planning on having Heath return as the Joker for the next film, because his end is ambigious, and he's really just left hanging there. Personally, I would've preferred to see him fall to his death then forever be hanging there, taunting Batman, and now never to return to the big screen (for no actor will try and replace Ledger). Two Face's end, though, was much more dissatisfying. He supposedly dies in the end and I was annoyed - he was only in the film as Two Face for a handful of scenes, and he's one of the most interesting characters in the Batman cannon. I was shocked when he died - surely when they realized half a year before the film's release that the main villain died in real life, they would go back and reshoot the ending so they're other villain would actually be able to return? But, I read online that Eckhart has signed on for another Bat-flick, and because the film is inspired by the Long Halloween comic (where Two Face suffers a large fall and survives, with only the Harvey Dent part of him dead forever), I know believe Two Face does indeed survive and will be around for the next film. Which, to be honest, makes the film's ultimate flaw not a flaw at all, really, so I'm very happy.

Anyways, I should wrap this up, I've already written two full pages about this movie. But its hard not to gush, and to not use hyperbole. The Dark Knight is a wonderful masterpiece; violent, exciting, intense, and brutally rewarding to all of us who dreamed of watching it every night for the past three years. Its not only a superhero film, but a massive crime drama, an epic Greek tragedy, and a really kickass, badass, awesomeass movie. There are dozens of standout sequences - the finale in the building, the semi-truck chase, the thrilling race to save a life or two, and every scene starring the Joker. The final moments contain a personal sacrifice greater than that of any other superhero, and I found myself actually, deeply moved. Yes, this is a violent film, and not appropriate for younger viewers. Not just because they'll be scared, but because they'll be disturbed by the violence posed in the moral and ethical questions Joker forces on the citizens of Gotham. But for those of us who can take it, this is one of the best moviegoing experiences of modern times. The action isn't as good as Batman Begins, but the story is even better, and this makes for one helluva fun ride.
Batman Begins 2005,  PG-13)
Batman Begins
One of my most favourite action flicks. Best film of '05, and without a doubt the best superhero movie ever made. Great fun from start to finish, it just keeps getting better everytime i watch it. Great costumes, lighting, editing, writing, music - plus, lets be matter how hetero I am, I would totally do Batman. Not Christian Bale, mind you - BATMAN.
Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime) 1999,  PG-13)
Prisoners 2013,  R)
Cloud Atlas 2012,  R)
Speed 1994,  R)
Avatar 2009,  PG-13)
Avatar is an eye popping, mind blowing experience - a hugely enjoyable adventure that combines heartfelt romance, slam-bang action, and a strong enough storyline that the entire audience was riveted from beginning to end, a full 2.5 hours of it. If James Cameron could write as well as he directs, we would really have a masterpiece on our hands; as it stands, Avatar is the year's best movie and a grand achievement, but a truly great film it is just not quite. However, this is one you absolutely HAVE to see in theatres, a claim that couldn't be made for most of the year's films. And if you think it caters to only one audience, think again - it's as much a click flick as a bro-action movie, as much a film for adults as teenagers, and a movie for those of us who like science fiction, and those who couldn't care less.

We were all pretty skeptical of the film. It was over a decade in development, and possibly the most expensive film ever made. It was the director's follow up to the most financially successful movie of all time. And the trailers showcased special effects that looked routine and hardly "game changing" as the early buzz indicated. As has already been said numerous times before me, from both critics and audiences, the early buzz was right - this truly is one of the most visually amazing spectacles that has ever been made. In terms of special effects, I've never been more impressed, and this is coming from someone who has been bitching for years about the overuse of CGI and how it still inherently looks 'fake'. Well, that's technically kinda true about Avatar - the blue skinned Na'vi are still obviously not real. But we become so immersed in the characters, story, and especially the world they inhabit, that we quickly don't care (and it helps that he gives us enough time to develop the Na'vi that by the end, we feel as deeply for them as, say, the young lovers in (500) Days of Summer - or would, if they're dialogue wasn't so corny). And the CGI imagery of Pandora and all of it's plant and animal life is so stunning, you simply want the movie to pause so you can wallow in it's imagery. Here is a film that has imagination brimming from the sides of the screen, spilling out onto the audience. Never before have I seen a theatre completely filled with people so riveted during long stretches of no action (the first 2 hours have very little action, in fact - short bursts here and there, but for the most part, the action is all in the final 20 minute battle sequence, which is jaw dropping).

This movie is everything Transformers 2 wished it was, but wasn't. Michael Bay can make things go boom, yes, but he still hasn't a clue as to WHY it should go boom. James Cameron does. His camera moves just as much as Bay, but slower, so we can actually see what's going on, and the film is edited so that even in the midst of a hugely epic war scene, we always know exactly what's going on and how. But most importantly, Cameron allows time for his characters and situations to develop so that by the time the guns come out, we CARE about what happens, instead of merely watching impressive digital imagery. I almost cried during the battle scene - not because I was emotionally moved, but because I knew I was seeing something that I would never forget, and witnessing movie making magic the likes of which we rarely see.

So this is all aesthetically speaking - yes, the CGI is a marvel, and the 3D is the best and clearest I've ever seen (I unfortunately didn't see it in IMAX, but I did see the digitally projected 3D, and it was astounding). Having said all this, the movie is not perfect, and this is because for as long as Cameron has been making movies, he still does not know how to write a really good script. Even his best films, like Aliens and Terminator 2, are saddled with clichť-ridden dialogue and fairly routine storylines. Avatar is basically Dances With Wolves, only with aliens instead of wolves. There was no scene that came as a surprise - no development I didn't see coming. And yes, I will be the first to admit that the dialogue is exceptionally mediocre throughout the entire endeavor (I particularly could've done without the useless voice over from Sam Worthington). But the strange thing is, I didn't much care. Yeah, the film could've been better if Cameron let someone else write it for him. But it's such a visual and emotional delight that I just sat there, letting the imagery sink in, and I couldn?t care less about all the film's flaws.

