Sunday, January 23, 2011

Day 171: Heat

Ranking: #123
Year: 1995
Director: Michael Mann
Starring: Al Pacino and Robert De Niro

You probably (haven't) noticed that I've streamlined the format of the above info. No longer will you be treated to the words "on IMDb Top 250" after the word "ranking." This is of no consequence, but I felt the need to point it out. Anyhow, between late last night and this afternoon, I watched Heat, the longest fucking crime drama ever made. Not to sound impatient, but yeah, this probably didn't need to be three hours long. It was, however, a very good film, and contained the performance of Al Pacino's career (I don't like Scarface, remember) and what might be the last great Robert De Niro role since he's resigned himself to stupid comedies these days. Val Kilmer also manages to be good in spite of the handicap of being Val Kilmer, and a fourteen-year-old Natalie Portman gives a savvy beyond her years performance in the vein of her role in The Professional. Beyond the great ensemble cast, Michael Mann's script is better than one would expect a gunfights-and-heists/cops-and-criminals movie to have, and the pacing is a shockingly not bad given the unnecessary three-hour length. And above all, the criminals' guiding principle that presumably lent the film its title – "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner." – is pretty much the coolest goddamn thing any criminal has ever said.

Heat employs a lot of played-out cop movie tropes, but it manages to keep them fresh almost entirely on the strength of the script and the performances. We've seen cops cross the lines of justice to get closer to the criminals they pursue. We've seen the stressful lives of cops put a strain on their relationships at home. We've seen criminals who turn out to have hearts of gold. We've seen masked men pull heists. We've seen gunfights. But Heat gives them to us with such a straight, unwinking face that we're forced to take notice. It doesn't break down any barriers (Except maybe the "how long a crime drama should be" barrier. Okay, I'm done.) but it does what it does so convincingly that you can't help but be impressed. This is an instance of a movie that "descends" into cliché without ever really descending. One could compare it to The Departed in that regard.

I'll keep the conclusion short, especially since I'm very busy tonight and probably shouldn't have taken time away from my real work to write about a movie. If you like crime dramas, you're going to like Heat. There's no reason you should not see this if you loved movies like The Departed and Donnie Brasco. You'll love it.

The Good: Hey, Natalie Portman's in it!

The Bad: Damn, Natalie Portman attempts suicide in it.

The Skinny: #123 would be fine if it shaved off 30 minutes. I'd be more comfortable with it around #200 as it stands.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Day 170: City Lights

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #68
Year: 1931
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Starring: Charlie Chaplin and Virginia Cherrill

There's basically two kinds of Charlie Chaplin movies, from what I've gathered from the four I've seen. There's those that are honest-to-God funny and still earn laughs when watched in 2011, and then there's those that you watch to understand and appreciate the humor and the filmmaking but don't actually laugh at. Movies like The Gold Rush and especially The Great Dictator fall under the former category, while much of City Lights for me fell under the latter. Yeah, I get that Chaplin was stubbornly making a silent film fairly deep into the era of talkies, insisting that his humor would communicate best in that medium, and in a lot of ways he was right. The Little Tramp act works brilliantly in a silent film. But where at least a few parts of The Kid had me laughing, City Lights felt a lot like a history lesson.

The film follows the Little Tramp character as he meets a poor blind girl who believes he's a millionaire and eventually finds himself needing to pay her rent to save face. He ends up entering a boxing match, which has some of the best physical comedy moments of the movie but still pales in comparison to Chaplin's older silents in a lot of ways. As with many of his films, most of the action takes place in the last fifteen minutes or so, so much that keeping up is almost a chore. The climax is relatively satisfying, but I dunno. I think maybe I've just been in such a film-watching overload this weekend that I just wasn't that impressed by this movie. I like Chaplin, but I'm somewhat baffled by how highly this one is regarded in his canon. The comedy's not quite there all the time, but the pathos generally is, and the ending is typically perfect as with most Chaplin films. I just didn't like it as much as I should have. Nor do I have as much to say about it as I should. I'd love for a film scholar to set me right, because I know this is one of the all-time greats. I just missed something.

