Sunday, April 25, 2010

2004: Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood)

2004: Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood) 
A tough year for me to choose.  The Fuller film really blew me away.  But I finally gave the year to Clint as he just strikes me as a model of simplicity, modest craftsmanship, and intelligence that seems somewhat special in today's landscape.

I do like more audacious cinema, and I often find myself wowed and inspired by some of the medium's greater stylists, but minimalism and simplicity at the height of post-modernism also feels most welcome.  I won't deny that this one can be overly-sentimental at times.  But I think it has real heart, three strong performances (Eastwood, Freeman, and Swank), and a really nice look, too.

I keep wondering, who will carry on this tradition of classicism and professionalism once Clint is gone?  I really think he's one of the treasures of American cinema. 

Other contenders for 2004:  From this year, I still have some titles to see.  These include: Eric Rohmer's Triple Agent, Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education, Zhuangzhuang Tian's Springtime in a Small Town, Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall, Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Bahman Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly, Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski's Born Into Brothels, and Yoji Yamada's The Hidden Blade.  I love Hong Sang-soo's Woman Is the Future of Man.  And my closest runner-up is Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One: The Reconstruction.  

1/28/11 I watched Martin Scorsese's The Aviator.  DiCaprio was terrific, as I always think he is, and the movie, when it's really dealing with Hughes and all he went through, is quite affecting.  But I found it too meandering, deviod of enough insight into Hughes' real motivations, and a bit flat whenever Blanchett as Hepburn was on screen.

2/2/11 I watched Wong Kar-Wai's 2046.  I'm not sure anyone has been more inventive formally in the last twenty years than Wong Kar-Wai. And I'm pretty sure no one uses slo-mo in a more refreshing and unique way.  But here his style seems to really overwhelm a story that's in desperate need of some shape and some depthful characters.  

3/18/11 I watched Arnaud Desplechin's Kings & Queen.  There's a vitality and playfulness at times that make Desplechin feel like the most correct, contemporary successor of the French New Wave.  But with this vitality comes a certain messiness and muddiness that I often find trying and frustrating.  No doubt Desplechin is a sharp writer and wonderful with actors, particularly his women.  I find though he lacks a filter that keeps his films from really floating, in the way of my favorite works of the Nouvelle Vague.  

4/22/11 I watched Hirokazu Koreeda's Nobody Knows.  Feels like a pretty big departure for the director.  Whereas most of his films tend towards a poetic reality, this film seems under the influence of the Dardenne brothers.  I prefer the other Koreeda though, as this one is unable to elevate itself above a study of misery.  Specifically, the director doesn't seem to possess the Dardenne brothers' ability to offer those real moments of transcendence in the midst of bleakness and despair. 

7/4/11 I watched Bahman Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly.  A bit more stylized than A Time for Drunken Horses and perhaps slightly too melodramatic.  But a hard, unflinching look at a part of the world that we rarely see. 

7/17/11 I watched Sean Baker's Take Out.  It's really part of one of my less favorite tendencies in American independent cinema right now.  That is, an inexpensive naturalism that consists of almost non-stop extreme close-ups, handheld camerawork, and a claimed continuation of Italian neo-realism.  I don't see it though.  These American films don't have the budgets to show enough of the world to make us feel like we're seeing things how they really are. 

10/3/11 I watched Eric Rohmer's Triple Agent.  Another example of Rohmer's sly, one-of-a-kind filmmaking.  But this one appealed a little less to me as I missed Rohmer's more contemporary trappings.  

10/17/11 I watched Claire Denis' L'intrus.  The most challenging of the Denis films I've seen so far.  Filmmaking of the highest order as she is truly one of the most gifted filmmakers working today, but her sensory experiments go too far for me here.  I like the wanderings but finally want something to bind it all together, and it never comes.  

10/18/16 I watched Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education.  Almodovar seems to be growing as a stylist as he gets older.  This one is complex, full of elegant camera movements and full of tricky dissolves, iris shots and other cinematic flair.  Almodovar is in Hitch territory which he does quite well even if I do not think it is an ideal fit for his daring wit and deep empathy for the outsider.  

10/23/16 I watched Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.  Anderson's 8 1/2 is visually impressive and beautifully art directed but his fey cinema continues to leave me cold.  He is too self-conscious, too cool and ultimately I have a really difficult time caring about the characters in his films.

10/11/17 I watched Christopher Bird and Kevin Brownlow's So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM.  It's a depressing period in Keaton's life, interesting to know about but a bit of a drag to watch.

10/27/17 I watched Werner Herzog's The White Diamond.  Graham Dorrington feels like a Herzog character and some of the footage is moving or zany in that way that is pure Herzog.  But it also all feels too familiar, like Herzog just doing Herzog again.

3/25/18 I watched Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Tropical Malady.  One of the more challenging works I have seen in a while and I am not positive I fully grasped all that "Joe" is doing.  The second half of the film is very unexpected and is as abstract and elusive as the first half is palpable and clear.

5/10/18 I watched Gavin O'Connor's Miracle.  A good sports film with some great lessons in leadership from the coach.  

10/19/22 I watched Xan Cassavetes' Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession.  It just so happens it is the second film I have seen in a row about a special period for the art film in the United States.  The previous film was Searching for Mr. Rugoff.  Both are worth a look but Jerry Harvey struck me as the more important figure and this work by Cassavetes felt far better shaped than Deutchman's tribute to Donald Rugoff.

11/20/22 I watched Tian Zhuangzhuang's Delamu.  The setting and some of the interviews are moving but the music is crummy and the lack of rigor kept me at a distance.


