Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Year in Lists or Lizstomania!

When did people start fanatically keeping lists? When did everyone on an internet website start posting their favorite things divided into logical progressions? Why are we a nation that lives and dies with the list?

When I do my faily wander over to the IMBD, I check out the Top 250. In fact, it was this list that started my fascination with films. When I finished watching all the films on it, I moved on to the decade lists and watched all those. Then I began the search for more and more lists of films to dissect and conquer. As I continued to seek other critics lists of films, I realized that I was not alone in my love of lists and that there were entire websites devoted to cataloging. Most notable, there was www.listsofbests.com, a site entirely dedicated to people posting lists (their own or user-created) and completing them. I signed on and began searching for more lists to complete.

For me personally, the discovery of a good list is exciting. It is something that I can accomplish and it gives me satisfaction to tick movies off the list one by one. On my computer I have spreadsheets of my lists in progress and I love seeing a rare movie on TV or newly released on video so I can delete that particular column.

The main one I am working one, the list by which all other lists are judged is of course the 'They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?' Top 1000 films of all time. This isn't JUST a film list, it is THE film list by which all others are fed into. In a simple spreadsheet I have the definitive list of the 1000 movies to watch that encompass the greatest films ever made. They are grouped into Netflix availability and then by length. As an aside, since I am have long since seen all the TSPDT films on Netflix, I opened up a Facets (www.facets.org) subscription to help me with the import and out of print discs.

(I tried to paste in a photo of my spreadsheet but I suck at blogging.)

The problem is that I have been at work on this list for so long that I only have about 8% of it left to see even after the Facets films have been factored in, all of which are unavailable on DVD in the US to rent. If I had the money, I would find a region 155 copy of Ousmane Sembene's Ceddo just to tick it off but since I'm not that obsessed, it will have to remain marked as "Unconsumed" on the lists the bests website. Though as this list wains, I have to start other ones that aren't as fun like the New York Times Top 1000 films of all time list.

I have been working on this one strongly for about a year and it is without question, the dumbest and most insipid film canon I have ever encountered (worse than totalfilm!). Yet, since I have committed to finishing the list, I have forced myself to sit through dated 80's/90's thrillers like One False Move, River's Edge, and Internal Affairs. Granted, there were at least a couple gems on there like Claude Chabrol's La Ceremonie and photo-journalist Ray Ashley and Morris Engel's The Little Fugitive, but this list is filled with drivel and movies so bad that one wonders if this list is a giant inside joke to the writer and his friends (Trip to Bountiful...really?).

I am wasting enough hours just so that I can take these films off my list and move on to the next canon. Perhaps the reason I, and society, love the list so far much it presents a clear starting and finishing point. What in our lives are ever that clear cut? Death is a clear end point. Birth is a starting point. Actually, sex has both of those endpoints.

So, am I saying that internet nerds use lists to make up for their lack of a sex life? Hmm. I did not intend on raising this point when i started lazily writing this blog entry an hour ago.

Sex replacement or not, the list shouldn't be seen as a definitive set in stone example of 'THIS IS GOOD' but a nice place to begin a journey. Thanks to the IMBD and TSPDT, I've experienced some amazing films and am better for it. Those lists led me into film corridors I never would have encountered without that initial recommendation.

A highlight of any year is the year end best of lists that start to pop up in every publication known to man. For this blog title, I referenced two of my favorite 'list' oriented songs in the title. OK, so the Phoenix track is based on a classical composer but still... Also, I embedded the hysterically accurate 'Brat Pack Mash Up' of the video which is genius.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Crazy Bitches of Asian Horror Films

ive always been a huge fan of asian horror films. ever since i saw Ringu seven years ago, i knew that the dark atmospheric, creepy, psychological scariness was right up my alley. finally i was seeing a horror movie that legitimately scared the crap out of me. Whether it was Sadako from the Ring climbing out of a TV and eating my soul or Kayako climbing down steps croaking and eating my soul or Asami from Audition putting me in a bag sticking needles into me and um...eating my soul, im a sucker for the scary black haired lady of Asian horror.

