Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Dance Party USA (2006), the first film by independent filmmaker Aaron Katz (now available in a gorgeous DVD package with Katz’s follow-up, Quiet City (2007), from Benten Films) opens on a Tri-Met train rolling through Portland, Oregon. The dazed, gregarious Gus (Cole Pensinger) sits regaling his slightly more dazed-appearing pal Bill (Ryan White) with a raunchy story about a none-too-hygienic sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl. The story smells too much like fiction for Bill, who calls out his pal in complementary crude language. It’s a conversation between two young men, 17-18-ish, who relate to each other in terms defined by sexual braggadocio, who are comfortable with this kind of give-and-take that is emblematic of the way many young men relate to each other (and have for generations), and who fancy themselves far more swift of wit and articulation than they really are. (In this way and others, Dance Party USA might be termed the anti-Juno.) A chance meet-up with Jessica (Anna Kavan) at a party (the event which the movie‘s title references with deceptive irony) exposes the floundering unease underneath Gus’ friendly jock demeanor. Faced with the relative surety of Jessica’s resolve—she informs him in no uncertain terms that she will not be sleeping with him—Gus finds himself trying to feel out a way to respond to this woman, who has stirred something in him he doesn’t necessarily want to articulate. And in the course of a fumbling conversation that forms the center of the film, Gus confesses a vile date rape scenario, one in which he casts himself as potential savior and then confused, hostile violator, the true version of the story he spun for Bill.

The rest of Dance Party USA is indeed a dance done to and in the rhythms of two restless people desperate to connect to someone—perhaps each other—who must deal with the ramifications of the honesty Jessica inspires in Gus and where it will lead them, if it can lead them anywhere. Director Katz has fashioned his first film in a way that remains true to the sensibility of self-absorbed teenagers without itself becoming bogged down in a morass of self-reflection or self-serving romanticism. His camera is free-floating but patient, willing to settle on Jessica’s relatively mature gaze, or on the squirming self-consciousness of Gus’s self-protecting grin as he begins to reckon with the ways Jessica is beginning to transform him, from a sexual predator to a social partner. What Katz finds in those visages, as well as in the freshly observed city environment in which their small drama plays out, brings flesh to what could have been just another plastic indie D.I.Y. romance of the sort Sundance spits out like sunflower seed shells these days.

Dance Party USA distinguishes itself from its unpretentious form in another way as well—Katz, in concert with Pensinger, who is good in a way that really sneaks up on you, and a young, unformed actress by the name of Natalie Buller, rather daringly give us a scene in which Gus, compelled by his newfound confessional mode, pays a visit to the girl he raped at the party. She doesn’t recognize him, at least at first, yet she invites him in to watch TV, and the scene progresses along an awkward trajectory headed we know not quite where. It’s a bit of a high-wire act that doesn’t pay off in histrionics, certainly, but it does give us a clue that Gus is suddenly, achingly for real, that he’s grown past bullshitting games with his buddies, but also that his growth is no assurance he won’t soon be even more alone than ever.

After 65 minutes the movie ends with one last encounter between Gus and Jessica amongst the dime games and carnival rides of Oaks Park, a rundown Portland amusement park, and a lovely moment of self-discovery and personal risk that is all the more exhilarating for it being the image with which Katz, displaying wisdom befitting a director of many more years than he has as yet put in, chooses to end his film. For these teenagers, much like the ones I know and have known, self-expression comes begrudgingly, with acknowledgment of self-imposed roles that mask every form of insecurity, and at a price, that being fear of true exposure. Gus and Jessica can’t so easily tap into what they feel, and they’re so much more interesting, and real, because of that. I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing Quiet City, which by all accounts is an even more rich and assured film than this first one. But if the evidence displayed in Dance Party USA can be trusted, Aaron Katz has already carved a place for himself among the new voices of American independent film. I can’t wait to see where he takes me on that second disc, and in the many fine films he’s likely to make in the future.

(Dance Party USA and Quiet City are available today on DVD from Benten Films.)

Monday, January 28, 2008


Mondays can be bittersweet. Sweet in that, yes, you’re still alive. Bitter in that welcome back, as Elvis Costello once put it with just a touch of sarcasm, to the working week and whatever else might be lurking around the corner. One of the ways that I ensure my Mondays stay buoyant, even if it’s just for six panels, is a weekly dose of Peet Gelderblom’s weekly foray into film criticism disguised as a comic strip, the internationally recognized bit of brilliance known as Directorama, a mordant fantasia on an afterworld of auteurs duking it out for artistic supremacy in the afterlife. It should be no news that Directorama is a weekly feature at The House Next Door, and my own praising Peet’s accomplishment with the strip is not an unfamiliar noise. But this week’s installment is particularly poignant, expressive in its simplicity, saying what a whole lot of us felt in the past week, even if we never took time to articulate it. And Peet, with his director’s eye for color, composition and economy of style, manages to say his piece more eloquently than I certainly ever could. Here, by permission from its creator, is Directorama #15, a tribute to the ones who got away.

Get the whole world of Directorama here.


Friday, January 25, 2008


I envision a moment sometime this weekend when I can just sit down and jot a few notes a la Larry King about things coming up, things on my mind, brief thoughts on recently seen movies, whatever. But until then, I cannot let the Friday that brings us a brand-new chapter in the improbably continuing saga of John Rambo pass without noting the pull quote in the movie’s ad (seen in the Los Angeles Times this morning) from Harry Knowles.

For years my favorite blurb has been from Rex Reed, who shouted from the movie pages about the star of Saturday Night Fever, “John Travolta is so intense, he burns a small hole in the screen.” Well, Knowles’ bizarre quip re Rambo makes Reed’s assessment look downright subtle by comparison. Harry wants us to see Rambo. He really wants us to see it:

“When the film knocks it up to that final gear, Jesus will weep-- and you will cheer!

