Friday, January 29, 2010

Favorites of My Favorites #9 -- Jim Jarmusch

My dad has been known to say, “There are really only two different types of people:  complicators and simplifiers.”  By his statement, I’m sure you can guess which of the two groups he’s in.

In filmmaking, it’s fairly easy to be a complicator.  The emotions emanating from the actors in a scene aren’t quite working, add music.  The film’s moving a little slow, add some fancy camera move or editing trick.  Not every single person watching your movie takes away the same thing, add another scene so there’s no longer anything left unsaid.   

Simplying in film is much like deconstructing, keep taking away elements until you’re left with just the bare essentials.  I would say that most filmmakers are complicators, even some of the guys I really love (Wong Kar-Wai, Godard, Leos Carax, and De Palma, to name but a few.)  But, there’s also a small group of simplifiers.  In this group, I would place, among others, Dreyer, Ozu, Bresson, some Dardenne brothers, and Jim Jarmusch. 

I like almost everything about Jarmusch.  To me, he’s the Thelonious Monk of filmmaking.  His rhythms are very unique, but off and angular like Monk’s piano playing.  Along with David Gordon Green and Terrence Malick, he’s as close to a poet as anyone we’ve ever had in American film.  He’s finely attuned to the way that words sound and cuts them and his images in a way that’s less prose-like than it is abstract and atonal.

His work with all his cameramen is staggering.  But, I have to single out his collaboration with Robby Muller (particularly Dead Man and Down by Law) as one of my favorite in the history of the medium.  Muller also did incredible work with Wim Wenders (Kings of the Road, Alice in the Cities, and Paris, Texas.)

I love his musician collaborations, too.  I think with these unconventional composers (John Lurie, Tom Waits, Neil Young, RZA, and Boris), he’s been able to accomplish some of the most interesting scores of the last twenty-five years.

Jarmusch takes his time, both with the pacing of his films and, it seems, the pace of his filmmaking.  Since he emerged in 1980, he’s only made ten features and one documentary.  As I look around and see my life and our movies seemingly getting louder and faster every year, I take great comfort in knowing that Jarmusch is out there, Zen-like, trying to do it all in a very simple way.

JIM JARMUSCH (in preferential order)
1.  Stranger Than Paradise
2.  Dead Man
3.  Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
4.  Down By Law
5.  Mystery Train
6.  Permanent Vacation
7.  Night on Earth
8.  Broken Flowers
9.  The Limits of Control
10.  Coffee and Cigarettes

Never seen:
Year of the Horse

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Favorites of My Favorites #8 -- Abel Ferrara

“…they (the audience) like the pictures to be cheaply done, they enjoy the crudeness; it’s a breather, a vacation from proper behavior and good taste and required responses.”  - Pauline Kael, Trash, Art, and the Movies

Abel Ferrara, at times, demonstrates as much artistic grace and skill as anyone, but he never completely lets you forget where he started.  First it was porn and then the slasher film; Ferrara understands that a large part of the audience go to movies for sex, violence, profanity, and whatever else they might not be getting from their daily lives. 

And sure the cinema has always given us plenty of this.  But, in Ferrara’s work, it’s different.  There’s no gloss, it’s not “movie-ish”, you feel like it’s more real, like you’re seeing these things for the first time.  In Ferrara’s work, these things are also more than mere diversions.  They’re harsh, heavy, and often times so visceral they force you to engage with them.   His films are not escapist fantasies, their essays on something dark, deep, and troubling.

His work with rapper Schoolly D is one of my favorite Director/Musician collaborations.  I also love the naturalism of his work.  After Scorsese and some of the other guys decided to abandon the visual grit of their earlier work (think Mean Streets and Taxi Driver), along comes Ferrara to keep the tradition alive.  Almost all of Ferrara’s work is palpably rooted in a specific time and place. 

He’s not for everyone.  And he’s not even always for me.  But, when he’s on, he’s one of my very favorites.

