I did not grow up with the films of Jacques Tati.
I did, however, grow up with a healthy appreciation of silent comedy. I saw my first Chaplin and Keaton films when I was very young, and as long as I've been a film fan, I've had images of Harold Lloyd and Laurel and Hardy in my head. I fell in love with French films in general through Truffaut, my particular Gallic gateway drug. Even so, Tati was not part of my vocabulary.
When I started working at Dave's Video, a laserdisc-only store in the San Fernando Valley, it was the early 90s, and it was Criterion who introduced me to Tati's work. "Jour de fete," "Mr. Hulot's Holiday," "Mon Oncle," "Play Time," and "Trafic" were a revelation, the work of a filmmaker who has obviously absorbed the lessons of the silent era of comedy only to bring a new voice to that style. His films weren't, strictly speaking, silent, but he was a purely visual storyteller. His Mr. Hulot character is as indelible a creation as Chaplin's Little Tramp, and the real testament to how strong Tati's work is may be the influence he had with only nine films to his name.
Even today, Tati is not a name I hear referenced often in American film, and I'm not sure what level of awareness there is of these great lovely films he made with younger film viewers, if any. Right now, you can see "Play Time" on Netflix Watch Instantly, so if you want to get a taste of what his work was like, that's a good place to start. It would be a great way to warm up for a viewing of the new film, "The Illusionist," but not essential.
I did not grow up with the films of Jacques Tati.
In addition to a regular podcast this week, Scott and I decided to record a special tribute to Blake Edwards.
I know I published my own tribute to him last week, called "Seven Things Blake Edwards Taught Me," but this was also a conversation I wanted to have with Scott. When we first met back in '86, we were at that age where we were using VHS to mainline movies, learning about directors and actors by watching whole filmographies. We used to star in an on-camera movie review show on our high school's closed-circuit TV channel, and one of the movies we reviewed in our first season was "That's Life." At this point, that's become a missing Blake Edwards movie, pretty much forgotten and not really in circulation.
For someone who knows Edwards's work and who knows something about his life, "That's Life" is a mess, but it's also very revealing and nakedly autobiographical. To a sixteen year old who only really knew the "Pink Panther" films and "Victor/Victoria," it was nearly incomprehensible. Like many of the films we reviewed back then, we just weren't equipped to make sense of what we were watching.
Now, years later, Scott and I have over 20 years of shared Blake Edwards fandom between us, and we've had conversation after conversation about various films of his and aspects of those films and aspects of his filmmaking. I wanted to try to preserve some of that and communicate some of the love that we have for his work
It does not remotely surprise me to see a trends piece in the Wall Street Journal (I'd link to it, but it's behind a paywall, so what's the point?) about Blu-ray sales finally starting to convince the industry that people might actually want physical media still.
Well, duh. I've been saying that in print during this entire digital explosion, and people have spent a lot of time and energy telling me how wrong I am. "No way. Everything will be streaming in the future." While I believe that streaming media is a major part of the marketplace at this point, I don't believe it's ever going to replace physical media completely, and I'm tired of being told that it will.
As a result, I've been guilty in my own way of being willfully blind to a bit part of the industry. I have enough movies here in the house that I don't see much need to rent, particularly if it involves driving somewhere or mailing something. I'll rent PS3 games from GameFly, but that's because I'm tired of paying $60 to play something for eight hours. I rarely play a game a second time after I beat it, and the price point doesn't make enough sense to me on most titles. With movies, I rewatch them, and I keep them so I can share them with others.
I decided to finally try out some of the various digital rental services for myself. I rented a movie from iTunes. I rented a few movies from the Playstation Network's rental service. Finally, a little over a week ago, I signed up for Netflix's Watch Instantly service through the PS3.
If this was my top ten list for 2010, I could walk away a happy man.
Instead, these are the ten films that almost made my main list, and to me, this just shows what a good year 2010 was. I wouldn't knock a single one of these films. I would happily watch any of them right now. I would recommend every one of them to film fans. It's just that when you're making lists, something gets left off, and I feel bad enough in the case of these eleven films (yes, I have a tie this year… sue me) that I wanted to make sure they got their own list, their own spotlight, their own special praise.