Ironically, this is the same kind of argument all the retards said about Transformers 2 - "fuck a good script, just turn your brain off and watch neat explosions and awesome action". But I didn't turn my brain off in Avatar, so much as let it simmer. There's enough magic and imagination and wonder in Avatar that it's ok to let the predictable storyline pass by (if you've seen Ferngully, then you've seen the script for Avatar). And the special effects of Transformers 2 have nothing on this flick - Cameron here isn't content with creating big robots or monsters, but rather unleashes an entire world that our eyes can feast on. Not to mention that Tranny 2 took so many painful, embarrassing mis-steps, that even the fanboys have to admit their intelligence was wounded a little. That's not the case here; while nothing in the narrative is overly original, nothing is stupid or incomprehensible, either, and it's all easy enough to follow. Couple this with crisp clear cinematography, a gorgeous score by James Horner, and an impressive sound and editing design, and you have yourself a miraculous and highly entertaining achievement. Simply put, Avatar deserves the hype, and truly is the best film of 2009. If there is a sequel (and I hope to God there is), then let's all pray Cameron lets someone else write it for him, and then we really will have a true masterpiece on our theatre screens.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975,  R)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford 2007,  R)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Finally, after seeing numerous so-called Oscar contenders fall flat on their faces upon release, here comes a film that met all of my expectations. Assassination of Jesse James is a wonderful masterpiece, true and classic; The Godfather or modern westerns. It's been so long since I've given 4.5 stars to a film (I think the last time was Bridge to Terabithia in, like, February), that I almost forgot how to gush on this site about a truely great film. Ironically, the critics and public were very unmoved - a moderate 74% on rottentomatoes and a pathetic box office return makes for a film that's disappearing quickly. It's a shame, because those who don't get the chance to see this film in theatres are missing out on a mesmerizing, hypnotic, glorious experience. The first thing everyone says about the movie is how amazing the cinematography is. Far be it for me to change the tradition. Roger Deakins' work in this film is the best I've seen since Children of Men, or maybe even The Fountain. The collaboration between him and the director for making this flick as much a lyrical painting, a beautifully violent poem of a film, as an actual Western adventure, is truly applaudable. Some shots and scenes were so beautiful, so perfectuly capturing the Winter/Spring time of prairie Canada (I know it's set in the States, but it was shot around where I live), that I just became enveloped and wallowed in the scenery. But the cinematography is hardly the only thing here that deserves praise. From top to bottom, this is a great flick. The dialogue consistently rang true. I've never heard people talk this way, but then, I wasn't raised in the late 1800's. I believed everything that was said and almost everything that was done. Character actions and motivations were rarely, if ever, contrived. The violence was brutal, sudden, unexpected, and gruesome. Possibly the best scene in the film was early on, when Jesse James and his gang stage their final train robbery. The way the scene is shot, with the lights of the train shattering through the night, casting the shadows of Jesse and his gang while the wonderful music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis probes along - it was a masterful scene, and one of the best of the year. But the flick is littered with them. One critic complained that this may be the first time we've been forced to watch a story on film - what the hell is wrong with that? I loved how the movie gave us time to watch and genuflect not only on the main characters, but many of the supporting characters too, where the film reminded me once again of The Godfather's willingness to show us all the people populating this world, even if they won't stay around for long. It's not often films allow us the time and patience to do this, and maybe this is why the flick tanked - 160 minutes with little action, what on earth were the filmmakers thinking? Well, guess what - The Godfather was the same damn way, and you don't hear anyone complaining about that film's glaciel structure and length. The performances were great. Brad Pitt does a terrific job of being both menacing and intriguing. Casey Affleck was perfect of showing not only a homoerotic attraction to James, but something much more - his idol worship is so exuding and overwhelming that James is put off by it, and even asks him "Do you want to be with me, or do you want to be me?" Later on, maybe because James doesn't want Robert Ford to grow up like him, or maybe just because he was creeped out by him, James clearly rejects his adoration and pokes fun at Ford. In it's own strange way, this was the beginning of the end for Jesse James. Ford does eventually assassinate James, like the title says, but the scene itself is so pitch perfect and is worth the expectations. It's clear that James knows what is about to happen, and lets it. Did he want to die, exactly? We're not sure, and that's one of the best things about this movie - the characters are allowed to keep their ambiguouty, their mystery. There are no scenes forcing pat explanations of why the characters do what they do, think what they think. We're allowed windows into their world, yes, but overall, these people are given their privacy from us, and for that I was grateful. No, I suppose the film isn't perfect. It does drag a little, some subpots such as the one involving two gang members and one of their mother's, is a little disjointed and confusing. But overall, taken as a single tapestry of art, this is a great motherfucking flick. It moved me, haunted me, and made me forget all my troubles and problems for almost 3 hours. I can't gaurentee you will enjoy it, but if you're one of those few out there who still can appreciate films that truly, deeply, and audaciously want and deserve to be called "films", then this is the flick for you.
The Green Mile 1999,  R)
Boogie Nights 1997,  R)
L.A. Confidential 1997,  R)
North by Northwest 1959,  Unrated)
The Secret of Kells 2010,  G)
The Secret of Kells
If you were fascinated by the visuals of Avatar but were unimpressed with the story, maybe it's time you check out The Secret of Kells. Yeah, I hadn't heard of it either, until the Oscars nominated it in the Best Animated Feature category. Originally, I was pissed it seemingly took place over Ponyo, last year's best animation and the third best film of the year. But you know what? Secret of Kells is better - it's even more magical, more powerful, and more wonderfully animated. Where Ponyo was sweet and charming, Secret of Kells is mysterious, dramatic, and at times even disturbing. Little kids might be frightened by this - adults and especially high teenagers will love it.

I adore this movie. Since downloading it (and only because I wanted to see why it was nominated over Ponyo), I've seen it several times, and every time offers new riches, new rewards, and new satisfactions. The story is surprisingly complex for an animated film - I definitely didn't understand it the first time around, and where the plot culminates is so much more epic, audacious, and ultimately bizarre than I think anyone could expect. Because while the main character is a sprightly young Irish boy who befriends a mystical girl in the woods, this can be a rather dark and even violent film - yes, many people die in it, and even the ending could only be described as bittersweet, not happy.

But that's why this movie is so fucking good; it surpasses what traditional animated films are, and can be. The way it's animated is unlike anything I've ever seen before...the level of imagination, creativity, and genious with such a small budget (by our standards at least - i'm sure 7 million pounds is quite a chunk of change for the Irish film community) is staggering. They drew everything in a very stylistic way, where perspectives and planes are cheated on often and everything looks simultaneously three dimensional and very flat. There's so much invention in literally every single scene, wether it's something that should be rightfully eye-popping or even a standard dialogue scene. There are moments that honestly linger in my mind as much as any in Avatar - the entrance into the beautiful woods, the attack of the Vikings on the castle, the bizarrely animated dream sequences, and especially the confrontation with a monster that looks like those pipe screensavers that used to be on our Windows computers.