*Pauline Kael probably influenced me more than any other film critic.  She passed away in 2001, and I miss her dearly.  I thought she was a fantastic writer with wonderful taste.  But, more important, I thought she was a mentor and guide for filmmakers.  She took a real interest in their careers and would try to help them understand when they did something well and when they went off course.  De Palma was one of her favorites, and I hate that I’ll never have the opportunity to read her thoughts on Femme Fatale (I have the feeling that she would have really loved it.)  I also would have really liked to hear her talk about Lynch, Ferrara, Tarantino, Jarmusch, Bujalski, David Gordon Green, and other filmmakers who have emerged, for the most part, since she stopped writing in 1991.  

ABEL FERRARA (in preferential order):
1.  King of New York
2.  The Funeral
3.  Bad Lieutenant
4.  Crime Story (pilot)
5.  Go Go Tales watched 2/5/10
6.  Dangerous Game
7.  Chelsea on the Rocks watched 3/24/11
8.  ‘R Xmas
9.  The Driller Killer
10.  New Rose Hotel
11.  Ms. 45
12.  Body Snatchers watched 4/30/10
13.  The Blackout watched 4/25/10
14.  China Girl
15.  The Addiction
16.  Fear City
17.  Cat Chaser (90-minute version)
18.  The Hold Up watched 10/15/11
19.  Nicky's Film watched 10/15/11
20.  Mary
21.  Subway Stories (segment “Love on the A Train”)
22. Could This Be Love watched 10/16/11

Never seen:
Napoli, Napoli, Napoli
Chelsea on the Rocks
Go Go Tales
The Blackout
Body Snatchers
California (short)
Not Guilty:  For Keith Richards (documentary short)
9 Lives of a Wet Pussy
Could This Be Love (short)
The Hold Up (short)
Nicky's Film (short)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

We love Hugo Stiglitz!

Kevin Olson over at the wonderful Hugo Stiglitz Makes Movies blog published his 2009 year-end piece today.  Because of Kevin, I discovered a whole world right up my alley -- the cinephile blogosphere.  There are some very passionate people out there, writing great things about the thing that I'm probably the most passionate about, film.  (I was so inspired I even decided to start doing some writing myself.)

Kevin is one of my favorites, but look at my blogroll (at the bottom right of my blog), and you'll see the other people that I am really loving. Kevin has been a great ally of Lullaby and one of the most important people I met last year.

Here's his piece from today:

Thanks, Kevin, and thank all of you in the blogosphere that keep the conversation passionate and engaged.  I really appreciate all that you do.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Some Harmless (and hopefully fun) Movie Trivia

I just recently started a Facebook group and fan page for my new film, Peril:

As part of the group, I'll be doing a daily trivia game.  Here are the questions I've asked so far (they've all been answered).  I hope some of you will join the group and hop into the game from time to time, as well. The answers are all among my favorite films:

Question #1  In this movie, the guy from JAWS pals around with the guy from HOOSIERS?
Question #2  In this movie, Dorothy's husband directs Warren Beatty's sister and a couple of Vegas guys?
Question #3  This movie featuring Keith Jarrett and the Maniac did not win the coveted Palme D'Or. It would take the director eight more years to win the top prize in the film industry.
Question #4  This movie features the Canadian Bob Dylan and Bill's half-brother?
Question #5  In this movie, Ferdinand decides to end it all by painting his face blue and wrapping dynamite around his head?
Question #6  This movie features Laverne's buddy and Han Solo.
Question #7  She once liked David and Martin, in this movie she kinda likes Jeffrey, too?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Some of My Favorite Endings

Inspired by Greg Ferrara's wonderful post this morning over at Cinema Styles (, I've decided to put together a list of my favorite endings. Someone I was sitting with on a panel once said, "You really write a movie for the final five minutes.  And if those moments work, then everything else just kinda falls into place."  I never really articulated it in that way.  But I do have to admit, the final five minutes of a movie are more important to me than everything else.  

Here's my list, as I can best remember them (not in any specific order):

The Heiress (William Wyler, 1949)
The Soft Skin (Francois Truffaut, 1964) 
Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965)
Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
Shampoo (Hal Ashby, 1975)
King of New York (Abel Ferrara, 1990)
La chienne (Jean Renoir, 1931)
Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981)
Pickpocket (Robert Bresson, 1959)
Carlito's Way (Brian De Palma, 1993)
The Elephant Man (David Lynch, 1980)
Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983)
Through the Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami, 1994)
Stromboli (Roberto Rossellini, 1950)
McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)
Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson, 1970) 
Gertrud (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1964)
The French Connection (William Friedkin, 1971)
The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959)
Night Moves (Arthur Penn, 1975)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Favorites of My Favorites #7 -- David Lynch

There’s a real danger to David Lynch’s work that is almost unrivaled in the history of the medium.  He’ll take us to places most others won’t dare go.  And he does it with a power, a punch, and a sexiness that for me, at least, is ultimately much more appealing than it is unpleasant.