Christ, it’s even poetry! Can anyone think of anything they’ve seen that can approach or top that?


Tuesday, January 22, 2008


The Plainview performance of 1972? Is this an Oscar I hold before me, and if so, did it just morph into a chittering mammal meant to signify my descent into madness? And if so, does that mean I didn't win?


Well, here it is, the earliest hours of January 22, and I just finished vacuuming up the last of the crackling-dry pine remnants from my carpet. The Christmas tree finally came down tonight. Whether it was an act of denial, an attempt to extend the holiday season well beyond its rational limits, or just an act of indifference and/or laziness, the damned thing managed to go about two weeks past its expected shelf life (or stand life, I guess), providing delight for the kids well into 2008 as well as a shower of dead needles grand enough to make Charlie Brown himself envious. I’m sure it’s just a holdover from the Werner Herzog kick I’ve been on all weekend, but the existential numbing that is part and parcel of tree-dismantling did take on an added tingle due to the fact that I was absorbed in Grizzly Man while eliminating ornaments. (I managed to fit in Aguirre the Wrath of God and Stroszek after I finished studying on Saturday, so I guess the holiday season really is over. But, like a cleansing sorbet, I counter-programmed What’s Up, Doc? and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break as second features on the successive dark nights of the German New Wave’s soul, so all was not terminal.)

Anyway, I had planned to spend a little more time throwing around some general observations and thoughts on some of the ways I’ve been spending my time since I last posted, but time has definitely gotten away from me tonight. And before I seal myself up in the bed chamber, I really wanted to make some off-the-cuff Oscar nomination predictions. Well, the hour is literally growing near—we’re just under four hours away from the big reveal as I type this—so my predictions this year are going to be even more off-the-cuff, last-minute and undoubtedly ill-informed than usual. I’m just going to jump in there and see what I can come up with, sans crutches like David Poland’s so-well-chewed-over-as-to-be-pulverized Oscar analyses or even last week’s breathless issue of Entertainment Weekly, which dared to pose the question, Will the Oscars happen?

Well, yes, they will, I dare say, and probably in a more entertaining fashion than thet embarrassing press conference format that recently exposed the Golden Globes as the meaningless charade we’ve always suspected they were. (All those entertaining TV specials featuring drunken movie stars behaving in unseemly—or un-Oscarly—but usually revealing and appealing ways tended to obscure that particular truth.) There’s just too much at stake, prestige-wise as well as local Los Angeles economy-wise, for Gilbert Cates and company to not carry on the annual back-pat. I wonder if there might not even be significant progress in the writer’s strike motivated by an Oscar deadline. As for me personally, I think Conan O’Brien, hilariously bemoaning Life During Writer's Strike in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, put it best: “The Golden Globes are canceled and the Oscars might be next. I want no part of a world that refuses to congratulate itself.” Zing! Will all things be merry and bright by February 24? I know I’ll stay tuned.

But for now, time is tight, as Booker T. used to say, and I must get these posted before 5:30 a.m. Sure, I could just wait until after 5:30, get the nominations, then make my predictions based on what I already know and adjust the time stamp on my post to make it look like I guessed real good. But no, I won’t do that. And you will know my integrity by the conspicuous lack of accuracy of the following guesses. At this late hour, if I wanted to be revered as an Oscar savant like David Poland, or Rod Lurie before him, wouldn’t I do the cheat to make myself look better? Yes, I would. But when it comes to Oscars, unless there’s big money in an office pool involved, there’s something, I think, to be said for ignorance.

It’s 2:01 a.m. The vibe emanating from Wilshire Boulevard and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is translating, through the Glendale drizzle, a little something like this:

UPDATE 8:25 a.m.: * indicates "Whoops!" (Full list of nominees and some snide commentary coming up as soon as I can wolf down my meager breakfast.)

Into the Wild *
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Atonement will be this year’s Dreamgirls surprise-- for all the money Universal spent convincing TV watchers that everyone loved it, no Best Picture nomination. * And Juno began to peak at just the right time—there's no way it misses getting in on the Best Picture action. My wish: some room at the Kodak Theater for Zodiac.

George Clooney
Daniel Day-Lewis
Johnny Depp
Frank Langella *
Viggo Mortensen

Yeah, I know—nobody can even remember the name of the movie Langella was in (Starting Out in the Evening), but I just can’t believe they’d nominate Ryan Gosling for that inflatable doll movie, or Denzel Washington for American Gangster. It’s a stab in the dark, a shot at how’d-he-ever-guess that? glory. I want my moment. My wish: Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn.

Amy Adams *
Julie Christie
Ellen Page
Marion Cotillard
Angelina Jolie *

Keira Knightley will get thrown under the Atonement bus. And I just don’t believe people liked The Savages enough for find room for Laura Linney, who, frankly, is less interesting to me with each new performance. (She’s never matched her amazing work in You Can Count on Me, in my humble estimation.) * Maybe Nicole Kidman (Margot at the Wedding) sneaks in there and bounces Amy Adams. My wish: Carice van Houten in Black Book.

Cate Blanchett
Catherine Keener *
Amy Ryan
Tilda Swinton
Saoirse Ronan

Even if you chalk up Ronan’s appearance as the token under-age honoree here, this is a very strong category, the equal, I think, of the group of excellent best actor nominees. I thought I’d pick Blanchett in a walk, but that was before I saw Keener’s work this past weekend. And Amy Ryan is still sitting on my desk (in digitized form, of course), so who knows where my allegiance will ultimately fall. My wish: Kelly MacDonald in No Country for Old Men.