There's not really a whole lot more I can say, because this is a very visual film (although it's surprisingly well written and mature in it's dialogue, and in all the religious undertones and implications the story has). To describe the great sights and sounds does an injustice to it, because you have to see it to believe it (and hear it - the score by Bruno Coulias, who did Coraline's score, is absolutely remarkable and the best I've heard so far this year). Wether this technically counts as a 2009 film or a 2010 film for us Canadians, I'm not sure...I don't believe this has even gotten any kind of theatrical release in North America. But that's a shame, and regardless of the year, it doesn't matter - this would still be one of the very best you'll see in that time frame. Do yourself a favour and break the law by downloading this sucker, and you will not be disappointed.
The Shining 1980,  R)
Strangers on a Train 1951,  PG)
The 40 Year Old Virgin 2005,  R)
Casino 1995,  R)
My Life to Live (It's My Life) (Vivre sa vie: Film en douze tableaux) 1962,  Unrated)
Changing Lanes 2002,  R)
Changing Lanes
Everyone's got those particular elements of movies that just tickle them pink. You know - you see a movie then something happens and you're like "Yes, I love it when they do that". I know my girlfriend feels that way anytime stars are used in movies, or ponies :P For me, something I love is when two antagonists - hero/villian, villian/villian, or even hero/hero - meet and put their fight aside for only the briefest of moments, in order to share a civilized conversation. Pacino and De Niro did it in Heat, Foxx and Cruise did it the whole movie of Collateral. It happens here too, in what is one of my most favourite, and definately one of the most underrated, films. People don't like it because 1) it takes it's time developing it's characters (imagine that), and 2) it's characters are assholes. No one is painted nicely here - every character, main and supporting, are flawed individuals that do terrible things. That's what the whole movie's about - normal, average, every day people being pushed to their breaking points. In fact, watching it again, I was reminded of Lord of the Flies, in that the most ordinary and even "good" of people can do terrible things when shit on by life. Luckily the movie ends on an optimistic note, or this movie would cause suicides. But it's a brilliant, brilliant film. I've loved it ever since I first saw it, and seen it probably over a dozen times. It's the small details that make it so special - a girl swallowing her spit after her speech, a lip quivering when one's crying, the bartender putting a slice of lemon on an alcoholic's glass. It's perfectly written, perfectly performed, and wonderfully directed. Great film.
The Silence of the Lambs 1991,  R)
Children of Men 2006,  R)
Children of Men
And then some movies just come out of nowhere and blindside you with their greatness. Children of Men is definately one of those flicks. A beautiful, haunting, powerful, emotional, exciting, thought provoking, eye-popping spectacle. The film is glacial at first, but then there is one of the most complex action scenes I've ever seen that is done all in one take, and the audience is riveted from thereafter. It's sort of like a Schindler's List for science-fiction films. Great movie, a really wonderful experience to watch it, and won't ever be forgotten.
The Departed 2006,  R)
The Departed
It wasn't the best film of the year (that honour would definately reside with The Fountain, and Children of Men would follow), but The Departed definately deserved it's Oscar wins. People said this is Scorsese's return to form, to which I say - where'd he go that warranted a return? His last GREAT film was Casino, and that was only 10 years ago. Hell, The Aviator from a couple years ago was also excellent. At any rate, this is Marty's 5th best flick. Exciting, intense, wickedly funny, graphically violent - everything a great Scorsese film should be. It has perfect music, fantastically choppy editing, a performance from Nicholson that is in my top 10 fav performances of all time, and of course, there's Marty's directing, that once again proves there comes a time in a filmmaker's life where he's so good, he can break whatever rules he wants. I love him, and I love this film.
Braveheart 1995,  R)
I hadn't seen this film for about a year when I watched it again this weekend, but I was quickly reminded why it's one of my favourite films. Mel Gibson proved with this film that he's one of the master manipulator of emotions - and I mean that in a very sincere way. I admire it. Yes, his films are melodramatic and very operatic, and the drama is rarely subtle which usually results in few dry eyes. When a filmmaker can achieve this without cheating, it's quite grand. When the manipulation of emotions is done badly (Pearl Harbor and Patch Adams to name but two), the result is laughable. But Gibson isn't Shadyac or Bay. He respects the material and gives it weight. No, the film isn't the most historically accurate, but why should it be? He's not recreating history, he's recreating myth and legend, which allows for more creative freedom (like allowing people in the 13th century to say "ass" and "fuck" - something Ingmar Bergman would've frowned upon I'm sure). The movie has exhilirating action setpieces, two well done romances, a terrific score by James Horner, tragedy, drama, humour, beauty, power, and a wonderful finish that gives me goosebumps. It's one of the best epic films of all time, and deserving of all the accolades and popularity it has adorned. Great flick.
Beauty and the Beast 2012,  G)
Mystery Men 1999,  PG-13)
Dark City 1998,  R)
Dark City
Watching Dark City again for the 3rd time in the past month or so, I was once again struck by what a fucking great movie this is on almost every conceivable level. Say what you will, darling leasha - this film is a masterpiece, an intense and riveting sci-fi flick for adults, and a thought provoking action extravangza. Yep, I used the word "extravanganza" in a review. But then, this is a big word kinda movie. The first time I saw this movie, I was floored. I'd known that it was one of Roger Ebert's favourite flicks, but I had no idea just how plain RIGHT he was about it. It's an ingenious plot that ravels and unravels upon itself, always making you question what you're seeing exactly and how closely tied to reality it is. Visually, the flick is as sumptous as they come. When The Strangers "tune", buildings form and morph all over the city, creating new neighbourhoods and lives, with these creepy floating guys running around everywhere and beams shooting out of people's heads and my GOSH I love this flick. In terms of the narrative, this is in fact (spoiler warning), one of the best alien abduction stories ever told. What sets it apart from all the others, above all, is how it takes so long to reveal any answers to us. In The Matrix, another mind-bending science fiction masterpiece (which kinda ripped off this movie a little), the answers to the reality of the film were given to us within 20 minutes. In Dark City, we aren't given any answers until 20 minutes before the ending. We're constantly fed clues and snippets of information, but none of it comes together until the great reveal of the Strangers' plot and the reality of the city the heroes live in. It's one of the best scenes I've ever seen - the wall breaking out and with a gasp we realize what's been going on for the past hour of the movie. In terms of action, the movie is brilliant once again. Everything is fixated like a horrible nightmare - doors lead to nowhere, staircases triple in length within seconds, you can't remember anything and sinister beings are chasing you for something you don't even think is real. The city itself is much like a dream in that no one can escape - they travel in loops and circles, but are unable to leave, and they can't figure out why (neither can we, until the great revelation scene). The acting is top notch considering that, for the nature of the film to work, we learn almost nothing about the characters. This is, in a way, a drawback to the film - the hero is a mystery to us, and all the other characters are creepy enigma's. But that's the way it had to be - we couldn't be given any backstories to these people, because (spoilers again - in fact, the rest of this review will probably be spoilerific), they don't HAVE backstories. One of my theories that I've thought about for years is how we can prove anything that has happened before this exact moment in time actually happened. How do we know yesterday happened? Because we remember it, sure - but how does that prove anything? It's in the past, and therefore could be faulty. That's what this whole movie is based on - the idea that humans could change how they act every single day, but not who they are. This is proven in the film's best scene, the prison talk between the hero and Jennifer Connelly, where he tells her they probably never met before last night regardless of their memories, and she says that she loves him - it can't be faked. We know intellectually that he is right - we've seen the Strangers melt people to their will for their zoo-like experiement, and everyone's memories are lies. But we also hope and, somehow, know emotionally that she is correct. How could we fake the feeling of love? That's the emotional underpinning in the film - in the end, when the last surviving Stranger asks about the human soul, the hero says that they were looking for it in the mind - but that's the wrong place. We are who we are, our souls, because of our hearts, and since in the final scene the Jennifer Connelly character still seems attracted to the hero, even though her memory was wiped again, this ideal is proven. In it's own little way, this tells us a lot about human nature and how we work. What a brilliant flick. What an exciting story. True, it's not perfect - I would've liked an answer as to why the hero can suddenly perform the powers of tuning, since only the aliens can do that. But whatever. It's a fast moving, kinetic, thought provoking flick that makes science fiction not just for nerds anymore. Oh, and it kicks Contact's ass. :D That was just for you, leasha.
2001: A Space Odyssey 1968,  G)
Rope 1948,  PG)
Rope is one of Hitchcock's more flawed features, and yet it's still one of my favourites, and one of the most enjoyable of his to watch. Oh, it's nowhere near as fun as North by Northwest or frightening as Psycho or suspenseful as Rear Window or magnificent as Vertigo - but who cares? This is Hitchcock before he was THAT Hitchcock, and I find the film endlessly fascinating. It's filmed primarily in 10 minute long takes, which is awesome to watch as Hitchcock does his best to manuever and manipulate the camera, the sets, and even the actors to get what he wants in such a confined space (the action never leaves the apartment room). It has the feeling of a play, yes, but with the suspense of a classic Hitchcock film. Take the scene where we know there's a dead body in the chest, and the maid slowly takes everything off the desk, one by one, as the camera just sits there and no one notices. The moment right before she opens the case, most people watching the film gasp a little. It's a great moment. The film was publically dismissed back in the day, and no wonder - a wee bit too experimental for it's time, not to mention how explicitly implicit (if that makes sense) the homosexuality of the two main characters were. But, even though it is flawed in it's pacing (some dialogue scenes really go nowhere) and in it's cutting (in order to change reels, Hitchcock has to dive into the backs of characters to cut), and dated in a lot of it's outlooks and stylistic choices (such as the smoke in the backdrop never moving), this is still an incredibly entertaining film. Dall and Stewart give wonderful performances, there are a couple scenes that still remain tense and suspenseful (it is Hitch after all) and the ending, with the police sirens wailing over Granger quietly playing his last piano piece, is suitably haunting and eloquent. A greatly underrated flick, and definately worth a look by even someone who isn't an Alfred Hitchcock fan.
The Wolf of Wall Street 2013,  R)
RocketMan (Rocket Man) 1997,  PG)
Fantasia 2000 2000,  G)
Forrest Gump 1994,  PG-13)
21 Grams 2003,  R)
Scarface 1983,  R)
Scener ur ett šktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage) 1974,  PG)
About a Boy 2002,  PG-13)
Airplane! 1980,  PG)
Black Swan 2010,  R)
Black Swan
In terms of audacity, originality, and the so-willing desire to make the audience uncomfortable, Black Swan is a fucking revelation, a movie that feels incredibly alive and fresh in a time where very few films attempt to do the same. Ironically, for me, it's the second weakest film Darren Aronofsky has directed, but that's more a testament to how goddamn amazing he is than to Black Swan's actual quality. It's a film I imagine Kubrick would have loved - a horror/thriller melodrama, that contains big emotions, big scares, incredibly creepy and disgusting moments, as well as a lesbian sex scene so erotic I almost leaped out of my seat shouting "ATTICA! ATTICA!"