  1. Alas Jeffrey, on this film we are miles apart. I felt it was manipulative and superficial, and for me is one of Eastwood's worst films. Yet, the film did win the Best Picture Oscar, and had legions of critics with it, so my opinion is just that: one opinion and no more. As always I applaud the great diversity among your choices.

    My Own #1 Film of 2004:

    Dogville (Von Trier; Denmark)


    Downfall (Hershbiegel; Germany)
    Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Gondry; USA)
    Rois et Reine (Despletchen; France)
    Sideways (Payne; USA)
    Moolaade (Sembene; Senegal)
    Vera Drake (Leigh; UK)
    Phantom of the Opera (Schumacher; USA; UK)
    The Libertine (Dunmore; UK)
    The Return (Zvyagintsev; Russia)
    Springtime in a Small Town (Ki-Duk; S. Korea)
    A Very Long Engagement (Jeunet; France)
    Brothers (Blier; Denmark)
    The Aviator (Scorsese; USA)
    Nobody Knows (Kore-Eda; Japan)
    The Ister (Barison; Ross)
    House of the Flying Daggers (Yimou; China)
    2046 (Kar-Wei; Hong Kong)
    Maria Full of Grace (Marston; USA, Columbia)
    Finding Neverland (Forster; USA)
    Turtles Can Fly (Ghobadi; Iran)
    Bad Education (Almodovar; Spain)

  2. Sam, yeah this is a somewhat unconventional choice even for me. But I think I just like Eastwood's speed and style so much that I'm perhaps forgiving in some other areas. I'm really looking forward to your top pick. It's one I've been meaning to see for some time.

    Thanks, Sam. Always great to have you here!

  3. I love Martin Scorsese's THE AVIATOR (I thought it was his best film of the new millennium until it was eclipsed by this year's SHUTTER ISLAND), but have to stick with DOWNFALL. It's an important achievement in managing to make Hitler somehow seem human, but never go overboard and hide the monster that he truly was. It's a draining movie to watch, and some of the final scenes are disturbing (involving children), but it's certainly a great movie.

  4. For me it's unquestionably Denis' L'intrus. I actually just re-watched Beau travail this weekend, and although I wouldn't want to rank one higher at the expense of the other, for me those are her two greatest films (so far). She's one of my absolute favorite filmmakers, and watching L'intrus is like watching something you've always known but forgotten. I ranked it as my fourth favorite film of the decade and that's probably too low. Other films I really love from 2004 are Jonathan Glazer's Birth and M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, both very underrated films.

  5. My number one film is “Downfall” a film I only saw a few months back. “Million Dollar Baby", as Sam states, may be a bit manipulative but I like Eastwood’s style here, definitely one of the best of the year.

    And the rest…

    Born into Brothels (doc)
    The Aviator
    Finding Neverland
    Million Dollar Baby
    Hotel Rwanda

  6. Dave, I am definitely looking forward to THE AVIATOR and DOWNFALL. They both sound fantastic.

    Thanks, Dave! Always awesome having you here.

  7. Doniphon, I love Denis, too! But I still need to see L'INTRUS. I also still need to see THE VILLAGE. I struggled a little with BIRTH the one time I saw it, but I know that it has a good number of fans.

    Thanks, Doniphon. Always great to have you here!

  8. John, great to hear from you! From your list, I still need to see FINDING NEVERLAND, HOTEL RWANDA, and RAY. And I struggled a little the one time I saw SIDEWAYS and COLLATERAL.

    Thanks, John. Always great to have you here!

  9. >>I won't deny that this one can be overly-sentimental at times.

    And you'd be wrong because it isn't anything of the kind. It's a remarkably restrained & subtle piece that never once strains to push the audience into feeling something. That, of course, being an Eastwood trademark. I think it's an amazing work, a father-daughter love story disguised as a boxing movie that ultimately cuts far deeper than the likes of Unforgiven, & it has Eastwood's best ever screen performance & direction. Easily film of the year & one of the all time great Oscar winners.

  10. Sam, thanks for the passion behind this one! I like it very much, as well. Good to have you here!

  11. I think that this is a good film but not a great one. I would have to say that the best for the year (and for the decade) was ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND with BIRTH and COLLATERAL coming close. Still, I admire your choice - I love most of Eastwood's films (I thought that FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS was incredible).

  12. JD, I still need to see FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS. It's one I just haven't caught yet. I'm glad to hear that you're somewhat of a fan of this one.

    I must admit, I did struggle the one time I saw ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, but I know that it has a whole legion of fans.

    Thanks, JD! Always great to have you here.

  13. I had forgotten what a strong year 2004 was! Great to see all these films bandied about here. I am on board with Eastwood's BABY as one of the finest this year. There is always something appealing about his easy moralism. BIRTH, AVIATOR, and ETERNAL SUNSHINE are also very impressive.

    My favorite though is Desplechin's ROIS ET REINE. Cinematic futurology can be a dangerous game, but I think we will see a towering achievement from him within one or two more films. CONTE DE NOEL had some stumbles but he still showed startling originality and the continuing ability to craft a humorous, tragic epic out of minor moments in life.

  14. Andrew, great to hear from you! I need to give ROIS ET REINE another shot. Every time I try to watch it the editing in the beginning feels very off to me. But I owe it a real, hard look, especially since I am a fan of Desplechin's early work, LA SENTINELLE and HOW I GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT...(MY SEX LIFE).

    Always a treat to have you here! Thanks, Andrew.