If being a great filmmaker means having a wonderful eye and ear, creating an experience that is intellectually and viscerally satisfying, and delivering remarkable performances, then I would have to say that Lynch is indeed great.  Many polls recently chose Mulholland Dr. as the best film of the decade, and you won’t hear an argument from me.  It’s just amazing to think, it’s not even my favorite David Lynch film.

I’ve long felt that the medium is 50% visual/50% aural, and no one makes a better argument for this than Lynch.  His sound designs and collaborations with Angelo Badalamenti uncover another layer, an underbelly, that most filmmakers can only graze. 

I would imagine much of his strength comes from his thirty plus years of transcendental meditation.  He trusts himself and his instincts so fully that his work takes on a primal intensity at times.  Of course, I also find that he has a lovable innocence and moments where he demonstrates both a great deal of heart and a wonderful sense of humor.  

I love the way he manages his career.  He’s an independent, an artist, one of the most unique people working in the medium.  Although I can’t say that I understand every moment from every one of his films, it really doesn’t matter to me.  His work affects me about as much as anyone's.

DAVID LYNCH (in preferential order)
1.  Blue Velvet
2.  Mulholland Dr.
3.  Twin Peaks (pilot)
4.  The Elephant Man
5.  Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
6.  Lost Highway
7.  The Cowboy and the Frenchman watched 4/17/11
8.  Inland Empire
9.  Eraserhead
10.  Wild at Heart
11.  The Straight Story
12.  Dune watched 1/26/10
13.  DumbLand (short) watched 1/30/10
14.  The Alphabet watched 4/16/11
15.  The Amputee watched 4/16/11
16.  The Grandmother watched 4/16/11
17.  Lumiere: Premonitions Following an Evil Deed watched 4/17/11
18.  Six Figures Getting Sick watched 4/16/11

Never seen:
More Things That Happened (video)
To Each His Own Cinema (segment "Absurda")
Boat (video short)
Darkened Room (short)
DumbLand (short)
Lumiere and Company (segment "Premonition Following An Evil Deed")
The Grandmother (short)
The Alphabet (short)
Six Figures Getting Sick (short)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Favorites of My Favorites #6 -- Brian De Palma

When Andre Bazin and his gang of French New Wave proteges were first starting out, they were on a mission.  It was a mission to shift the way the world thought about film.  They wanted people to give cinema (a relatively new medium) the same considerations they had long given the other arts (sculpture, literature, music, painting, drama, and architecture). 

To achieve this mission, it was important for them to determine, “what is cinema?”  What makes it unique from all other arts?  What is purely cinematic?   Some of them argued it was the ability to edit that distinguished cinema from the other arts.  Others, like Rohmer, said cinema was the art of “space”.

Though the idea of cinema as a form of art has not prevailed as they once hoped, the term "cinematic" has found itself a place in our vocabulary.  Maybe it means something a little different to each of us, but I would imagine for most that it conjures up images of something that is dazzling, exciting, and visually pleasing.  Something that can’t quite be replicated by any other medium or any other artform. 

Cinematic is the best word I can use to describe the work of Brian De Palma.  His films do more storytelling visually than maybe any we have ever had in the history of the medium.  I find his use of the camera hypnotic and certain of his films absolutely masterful.   He can elongate time in a scene, building moments slowly and patiently in a classical (concentrated) rather than modern (fragmented) way.  In fact, I feel that Quentin Tarantino (a long time fan) probably learned this from De Palma more than anything else (take a look at the way he builds the Gimp scene in Pulp Fiction or the opening scene and the incredible basement tavern scene in Inglourious Basterds). 