Rarely do movies remain a mystery after the trailers come out. But I think Aronofsky has (so far) managed to keep most people still in the dark, and I don't want to spoil that. What everyone does know is that it stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis as two ballerina's that strike up both a friendship and a dangerous rivalry. And that's about all I'm willing to tell, except that no movie in recent years (and that includes Inception), has taken the audience so far deep into the mind of a crazy person. Black Swan will require multiple viewings to comprehend everything, and that's good, because the movie is also mysterious and dark and brilliant enough that you actually want to do that.

I was worried within the first couple minutes, though. Clearly, the failure of The Fountain (great movie) and the success of The Wrestler (not a great movie - but I'm clearly in the minority with both) has changed Aronofsky's directorial style, and in my opinion, it's not for the better. In terms of visual aesthetics, Black Swan is more Wrestler than Fountain - the cameras are almost all handheld, as they follow Portman around and around. In fact, I remained concerned for the first full hour, as things were simmering but not boiling, and in all honesty a lot of the rehearsal scenes go on a little long. But I'd forgotten, stupidly, that Aronofsky always likes to save his best for last, and the final half of Black Swan is a stunning virtuoso of fear, paranoia, and Opera music. Around the time a character starts stabbing her face to Tchaikovsky and feathers begin sprouting out of people, you know you're in for a helluva experience, a finale that rivals Requiem For a Dream in it's hypnotic and disturbing power.

But yeah, I could go on forever about how fucking great Black Swan is (like the review Brett Bell linked me to - the author's ridiculous fanboy enthusiasm is pretty much on target). I could go on about how Portman will probably be nominated for Best Actress, and Kunis might get a Best Supporting nod (they both deserve it just for the sex scene....seriously, you thought Mulholland Drive was a fun little romp! These girls are GORGEOUS! Sweet Jesus!). Or how the writing, not by Aronofsky, is more original and Gothic than anything else that has come out this year. And how my man Darren deserves the goddamn win of Best Director, and a lot more, for risking this wild ride on a modern movie audience. Imagine Kubrick mixed with Cronenberg, Lynch, and Greengrass, and that's what Black Swan is all about. It may disturb you, and probably even piss you off. But you'll never forget it. And that's why I love it so much.
Apocalypse Now 1979,  R)
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope 1977,  PG)
Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back 1980,  PG)
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi 1983,  PG)
The Truman Show 1998,  PG)
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion 2012,  R)
The Matrix 1999,  R)
The Fugitive 1993,  PG-13)
Auto Focus 2002,  PG-13)
Hugo 2011,  PG)
Dick Tracy 1990,  PG)
Beauty and The Beast (La Belle et la bÍte) 1946,  Unrated)
Who Framed Roger Rabbit 1988,  PG)
Walkabout 1971,  R)
A Christmas Story 1983,  PG)
A Christmas Story
"Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it's zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters decend upon us." With this sardonic and wonderfully biting quote, the holiday classic A Christmas Story is perfectly summed up. It's not the kind of quote you often hear in a gentle family Christmas film, but then, this isn't your typical gentle family Christmas film - which is why it's so beloved the world over. A Christmas Story is a strange movie in that it actually gets better the older you are when you see it. In fact, as a child, I wasn't a fan. It's too close to what actual childhood is like. Nostalgia is the key aspect to this film's warmth and odd beauty and supreme hilarity (smoke on that, leasha!). Watching the film now, it's hilarious. But as a kid, when you see him get soap put in his mouth for saying a bad word, or being beaten up by the school bully, or getting his tongue stuck to a pole - it's not funny, it's actually disturbing, cause these are things that have either happened recently, happening often, or you know will happen soon. But the film is a nostalgic snapshot of childhood, and when childhood is passed, the film is both heartwarming and funny as hell. Yes, leasha, this IS a black comedy, and that may be why you can't warm up to the film as an actual Christmas movie. See, I, along with many many other people, grew up with this flick for the holidays. Yeah, the humour is surprisingly dark at times, which is what makes it occasionally uncomfortable to watch as children. But as an adult, it's truly a beautiful flick, filled with hope and dreams and both of those things being trampled by the Bupkiss dogs. But the movie tapped in to something. It manages to be set in a very specific time, and it's attention to detail is so impeccable that you actually feel familiar to it's world even if you never lived it...and still manages to be a completely timeless movie. Maybe we all didn't shoot our eyes out with a BB gun for Christmas - but we ALL have experienced desperately wanting an object only for us to fall from grace with a hilarious crash. We've all experienced getting in trouble with our otherwise nice parents, our fear of not getting what we want for Christmas, our hope in that the teacher will be so moved by our essays we will recieve a standing ovation. The movie so wonderfully captures these dreams and fantasies and realities of childhood that watching it I actually get deja vu, even though it's set decades before I was even born. Now. Onto it's status as a Christmas classic. Argue all you want, my lovely leasha, that's what this film is. How can a black comedy be considered a classic of a season with love and joy and goodwill, you ask? Simple - cause it doesn't pander and isn't yet another crappy Christmas movie about love, joy, and goodwill. It is, in fact, about what Christmas actually means to most kids - PRESENTS. Yes, there are some scenes of traditional Christmas poignancy, where my heart warms and I feel true love for the season. But primarily, this is a comedy about a particular time in a kid's life, right before he's no longer a kid, where the realities and disappointments of the world are becoming known to him. And the film remembers why Christmas Day is truly exciting for children. Yeah, we need beautiful films like It's A Wonderful Life and Polar Express to remind us of the "true spirit of Christmas". But we also need flicks like these that gently wink and say, "Yeah, but how many kids really care about that?" Even when you watch films like Wonderful Life and Pol-Ex, as a child, you spend the whole movie thinking about all the loot you're gonna wind up getting under the tree. Presents dominate kid thinking, and this movie is a perfect representation of that agony, ecstasy, and anticipation. Plus, as I keep forgetting to mention in all this pretentious analyzing - the movie is warm, sharp, smart, enjoyable, and really hilarious. The whole scene with the leg lamp ("Naddafinga!"), still makes my sides hurt. And Ralphie's daydreams are the stuff of legend - how did an actual kid not write this? Speaking of Ralphie, he's possibly the best child performance I've ever seen. See, the problem with kid actors these days is they try to hard. They're so dramatic, so intense and serious, that I'm taken out of the moment and think "Gee, just play with some toys and smile a little". Ralphie is a kid throughout this film. His eyes glint, his smile is perfect, his jaw drops in mock intensity that still makes me laugh out loud. And the great performances don't stop there - his whole family gets great treatment in this flick, and all of them begin to feel as familar and true as a real family after repeat viewings. Anyways, I love this movie. It's not the best Christmas flick, but it's close, and it's certainly one of the very greatest films ever about childhood life.
Unbreakable 2000,  PG-13)
Beginners 2011,  R)
Ponyo 2009,  G)
Oh, how I wanted to hug this movie. Ponyo is easily the most adorable, cute, whimsical, magical, and downright enjoyable animated films of recent years. It also, by the way, literally fucks the shit out of every Pixar movie that has EVER come out, including WALL-E and Up, and I actually really liked those ones. In fact, I can't remember the last time an animated film was this enchanting - oh, wait, yes I can; Polar Express, almost 5 years ago, and before that I'd say we're probably looking at Beauty and the Beast. The movie was so good, in fact, that watching it I became so immersed in the story that I completely forgot that I had just met my online flixster friend John mere minutes ago and he was sitting beside me for the first time in my life. If a gawddamned cartoon is so enrapturing that you even manage to forget where you are and who you're with, that's saying something.