One of the first major films I saw that features the black haired lady/ghost was KAIDAN, the seminal collection of horror films by Masaki Kobayashi. the four short films were all based on popular legend and one of them was about the vengeful female ghost with long black hair covering her eyes. a lot of people have criticized the japanese for overusing this but the imagery and themes of revenge are no different from western culture's fascination with zombies, vampires, or eerie white ghosts. the color white is also a strong symbol of death in asian culture which is why a lot of the black haired ghosts are wearing white gowns. as an aside, i will add that throughout asia, black is not a mourning color--white is.

now that we have the historical info out of the way lets talk about da bitches.

of course the women arent bitches, they are seeking revenge for violent deaths to themselves or their family and frankly most of the the time, their anger is justified though their methods be a little extreme. it is right for Sadako from Ringu to make a video that kills people unless they copy it and show it to someone else? Um....maybe she overreacted but you would be cranky if someone dumped you in a well to die and had to be cold and wet for seven days. So, I usually give the female villians the benefit of doubt. However, I saw BLACK HOUSE, and frankly was... the chick from that was a crazy bitch.

she killed without remorse which was her shtick. she did not feel guilt and killed people for insurance money. the hero in this film is a meek insurance agent trying to justify the claims. finally, ive been waiting for claims agent as a protagonist (such an oft under appreciated hero of nerdom). overall, black house was an awesome movie but one of the few clear cut cases of an angry female with long black hair killing seemingly for no reason.

though i hope this film was an isolated example, im hoping that asian horror films dont jump onto this bandwagon. for too years, american horror films have been plagued by a maniac without much motivation to kill other than insanity. or the reasons they have for killing are pretty lame (freddy kreuger im lookin at you!). michael myers, leatherface, sandra bullock -- all merciless killers just because (sandra bullock makes me die inside).

what makes asian horror so entrancing for me is the motivation behind the killings. the women that are so terrifying and ruthless at the beginning of the film become almost pitiable. they are just looking for closure and an end to their emotional torture. i want to feel for the villian. a compassionate villian makes an interesting story.

whispering corridors, momento mori, tale of two sisters, the red shoes, cello, cinderella -- all of these have some sympathetic and black haired villian or ghost and use it to the story's advantage.

while these women may be misunderstood and crazy, they are intriguing characters. in short, these ladies are all right with me. except for the black house chick, that bitch is straight up trippin'

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Importance of the Hurt Locker in the Upper Echelon of War Films

THE HURT LOCKER will be remembered as one of the most important movies of the 00's.

this is a lofty claim for a film during it largely ignored during it release and starring virtually no one of note (the ralph fiennes appearance was basically a cameo) but this is going to be a landmark film for one major reason: that the war in iraq has finally been accurately portrayed on film and connected with audiences.

before i really get going, the hurt locker is about a bomb defusing unit working in Iraq in the second occupation (this one).

if you look back at movies dealing with terrorism and modern warfare post 9/11, you will see quite a few: in the valley of elah, rendition, stop-loss, grace is gone, the kingdom, and even vantage point. still, none of these movies really resonated as something realistic or relevant and had the critical acclaim to make it a lasting memory. of those, elah was nominated for an oscar but it remained largely ignored and like most of the movies above, it dealt more with the impact of the war at home rather than in the field.

im not in the armed services nor do i know anyone who serves in the army so it does seem pretty naive for me to sit here on my couch and type about the real experiences the film conveys. though in many ways, the actual realism is secondary to having a strong, lasting piece of media detailing this war, one of the most important historical turning point of the US. no reproduction is going to be 100% accurate but in this case, the message is more important.

true to life or not, this is a film that people have slowly latched onto as a gritty and true to life war film. it is not the constant explosions and adventure of the kingdom or the heavy handed armchair leftist touting politics of lions for lambs or rendition. it is a film that says that fighting in iraq is psychologically intense with bursts of incredible fear and imminent death with periods of intense boredom. this isnt a movie about politics, it is about the men on the ground that the politicos are arguing about.

i think that the only other film to capture this aspect of war is jarhead, the immensely underrated sam mendes film made about the first occupation of iraq. for all intents and purposes, a lot of war does seem to be waiting around. even in 'all quiet on the western front,' which i consider to be one of the greatest war movies of all time, there is a line to the extent of 'we wait around we fight and try not to get killed.'