Javier Bardem
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War)
Hal Holbrook
Tommy Lee Jones *
J.K. Simmons *

Bardem’s the lock (friend-o), Hoffman, Holbrook and Jones are pretty sure things, and only J.K. Simmons, who everyone has relegated to overlooked status, will be the surprise here. This Juno hater was more generous to the movie’s actors across the board, but many who loathe the movie still think Simmons was the bomb, home skillet. Tom Wilkinson could also sneak in. This category, however, is the one with the most bounty in terms of possible dark horses, and their all on my wish list: John Travolta (Hairspray), Ben Foster (3:10 to Yuma), Casey Affleck (Jesse James), Steve Zahn (Rescue Dawn), and the darkest horse of all, Barry Corbin (No Country for Old Men).

Paul Thomas Anderson
Joel and Ethan Coen
Tony Gilroy
Julian Schnabel
Sean Penn *

Yes, I’m predicting a duplicate of the Director’s Guild nominees, which falls perfectly in line with the annual predictable divergence in the line-up of Director and Picture nominees. Juno gets a Pic nomination, but there’s no way even the most rabid fan of the movie votes Jason Reitman a director’s nod. * And Schnabel, whose Diving Bell and the Butterfly is stuck in the no-man’s-land between Best Picture (eligible) and Best Foreign Language Film (ineligible) fills the void beautifully. Everyone else lines up quite well. My wish: David Fincher, plus hidden-camera video footage of Ridley Scott when he finds out he’s been passed over this year.

Away from Her
Charlie Wilson’s War *
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

Atonement could sneak in here and save a little face for the movie at large, which will probably be amply represented in the cinematography, costume and art direction categories. But I think not. I’m hoping the Academy will save a spot for Sarah Polley, since a director’s nomination is never gonna happen, and encourage the empathy, sensitivity and storytelling discipline she displayed in her screenplay (and her direction) of Away from Her. Other than that, my wish: Another writer-director, Sean Penn, who provided palpable tension in his presentation of the story of Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild. You could practically feel Penn in there fighting with himself over whether or not to submit to his protagonist’s romantic disillusionment, which makes McCandless’s final realization of the necessity of human connection even more devastating.

I’m Not There *
Michael Clayton
The Savages

My wish: That Ratatouille might actually get nominated and win. My second wish: That Juno might not. My third wish: The sudden, unexpected delivery of $10 million on my doorstep tomorrow morning. Which of these is least likely to come true? Yeah, I know….

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Couldn’t they just give it to Roger Deakins for Jesse James and No Country for Old Men? My wish: Harris Savides for Zodiac.

All right, that’s as far as the hour and my drooping eyelids will allow me to go. It is now exactly 3:00 a.m. and in two and a half more hours you’ll all be able to laugh at me with no shame, yet a sliver of pity, and cry out, “What the hell was he thinkin’?” with genuine concern and moral certitude. But by then no one will care about the two-bit soothsaying of a fella like me. We’ll have moved on to the big questions like: Who was left out? Who got gypped? What were the big surprises? What is lining up to be the biggest embarrassment of the Oscar season? And will there even be a show to tout the eventual winners? I will tack on a complete list of the nominees as an addendum to this post after the sun rises. But until then, let’s get the conversation rolling. The Oscar Nominations Edition of the SLIFR Forum is now officially open!


UPDATE January 22 11:41 p.m.:

In the light of this morning’s nominations, I was talking today with a friend who tends to be pretty wise when it comes to the Oscars. He’s wise in that he tends not to pay too much attention to them at all. “The Oscars don’t exist” is, I believe, how he put it. Insisting that they did, on some very real level, exist, I persisted in what I was now sure was going to be a very short conversation. I was right. I expressed my happiness over the double nomination for the cinematographer of No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and said something to the effect of, “Roger Deakins did pretty well for himself today. My friend, without missing a beat and betraying no interest in exploring the subject any further, simply said, “Roger Deakins did well for himself by shooting the movies.”

The brevity of my friend’s water cooler manner notwithstanding, it’s hard to disagree with the baldly stated fact or the sentiment behind it. The Oscars are what they are, but this year they tend to be reminders not of embarrassments, as they so often seem to be, but of the riches the movies had to offer in 2007. It is to be giddy when one realizes that not only did two of the honest-to-God best pictures of 2007 actually make the cut, pictures that might, in a “normal” year, be thought to be too difficult or nihilistic or relentlessly violent for Academy tastes, but that those two same pictures appear to be, barring a swell of support for the Little Home Skillet That Could, the front-runners. But it would do good to also be reminded that the eventual winner is often not one for the ages, often not the one movie of five that people end up remembering fondly or with reverence (Anyone up for a screening of Gandhi at the home theater tonight?). The Oscars give us something to talk about in the early part of the year, usually centering on how they’re really not worth talking about. I can’t disagree. But I also can’t deny the charge I get thinking that something or someone I really like might get honored, or the disappointment I feel when someone or something really great gets snubbed. (Catherine Keener, the cast, crew, screenwriter and director of Zodiac, this Big Gulp bicarbonate of soda is for you.)

To force the ceremony into further perspective, the nominations were today unveiled in the shadow of our continued plunge down the rabbit hole of Iraq, the WGA strike and, for shocking, sobering good measure, the sad death of Heath Ledger at age 28. So you didn’t get that expected Oscar nod. So your favorite candidate for Best Makeup won’t be invited to the big dance. Kiss your wife, your husband and your kids and continue living a good life. When it’s all said and done, honored or not, in a world that sometimes seems insane and/or incomprehensible, we still have the movies that mattered there to help us try to make some sense of it all. The year’s best movies did that, and some of them are actually on the following list. Salute!