In a sense, I would put De Palma and Michael Mann in a similar category.  And probably Martin Scorsese, as well.  They are all very accomplished stylists.  However, I also think they all adhere to the tradition of the “existential hero” rather than that of the “ironic hero”.  Here’s the idea, as articulated from the always wise Paul Schrader:

“And so when the ironic hero supplanted the existential hero, when I first saw "Pulp Fiction," I really thought that was the end of my tradition, which was an existential kind of tradition. The dilemma of the existential hero is, Should I exist? But the dilemma of the ironic hero is, Does it matter? I personally felt that the ironic hero is so thin and unnourishing, and I was wondering how long he could really drive movies commercially before people would just get tired of him and his precious kind of winking at you and jabbing you in the side, his preening detachment.”

Admittedly, I’m a fan of some of the directors that make movies with ironic heroes.  However, one of the real pleasures I derive from Mann, Scorsese, and De Palma, is the way they make me really care about the lives of their characters.  When they die (as they often do), there’s a tragic depth of feeling that the “ironic” school of directors simply don’t provide.

From all accounts, De Palma is still an avid cinephile, and I think that explains some of his enduring modernism.  He is also playful and irreverent, and I think that has allowed him some of his longevity in the business.  I accept that he has his detractors (much of this coming from his desire to blend genres and his combination of somewhat disparate influences – Hitchcock, Film Noir, Argento).   But, ask me to show someone “cinema”, and I’ll probably throw in a De Palma film before almost anything else. 

BRIAN DE PALMA (in preferential order)
1.  Blow Out
2.  Carlito’s Way
3.  Dressed to Kill
4.  Body Double
5.  Femme Fatale
6.  The Untouchables
7.  Phantom of the Paradise
8.  Mission: Impossible
9.  Greetings
10.  Carrie
11.  Casualties of War
12.  Obsession
13.  Scarface
14.  The Fury
15.  Hi, Mom
16.  Snake Eyes watched 1/23/10
17.  Redacted
18.  Sisters
19.  The Bonfire of the Vanities
20.  Mission to Mars
21.  Wise Guys
22.  Raising Cain
23.  The Black Dahlia
24.  The Wedding Party watched 1/30/10
25.  Murder a la Mod watched 1/23/10

Never seen:
Snake Eyes
Home Movies
Murder a la Mod
The Wedding Party
Get to Know Your Rabbit
Show Me a Strong Town and I’ll Show You a Strong Bank (short)
The Responsive Eye (documentary short)
Bridge That Gap (short)
Jennifer (short)
Woton’s Wake (short)
660124: The Story of an IBM Card (short)
Icarus (short)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Favorites of My Favorites #5 -- David Gordon Green

Within the history of cinema is a history of some extraordinary artistic collaborations.  Some of my favorite include Martin Scorsese/Robert De Niro (Director/Actor), David Lynch/Angelo Badalamenti (Director/Composer), and David Gordon Green/Tim Orr (Director/Cinematographer).

Usually, I try to keep away from discussing my contemporaries.  I'm afraid jealousy, the competitive spirit, or something else altogether might cloud my judgment.  David Gordon Green is actually a couple of years younger than me.  But he's long been one of the younger directors that inspires and pushes me to try harder.  He's a great case study, a guy that has made five features to date, starting with the $40,000 George Washington and most recently completing the Judd Apatow-produced Pineapple Express.  He's remained an artist while breaking into Hollywood and has then given back to some of his friends to help their careers, too (serving as a producer on both Shotgun Stories and Great World of Sound).

For me, as he moves forward, his career will tell me, as much as anything, if it's still possible for a young filmmaker to make personal films in Hollywood.

What do I love about David Gordon Green?  The images that he and Orr create are as earthy and lush as any team out there.  Strong arguments for keeping film around a little longer.  And the way they move the camera, steadily and fluidly, are nice alternatives to a medium that seems to be quickly moving towards more shaky, handheld aesthetics.  I also think that, along with David Lynch and Michael Mann, Green has the best ear for sound and music of any American filmmaker.

Some find Green's films slow and frustrating.  I simply think that they have great style and are as poetic as anything out there right now.