The Good: The melodrama (yeah, I'm complimenting melodrama) with the poor blind woman needing money to make rent and for her eye surgery is deftly executed and garners the right amount of sympathy.

The Bad: Only chuckled once, and, well, isn't City Lights a comedy?

The Skinny: 68th is ridiculous. 250th would be okay, but not 68th.

Day 169: Trainspotting

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #155
Year: 1996
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller

Even though I didn't take too much away from this film, it still rocked my worldview in a few ways. Notably, I've made it no secret my distaste for Darren Aronofsky's film Requiem for a Dream. More to the point, I found it so unpleasant to watch that I couldn't rightly judge it as a movie. It portrayed drug culture in a way that horrified me enough to never want to watch it again, and to never want to sympathize with the drug-related problems of drug users in my own life at all. Perhaps that wasn't the reaction Aronofsky hoped to get, but it was the one he got. Fast forward to two nights ago when I watched Danny Boyle's Trainspotting for the first time. It portrayed a bunch of heroin addicts getting in fights and going through withdrawals, but somehow it seemed so fun. I then realized that I felt pretty much the same way about Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. So it's not that I hate drug culture; it's that I hate degenerate drug addicts. People who are generally fun or funny on drugs, I have no problem with. Or at least, my taste in movies would dictate that. I've not yet fully come to terms with that, but at any rate, I found Trainspotting to be an enjoyable movie that, despite portraying withdrawal and relapse in a very negative light, never once made me truly uncomfortable.

The cast for the film is the first thing that has to be mentioned when reasoning out why it's so good. Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle play a group of four heroin-addicted mates in 1990s Edinburgh brilliantly, and it's easy to believe that they really all spent time together on the set cracking jokes and shooting smack. Their chemistry is impeccable and scarcely bested by any ensemble casts that I'm familiar with. Kudos, gents. The editing, soundtrack and the script also go a long way toward the fun vibe of the film. Boyle uses quick cuts to make things feel edgy and hip, the Tarantino-esque use of popular songs in lieu of an orchestral score during big moments does the same, and the screenplay has just the right mix of impenetrable Scottish slang and cool '90s swagger to be perfectly effective. Danny Boyle would go on to make so many films that have nothing to do with this that it's odd it even exists, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

As to being Top 250-worthy...nah, dude. As I become increasingly disillusioned with IMDb voters (I saw Stagecoach this weekend as well, and it's not in the Top 250, which boggles the mind and then some), I'm pretty aware of the hipness of Trainspotting blinding a bunch of people into giving it a perfect rating and upping it into the list. It doesn't deserve it. It's fun to watch, but it's not that great. I'm not trying to act like I'm immune to cool or anything, but there's gotta be more to it than that. For the same reason that I'm not blown away by Pulp Fiction, I'm not blown away by Trainspotting. Sorry, I liked it, but nah.

The Good: How much more fun it makes heroin look than it should.

The Bad: The cult of cool that surrounds it.

The Skinny: I'd not have it on the list, but I liked watching it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Top 10 Movies of the 2000s: Outside Link

Here's a post I did for another blog I work for; I thought a lot of you would enjoy it:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 168: Judgment at Nuremberg

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #182
Year: 1961
Director: Stanley Kramer
Starring: Spencer Tracy and Burt Lancaster

Judgment at Nuremberg covers such a sensitive subject that there's hundreds of wrong ways to tell the story and only a few right ones. Even with creeping Cold War paranoia playing a huge role in the plot and a still fresh memory of World War II making it incredibly easy to indict all Germans as what Inglourious Basterds' Lt. Aldo Raine would call "foot soldiers of a Jew-hatin', mass-murderin' maniac," Stanley Kramer managed to present the infamous Nuremberg trials in a fair, responsible light in his 1961 masterpiece. With an ensemble cast headlined by Spencer Tracy and rounded out by a young William Shatner and a much less young Judy Garland, the film addresses the issues of condemning an entire people for the actions of their leaders and the wisdom of placing diplomacy above justice. To do this, it examines the trial of four German judges whose rulings during Nazi show trials allegedly led to acts of genocide. It proceeds much as your average courtroom drama – albeit with a 3+ hour running time – but the stakes are so much higher. This isn't one murder that the defendants are implicit in; it's millions.