Best Picture of the Year
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood

It was just simply too much to ask that Zodiac, a box-office dud that opened in March, would make any waves in the major categories. Obviously I would have tossed Juno out on its ear to make room for Fincher’s brilliant film, or The Assassination of Jesse James or, if Oscar wanted so badly to honor a great film about today’s troubled teens, Superbad. But Atonement has been, over the past few weeks, gaining ground in my rear-view mirror—I’m actually looking forward to finally seeing it now, and I wouldn’t mind giving Michael Clayton another try either. My preference: No Country for Old Men

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
George Clooney Michael Clayton
Daniel Day-Lewis There Will Be Blood
Johnny Depp Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Tommy Lee Jones In the Valley of Elah
Viggo Mortensen Eastern Promises

If Day-Lewis promises, should the show actually take place, to hurl a bowling ball in the general direction of Gilbert Cates, I say just give him the statue now and get it over with. Cheers to Viggo Mortensen, and to Tommy Lee Jones for being good enough to keep a movie few saw and fewer liked on the radar. My preference: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Cate Blanchett Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Julie Christie Away from Her
Marion Cotillard La Vie en Rose
Laura Linney The Savages
Ellen Page Juno

Kudos to Cate Blanchett for inspiring young British actresses everywhere to insist their agents get them an opportunity to play Queen Elizabeth at some time in their careers. It should be obvious by now that the quality of the film doesn’t matter. You plays the queen, you gets nommed, and you maybe even get the statue itself, right, Dame Judi? But the only scenario I can imagine that will muss Julie Christie’s hair this year is a surprise attack by Edith Piaf. Ellen Page and Laura Linney are just honored to be, you know. My preference: Julie Christie

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Casey Affleck The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Javier Bardem No Country for Old Men
Philip Seymour Hoffman Charlie Wilson's War
Hal Holbrook Into the Wild
Tom Wilkinson Michael Clayton

I really do need to see Charlie Wilson’s War, I suppose. I liked Hoffman’s other two performances, though I was underwhelmed by Sidney Lumet’s movie I enjoyed how he seemed to physically channeling David Huddleston throughout. And the actor’s branch is really forcing my hand as to a second screening of Michael Clayton, which I saw the first time while extremely drowsy. I would love to see either Casey Affleck or Hal Holbrook win here, but my heart again matches up, as it has I every category so far, with who I think actually will win. Step on up, friend-o. My preference: Javier Bardem

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Cate Blanchett I'm Not There
Ruby Dee American Gangster
Saoirse Ronan Atonement
Amy Ryan Gone Baby Gone
Tilda Swinton Michael Clayton

I like the idea of Ruby Dee being nominated, but really, American Gangster was nothing special and her role was slight at best. I have yet to check in on Saoirse Ronan or Amy Ryan, and I do remember Tilda Swinton translating her emotional flop sweat very effectively. But how do I feel? How do I feel? Blanchett in a walk. My preference: Cate Blanchett

(Gee, this is shaping up to be a happy year in front of the TV for me, if it all turns out like I think it’s going to so far. As a reality check, though, I need only refer myself to my list of predictions above.)

Best Achievement in Directing
Paul Thomas Anderson There Will Be Blood
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen No Country for Old Men
Tony Gilroy Michael Clayton
Jason Reitman Juno
Julian Schnabel The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Despite the presence of Reitman (hunh?) and Gilroy, who match up with Best Picture nominees, and despite Julian Schnabel’s strong showing down the stretch, this looks like a two-movie, three-man race to me. Will the Academy decide that the Coens are too cold and calculating, favoring the shaggy epic canvas of Anderson? Or will they find Anderson’s work too bizarre for Oscar tastes and award the Coens for more than just their film’s technical mastery? My preference: Ethan and Joel Coen

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
Juno Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton Tony Gilroy
Ratatouille Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco
The Savages Tamara Jenkins

This is the only one Juno gets. There Will Be Quirk. My preference: Ratatouille

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
Atonement Christopher Hampton
Away from Her Sarah Polley
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Ronald Harwood
No Country for Old Men Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood Paul Thomas Anderson

I’m so happy to see Sarah Polley among the final five that it totally offsets the reality that she has absolutely no chance to win. Harwood has a shot if voters decide to give bleak nihilism a pass here, but I think the Coens’ model of literary adaptation will be too irresistible. My preference: No Country for Old Men

Best Achievement in Cinematography
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Roger Deakins
Atonement Seamus McGarvey
No Country for Old Men Roger Deakins
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Janusz Kaminski
There Will Be Blood Robert Elswit

Can’t Deakins win for both movies? Come on! Can’t he? Just this once? And wherefore art thou, Harris Savides? My preference: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Best Achievement in Editing
The Bourne Ultimatum Christopher Rouse
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Juliette Welfling
Into the Wild Jay Cassidy
No Country for Old Men Roderick Jaynes (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen)
There Will Be Blood Dylan Tichenor

This one usually goes hand in hand with the Best Picture winner, which, barring heavy influence from the actors branch for Michael Clayton, suggest that the Picture category really is a two-movie contest. And though this wouldn't be the first time a pseudonym was nomijnated (anyone recall P.H. Vazak?), does anyone know if this would be the first time one actually took the award home? My preference: No Country for Old Men

Best Achievement in Art Direction
American Gangster Arthur Max, Beth A. Rubino
Atonement Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
The Golden Compass Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Dante Ferretti, Francesca Lo Schiavo
There Will Be Blood Jack Fisk, Jim Erickson

This is the one category outside of Best Actor where There Will be Blood has a decent chance to reign supreme, unless Oscar goes for the more obvious company of Atonement or Sweeney Todd. My guess? They won’t. My preference: There Will Be Blood

Best Achievement in Costume Design
Across the Universe Albert Wolsky
Atonement Jacqueline Durran
Elizabeth: The Golden Age Alexandra Byrne
La Vie en Rose Marit Allen
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Colleen Atwood

Yikes. My preference: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Best Achievement in Makeup
La Vie en Rose Didier Lavergne, Jan Archibald
Norbit Rick Baker, Kazuhiro Tsuji
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Ve Neill, Martin Samuel

Wouldn’t it be just too delicious if the movie that allegedly killed Eddie Murphy’s chance to win an Oscar himself last year ends up winning one itself for making him up in the year’s most foul and contemptuous drag? The other choices are a man with an octopus face or a crooner with shaved eyebrows. Can’t we just retroactively nominate Rob Bottin for John Carpenter’s The Thing in honor of that movie’s 25th anniversary last year? My “preference”: Norbit