DAVID GORDON GREEN (in preferential order)
1.  All the Real Girls
2.  George Washington
3.  Pineapple Express
4.  Snow Angels
5.  Undertow
6.  Physical Pinball (short)
7.  Pleasant Grove (short)

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Dardenne brothers

Like most people, I hate to admit that I'm wrong.  Especially when it comes to movies.  In fact, I pride myself on my first response to a movie. And usually that response, like an instinct, becomes something that only grows in value over time.  I always wanted to be like one of my film heroes, Pauline Kael, who claimed never to need to see a movie more than once.

But, alas, like all things, that "response" can prove flawed at times.  The more I watch movies, the more I realize that sometimes the way I react to something depends greatly on my mood.  Am I growing more emotional, is my response dulling, or am I simply becoming more honest?  Hopefully, it's simply the latter.

All this to say I'm late to jump on the Belgian directors' Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's bandwagon.  They've twice won the Palme D'Or from the Cannes film festival, and most of the critics in the world have long been proclaiming their greatness.  But I saw La Promesse and then Rosetta when they were released in the nineties, and neither really grabbed me.  So I did what any mature person does, right?   I spent the next ten years avoiding their work.

Finally, after encouragement from some of my friends, I decided to catch up with their last three films:  The Son, The Child, and Lorna's Silence. And now I finally understand that these guys do certain things as well as anyone.  You know, small things like direct actors, move the camera, and control the look and feel of their films.  Oh yeah, and they do it with little to no music at all.

The best way I can think of them is as the next generation of transcendental filmmakers.  I'm not sure they quite yet attain the height of Bresson, but I'd say they're as close as anyone I've found who is on that path.

Favorites Update and A Little More Lullaby

A week ago, I started a new series entitled "Favorites of My Favorites" where I list, in preferential order, the films of my favorite filmmakers. So far, I've done an entry on Jean Renoir, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Mann, and Leos Carax.  Next up are Brian De Palma, David Lynch, Abel Ferrara (I already can't wait for the comments on that one), and Jim Jarmusch.  Others as I look ahead will be Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Robert Bresson, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen, Francois Truffaut, Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh, George Cukor, Jacques Becker, Orson Welles, Michael Cimino, Maurice Pialat, Wim Wenders, Abbas Kiarostami, Jonathan Demme, Sam Peckinpah, Alfred Hitchcock, Kenji Mizoguchi, Roberto Rossellini, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Ernst Lubitsch, Robert Altman, William Friedkin, and Fritz Lang.

I expect the next few entries up in the next couple of weeks.  And then the others will follow throughout the rest of the year.

Also, just in, another really nice piece on The Last Lullaby:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Clinton Stark does it again!

One of the most memorable things I did during the journey with LULLABY was a couple of screenings with a cinema club in San Jose last May.  It was a very passionate group with two of the best Q and As. I met several people there that have been tremendous supporters of LULLABY and me.  One of them, Clinton Stark, runs a great blog ( and has done several pieces on us now.

Today, Clinton delivered yet another very flattering and kind article. Thanks, Clinton:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


For the last several weeks, I've been using this blog to detail more of my film-watching.  And I completely intend on continuing this as I move forward.

This blog has always been a place to find out the latest news on THE LAST LULLABY.  So now that I'm officially moving into the early stages of my next project, PERIL, I'll be providing periodic updates here on the new film, as well.

What to tell you for now:

It's a new installment in the "young boy in peril" genre.  Milo, an eleven-year-old boy, will be our guide as he searches for safety and a place to call home.  The script's in great shape.  And I will begin taking meetings with prospective investors in the next few weeks.

Ways to follow along:

I'm starting fan pages and updates much sooner this time around, allowing people to participate in the entire process, from start to finish. Join us at the various places below and be the first to learn as we share pages from the script, casting decisions, storyboards, early location pictures, production stills, and clips from the movie as we begin to assemble them.
E-mail updates (simply send an e-mail to

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eric Rohmer

Eric Rohmer passed away today, and I miss him already.  I started making movies because of the French New Wave.  And I continue, to this day, to derive inspiration from the passion and intelligence of this group of filmmakers.

Each filmmaker had their own particular style.  Rohmer was the oldest and acted as the most responsible of all.  He had a very controlled system of working.  He kept his budgets in line with the size of his audiences.  And, as a result, he was able to make movies, so it seemed, whenever he wanted.