The crazy thing is I think I could do a runners-up runners-up list this year as well. There were a lot of films worth seeing if you went looking for them.
Let's start with #20 on my overall list, and we'll build to the movie that almost cracked the top ten. Remember, these are the films I saw that qualified for consideration for these lists this year, and these are the films I didn't see. With that in mind, my runners-up, the next ten best:
It took adapting a novel by Wendelin Van Draanen for Rob Reiner to find his voice for the first time in 20 years, and the result is a sweet, unusually clear-eyed piece about the way we find our moral compass in life. The structure of the picture bounces between the perspectives of Juli Baker (Madeline Carroll) and Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe), kids who grow up across the street from each other. From the moment they meet, Juli is smitten, but Bryce resists her interest with everything he's got. It's only as they get older and they begin to come into focus as people that Bryce begins to notice what a genuinely interesting and special person Juli is, just as she's starting to realize there may be nothing special about Bryce at all. Both Carroll and McAuliffe give mature and honest performances, and they are supported by a great adult cast including Rebecca De Mornay, Anthony Edwards, Penelope Anne Miller, Aidan Quinn, and the great John Mahoney as the one family member who sees through Bryce and who dares to challenge him on the man he could become.
I got an early Christmas present in my e-mail inbox this morning, my press credentials for Sundance 2011. I'm looking forward to my time in the snow, as I do every year, and we're starting to talk to publicists about our schedule, lining up time to meet filmmakers, and even looking at the screening schedule.
There are titles that I'm already sure I'll be seeing at the festival, and we're starting to see synopses and photos and, in a few cases, trailers for the movies that we're going to try to stack into our week in Park City. The two trailers that landed online today are totally different in tone, and both are titles that I'm guessing get a lot coverage at the festival.
"Cedar Rapids" is a Fox Searchlight release that's launching at Sundance, a new comedy from the director of "Youth In Revolt," "The Good Girl," and "Chuck and Buck." It's got a pretty recognizable cast, too, with Sigourney Weaver, John C. Reilly, Alia Shawkat, Anne Heche, Rob Corddry, Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Thomas Lennon, Mike Birbiglia, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and of course, Ed Helms, who is front and center for this one.
Just based on the trailer, it's the art-house "Hangover," with Helms playing a guy who is sent to a convention for insurance agents, where he proceeds to go totally mental for a few days, earning himself two bags of honey-roasted peanuts. I'll say this… seeing Clay Davis make a "Wire" joke is just plain weird:
We decided to do things differently this year, and I am so pleased we did.
I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert in their various shows, and one of my favorite times of the year was the big end of the year show as they would count down their top ten. I would be outraged in different ways by each, vindicated in some ways by each, and I found it to be a blast each and every time.
At Ain't It Cool, I always did a top ten list in print, and even though we've been playing with audio podcasting here at HitFix and I'm doing way more video interviews than ever, the idea of a video top ten never occurred to me. It was Greg Ellwood's idea for the year, and so far, we've seen Alan Sepinwall and Melinda Newman offer up video lists for the things that meant the most to them this year.
Today, it's my turn, and I love the way Alex Dorn edited this piece. I think 2010 was a great year of movies, and this feels like a piece that sums up what I'll most remember about this year, what resonated the most with me. The first time I tried recording the voice-over, it was over 11 minutes long, so I had to edit on the fly as I recorded it the second time. I thought I'd print the full text I wrote out so you can refer to the list here after you check out the video piece.
Keep in mind... I consider everything that I saw in a theater or at a festival eligible. I have to. Release dates are so strange, and so different around the world, that there's no way to treat it all as the same "year". These are the ten films that meant the most to me this year as a viewer, and if something here isn't out where you are yet, then hopefully you'll get the chance to see it soon.
Sofia Coppola seems to exist to enrage people to an unreasonable degree.
When "The Godfather Part III" opened in 1990, I was managing a movie theater, and I heard the open hostility that some audiences had for her, hostility that they walked into the theater with because of the way the press treated her. It was such a big media story, with Winona Ryder dropping out and Coppola stepping in, and people were so incredibly unkind to her before the film even opened that it felt almost pre-determined. I like her work in that film. I think she's a very unaffected, natural Mary, and her inexperience in front of the camera actually made it more piercing at the end of the film.