Aside from the brief appearances by Shatner and Garland, the thing that has made Judgment at Nuremberg a continued source of discussion so many years after its release is its use of actual archive footage from the liberation of Nazi death camps, which are entered as evidence in the film's trial. The images are disturbing, much more so than those found in your average horror movie – piles of human bodies, furnaces with charred skulls inside, and more horrors await on the newsreels shown in the courtroom. They're used as an emotional appeal to the film's tribunal, and it's easy to see why; if any of us had to see those images and stand mere feet from the men who allegedly allowed them to happen, our first instinct would be to hang 'em high. Foreign policy is at stake, though, and there's continual admonishments that if you jail the Nazis, then the Bolsheviks will jail you.

The film's extreme running time sadly takes some of the power from what should be one of its most powerful scenes. As the trial comes to a close, the tribunal finds all of the judges guilty and sentences all of them to life in prison. It's only after Spencer Tracy's character speaks with one of them that the tables finally turn, and a closing title card reveals that at the time of filming, none of the judges were still in jail. It's a difficult thing, dealing with wartime leaders in peacetime, but the victors of World War II seemed to make the right choice at least on this. But Tracy's final encounter with Burt Lancaster is only moving if you're still awake. Pacing was not this film's strong suit. Still, it took a sensitive topic and addressed it with care. It could use some fat-trimming, but its intentions are very good and the resulting film is great when it's great and never strays into being bad, just sometimes a bit long in the tooth. Like this blog post is in danger of becoming. Good night, dear readers.

The Good: I'm tempted to say the footage from the death camps, but that sounds morbid. Still, it's used very effectively, and let's face it, that was bold as hell.

The Bad: Judy Garland is pretty bad in her one scene. When she overacts Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we assume that's how it was always supposed to be. Here it throws off the tone of the film.

The Skinny: If one court movie besides 12 Angry Men should be on the list, it should be this one. That being said, I don't particularly love court movies, so I don't see myself revisiting it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Days 158-167: Everything Else That I've Seen

Here's my ratings for everything on the list that I've seen but haven't blogged about yet. I didn't want to do this but this semester is really intense and it takes the stress off of having to re-watch stuff if I don't get time or write about things that I first reacted to years ago. Here goes:

The Empire Strikes Back: 10/10
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: 10/10
Star Wars: 9/10
Fight Club: 8/10
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: 10/10
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: 9/10
Return of the Jedi: 7/10
There Will Be Blood: 10/10
The Big Lebowski: 10/10
The Exorcist: 10/10

I feel particularly bad about not writing about There Will Be Blood and The Big Lebowski, and perhaps I eventually will if I find time as I near the list's end, but for now, it's going to be enough of a struggle to power through Days 168-250, all of which represent movies I've not yet seen. Lord, beer me strength.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Days 156-157: The Terminator and T2: Judgment Day

Years: 1984 and 1991
Rankings on IMDb Top 250: #157 and #41
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton

Let's get one thing straight: All the shit that James Cameron takes for being an egotist, an asshole, overrated, and whatever else is completely justified. But he couldn't have gotten to a point where anyone was even taking notice of him if he didn't start somewhere, and that somewhere was the first two installments of the Terminator series. Don't let anyone tell you that they aren't completely fucking awesome. They explore a sci-fi concept that, while a little bit standard (in the future, robots are our masters), doesn't feel the least bit contrived through their clever use of time travel and deft direction of action scenes. And while Cameron's boasting about the way that Avatar changed the cinematic landscape forever was annoying as hell and probably ill-founded, the special effects, makeup, and CGI in these two films – especially T2 – still hold up as extremely impressive even today.