Never seen one of his films?  I'd probably start you with Summer (1986) or My Night at Maud's (1969).  Rohmer's films are dialogue-heavy, sophisticated, sensual (in a restrained kinda way), and powerfully observant about the way we act and the way we are.

The history of cinema has lost one of its truly great practitioners today. But he also lived until he was 89 and made films until he was 87. Monsieur Rohmer, really, we should celebrate.   The cinema has been lucky to have you.

Sherman's March

This weekend I caught up with this 157 minute documentary.  Like Killer of Sheep and Stranger Than Paradise (and many others, of course), Sherman's March is a key work in the history of American independent filmmaking.  But somehow it's just now come to my attention.

Ross McElwee's film is absolutely not for everyone.  It's lo-fi, quirky, slow, long, and even a bit austere in its approach.  But it's also very personal, without ever really being abrasive or intimate, in an overly exposed way.

I'm always looking and thinking about ways to make my own work more personal without making it self-absorbed.  It's a tough balance to strike.  And whenever I find a filmmaker who can consistently entertain me while talking about themselves, I usually embrace their work (Woody Allen, for instance).  Obviously, it's easier when the filmmaker has a comic streak; it just lightens the whole venture.

One of my favorite contemporary filmmakers is Andrew Bujalski, and particularly his film Funny Ha Ha.  If you like that film, I highly recommend this documentary.  Bujalski, like McElwee, really lets you in on his awkwardness, insecurities, anxieties, but he does it with real nuance, grace, and of course, occasional humor.   Some would call both of these films mumblecore, I would simply call them very fine works by very patient and bold filmmakers.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Favorites of My Favorites #4 -- Leos Carax

The complicated case of Leos Carax.  And how someone this talented could only churn out four features in the last twenty-six years.  In that way, he reminds me a little of Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Cimino, two guys that have perhaps slipped from the level at which they were once working.

How does this happen?  We really didn't see it during the Golden Age. As they got older, Hawks, Ford, Walsh, and Cukor all continued to make films at a pretty good clip and at a very high level.

But for Coppola, Cimino, and then Carax, it was different.  They didn't have the old studio system to reign them in.  They could risk it all on one project, and each one of them did -- Coppola (Apocalypse Now), Cimino (Heaven's Gate), and Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge). And I'm not sure any of them has fully recovered.

Carax was only 24 when he made Boy Meets Girl.  It's rare for someone so young to have the opportunity to make a film at this level.  The result, a film that captures the early, angst-filled twenties as well as any I've ever seen.

Carax's work is challenging, at times abstract in a way that can frustrate audiences looking for a more conventional narrative.  But he has a special gift for being lyrical, taking the heavy machinery of moviemaking and making it feel like it's floating at times.  He's still one of our greatest descendants of Godard.  And I sure hope we'll at least get another four features from him before he decides to hang up the gloves.

LEOS CARAX (in preferential order)
1.  Boy Meets Girl
2.  Mauvais Sang
3.  The Lovers on the Bridge
4.  Pola X
5.  Tokyo!  (Merde) watched 1/12/10

Never seen:
Tokyo! (short)
Strangulations blues (short)
Sans titre (short)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Favorites of My Favorites #3 -- Michael Mann

What American director working right now is a greater genre stylist than Michael Mann?  In my very humble opinion, no one.

I taught a course at the local university about a year ago on Mann and am a big fan.  To me, Mann's both classic and modern.  His style might be self-conscious, but he's not your typical post-modern director.  Most of his stories are fluid and told chronologically.  And his films never get into reeling off pop-culture references.   I love his blend of realism and style.  And you can count on me in the theater the first few days whenever he releases a new film.

I think Michael Mann's done as much as anyone to keep the crime film fresh and alive.  He has a wonderful eye for locations and a great ear for sound and music.  Very few, I think, are able to pursue as personal a career in Hollywood as he can.

MICHAEL MANN (in preferential order)
1.  Heat
2.  The Insider
3.  Thief
4.  Manhunter
5.  Ali
6.  Public Enemies
7.  The Last of the Mohicans
8.  Miami Vice
9.  Collateral
10.  The Jericho Mile
11.  The Keep

Never seen:
17 Days Down the Line

Favorites of My Favorites #2 -- Takeshi Kitano

I love Kitano's collaboration with his composer Joe Hisaishi.  And he also achieves remarkable results with color, by using it in a minimal but very specific way.  Most of all, I love Kitano's unique sense of rhythm. Along with Hal Hartley and Jim Jarmusch, I find his work to have the most poetic and personal sense of rhythm of any filmmaker working right now.