Ponyo tells a story. It doesn't have a plot, and it doesn't have much in the way of tension, fear, suspense, treachery, villiany, or predictable plot outcomes. It simply tells a cute story involving characters that are given time and breath to develop personalities - when was the last time you saw THAT in an animated film? You keep expecting the gears of the plot to start working, which is something that happens in even the most acclaimed of Pixar's works. I kept waiting for the standard and obligatory "morales" about "family's stick together". I kept waiting for a bad guy to pop up and make life miserable for the kids until the happy ending. I kept expecting stupid misunderstandings to happen about 3/4's the way through to make the friends fight and seperate, only to reunite in the end when one inevitably saves the other. And most of all, I kept waiting for zany, slapstick action/comedy scenes, puncuated with annoying pop culture references and "witty" one-liners. Guess what? This movie has none of that. What it has is both a maturity and a pure innocence that makes the experience of watching it both unexpected and absolutely delightful.

The animation itself is both extraordinary and completely ordinary, if that makes any sense. In this CGI feuled world, we expect our animations to give us the most crisp and three dimensional of detail - if there's an animal on screen, we fully expect to see every piece of fur and whiskers on it's body, or we don't buy it. Well, that level of detail is not on display in Ponyo. In a way, yes, the animation can seem a little flat. But the visuals and the imagination behind them are so beautiful and stunning that we forgive the movie this "backward step" (even though I would much rather watch more animated films done in this style than another Ice Age). The opening scene, where we go under the sea and witness sights I've never seen in a film before, is just an opening act for a movie filled with eye popping moments - the sea goddess, the ancient fish floating around in a drowned town, Ponyo and the other fishes transformations from humans to fish to everything in between. And above all, we have the best scene of the year, where Ponyo chases after her little friend by leaping and running on top of massive fish-waves crashing against the road (no amount of words could possibly describe how magical and goosebump-inducing this scene is).

So I guess the movie isn't perfect, persay. The story does occasionally ramble, such as lengthy moments at an old folks home or a long trek on a boat and a total lack of conflict (which is both a strength and a weakness). But the pro's far outweigh the cons. The voice over work, including talent ranging from Liam Neeson to the sister of Hannah bloody Montana, are perfect. The characters are all interesting and somehow, realistic, especially in Neeson's "villian", who winds up not being a villian at all. The music by Joe Hisaishi is absolutely gorgeous, the writing and directing from the master Hayo Miyazaki is great as always (so I'm told - I'm sadly not familiar with his work). And above all, the adorable romance between Ponyo and the little boy is so gosh-darn wonderful that everyone in the audience, from the little kids to the parents that accompany them, will be misty eyed in the end. Ponyo isn't just the best animated film in years - it's also the best movie of the year so far, period. For once, it looks like Pixar will actually have competition at this year's Oscar-cast.
Seven (Se7en) 1995,  R)
Platoon 1986,  R)
Viskningar och Rop (Cries and Whispers) 1972,  R)
Viskningar och Rop (Cries and Whispers)
For the past year, I've been anticipating Ingmar Bergman's death. I mean, the man was what, 89 years old? I knew it was going to happen soon, so I planned out in advance what I was going to do - have a Bergman Movie Marathon the day he died, watching all of his films that I own. Then, unfortunately, about a month ago I read the news he had passed away. Even though I was expecting it, it still hit me hard, and I was actually really depressed. I started the marathon with The Seventh Seal, his best film, then went on to Cries and Whispers. Sadly, I wasn't able to watch any more - my friends came over for a city trip I didn't know about and then instead of writing this review, sort of a minor tribute to the man and his work, I had to go on vacation the day after. So now here's the review/tribute, a month after his death. Cries and Whispers is not Bergman's greatest film, but it's close, and it's certainly his most heart breaking and emotionally resonant. We all know (ok, let me rephrase - the snotty ones on this website all know) the story of Ingmar Bergman and how he was brought up into this world by a very strict Lutheran family and eventually learned to fear God, the unknown, the afterlife, and made a living making films about this fear. The Seventh Seal asks the questions most directly - I mean, the main character literally plays chess with Death. But by the time Cries and Whispers came along, Bergman had matured and found himself able to ask these questions with more subtley. I mean it when I say in terms of filmmaking style, I'm most inspired by Scorsese - but when it comes to narrative style, I'm most inspired by Bergman. His movies are stories told on film. They have little in the way of plots - most of them are simply about lost and confused people wandering through life, trying to get answers, trying to understand the meaning of it all, and with all these characters, Bergman was thinking and feeling the same things. Ok. Back to Cries and Whispers. It's unlikely that there's too many films out there that are more difficult to watch; more heart wrending, more painful. The movie is about a woman who is dying. She has two sisters who are cold and distant, and is mostly taken care of by Anna, the caregiver, who has lost her daughter and treats the dying woman delicately and passionately. This, however, is not a Hollywood Deathbed Movie, where the dying person (think Sweet November or Walk to Remember) somehow gets more beautiful the more they die. Not with Bergman. This woman is in severe pain, and we see it all the way. She moans in agony, she sweats buckets, tears stream out of her as fast as her screams and profanities. She clutches at the bedspread, slashes through the air, and we realize with a sinking heart that this isn't a movie character who will make a miraculous recovery who enjoy a quiet, fade-out death and ascention to heaven. She's gonna die, it's gonna hurt, and, Bergman seems to be telling us, that's the way it usually is. After she dies, about halfway through the movie, the film focuses on the tormented sisters. To describe them as heartless wouldn't be true - they have hearts, they've just forgotten about them. Take the coldest, the oldest one. One night, in a flashback, she inserts shattered glass shards into her vagina. To cause herself pain? No. To cause her husband pain, who wanted to have sex with her that evening. The scene is so painful, so cringe-worthy, that everyone who thinks Saw is gruesome should see what real-life violence filtered through Bergman's eyes can be like. But this isn't a physically violent movie. It's an emotionally violent one. When the youngest sister desperately tries to become close with the oldest, and practically forces a kiss on her, the oldest screams and lashes out with a verbal tirade that is both sad and true. It is, in fact, the most violent moment of the film, and it's almost all words and screams. To watch Cries and Whispers is to see Bergman at the height of his powers as a filmmaker and an artist, and as hard as it is to watch, you will never forget it. Indeed, "artist" is an appropriate term for his work and specifically for this film - never has a particular colour been more important to a flick's success than here. The colour red streams out at the viewer. All the walls and carpet in the house are a stark, impenetrable red. The transitions are never to black or to white, but blinding crimson. Bergman once said all of his films could be in black and white except Cries and Whispers, and he's correct. Sigh. What a life. What a career. Watching The Seventh Seal and Cries and Whispers back to back, the reality of him no longer being in this world hit me, and hit me hard. We lost one of the greatest artists of all time with Bergman's passing. These two films, more than any other (even though he has many, many more masterpieces and treasures to discover), showcase his talents, his ideals, his philosophies, his agonies. My msn name, still, is "RIP Ingmar Bergman...I hope you've now finally found the answers to your questions". That's the biggest release I can think of - knowing that his whole life was a pursuit of an answer and now, through death, he has discovered it. As shattering as Cries and Whispers is, it ends on a hopeful note. Anna reads a diary entry from a while back of the deceased, when her disease wasn't as severe and she enjoyed a day out in the autumn beauty with her sisters and Anna. She says, and these are the last lines of the film, "Come what may, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few minutes, I can experience perfection. And I feel profoundly grateful to my life, which gives me so much." Beautiful words, beautifully said, and they encapsulate Bergman's life and career. I only hope that, on his own deathbed with hopefully considerably less pain than this main character eventually experienced, that these words crossed through his own mind as well. Rest in Peace, Ingmar Bergman.
A.I. Artificial Intelligence 2001,  PG-13)
Aliens 1986,  R)
Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb 1964,  PG)
Sideways 2004,  R)
Tropic Thunder 2008,  R)
Tropic Thunder
Note: this is my original 4 star review of Tropic Thunder, but after watching it about 6 more times, I reazlied that I can't lie to myself - this really is, for me, a 4.5 star movie, the first comedy to be so since 40 YOV I believe. It doesn't just make me laugh myself silly, it's actually a great movie overall. So I changed the rating, but the original review is still the same.
Now THIS is how you make a fucking good comedy. Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder rather brilliantly mixes outrageously zany comedy, surprisingly exciting action, and pitch-perfect satire of Hollywood and filmmaking. Unlike the other comedies of the summer that aimed primarily at a certain target audience (stoners for Pineapple Express, people with good taste for Death Race), this movie can be enjoyed even by people who have no knowledge of the film industry and how it works. But for those of us in the "know", Tropic Thunder plays like some of the very best Entourage episodes play. Honestly, as surprised as I am to say this (since I'm not a huge fan of Ben Stiller's movies), Tropic Thunder is probably the best comedy I've seen since 40 Year Old Virgin - if it may not be quite as laugh-a-minute funny as something like Superbad, it's just a better movie all the way around.

