Friday, April 23, 2010

2002: Funny Ha Ha (Andrew Bujalski)

2002: Funny Ha Ha (Andrew Bujalski) 
"It's so easy to laugh.  It's so easy to hate.  It takes strength to be gentle and kind."
- The Smiths

I first heard about Bujalski after reading a great Amy Taubin piece in Film Comment.  I soon tracked down Funny Ha Ha, and when I did, it really took me by surprise.  It was so different from anything else I'd seen coming out of the indy scene.  

Bujalski's film is natural and real but not at all in the way that someone like Harmony Korine might take on naturalism.  There's very little irony here, and the style is unabrasive, observational, and remarkably restrained.  The camera is often handheld but always in a fluid rather than in a shaky, aggressive manner.  Korine and many of his generation wanted to bring the Dogma aesthetic to the states.  Bujalski, meanwhile, seems to be channeling more Rohmer and Jean Eustache.  

Bujalski's casualness can be deceiving, sometimes creating the impression that his cinema is unambitious.  However, I think the way that his writing and direction of actors strips away most of what we think of as "actorly" is not only incredibly ambitious, but also incredibly successful.  Bujalski inspires and excites me, and this is my favorite of his films so far.

Other contenders for 2002:  From this year, I still have some titles to see.  These include: Abbas Kiarostami's Ten, Peter Bogdanovich's The Cat's Meow, Niki Caro's Whale Rider, Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, Alexander Sokurov's Russian Ark, Rob Marshall's Chicago, and Hong Sang Soo's Turning Gate.  From this year, I really like Spike Lee's 25th Hour, Claire Denis' Vendredi Soir, and Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne's The Son.  I love Jim Sheridan's In America, Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things, Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven, and Pedro Almodovar's Talk to Her.  And my closest runner-up is Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale

4/17/11 I watched David Lynch's The Short Films of David Lynch.  This collection compiles six Lynch short films, Six Figures Getting Sick, The Alphabet, The Grandmother, The Amputee, The Cowboy and the Frenchman, and Lumiere: Premonitions Following an Evil Deed.  I was most partial to The Cowboy, which had the largest dose of Lynch's vintage humor.  But it was interesting to see the early work, and how quickly into his film career, Lynch already demonstrated a great interest and skill with sound and color. 

5/25/11 I watched Niki Caro's Whale Rider.  A bit overwrought and overly sentimental for my own tastes.  But Keisha Castle-Hughes has a great face that Caro uses to very good effect.  

7/6/11 I watched Abbas Kiarostami's Ten.  Kiarostami is one of the medium's all-time great humanists.  But the format here grows old after awhile, and keeps Kiarostami's extraordinary sensitivity and observations a bit too hemmed in. 

12/14/13 I watched Nicolas Philibert's Etre et avoir.  Less disciplined and rigorous than Wiseman, Philibert still impresses with the unique moments he is able to capture.  Watching for instance a young boy realize there are numbers beyond those he already knows feels like something the cinema has never quite captured before, the awakening of a young mind.  Overall the film is a very warm, patient look at an extremely gifted and giving teacher.  

5/1/21 I watched Spike Lee's Jim Brown: All-American.  What I would have thought would be an impassioned look at Brown seems fairly detached and disengaged.

3/9/22 I watched Frederick Wiseman's The Last Letter.  Wiseman's great strength is observing life as it is unfolding, holding up a mirror so we can hopefully see better, feel deeper and think more effectively.  There are some powerful elements in this work but heavy stylization and artifice work against the master's most special gifts and talents.

3/11/24 I watched Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen.  Although I am far from a Loach completist, I have seen several of his films through the years and long been a great admirer of his early film Kes.  Here, Loach seems to be inhabiting some of the same world of Kes while also channeling 400 Blows, a touch of Dardenne rawness and the inescapable doom of Mean Streets.  It's never entirely clear where it's all going.  Loach keeps the danger ratcheted up by keeping the story grounded and the emotions plausible.   


  1. Ah Jeffrey, I have not seen this film, but I did see Bujalski's BEESWAX, and I was not a fan, but I am generally indifferent to most 'mumblecore' entries. As always you make an excellent case, and really do need to see this, regardless.

    My own #1 film of this year, FAR FROM HEAVEN, which I have ceaselessly promoted and saw over 20 times in the movie theatre, is to this point my #1 film of the decade. Almodovar's greatest film, the deeply-moving TALK TO HER, the Thail film BLISSFULLY YOURS, and the spectacular musical, CHICAGO are the greatest of the long runners-up list.