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
Atonement Dario Marianelli
The Kite Runner Alberto Iglesias
Michael Clayton James Newton Howard
Ratatouille Michael Giacchino
3:10 to Yuma Marco Beltrami

My preference: Ratatouille

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
August Rush Nominees to Be Determined ("Raise It Up")
Enchanted Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz ("Happy Working Song")
Enchanted Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz ("So Close")
Enchanted Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz ("That's How You Know")
Once Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová (“Falling Slowly”)

My preference: “Falling Slowly”

Best Achievement in Sound
The Bourne Ultimatum Scott Millan, David Parker, Kirk Francis
No Country for Old Men Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, Peter F. Kurland
Ratatouille Randy Thom, Michael Semanick, Doc Kane
3:10 to Yuma Paul Massey, David Giammarco, Jim Stuebe
Transformers Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Peter J. Devlin

My preference: No Country for Old Men

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
The Bourne Ultimatum Karen M. Baker, Per Hallberg
No Country for Old Men Skip Lievsay
Ratatouille Randy Thom, Michael Silvers
There Will Be Blood Matthew Wood
Transformers Mike Hopkins, Ethan Van der Ryn

My preference: No Country for Old Men

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
The Golden Compass Michael L. Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris, Trevor Wood
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End John Knoll, Hal T. Hickel, Charlie Gibson, John Frazier
Transformers Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl, John Frazier

My preference: Transformers

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Persepolis Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
Ratatouille Brad Bird
Surf's Up Ash Brannon, Chris Buck

I hope to see Persepolis this weekend. Until then… My Preference: Ratatouille

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Fälscher, Die (Austria)
Beaufort (Israel)
Mongol (Kazakhstan)
Katyn (Poland)
12 (Russia)

Best Documentary, Feature
No End in Sight Charles Ferguson, Audrey Marrs
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience Richard Robbins
Sicko Michael Moore, Meghan O'Hara
Taxi to the Dark Side Alex Gibney, Eva Orner
War Dance Andrea Nix, Sean Fine

Best Documentary, Short Subjects
Freeheld Cynthia Wade, Vanessa Roth
Corona, La Amanda Micheli, Isabel Vega
Salim Baba Tim Sternberg, Francisco Bello
Sari's Mother James Longley

Best Short Film, Animated
Même les pigeons vont au paradis Samuel Tourneux, Vanesse Simon
I Met the Walrus Josh Raskin
Madame Tutli-Putli Chris Lavis, Maciek Szczerbowski
Moya lyubov Aleksandr Petrov
Peter & the Wolf Suzie Templeton, Hugh Welchman

Best Short Film, Live Action
Om natten Christian E. Christiansen, Louise Vesth
Supplente, Il Andera Jublin
Mozart des pickpockets, Le Philippe Pollet-Villard
Tanghi argentine Guy Thys, Anja Daelemans
The Tonto Woman Daniel Barber, Matthew Brown


UPDATE 1/23/08 11:35 a.m.: Just when the glow of the Juno nominations was beginning to get too much, here comes David Edelstein to restore some perspective to the nominations, to grumble about some omissions (Frank Langella!) and remind everyone again why Juno is no good. The only problem is, he makes a chilling and believable case for how No Country for Old Men vs. There Will Be Blood might split the vote and create a crevice for you-know-who to crawl through, big belly or not. Read it and weep.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008


About a third of the way into Mary Roach’s delightful and fascinating book Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, the author takes a typical comic-relief aside during an examination of an article in a scientific journal:

“Meanwhile it’s business as usual on the facing page, with dysentery expert W.S. Dawson holding forth on fecal sampling—whether it is preferable to ‘introduce the swab’ into the rectum or to take a specimen directly from ‘the motion.’ *

* I’m trying to work out how this makes sense as a noun meaning ‘the product of a bowel movement.’ This is not Dawson’s personal euphemistic misstep; the usage persists in medical writing today. Should you have had the misfortune of visiting a web page called the Constipation Page, you will have seen the phrase, ‘the motion or stool is very dry or hard.’ Perhaps this is why the term ‘motion pictures’ was replaced by ‘movies.’ Now that I see it on the page, ‘movie’ would have been a far better B.M. euphemism than ‘motion.’ I’d love to chat, but I need to make a movie.”

The notion of a super-huge, convulsive bowel movement taken not only by Hollywood but the film industry at large is probably a mental image that more than a few critics, to say nothing of paying customers at the box office, have familiarized themselves with in years past. My memory of the entire decade of the ‘80s, with some notable exceptions, seems like one long painful dump into the annals of cinema history. And even though the past few years have been markedly better, there were still plenty of us who take the time to compose these year-end round-ups who just couldn’t resist the opportunity, despite considerable evidence to the contrary, to complain that it has been the business of mediocrity as usual at the box office, at the studios and on the festival circuit. But not so 2007. This year has been so good that I’ve had even more impetus than usual to try to catch up with as many films as possible, and that is the more than reasonable suspicion that what I’m chasing after might actually be worth catching. Last year it was hard for me to get too twisted up about missing out on the likes of Apocalypto and Miss Potter before it came time to hunker down and write about the year. But this year I have tried, and failed, to make time for No End In Sight (currently in my DVD player), The Orphanage, Persepolis, Romance and Cigarettes, Into the Wild and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly among many, many others, and this year it kinda hurts.