It's tough to talk about these movies individually when you've just watched them back-to-back, but I'm gonna try. The Terminator introduces the series with twenty minutes of merciless killing by a then-anonymous character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Meanwhile, we're granted a look into the remarkably average life of diner waitress Sarah Connor. Only when it's revealed that two of the day's murder victims share her name does the plot start to piece itself together. For a while, it unfolds much like a slasher flick, with scared young people walking through dark hallways as a silent murderer dispatches them one by one. Then it becomes an action film, with intense chase scenes and all manner of big, badass weapons ruling the day. Finally, it settles on being the sci-fi movie that it is, while refusing to shed the elements of the other genres it passed through along the way. The thrilling climax recalls A Nightmare on Elm Street as much as it does Blade Runner, and the brilliant conclusion, paired with what might be the series' best one-liner ("You're terminated, fucker") made me unbelievably glad that I had Netflix send me T2 at the same time.

There's a huge gap between #157 and #41 on the IMDb Top 250, but that's the consensus on how much better T2 is than its prequel. I can't say I totally agree. While the second installment is definitely the better movie, the difference in their rankings makes it seem like there's a huge difference in the quality of the first two films, which just isn't the case. They're both masterpieces of the sci-fi action genre, and they both deserve to be on this list. If they met in the middle and were both ranked around 75th, I'd have a hard time arguing with that. But anyway, onto some analysis of T2: Wow. So much happening that was ahead of its time. The special effects are brilliant, highlighted by a character (Robert Patrick's T-1000) whose corporeal being shifts between computer animation and live action seamlessly enough to be believable, and in a 20-year-old movie, no less. From a plot standpoint, it does a couple of things far more innovative than one would expect from a sci-fi sequel. First of all, Arnold Schwarzenegger reprises his role as a T-500 Terminator, but instead of being a merciless, evil villain like he was in the first film, he's been reprogrammed in the future by John Connor and sent to the past to protect him. How many sequels include a character from the first film who, a) was killed in that movie and b) becomes a hero when he was a villain, or visa versa? Not many, and it's one of T2's biggest strengths. Additionally, it understands that Sarah Connor's revelations from the first film about the robot-conquered future did not exist in a vacuum and would lead the police and psychiatrists to commit her – which is exactly what happened. As much of the movie is dedicated to terminators running around terminating things as it is to the few enlightened humans trying to convince the rest that terminators actually exist. It's a smart approach, and it allows the sometimes heady plot to breathe as the audience comes to terms with what's happening just as the characters do.

So yes, even though these movies will likely never be discussed in Criterion Collection board meetings or screen at art theaters, they're both wildly entertaining, action-packed, and to reiterate something I said before, masterpieces of their genre. I can't defend James Cameron's public persona. Hell, I can't even defend most of his movies. But these two movies are exactly what blockbusters should be, and they're well worth whatever latter-day Cameron masturbation we have to suffer through.

The Good: The underrated hotness of Linda Hamilton. Also, any scenes of robotic feet and tank treads crushing human skulls. God, that's awesome. (They're also great movies with lots of other strengths, but come on, they're pure entertainment, let me talk about what entertains me.)

The Bad: Schwarzenegger's accent doesn't come off as robotic so much as it comes off as "immigrant." The casting was still great, but if he could have talked a little bit more like, say, Billy Crudup in the later scenes of Watchmen, it would have been just that much better.