TAKESHI KITANO (in preferential order)
1.  Fireworks
2.  Kids Return
3.  Kikujiro
4.  Sonatine
5.  Boiling Point
6.  Violent Cop
7.  Scene at the Sea
8.  Dolls
9.  Brother
10.  The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi watched 1/13/10
11.  Getting Any?

Need to re-watch:
The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi

Never seen:
Glory to the Filmmaker!
Achilles and the Tortoise

Friday, January 8, 2010

Favorites of My Favorites #1 -- Jean Renoir

Today I thought I'd start a new series of entries, entitled "Favorites of My Favorites".  Basically I will list the films of my favorite directors, in preferential order.  In each entry, I'll focus on a different director.  And the entries will probably be pretty intermittent, going forward.

Since there are so many films to see, I always like when someone I respect tells me what to see from a certain director.  I'm hoping that perhaps these entries will serve that purpose for somebody, somewhere.

I thought I'd kick things off with one of my very favorites, the French director Jean Renoir.  During 1996-97, I lived in Montpellier, France. In town, there was a place called the Videotheque where you paid like $50/year and could go and watch movies.  It had about thirty study carrels, each equipped with its own TV screen.  The Videotheque sported a library of about 50,000 movies and would load up the movie you requested, and you could watch it, with headphones, at your carrel.

Anyway, that year, since I didn't go to film school, I decided to do my own little thesis on Jean Renoir.  Most French cinephiles kept telling me that he was the greatest director in their country's history so I wanted to find out the big deal.

I started with Renoir's earliest film and slowly worked my way through his oeuvre, in chronological order.  I took notes on each film.  And by the end (two or three months later), I had a good sense of Jean Renoir, the filmmaker, and why he was held in such high esteem.

JEAN RENOIR (in preferential order)
1.  La Chienne
2.  Toni
3.  Les bas-fonds
4.  Partie de campagne
5.  Night at the Crossroads
6.  La bete humaine
7.  The Crime of Monsieur Lange
8.  Nana
9.  The Grand Illusion
10.  The Rules of the Game
11.  The Diary of a Chambermaid
12.  The Southerner
13.  The Golden Coach
14.  The River
15.  Le dejeuner sur l'herbe
16.  French Cancan
17.  Paris Does Strange Things (Elena and Her Men) watched 1/14/10
18.  On purge bebe
19.  Boudu Saved from Drowning
20.  Whirlpool of Fate watched 10/30/11
21.  La petite marchande d'allumettes watched 10/30/11
22.  La Marseillaise
23.  Sur un air de Charleston (Charleston Parade) watched 10/15/11

Need to re-watch:
La petite marchande d'allumettes
Swamp Water
This Land is Mine
The Woman on the Beach
Paris Does Strange Things
The Elusive Corporal

Never seen:
Charleston Parade
Whirlpool of Fate
The Sad Sack
The Tournament
Le bled
The Bitch
Chotard and Company
Madame Bovary
La vie est a nous
The Story of Tosca
The Amazing Mrs. Holliday
Salute to France

Thursday, January 7, 2010

De Palma and Femme Fatale

It's impossible to see everything.  And now that more movies are being produced per year than ever in the history of the medium, it's only getting harder.  Things slip through the cracks.  The noise gets us.  And we can't help but miss a couple here and there.

I've always been a huge fan of Brian De Palma.  No one can move the camera like he can; there's a sexiness (if I dare say) to his camerawork that I don't really think anyone can match.  Plus there's a real interest in telling the story "visually" as much as he possibly can.

I love Greetings, Phantom of the ParadiseObsession, CarrieDressed to Kill, Blow Out, Body Double, Casualties of War, Carlito's Way, and Mission: Impossible.  Somehow I missed Femme Fatale when it came out (Actually, that's not totally true.  I walked out of the theater after the first thirty or so minutes.  Testament that sometimes we must revisit.)