    My Own #1 Film of 2002:

    Far From Heaven (Haynes; USA)


    Talk To Her (Almodovar; Spain)
    Chicago (Marshall; USA)
    The Hours (Daldry; USA/UK)
    The Quiet American (Noyce; USA)
    10 (Kiarostami; Iran)
    Spider (Cronenberg; Canada)
    City of God (Meirelles; Brazil)
    The Son (Dardennes; France)
    The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Jackson; NZ)
    Distant (Ceylan; Turkey)
    Hero (Yimou; China)
    Waiting For Happiness (Sissako; France/Mauitania)
    The Magdelene Sisters (Mullan; Ireland)
    The Pianist (Polanski; France; Poland)
    Blissfully Yours (Weeasethakul; Thailand)
    Gangs of New York (Scorsese; USA)
    The Isle (Ki-Duk; Korea)
    Catch Me If You Can (Spielberg; USA)
    Mostly Martha (Nettlebeck; Germany)
    The Secret Life of Altar Boys (Care; USA)
    Whale Rider (Caro; NZ)
    Sunshine State (Sayles; USA)
    Road to Perdition (Mendes; USA)
    In America (Sheridan; Ireland/UK)
    Bowling For Columbine (Moore; USA)

  2. I've never seen one of Bujalski's films, but my feelings do mirror Sam's in that the couple of mumblecores I have seen have just done nothing for me. But the comparison to Rohmer and Eustache here excites me, and Bujalski's stuff is from what I can tell widely regarded as the cream of the mumblecore crop, so I am now intrigued to give this one a shot.

    My choice for this strong year would be Lynne Ramsay's visionary Morvern Callar, with Phillip Grandrieux's masterpiece La vie nouvelle right behind it. I also love Claire Denis' Vendredi Soir, Haynes' Far From Heaven, Van Sant's Gerry, Assayas' Demonlover, PTA's Punch-Drunk Love, Sam Jones' I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, and your runner-up De Palma's Femme Fatale.

  3. Sam, FAR FROM HEAVEN 20 times in the theater. Now that's awesome! I'm a huge fan of the film, too, and believe I saw it at the Egyptian Theater with Elmer Bernstein in attendance. That was a real treat.

    I also love TALK TO HER!

    I'll be curious to hear if this Bujalski does anything to change your opinion. Thanks, Sam! Always great to have you here.

  4. Drew, I'll be curious to hear how this one treats you!

    From your list, I still need to see MORVERN CALLAR, LA VIE NOUVELLE (I did see SOMBRE), DEMONLOVER, and I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART. I struggled a little with PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE the one time I saw it and should have had VENDREDI SOIR in my post and am adding it now.

    Thanks, Drew. Always great to have you here!

  5. Sam saw Far From Heaven twenty times in the movie theater? Wait, seriously? That's just nuts, ha. I'm not even a fan of the film (or Haynes as a filmmaker), but that kind of conviction is goddamn admirable. I'll echo Drew's votes for Vendredi Soir and Punch-Drunk Love and Femme Fatale, but for me the movie of 2002 is Gangs Of New York. It's Scorsese's greatest achievement, and actually is similar to Far From Heaven in that it reframes a 20th century filmmaker's system of values. But while Far From Heaven remains rather academic in my mind, Gangs Of New York is a celebration of the historical mythology introduced by John Ford in an incredibly alive way, and really blows the movies wide open. One of my absolute favorites.

  6. Doniphon, great to hear from you! I admit to having struggled the one time I saw GANGS OF NEW YORK, but that was upon its release. I definitely owe it another look.

    Great stuff! Thanks, Doniphon.

  7. Donophon, I was nearly remanded for a mental institution back in 2002 for that dubious "feat" where I was even getting a head-count of people in attendance in a floundering art house multiplex that closed down maybe a year later. But I am a sick puppy, no doubt about it.

  8. Sam's passion for Far From Heaven and Doniphon's for Gangs of New York are both stunning. Oddly enough, I re-watched both of them in the last week. Far From Heaven I like, but don't see it measuring up even to classics from Douglas Sirk. Gangs of New York, which like you Jeffrey I struggled with on a first viewing, worked significantly better for me this second time around. Cameron Diaz is still at times cringe-worthy, but the filmmaking prowess of Scorsese is certainly on display. And Daniel Day Lewis is incredible.

    Still, my #1 for 2002 has to remain the Brazilian crime epic CITY OF GOD. It shows it's American influences prominently, but morphs everything into a stylishly gritty film.

  9. Jeffrye, I have to admit I am unfamilar with your pick. One to look out for. My # 1 was Polanski's The Pianist

    ...and the rest

    Far From Heaven
    Gangs of New York
    Minority Report
    About Schmidt
    The Hours
    The Quiet American
    Whale Rider
    The Magdelene Sisters
    Road to Perdition
    Catch Me If You Can

  10. Dave, great to hear from you! I still need to see your top pick. It's one I should have seen by now, but for some reason it's eluded me. I'll rectify that soon though.

    Thanks, Dave! Always great to have you here.

  11. John, your top pick is also one I still need to see. I definitely feel bad that I haven't seen it yet and will do something about that soon. From your list, I also still need to see THE QUIET AMERICAN, THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, and FRIDA. And I struggled a little with MINORITY REPORT, ABOUT SCHMIDT, and THE HOURS the one time I saw them.

    Thanks, John! Always great to have you here.