Anyway, I loved this flick. It's been a while since a 4 star review - even longer since I've seen a 4 star comedy. I expected to hit it with Pineapple Express, but ultimately that film was primarily at it's funniest when seen baked, and once the pot wore off, it got less and less funny. Tropic Thunder I saw baked in theatres, but didn't want to review it until I had seen it sober as well, so I could make sure that my laughter wasn't just from the drugs. It wasn't. This is a laugh riot from start to finish, even with the last 20 minutes dominated by action scenes (that's one thing Pinapple couldn't figure out, was how to make it's action especially funny). But it's the Hollywood satire that is the most enjoyable, and the most rewarding. I love seeing actors bite the hands that feed them in movies like this. The fake trailers at the beginning of the film are some of the funniest stuff I've ever seen, and as zany and over-the-top as it may seem, it is 100% completely grounded in reality. We've seen trailers like that, and movies like that. It's a great way to open the film because it shows Ben Stiller has done his homework.

The screenplay is excellent not just because it makes you laugh, but because it works on it's own as an actual movie, too. I was surprised to find myself become increasingly involved in the story as it continued, not just distracted by big explosions and funny images. There are some great one-liners in this film, carried by both very broad comedy (the panda scene, the way Steve Coogan leaves the film, every scene with Jack Black) and very specific and pitch-perfect satire, with some really intelligent dialogue (the "full-on retard" scene is, quite honestly, one of the best monolouges of the year). The action scenes work on their own merit - they're well filmed, well scored, and are enjoyable enough that they don't take away the laughs as much as most action comedies tend to do.

The acting is also a highlight. Ben Stiller does what he does best, which is to act completely clueless and get big laughs from it. Jack Black goes into super high gear as a coke addict with no coke, and some of the things he says and does in the last half of the movie had me near pissing myself. Tom Cruise is a hilarious surprise, although his profane agent sometimes seemed like a retread of Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold. Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic, as usual - my God, he must have balls the size of watermelons to try pulling off playing a black man, but he does it by avoiding any possible conotations of racism by instead making fun of method actors who actually try and get away with this stupid shit. It was wise of Stiller and his team of screenwriters to put a real black man in the film to verbally prove just how stupid this concept of a white man playing a black man is; it helps them get away with it. And getting away with it is what this film does best. It joyously tries to offend literally dozens of different groups, and I applaud them for that (the whole "retard" backlash is misguided, because they're clearly making fun of the actors who try and play mentally challenged people, not making fun of the handicapped persons themselves. Still, I can see why people would be upset with this, since many audience members won't get the satire and just laugh at all the retard jokes).

Is the film perfect? No. It's a little choppy in the last half - considering Stiller's character was clueless about the reality of the situation for the whole movie, they never really explain when exactly he clues in and figures it out. And of course the main idea of the director sending these guys out into the real forest is absurd. But who gives a shit? The movie completely delivers the goods by giving us some fun action, a surprisingly involving story, and straight-through laughter. This is not only one of the best films of the year, but one of the best comedies of the decade.

Final note: since when did comedies get so fucking violent? Remember back in the day when comedies were the kind, gentle films people took they're grandmother's to? This past summer the three biggest comedies of the season - Step Brothers, Tropic Thunder, and Pineapple Express - were each more violent than Dark Knight, Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man combined, and those were the ACTION films. I'm not saying this as a criticism so much as a perplexed observation - since when did we find the funniest things the most bloody and gorey? Are we really that depraved of a society? Or do we just play Grand Theft Auto too much?
Collateral 2004,  R)
Groundhog Day 1993,  PG)
Spirited Away 2001,  PG)
Catch Me If You Can 2002,  PG-13)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World 2010,  PG-13)
Die Hard 1988,  R)
Au Hasard Balthazar 1966,  Unrated)
Once Upon a Time in the West 1968,  PG-13)
Slumdog Millionaire 2008,  R)
Step Brothers 2008,  R)
500 Days of Summer 2009,  PG-13)
500 Days of Summer
When Ponyo came out, I stole Roger Ebert's line about Almost Famous and said I wanted to hug the movie. When I finally saw (500) Days of Summer, I wanted to hug, kiss, lick, squeeze, and make gentle, passionate love to the movie. Finally, a 5 star film of 2009. Finally, a truly great movie in a year awash with disappointments and flops. I don't give out 5 stars easily - hell, this is the first time since Synecdoche New York, and only the second since Dark Knight. It's been a long time - but finally, it's arrived, and in the last place I expected. Do you want to see a truly original, completely different and awe-inspiring movie? Don't look here. That's not what this film is about. Instead, it takes all the formulas, all the cliches, all the things we expect in our romantic comedies, and twists it completely on it's head. If you think you know what's going to happen, you may be right, but it's doubtful you'll ever expect just how charming, adorable, thought provoking, emotionally stimulating, and just plain wonderful the journey will be.

The opening of the movie warns us that it is not a love story. This is both true and false - it is absolutely a story about love, just not THIS particular love between THESE particular characters. It's the first awesome step of many that the film takes. A lot of people complain about feeling bummed out after the film, but how could they? The movie is as optimistic about love as any Kate Hudson/Matthew McCoughany film - it's just that it is also realistic and mature enough to know that sometimes that "true love" happens after many breakups, heart aches, and failed relationships where you thought everything was perfect until the awful "I think we should see other people" comes up. Most movies don't think like this. They only want us to see the one great relationship in the character's lives. In a way, that does indeed happen here, but only as a stepping stone to other real life loves. If you don't want to see this on a movie screen, then you must be too naive to realize it happens in real life all the time.

The flick got a lot of attention for it's structure. It flips all over through time, sometimes showing us the happy days where Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel (my God, has any movie ever loved an actress as much as this sucker?) get to know each other, start their relationship, fall in love. And then in a flash, it'll cut to the days where they've broken up, and Levitt tries to move on, and Deschanel does with much greater ease. And isn't this exactly how we remember all our relationships? As Levitt's little sister even says in the film, we look back on our loves and remember only the best and worst of times, never the in between stuff. That the writers and director of (500) Days understood this shows what a bright bunch of brilliant fuckers they are. Indeed, the movie is written and shot in ways that will impress and surprise you - a hilarious song and dance routine, for instance, or the random third-person voice over that occasionally comments, or Levitt describing all the things he loves about Zooey and then later saying the exact same things and how much he hates them - or what could very well be the most brilliant scene of the year, a split screen showing what Levitt expects romantically from an evening, and what actually happens in reality. Cinematographically, I read that the director decided to change the colour tone of the film to match Zooey Deschanel's eyes, and there are so many close ups featuring her best physical aspect that you sometimes expect her to make out with the camera. She's wonderful in the film, as is Levitt, who does an awkward sort of charming that I didn't know was in him.