But it is the nature of my particular role that I am not privy to the completism of the average film critic. That was true when I wrote this column last year, and it is even more so this year—time is more precious than ever and the amount of it I can devote to seeing films and writing about them is increasingly rare. Vicarious enjoyment, and the vicarious thrill of seeing someone else articulate their feelings about a film, are two of the reasons why Internet access to writers like Jim Emerson, Matt Zoller Seitz, Kim Morgan, Manohla Dargis, David Edelstein, Peet Gelderblom, A.O. Scott, Larry Aydlette, Edward Copeland, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Campaspe, David Bordwell, D.K. Holm, Kimberly Lindbergs, Walter Chaw and even Armond White remains as important to me (perhaps more so) than ever. And even though the quality of this year’s crop of films (especially those bottlenecked at the end of the Oscar-consideration season) was especially good, I saw about 15 or so fewer new releases in the calendar year than I did during the same period in 2007. This is why I feel like context is such an important part of the year-end game for me. I don’t want to pretend for even a second that what I’m writing here is in any way a comprehensive, all-encompassing look back, because there is plenty I’ve yet to experience, and plenty I will have missed altogether that might have put a new and/or different slant on how the year fell together for me. It’s why I don’t even feel comfortable at my particular station making statements like “the best ---- of the year!” (And that’s aside from the fact that even for a critic who’s seen 200 movies in a year, a statement like that tends to tell the reader a whole lot of nothing about the actual subject at hand.)

As I am still press-pass-less, I’m still forced to be as choosy as I can be about the films I laid down my hard-earned cash to see—which is another reason why I think of 2007 as especially stellar, because those choices were a hell of a lot easier to make this year. (The most difficult thing was deciding which of five or six likely terrific movies to see in an evening, when I could only choose one.) And again, many of the choices I make with my green have a lot to do with the tastes of my daughters who, though they are not as movie-driven as I was at their ages, still do love the experience. I would love to trade my Shrek the Third and Bee Movie for, say, Redacted or Gone Baby Gone at this late date. But I wouldn’t touch Ratatouille or Hairspray, two of their favorites of the year, and mine.

Still, the list of films I missed this year that I regret not being able to talk about in any meaningful or interesting way is, of course, far longer than I would like it to be. So if and when you hear me speaking of the best performances of the year, or the best anything, just remember that I have not yet seen any of the following, and use that information to color my choices any way you choose:

Movies I Would Have Liked to See in a Theater (And In Some Cases Still Might): Across the Universe; Amazing Grace; American Fork; Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters; Atonement; Beowulf; Blood Car; The Brave One; Breach; Bridge to Terabithia; Charlie Wilson’s War; Colossal Youth; Diva (rerelease); The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Eagle vs. Shark; Firehouse Dog; Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days; Fracture; Freedom Writers; Gahan Wilson: Born Dead, Still Weird; The Golden Compass; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix; The Heartbreak Kid; Helvetica; Honeydripper; I Am Legend; In the Valley of Elah; Into the Wild; Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains; Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten; Manufactured Landscapes; The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters; The Kite Runner; La Vie en Rose; Lady Chatterly; The Lookout; Mr. Bean’s Holiday; Mr. Brooks; Nancy Drew; No End in Sight; The Orphanage; Persepolis; Redacted; Romance and Cigarettes; Rush Hour 3; Sicko; Spider-Man 3; Starting Out in the Evening; Syndromes and a Century; Terror’s Advocate; Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story; War; We Own the Night; Year of the Dog and Youth Without Youth.

2007 Releases In Which I Have Virtually No Interest:
Aliens vs. Predator; Requiem; Atonement; The Bucket List; Charlie Wilson’s War; The Great Debaters; I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry; I Think I Love My Wife; Lars and the Real Girl; The Last Mimzy; Lions for Lambs; National Treasure: Book of Secrets; Next; Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End; P.S. I Love You; Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?

Movies New To Me in 2007: Baby Face (Alfred E. Green, 1933); The Baron of Arizona (Samuel Fuller, 1950); Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971); Crime Wave (Andre de Toth, 1954); The Crimson Pirate (Robert Siodmak, 1952); Day for Night (Francois Truffaut, 1973); Doctor Bull (John Ford, 1933); Exterminating Angel (Luis Bunuel, 1962); Holy Smoke (Jane Campion, 1999); Les Miserables (Richard Boleslawski, 1935/Lewis Milestone, 1952); Madame de… (Max Ophuls, 1953); Monte Carlo (Ernst Lubitsch, 1930); Pierrot le fou (Jean-Luc Godard, 1965); Pigskin Parade (David Butler, 1936); Pilgrimage (John Ford, 1933); Pretty Maids All in a Row (Roger Vadim, 1971); Revenge of the Cheerleaders (Richard Lerner, 1976); Redheaded Woman (Jack Conway, 1932); Robinson Crusoe on Mars (Byron Haskin, 1964); Sans soleil (Chris Marker, 1983); The Seas Beneath (John Ford, 1931); The Steel Helmet (Samuel Fuller, 1951); Trog (Freddie Francis, 1970); Twelve O’Clock High (Henry King, 1949); Waterloo Bridge (James Whale, 1931); When Willie Comes Marching Home (John Ford, 1950)

Movies On Deck For My DVD Player: No End in Sight; Stroszek; Aguirre: The Wrath of God; Trouble in Paradise; 49 Up; The Lives of Others; Zodiac: Director’s Cut; The Dam Busters; Malena; Diabolique; Ali: Fear Eats the Soul; Rocco and His Brothers; Greetings; What Lies Beneath; Perfume: The Story of a Murderer; The More the Merrier; Inland Empire; When a Woman Ascends the Stairs; Play Dirty; Robinson Crusoe; Pulp; Performance; Memories of Murder; Idlewild; Incident at Loch Ness; Dust Devil: The Final Cut; The Killing of Sister George; Decoy; The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser; Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia; Superbad (Unrated)