1999 was an amazing year of film, and I would rank "The Virgin Suicides" among the very best of the movies that came out that year. In it, Coppola established a voice as a filmmaker that, upon reflection, seems to have already been firmly established with "Life Without Zoe," the segment of "New York Stories" that she wrote, and "Lick The Star," a great little short film about a bunch of mean girls. For her first feature, Coppola tackled a difficult piece of source material, the Jefrey Eugenides novel, and found a way to make a film that felt like broadcasts from inside these characters. Her use of music and perspective and her refusal to fill in the narrative around the dreamlike structure she built made "Virgin Suicides" a sensory experience that lingered.
It's an interesting choice to sell "Your Highness" based on special effects and action, but it makes sense. After all, a green-band trailer for a film as relentlessly weird and dirty as "Your Highness" has to avoid all the things that made the original red-band trailer so much fun.
Like Natalie Portman's butt.
I love watching Universal try to figure out how to sell this one, because I admit… I'd be stumped. I'm already sold. I'm in. Danny McBride. James Franco. Natalie Portman. Justin Theroux. David Gordon Green directing. Co-written by one of the great wild men of the Carolinas, Ben Best. A fantasy-comedy about what happens when the wastrel second son of a King has to join his heroic older brother on a quest that involves magic, monsters, minotaurs, and hot maidens a-plenty. With a plethora of weed jokes. And puppets.
Pretty much everything I just typed makes me happy. So I'm obviously the very specific niche target audience for "Your Highness." Unfortunately, my patronage is probably not enough to put "Your Highness" in profit, so Universal has to figure out how to sell this to people who didn't go to Belfast to visit the locations from the movie. The red-band trailer was sort of awesome. This is a really smart first look at the movie for general audiences. They have McBride front and center, they show off the quality of the FX work in the movie (and I love that this looks like a real fantasy film and not a spoof), and there's a real strong action-movie vibe to the second half of the trailer.
In my world, Roger Deakins is a movie star.
Some of the most indelible images of the last quarter-century of film were composed by the eye of this amazing Englishman. The heroin-sick rot of "Sid and Nancy" and the muted Mamet's haunting "Homicide" and the Art Deco-flavored candy of "The Hudsucker Proxy", the '30s postcard perfection of "The Shawshank Redemption" and the frozen Minnesota Hell of "Fargo" and the lush shifting mandala of "Kundun"… these are just a few of the remarkable tapestries that Deakins has laid out over the course of his career.
For my money, there are very few films that have ever been photographed with the same sensual control as "The Assassination Of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," and the fact that he went head-to-head with Robert Elswit for "There Will Be Blood," another singular accomplishment in film craft, was just one of those flukes of timing that you have to shake off. He's been nominated seven times for the Oscar, and he's never won. His own peers, the ASC, have awarded him twice for "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Man Who Wasn't There, and nominated him many times as well. He is thought of as one of the giants in his field right now, and for good reason. There are few artists in front of or behind the camera whose work is as above reproach these days.
Joe Wright is turning out to be one of those guys.
By that, I mean he is a filmmaker who seems determined not to be pinned down, not to be defined by what he's done before, and whose technical ability is so innate that he can do pretty much whatever he sets his mind to, and he seems to do it well.
When you look at "Pride and Prejudice," that is not a film that immediately suggests that you hire the director for an action movie. My issues with that film are about the material itself and my own familiarity with it and weariness from seeing repeated adaptations of it. Wright's work was impeccable, and he displayed a real sensitivity with his cast as well as a great sense of how to stage large-scale scenes with invisible ease.
"Atonement" was, in my opinion, a big jump forward for Wright, and again, I was impressed by the way he was obviously demonstrating these unbelievable skills as a filmmaker, but in ways that were about the storytelling. It's a complicated film, based on what should be sort of unadaptable source material, and it really suggested to me that Wright is a guy who is going to be doing this, and doing this well, 50 years from now.
And if "Hanna" is any indication, things are about to get exciting.