that is war, right? watered down and simple. fight the other side and try not to get killed.

but its so much than that especially when dealing with a polarizing war such as that of iraq. there are so many other sides including the iraqi population. there are endless greys in these conflicts and on top of it, there are those for and against american occupation with the latter being far louder than the former.

in the hurt locker, nothing in the movie cried out to me of propaganda of either side. to me, it was a simple and beautifully done film with a solid message about a relevant topic that will continue to be discussed for many future generations. the hurt locker is a modern day 'all quiet on the western front,' 'full metal jacket,' 'saving private ryan,' 'mash,' or 'patton' and deserves it place as a major talking point about war in the modern era.

as an aside, i want to go back to writing about movies from 50 years ago. think ill switch back to that

Monday, February 1, 2010

i HATE the grammys and fear the Oscars will turn into it

"Grammy asshole weekend in LA. Yuck... The Grammys = the old guard / old media propping up their puppets trying to convince the outside world (and each other) they're relevant."

those words are trent reznor as said on his twitter account and i totally completely agree.

the grammys by their very nature are a giant disappointment. the goal of the grammys is to showcase and award the best of music in the american market. this is of course the most cutting edge, innovative, and daring sonic interlays on radio airwaves today. or they will just give a bunch of statues to black eye peas, who dont so much write songs as they do put loud thumping noises together with a single phrase and taylor swift, who actually might be carrie underwood? um....the second one?

of course the grammys are a total joke. the fact that a major award went to kings of leon which everyone who knows music feel haven't been really good since a-ha heartbreak (or whatever it was called). the grammys are basically the same award ceremony as the people's choice awards, american music awards, billboard music awards, just to name a few. its another excuse for the same crop of mediocre music that sells a lot of copies to get on TV.

one only needs to look at the incredibly condescending, 'best alternative album' category to truly appreciate the ridiculousness of the farce. phoenix won. good. they were up against a death cab for cutie EP, the new depeche mode album, yeah yeah yeahs, and david byrne/brian eno. right. bryne/eno -- who talked about this album? they are legends but it did not make waves. yeah yeah yeahs its blitz was definitely a great album and deserved the spot in a year that didn't include breakthrough albums, commercially and critically by animal collective and grizzly bear. depeche mode's new album was pretty much shrugged off with a giant 'meh' (i love depeche mode but this album was not very good and playing the angel was a way better album by far). also, this wasn't a 'alternative' album but closer to electronic or even dance. in fact, neither was the byrne/eno album. finally, death cab for cutie's open door EP was really good. in fact, i liked it more than the tepid narrow stairs album (which was nominated for a grammy, their first) but i refuse to accept that there were no other full albums that could fill the bill.

i complain about this every year but every time someone says that the oscars needs to be like the grammys, and that people are sick of movies that didnt make a billion dollars winning best picture-i want to bite their face.

what is best isn't always what is most popular. in fact, it usually never is.

the grammys maybe at one point was relevant but now, its just an excuse to be a more family friendly MTV music awards which is way more about the show than the actual awards.

the oscars i feel will eventually go down this road and we will see quality all around brilliant films like the hurt locker getting nudged out for GI Part 4: The Quest for Unbridled Merchandising. i think if avatar wins best picture this journey will be accelerated.

avatar is not the kind of movie that wins best picture. it is the kind of movie that wins every technical award but nothing that involves rewarding story structure. a film like the hurt locker excels in every single area of celluloid. it is thought provoking, well acted, directed, and is destined to be included in lists of important films from a critical standpoint.

avatar is like the matrix. its a game changer and the kind of movie that changes the way popular films are made. popular? yes. good? yeah. oscar worthy? no. Anyone out there who thinks the Matrix should have won Best Picture should stop reading or send me hate mail.

just listen to grizzly bear's two weeks and get lost in the subtle sweeps of the beautiful harmonies and chorus. experience the well crafted technical musicianship and the unique and subtle lyrics. then listen to the black eye peas boom boom pow. what does that even mean? what is it trying to say? one is made for people who love hearing something cutting edge yet accessible and beautiful. the other is made for folks to dance to. nothing wrong with that but not deserving of the highest musical honor america has to offer.