Is the movie perfect? Nah. The scenes with Levitt's friends often fall flat, as the actors portraying them tend to overdo the "dude, I soooo love blowjobs!" kind of attitude. And I'm sure there's some pacing problems, or maybe the soundtrack gets a little too "indie" (actually, fuck that - I bloody love the soundtrack). But in all honesty, I don't much care about the flaws. Why should I? I haven't felt this much love for a film in many long, agonizing months. I deserved to see a great movie, dammit! (500) Days of Summer will make you laugh, it will make you nod knowingly, it will make you cry...hell, it might even make you a little unsure of your own relationships, past or present. And that's a good thing. We should be thinking about that stuff. And guess what? We don't when we watch the latest Kate Hudson movie. And for that reason alone, (500) Days of Summer is a landmark film.
Gates of Heaven 1980,  Unrated)
Gates of Heaven
Why? Why does a documentary about pet cemetaries haunt me so? I've never been closer to bawling in a movie than in thie film - and I still have no idea why. Most people have never heard of this brilliant, heartbreaking, wonderful little film. Hell, I can't even find it in stores - had to download it. But when Roger Ebert put it in his top 10 movies of all time, he wasn't kidding. It's so moving, it's kinda scary, and when they show the various headstones of buried pets...I'm sorry, but I just couldn't hold in the tears.
Moonrise Kingdom 2012,  PG-13)
The Secret World of Arrietty 2012,  G)
Spellbound 1945,  Unrated)
Shattered Glass 2003,  PG-13)
Heat 1995,  R)
Watchmen 2009,  R)
Note: The following is my original 4 star review of Watchmen; however, after seeing the 25 minute longer Director's Cut, I have to up the star rating a bit. It's probably the most brilliant and altering director's cut I've ever seen (besides Kingdom of Heaven that is, which was like watching a completely different movie). This version fleshes out the smaller moments more, amplifies relationships, and even has some more great violent action scenes like Hollis Mason's murder. I really liked the film in theatres, but the Director's Cut on DVD (baked especially) is a near masterpiece.


When you think about it, Mystery Men is probably the most realistic superhero movie ever made. Maybe you remember it - came out in 1999, a huge box office dud, was a very silly comedy starring Ben Stiller and a bunch of other guys as wannabe superheroes. The reason it's the most realistic superhero flick is because it finally asks all those questions about the reality of superheroes that have always gone unanswered - what do their mothers think? Do their wives appreciate them fighting crime? Do they have to pay taxes and do chores? What's the sex like? Mystery Men answered those sorts of questions, and now, Watchmen does too. It's a fascinating film, epic and audacious, and is a total mess to boot. That's more of a comment than a criticism - messes, when done right, can be just as much fun as a perfect movie made without flaw. I saw the movie opening day and knew that I wanted to see it again before being able to really write a review for it; I think I was too stunned and flabbergasted by what I'd seen, and didn't know if I really liked it or not. I still haven't been able to watch it again, but memory serves me well, and there's no doubt in my mind that this is one of the ballsiest, most original, and most interesting film of recent years.

I haven't read the graphic novel (a sin, I know), but I feel that Zack Snyder has done the best he could with the material. There was simply SO much to work with, and the fact that he condensed it into a 2.5 hour movie is nothing short of miraculous. Synder also made 300, probably my favourite film of 2007 (although the love for it has withered slightly over the years, so maybe I would place No Country or There Will Be Blood higher, now). What Synder does that I love so much is risk making the audience laugh at all the serious stuff he does. If he wants Simon and Garfunkel to play during a super-dramatic funeral, almost all of which is in over-the-top slow motion, then he'll do it. And yes, many people giggled. But it's so audacious that even when his risks don't completely work, I applaud him for it (which includes many of the song choices, which are fun but often extremely distracting). So from a technical standpoint, Watchmen completely delivers what most people were expecting - great special effects, several awesome action set pieces, good costumes and make-up, a crapload of blood and nudity, and a couple very worthy performances (especially Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan, one of the most fascinating characters of recent films, and Jackie Earl Haley as Rorscharch).

But the movie itself is not what audiences expected, and I think that's why it's not doing too well at the box office. The trailers promised a hardcore, violent action/adventure movie, and that's not really what Watchmen is about. The action, when it does come, is in short, violent bursts, and there really isn't very much of it. The movie is simply too dark, too introspective, and to be honest, too GOOD, for mainstream teenage audiences. On DVD, adults will discover this flick for themselves, and it'll do extremely well. It's more a film noir murder mystery than any superhero flick you've seen before, and the ethics, morales, psyche, and actions of superheroes are finally delved into in surpising depth. I found it extremely compelling.

I mentioned that the movie is a mess. And that it is. For all that's good with the film, there's still a lot of it that simply doesn't work too well. The nudity, while in the comic, becomes a large distraction (hee hee, nice pun). Narratively, the movie is perhaps a little too dense to really comprehend it all. The last act becomes sorta James Bond-ish, with the villian explaining his evil plot to the heroes for far longer than he should (although it certainly didn't end like most James Bond movies do). The twist involving this villian is not as surprising as the filmmakers probably would've wanted it to, and I guessed it fairly early on because Synder inadvertantly telegraphed it, quite obviously in my eyes, during a key violent scene. But the main reason the film isn't as perfect as it could've been is simply because it drags, quite a bit. During said funeral scene, we're treated to not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR flashbacks, if memory serves, and I also remember the audience beginning to laugh and shake their heads after the third one. There are long stretches where not much happens in the way of interest - a lot of character development, yes, but most of it isn't particularily interesting development, save for Dr. Manhattan and Rorsharch. At one point in the film I kept looking at my watch, wondering when the superheroes were actually gonna start doing superhero things.

But ultimately, by the end, those flaws didn't much matter. Watchmen is a superior entertainment because it risks alienating and boring so many, and for the most part, completely gets away with it. It's as epic and ballsy a film as you're likely to see, and despite some of my reservations, there's no denying that I was often enthralled, always intrigued, and can not wait to see it again. So far, it's the best film of 2009.
Cast Away 2000,  PG-13)
The Life of Oharu (Saikaku ichidai onna) 1952,  G)
The Grey 2012,  R)
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind 2004,  R)
Mary and Max 2009,  G)
Hanna 2011,  PG-13)
127 Hours 2010,  R)
127 Hours
What a painful yet uplifting, brutal yet inspiring, horrifying yet compulsively watchable movie this is! I desperately wanted to see it at TIFF because I had to see how the fuck they were gonna pull the film off - it wasn't just a risk in filming the true life story of a man who gets his hand stuck under a rock and stays there for 5 days before cutting off his arm, but it was a major risk in being able to make the film endurable, and even enjoyable. But how could it be? How on earth can someone take this story and make it a near-masterpiece? Danny frickin Boyle, that's how. This is a situation where no other director could have possible made the material work...well, maybe Scorsese or Aronofsky. But no one else.

I say that because it's in the visual style that the movie comes alive, and indeed, this is the most spirited and visually alive film I've seen since...uh...probably Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. I thought it would be a one-man band of a flick - James Franco is on screen in every scene, and just about every shot. But it's actually a two-man band, because Boyle's camera is just as much a character as Franco's. The first twenty minutes rush by, primarily because Boyle films everything like he would an MTV music video (that's not an insult or a detriment in this case). It excites the viewer, and gets you interested in what could have easily been a slow start. But after Franco says goodbye to two attractive girls and goes on his own, the rest of the movie - and I mean, the ENTIRE movie - is with him stuck under that rock.