So it goes. (And by the way, I’ll miss you, Mr. Vonnegut.) As always, the movies I’ve missed, whether I’m interested in them or not, whether I’ve even been sufficiently aware of them or not, outnumber those I’ve seen. But this year has been so rich for discerning filmgoers that I’d much rather celebrate the treasures I know than fret about what slipped past. As I did last year, I’ve decided not to limit myself to a strict 10—I never do, even if I say I’m going to, so why not just drop the pretense? Instead, I’m going to allow myself, in tribute to the bounty of the year, a Nigel Tufnel-esque top 11, but with 10 more to grow on at the back end. And also as I did last year, I’m going to try to make connections, however tenuous, between those films on my list that I feel share thematic concerns, attitudes or sensibilities, films that might afford some extra illumination when paired up with others on the list, however dissimilar they might at first seem. Just another parlor game? Perhaps. But to me it’s also another way of acknowledging how organic and genuine the wonders, the joys, the out-and-out masterpieces offered up in 2007 really were. The destructiveness of obsession; the cults of celebrity and death (sometimes the same cult); the making of an artist; what qualifies as art; the desperation of survival; nationalistic mistrust; the fearsome slipperiness of personal identity; passionate vengeance; the ineffectuality of family; how fatherhood, religion and unbridled capitalism are inextricably intertwined; ecological satire; and the ebullience of song and dance—it’s all there and more in the 11 films that topped my year. The left-over second tier is composed of 10 more movies I loved but couldn’t stand to leave out in the cold. Some of them, like There Will Be Blood and The Darjeeling Limited, are still seeping into my consciousness. A week or two later and either or both of them could find their way into my top 11. Movies like Eastern Promises, Control, Away from Her and Bug would, in a lesser year, be instant contenders. (But 2007 is the great movie year it is because of the presence of wonderful movies like these, so there’s your conundrum for you.) Hot Fuzz turned out to be so much better the second time round than my exhaustion-tainted memory of it allowed that I had to find a place for it on principle alone. And movies like 3:10 to Yuma, Sweeney Todd and The Mist are a big part of why I started loving movies in the first place. So, to make room for ‘em all, the equation is a simple 11 + 10. In any casino in the world, that’s blackjack, my friend-- 21. You, me, everyone who went to the movies this year, we’re all winners.

(WARNING: The following review is no respecter of spoilers!)

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Joel and Ethan Coen)
Joel and Ethan Coen’s film of Cormac McCarthy’s novel begins with an emergence out of what could be primordial blackness onto a quiet, foreboding landscape and into a series of shots (brilliantly infused with intimations of cruel beauty by the shadows and light of Roger Deakins) that suggest, even as we begin to see traces of man-made technology—a tin windmill, a barbed-wire fence—a time before our own modernity. This brief, chillingly beautiful sequence of still imagery is not the season’s only direct nod to Kubrick’s Dawn of Man (Paul Thomas Anderson treads this ground as well), just the more subtle and suggestive one. This is the old country, God’s country, the country which Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) looks back on in the haunted narration that opens the film, a country that had no place for the kind of ghastly, mindless violence that fixates Bell—“The crime you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure.” Yet it soon becomes clear that what we’re seeing is not the old country, where Ed Tom’s father and grandfather wore the badge of the law as well and the morality of law and order was allegedly more clear-cut, but a time far more akin to our own—1980, to be precise—where the sheriff has to come face to face with the kind of perplexing, unstoppable evil that has driven him to the brink of exhaustion and resignation and loss of faith, an evil hardly exclusive to this time.

Ed Tom’s instance on the level of crime being something new and unfathomable is akin to assertions we’ve been telling ourselves as a country for at least six years now, and really a whole lot longer than that. Yet what the movie is showing us, mournfully, poetically, through its visual language and its spare dialogue, are the ways in which these horrors are in no way new. They are woven into the fabric of the country. The perpetuator of the evil the film concerns itself with—a cold-shot killer with an near-unpronounceable name (Anton Chigurh, played with bracing dedication to his character’s unknowable stare, and not without pitch-black humor, by Javier Bardem)—may only occupy the world for the length of time it takes to carry out his hired task; Ed Tom intimates that he may be a ghost, and if he is he’s one that rides from the blood-splattered canvas of the film’s glorious Panavision frames directly into the sheriff’s subconscious (more on that in a second). In his relentless pursuit of the money stolen by a two-bit schemer Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), whose sense of morality is usually about two steps behind when it ought to kick in, Chigurh operates according to an unwavering code of extermination itself marked by self-determination. More than once, the people at his mercy are given chances to save themselves, by the call of a coin or the answer to a simple question (“Do you see me?”)

But when the movie, after eliding over events that would be crucial in anyone else’s Western genre-based crime thriller, settles in for three scenes that set up the rippling chill the movie leaves you with beautifully, it becomes clear that the McCarthy and the Coens are after deeper cuts than the usual cycle of violence and resolution could provide. The first is a conversation between Ed Tom and a man named Ellis (Barry Corbin), a deputy who served with Ed Tom’s father who tries to reason against Ed Tom’s recession away from the vile horrors his job routinely exposes him to. “You can’t stop what’s coming,” Ellis warns, not as a comfort but as an apocalyptic reality check. “It ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” (Corbin’s spectral presence here is a shivery tonic, miles from the quirky mannerisms of his work on Northern Exposure.)

The second is Chigurh’s expected/unexpected conversation with Moss’s wife, Carla Jean (Kelly MacDonald), during which she refuses the coin-toss that could save her life. The novel apparently makes it clear Chigurh has murdered her, but viewers of the film are spared not only the act, but evidence of it as well. As he makes his way from the scene, he unwittingly creates another, his escape from which seems to add credence to Ed Tom’s feeling that he moves among us but make not exactly be of us. Chigurh leaves the film hobbling down a suburban sidewalk and the film lap-dissolves to a shot of Ed Tom, now retired into the antiseptic confines of his tiny kitchen. And as the lap dissolve takes place, the effect is that of Chigurh, the principal demon of the film, walking directly into Ed Tom’s head and disappearing. That’s why the ending of the movie is so simply perfect. As you see Ed Tom sunken into the removal of himself from the world, which he earlier assented to being part of, closed off in his breakfast nook while outside the ageless hills and plains, with their scars and blood and corpses (hidden and revealed) the same as they ever were, he relates the dream that woke him the night before, the dream of his father, somehow still alive, carrying a flame that he would take with him through the dream of death to prepare a place for his son. And suddenly the movie’s themes of the constancy of violence expanded in my head with a rush of connections, tangible ones to what has happened before, and what we’ve seen and not seen (particularly the murders of Moss and his wife), as well as to feelings half dormant about the way men like Ed Tom, and men like we in the audience, willfully and often recede from experience in order to survive it.