The Skinny: As I said, I wish the movies were a little closer to each other on the list, but I'm glad both of them are, and I'm glad T2 is higher.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Day 156: Grave of the Fireflies

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #179
Year: 1988
Director: Isao Takahata
Starring: Rhoda Chrosite and J. Robert Spencer (English dub)

Released on the exact same day in Japan as fellow Studio Ghibli masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro, Grave of the Fireflies served to draw attention to the huge range of tones that studio's films can inhabit. While Totoro is arguably the most lighthearted, warm movie Ghibli has released, even demonstrating enough whimsy to successfully diffuse the long-term illness of the main characters' mother, Grave is the bleakest animated film I've ever seen. Unlike Totoro's matriarch who we can all imagine will pull through, Grave's is killed in a World War II bombing raid by American forces, and animator/director Isao Takahata takes great pains to show us her bandaged, bloodied corpse, and in a relatively quick take even shows maggots falling from her body, which has been baking in the hot sun. Hell, even the first shot in the movie sees the protagonist, Seita, introducing the story by saying he'll always remember the day that he died. Needless to say, Grave of the Fireflies is not a kids' film, animation studio be damned.

In the AV Club's excellent pop culture list compendium Inventory, a tome which I believe I've mentioned on here before and will undoubtedly mention again, there's a particularly interesting list of films too painful to watch twice. Grave of the Fireflies made the cut, which intrigued me enough to move it to the top of my Netflix queue – actually, I added every movie on the list that I hadn't seen to my Netflix queue if it wasn't there already; I guess I'm something of a cinematic masochist. Anyhow, the AV Club was right by including Grave on that list. Spoiler alert: All of the sympathetic characters die in horrible ways, and all of the asshole characters who are mean to the sympathetic characters in their time of need live. It's a bit manipulative, sure, but it's still incredibly powerful and, yes, at times difficult to watch. So much life is injected into these relatively simply drawn characters (Takahata has a far less extensive palette than fellow Ghibli luminary Hayao Miyazaki) that we can feel the pain that they feel throughout the film. As an American, I also find it interesting to watch a Japanese World War II movie where the enemy is the U.S. bombing squadrons. It's not wholly condemning – I have a feeling Takahata would agree that teaming up with Hitler and Mussolini was a bad thing to do for his country – but it's a different perspective than I'm used to, even with movies like Letters to Iwo Jima made by American directors trying to discover the opposing viewpoint.

To close, I'll make the inevitable but unfair comparison one more time and say that I definitely like My Neighbor Totoro better than Grave of the Fireflies. Is Grave the "better" film? Possibly. But, as the AV Club list claimed, I can't see myself watching it again. Its atmosphere is so oppressive and devoid of bright moments, not to mention its art is (necessarily) so much less engrossing that I'll never be able to prefer it to Totoro. However, I am glad I watched it. Roger Ebert has called it one of the greatest war films of all time, and perhaps he's right. Takahata shows us the pain of the greatest conflict of the 20th century through the eyes of the "enemy" as well as through the eyes of children, and that dichotomy leads to most of the film's biggest revelations. It's unlike any other movie I've seen, and I can hardly imagine another animated movie being as visceral and powerful. If only I could bring myself to watch it again.

The Good: The tone is oppressive as hell, but that was its goal, and it succeeds.

The Bad: I can't help but wonder what it would look like if Miyazaki had animated the same script. It might suck, but on the off-chance that it didn't, I'd gladly watch.

The Skinny: Deserves its spot.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Day 155: Barry Lyndon

Year: 1975
Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #232
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Ryan O'Neal and Marisa Berenson

I've never articulated it in this blog before, mainly because I just realized in the past couple of weeks, but no one is better at adapting novels for the screen than Stanley Kubrick. All of his greatest works – The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey – take books with high barriers to entry, whether because of length, difficulty, or general obtuseness, and make them easily accessible to the public in a manner that maintains the spirit of the source material but makes something entirely new, stamped with his directorial identity. While Barry Lyndon might lose a point or two in the accessibility category with its three-hour length, it's certainly an inherently watchable film based on a somewhat impenetrable book by William Makepeace Thackeray. To call the movie "episodic" or "picaresque" is about as accurate as you can possibly get, but still doesn't quite seem to cover it. I tweeted while watching the film that I'm not sure if two works can be relatively picaresque when compared to one another, but if they can, that Barry Lyndon is the most picaresque movie ever made. Our protagonist gets into so many disparate antics on his way to the upper class, and so many more once he's there, that his adventure starts to make Don Quixote look like The Old Man and the Sea. Alright, that's enough literary references. I don't want to make this blog post read like an English class, even if the film it's about kind of feels like one.