Well I finally caught up with it and loved it.  It's absolutely pure De Palma -- playful, sadistic, exuberant, heavy on the melodramatic music, and masterful in its use of the medium.  It's by far my favorite of his films in a really long time.  And if you're a fan of Mulholland Dr, check it out.  I think De Palma might have really loved the Lynch film, too.

*Thanks to Jeremy Richey and his Moon in the Gutter blog.  He recently listed Femme Fatale as one of his favorite films of the decade.  I couldn't agree more and owe him for the revisit.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some Elusive Auteurs

A friend of mine recently had the following to say after watching an Ingmar Bergman film, "Wow, I'm so full.  It's like I just ate a five-course meal."  I've been known, too, to gravitate towards some notoriously difficult work:  Bruno Dumont's Humanite, Leos Carax's Pola X, and Hou Hsiao-hsien's Goodbye, South, Goodbye, to name but the first that come to mind.  So I understand the appeal and the unique sense of satisfaction that can sometimes come from watching a more difficult film.

It's been my experience that many of the great filmmakers don't necessarily give themselves to you.  Sometimes you have to find your own special door into them.  And without it, you're just left out, trying to understand what others are raving about.   For instance, it took seeing La Chienne for me to first get Jean Renoir.  Before that, I just didn't get all the fuss. And I've been fortunate to find other "key" works like that for people like Rossellini, Wenders, Antonioni, Bresson, Eustache, Pialat, Dreyer, Moretti, Kiarostami, Almodovar, Godard, Kitano, and Ophuls.

However, there are a few of the greats that I still have not connected to, for one reason or another.  A few elusive auteurs.  For me, from the past, the key one is Pasolini and among those currently working, I'd name Zhang Ke Jia and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Is it just me?  Or does this phenomenon of the elusive auteur also affect some of you?

Lullaby Shows up on a Few Lists

This time of year is full of year-end and this particular year decade-end best of lists.  So far, I've seen The Last Lullaby pop up on a few of these. It's humbling and truly an honor when people single out the film.

Here are a few of the lists I've come across:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Come and Get It

It's a treat to write something about a new Howard Hawks discovery. Hawks has long been one of my favorite directors.  I could easily count Rio Bravo, His Girl Friday, and Sergeant York among my "desert island group".  And I'm also quite fond of at least another five to ten of his films that I have seen:  Rio Lobo, El Dorado, Red Line 7000, Man's Favorite Sport?, Hatari!, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, I Was a War Male Bride, Red River, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, Bringing Up Baby, Barbary Coast, and Scarface (okay maybe it's a little more than five or ten).

Some of his earlier work is actually quite hard to locate.  But I'll have to keep looking.  There's at least another ten of his films that people talk about that I've never had the opportunity to see.

This film, Come and Get It, is an interesting one.  First off, it marks a collaboration with another directorial giant from the time, William Wyler.   IMDb says that Wyler directed 70 films in his career.  (Ah, what a glorious time the golden age was when a director could have that level of output.)  There's much of Wyler I've yet to see, but I absolutely love Roman Holiday, The Heiress, and The Best Years of Our Lives.

And Come and Get It is no exception.  The film has Hawks' ability to distill and refine.  Watching a Hawks' film for me is like when someone says about a great chef that his/her dish taste clean.  His work always feels uncluttered to me without being overly simplistic.

But Hawks, also, has always felt like an optimist to me.  It seemed like he never really wanted to leave the audience with a bitter taste in their mouth.  Wyler, meanwhile, seems much more willing to go to that place.  The end of The Heiress, for instance, I find to be one of the most disturbing finales of that entire period.  And Come and Get It ends on a note that is every bit as ambiguous, unresolved, and uncomfortable.

Needless to say, since we have two of the most accomplished directors of the period working on the film, the performances are sublime: Edward Arnold, Joel McCrea, and Walter Brennan are all tremendous. And Frances Farmer is magical.

The film might have a little too much music and an extremely basic directorial approach, but I also think it gets at some themes and emotions that most work can only hope to achieve.  Chalk up another one for Hawks and Wyler, Come and Get It is a real keeper.

*I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that, about a year ago, the excellent blog, Only The Cinema, conducted an "Early Howard Hawks Blog-A-Thon" (  I encourage a look if you want to read more about this period in Hawks' career or Hawks, in general.