Can you imagine how bloody amazing that is? To stay with him throughout his ordeal and his suffering, without ever leaving? I really thought the movie would cut back and forth between him and police or whatever, a girlfriend, something to leaven the tension. But Boyle refuses (despite some brief flashbacks/fantasies), and it makes this movie the bravest I've seen in a very long time. We become incredibly attached to the must-remain-confident Franco, right up until he cuts his arm (which in real life took 45 minutes - the only knife he had was very dull). That scene is, as you can imagine, incredibly tough to watch. But when he's eventually rescued, scored to a Sigur Ros song, you feel uplifted. All in all, 127 Hours is a breathtaking movie, and I urge anyone who wants to go mountain climbing by themselves to see this sucker first.
Memento 2000,  R)
Batman: Under the Red Hood 2010,  PG-13)
Men in Black 1997,  PG-13)
8 1/2 1963,  Unrated)
Peter Gabriel: New Blood Orchestra Live In 3D 2011,  Unrated)
The Graduate 1967,  PG)
City Slickers 1991,  PG-13)
Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen) 1968,  Unrated)
Punch-Drunk Love 2002,  R)
Punch-Drunk Love
I really can't stand Adam Sandler's schtick. It's the same thing in every movie. He acts like an emotionally stiffled, mentally abused, personally immature loser who throws tantrums and hates the world and, somehow, people seem to find this funny. I never got it. When I see him in crap like Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore, I cringe, and sometimes am even offended with how closely his "comedy" mirrors real life tourettes and autism. However, Paul Thomas Anderson did a really bizarre and tricky thing - he made me like this style of Sandler. How? By making it not funny. That was the audacity he had - taking a comedian's schtick, and cutting away all the humour from it. What we're left with is the exact same Sandler, still making tantrums, still throwing fits of rage, still talking like he's mentally handicapped and being completely socially inert - but instead of asking us to laugh, we're asked to sympathize, and to empathize. It's a really amazing feat, and makes Punch Drunk Love compulsively watchable. That, and it's just about the strangest film you're likely to see. PT Anderson has never been a timid or subtle filmmaker (and with masterpieces like Magnolia and Boogie Nights under his belt, who can argue?), but here he throws in everything but the kitchen sink. The camera, in fact, seems to be the voice-over for Sandler's character. When he's nervous, when he's erratic, the camera rarely sits still. It roams, it meanders, it goes in and out of focus. It represents his inner turmoils, and how desperately he wants to break free from his own life. The music helps this too - as intrusive and annoying as Jon Brion's score is, it is effective in representing Barry's world. Anyhoo. The direction is excellent, the performances are completely believable (even though Philip Seymour Hoffman is underused) - so why only 3.5 stars? As much as I want to say it's because it is just such a bizarre film to experience, I guess it's ultimately because the story doesn't really go anywhere original. True, there are few moments in this film you can really predict (such as the final confrontation between Sandler and Hoffman). But this is basically a story about a man losing it, and thankfully getting it back right at the end because of the redemptive power of love. As well made as the film is, and as much as I adore their desire to go dark yet light, bitter yet sweet, there still just isn't a whole lot being said here. Oh well. This is a very good little picture and well worth seeing. Basically, it showcases that there's two kinds of people in the world - those that like Adam Sandler in "Punch Drunk Love", and those that like Adam Sandler in everything else.
12 Years a Slave 2013,  R)
Mr. Nobody 2013,  R)
Last Tango in Paris 1972,  R)
Last Tango in Paris
Last Tango in Paris is a pretentious movie. It's pretentious, self indulgent, overly important and artsy, and sexually deviant. In short, it's the epitome of all the things I most hate about foreign art house films. And yet, inexplicably, I love this movie so much. It haunts me in a way most flicks don't (be warned - with as pretentious a movie as this, a pretentious review is almost a necessity). It's so hypnotic, so trance-inducing, and so emotionally raw and powerful that seeing it is not only an experience, but an ordeal. It's not the kind of movie you can enjoy, but it's almost impossible for me not to be awed and shocked and disturbed by how beautiful a movie could portray such ugliness of human nature. Firstly, lets talk about the history of the flick. Pauline Kael, when the movie was released, wrote "the film revolution has begun", and that this film was going to become a landmark in the history of art. Sadly, it didn't happen that way. Last Tango in Paris might've become a milestone in film history, but a few years later the onslaught of Jaws and Star Wars sqaundered any hope people had of making intense sexually fueled character drama's like these, as the whole industry shifted to massive blockbusters. It was hugely controversial at the time - not so much the nudity, because while often showing the lead actress full frontal, it's rarely gratuitious. It's not even so much the sex/sex talks, which are as graphic as any film I've ever seen. More importanty, I think, the film hit a nerve. The movie is so raw, so blunt, so direct in it's sexuality, that when I watch it I both nod in understanding and shake my head in confusion. Take the scene where Brando asks, openly to the girl, "when was your first orgasm?", and she replies with a story about running down a hill when she was 14 and experiencing it accidentally. This kind of dialogue could've found it's way in an American Pie, but the manner in which it's spoken makes it so much more. This is, by the way, the least sexually explicit the dialogue gets. The sex in this movie will, honestly, scar you. Take the initial rape scene, which the girl readily accepts and even agrees to see Brando at the apartment always, without giving any names or information about themselves. Or the infamous "butter scene" where Brando rapes her anally with the lubricated help of a stick of butter. Or the scene where Brando demands she insert her two fingers up his ass while he talks about how he wants her to have sex with a dying pig then eat his puke and smell the pig's farts. Yep. That's in the movie. I probably turned off about 90% of the people reading this review from telling them this. But what's important to understand is how much deeper the film goes than this, revealing so much to us about who we are as humans and how we interact with others that it hurts just to watch it. In terms of acting, the film is impressive. Brando gives a terrifying performance - we sympathize with this man and see his pain, but that doesn't take away the fact that he's a monster. The cinematograpy is moody and dark, with high contrast, and the directing is superb - the camera, in even the most static scenes, is almost always moving in interesting ways. And the ending is poignant and beautiful - I love the moment where Brando puts the piece of gum under the bannister before facing the end of his story. True, the movie isn't perfect - the young filmmaker in the movie is weak and the music is very distracting (often fading in for 10 seconds than fading immediately out again). But still, something about this film just really gets to me. It's clearly not for everyone, but you out there with the stomach and the heart to endure this visually poetic flick will never forget it.
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Bridge to Terabithia
I don't cry in movies. Oh, I have the occasional "manly mist", as my dad often puts it. Flicks like Requiem for a Dream, Schindler's List, Crash, Brokeback Mountain - all have made me get watery in the eyeballs. But nothing has made me blubber like a little girl - until I saw this damned movie. What a wonderful, amazing, heart breaking, evocative, beautiful, powerful, insightful film. I'll also have you know that I don't hand out 4.5 stars to movies easily - I'm not one of those 13 year old girls on this site that give 5 stars to anything they remotely like. This movie deserves now being on my list of most favourite flicks. It's everything I wanted it to be; I'd read the book many years before, so I knew the ending, but I had no idea it would move me so. I'm not too ashamed to admit that tears were rolling down my face and I was sobbing like a little girl at the end of it. The film's story is sad enough - it's fundamentally about that most tragic of times in a person's life; growing up and not being able to be a kid anymore, which is so tragic because you never know it's happening until it's already happened. The movie is about that transition, and how things like imagination, dreams, hope, and (spoiler warning!) death can affect it. The trailers made people believe it was a watered down Chronicles of Narnia - big on the fantasy action, low on everything else. Bullocks. The fantasy elements make up, at most, 15-20 minutes of the film. The rest is where it's heart lies, and it's where most people in the theatre were reduced to tears. A great, surprising, terrific, haunting flick that I won't be forgetting soon. Don't avoid it just because you think it's a "kid's movie", because you can learn more life lessons in this small film than the majority of important Oscar winners can.
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