I remember when I was first really getting into Stanley Kubrick back in junior high school I was too daunted by Barry Lyndon's length and plot summary to give it a chance, and that was probably the right call. As much as I appreciated its deliberate pace, incredibly dry humor, and top-notch costuming at age 20, I highly doubt the 13-year-old who was enamored by The Shining would have felt the same. My now relatively extensive experience reading picaresque novels also made its incredibly episodic plot a lot easier for me to stomach, too, and I was able to appreciate the movie for what it was. Sure, I would never put Lyndon on the same level as some of Kubrick's masterpieces, but it was still a masterful adaptation that made a borderline unreadable tome incredibly watchable.

Of course, not all of that credit should go to Kubrick. Ryan O'Neal shines in the title role, with equal parts Ryan Reynolds swagger (yes, I said it) and Tom Hulce irreverence (Tom Hulce in Amadeus in particular; I haven't actually seen any of his other films that I know of.) Ultimately, Barry Lyndon is a biopic of its eponymous character, and without a brilliant leading man it would fall flat. Fortunately, O'Neal delivers. No criticisms leveled at the film should be about him. I'm not prepared to call Barry Lyndon an all-time classic, but it is one of the best examples I've ever seen in its genre, and it's yet another successful adaptation by its master director. I wouldn't watch it if I was tired, but I would probably watch it again.

The Good: Ryan O'Neal's performance.

The Bad: This is one of those movies where I can't point to one flaw in particular but I still wouldn't call it one of my favorites. If you're an enormous fan of picaresque costume dramas, this might be the best movie of all time.

The Skinny: I can deal with #232.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Days 151-154: Playing Catch-Up After Winter Break

Year: 1972
Ranking: #206
Director: Joseph Mankiewicz
Starring: Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine

Year: 1999
Ranking: #26
Director: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss

Year: 1984
Ranking: #87
Director: Sergio Leone
Starring: Robert De Niro and James Woods

Year: 2007
Ranking: #167
Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Patton Oswalt and Lou Romano

So, even though I only did one Top 250 post over my winter break from college – It's a Wonderful Life, obviously; 'twas the season – I did actually watch some other movies on the list. I was occupied mainly with seeing films from 2010 so I could finalize my year-end list, and in turn, writing about those, but I did get around to watching four other movies on the list. I didn't have time to write them up, but now that I do, I feel like I might as well lump them all into one post. I might give them somewhat shorter shrift than I normally would, but this is just more convenient, so deal with it. So, in the arbitrary order that Blogger uploaded the photos of the posters, here goes!

Sleuth: 249 of the movies that were on the IMDb Top 250 when I undertook this project currently have Region 1 DVD releases. The one that does not is Joseph L. Mankiewicz's quiet 1972 masterpiece, his last film, Sleuth. Starring a not-that-old Sir Laurence Olivier and a wow-he's-young Michael Caine and absolutely no one else (more on that later), the film easily rises to the top of a microgenre that I can only wordily describe as "films adapted from stage plays with an incredibly limited cast that take place in a very small amount of space that have dialogue-heavy screenplays" – a genre which includes two other films I've watched for this blog off the top of my head, Rope and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – by actually needing to be a movie and not a staged play. Rope uses camera trickery to look like a play, while Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has no cinematography to speak of, but Sleuth has interesting camera shots galore (some of which incidentally reminded me of The Wicker Man, one of my favorite films of all time) and some truly arresting visuals that would be harder to communicate in the theater. Not only is Sleuth a movie, though; it's a great one. The mind games between Olivier and Caine's characters are a pleasure to keep up with and a studied viewing leads to several truly transcendent reveals. It lives and dies by its gimmick, but it's executed so well that it's hard to knock it. Now if we could just get a DVD release – the aesthetic of the film is undoubtedly not meant to be as grainy as the way my friend and I had to see it.

The Matrix: I hate to go all Armond White on this review, but I'm going to go against the grain of apparently the entire world and go on record as saying I basically hated The Matrix. Maybe some of the problem was expectations, since 26th on the IMDb Top 250 implies that it's in the top .000001% of films ever made, but I didn't really like it at all. Every performance (except for Joe Pantoliano as Cypher, the only interesting character in the film) was stilted and painfully free of nuance, the screenplay was terrible, the mythology wasn't remotely interesting even though two more movies, a video game, an animated series, and a comic book series would go on to further flesh it out, and basically everything except for the action sequences fell shy of what one should expect from a movie as well-respected as The Matrix is. There's better dystopian science fiction than this in every medium, and it's a shame that it's come to be the flagship of the genre. Disappointing.

Once Upon a Time in America: I'm an enormous fan of Westerns as anyone who reads this blog knows, and Sergio Leone is probably my favorite Western director. Once Upon a Time in America is one of two features he directed in his career that were not Westerns, and my immediate reaction after viewing it was that it's probably the second-best movie he ever made behind The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It's got the epic sprawl of his best work infused with an air of deadly seriousness that some would call Oscar-baiting but I found enchanting coming from Leone, someone nobody would normally accuse of being maudlin. Robert De Niro delivers one of the greatest performances of his career as small-time New York gangster David "Noodles" Aaronson at a time when he was regularly turning in career performances, and James Woods officially put his work on my radar as Noodles' partner and friend Max. Their stories are tragicomic, and they're played with the right mix of wryness and pathos to get what is undoubtedly Leone's team's best script across effectively. The half-the-film-is-when-the-leads-are-kids-half-is-when-they're-adults thing was done by another Italian auteur in the 1980s in Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso, and like that film, Once Upon a Time in America has masterpiece written all over it. I can't wait to revisit it, presumably after I buy it. Great film.

Ratatouille: This is the only one of the films in this post that I had already seen prior to my winter break. It's a Pixar movie, so it can fairly safely be assumed that I loved it – and indeed I did. It's the story of a rat living in Paris who loves gourmet food and lucks into a scheme that allows him to cook it in a fancy restaurant. It's a charming story carried by a stellar voice cast and it contains the best scene – food critic Anton Ego's (voiced brilliantly by Peter O'Toole) meal of ratatouille, revelation on learning who cooked it, and ensuing review in the next day's newspaper – that Pixar has ever done. Pixar's movies are so ubiquitous that it's difficult for me to imagine that anyone reading this hasn't seen it, but if you haven't, do. It's wonderful.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

I'll Be Real With You

250 movies in 250 days.

That's a tall order for anyone, and certainly for a full-time college student who tries to hit the gym on a regular basis and with extracurricular activities out the wazoo. Right now, 150 movies into the blog and 184 days in. There's no way I'm making up those 34 days with 34 double posts, so just forget about that. Getting through the last 100 posts – that I still plan to do. Will it be in 100 days? Almost definitely not. I'm taking 18 credit hours (a lot, for me, anyway) in addition to being co-editor of the entertainment section of my college newspaper, and yes, trying to fulfill a healthy-lifestyle-based New Year's resolution. My only goal is to do the last 100 posts by the time I fly out for London for a summer of work and studying – by my estimation, that'll be May 7th. 124 days, 100 movies. Slightly less ambitious, though rather ambitious nonetheless. I may have to do some multi-movie posts, but I think I'll get it done.

Thanks for bearing with me as I set out to ruin movies for myself, and keep on keepin' on.