No Country For Old Men has a terrifying lot to speak to the lies we tell ourselves within the mythology of this country. The grim experiences Ed Tom has had that have made him reconsider his life within the law may have gotten increasingly stupefying—the death-row refusal of the murderer to repent, and his claim that he would kill again if allowed his freedom—but that in no way validates his appraisal of the times becoming appreciably more amoral during his career as a lawman. It reminded me a lot of those specious claims writers like to routinely make about watershed moments like the Charles Van Doren scandal, the occurrence of which somehow marked the point where America allegedly lost its innocence. It’s total bullshit, of course. What the writers (and the film reviewers who trotted out the same cliches when reviewing Quiz Show 13 years ago) really mean by “loss of innocence” is, the moment when it became clear to anyone who cared to see that the TV-fed notion of American sanctity of intent and behavior wasn’t true. It’s not as if the revelation of Van Doren’s indiscretions were somehow a ticket for the rest of us to suddenly start misbehaving and loosening our morals. As for America’s innocence, it’s hard to truck with the notion of a country built on slavery, genocide and sustained systematic economic and social oppression as having much of a claim to anything coming close to it. No Country for Old Men resonates with the strains of mythology we’ve built up as a nation in order to close our eyes and hope that when we open them, Anton Chigurh will have walked away from the coin toss, advising us not to put our lucky quarter in our pockets, for fear of mixing it up with our loose change and turning it into just another quarter. Which it is.

I talked about the movie expanding in my head during Ed Tom’s final monologue, and when I think back on that experience I think of a pair of matching shots that connect Chigurh and Ed Tom, two characters who come close to a physical confrontation near the end of the film but who never occupy the same physical space as one another (more evidence for Ed Tom’s spectral case). They come separated by several minutes, and both occur as each character takes his turn sitting quietly on Llewelyn Moss’s couch, long after Moss and his wife have fled. Chigurh sits on the couch, in front of a opened bottle of milk (Do we see him drink it? I don’t recall), and when the angle reverses we see him reflected in the screen of a television that is not on, against a window through which the bleak landscape of the small Texas town provides a flat, uncommenting backdrop. Later, when Ed Tom and his deputy arrive at Moss’s trailer in reticent pursuit of Chigurh and discover the milk “still sweatin’” on the coffee table, Moss unknowingly sits on the same couch and is seen reflected in the same TV set, staring forward, the blistering plains calling out with whispered, ephemeral clues. And Ed Tom does take a drink. However we frame our experience, the film seems to say, it is but a variant of the experience all men, and all the ghosts they may or may not conjure to explain the mysteries that beat within their own hearts, have had since the first time one of our ancestors beat another one over the head with a thigh bone. The truth of this assertion can come up on us like a pickup truck full of killers in the moments before dawn, their vehicle floodlit and fiery and relentless, like the dog they unleash moments later. (One of the most brilliant editing decisions in all of NCFOM is that brief shot of the dust kicked up by the truck as Moss tumbles down the hill toward the river, backlit and roiling like the smoke and heat waves curling off some satanic beast.) To crib from Glenn Kenny, No Country for Old Men is a you-know-what-sterpiece that just keeps expanding in my consciousness, like that crumpled wrapper that Chigurh leaves on the gas station countertop—sinister, evocative, bleakly funny, mysterious and apparently endlessly fascinating, a token of the insistent, random power of evil and what Warren Zevon once called the vast indifference of heaven.
(Listmates: Zodiac, Jesse James, Black Book)

More essential reading (and listening) on No Country for Old Men:

A roundtable podcast featuring Elvis Mitchell, Glenn Kenny, Jim Emerson, Jennifer Yamato and Harry Knowles

Glenn Kenny’s well-described assessment of the film’s last half-hour.

A link to what one reader called an “embarrassment of riches” in regard to commentary and thought about No Country for Old Men at Scanners.

Point Blank: Matt Zoller Seitz’s compelling consideration of the film’s theological implications, and a whole lot more.

ZODIAC (David Fincher)
An investigation into a murder spree that paralyzed a city, an investigation with no ending, becomes a film about obsession: the obsession to unmask a killer, of course, but also about obsessive detail, puzzles, tangles of clues, endless dead-ends and how the relentless pursuit of some kind of truth derails the lives of those of the investigating police officers and reporters played by Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal, themselves as much the victims of the Zodiac killer as those dead bodies given to his credit. Fincher virtually redefines the police procedural and stymies those in the audience expecting another garish splatterfest from the director of Se7en by creating a film that, for all of its digital (and digital video) meticulousness, has the grimy, shaggy, organic inquisitiveness of a movie made during the era it depicts, the early ‘70s.
(Listmates: No Country for Old Men, Jesse James, I’m Not There)

The birth of celebrity culture and dime-novel mythologizing as seen through the many prisms of Dominik’s Malick-influenced Western landscapes, where the countryside dwarfs its inhabitants and yet no one seems to care—the world boils down to the twisted mental landscapes of Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his starry-eyed sycophant, Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), who soon learns the burden of existing in the shadow of his hero, and then the price of his own notoriety. The movie plays out largely in frames within frames—doorways, mirrors, windows, imperfectly rendered panes of glass—which help Dominik achieve an impeccable, precious period atmosphere, but also suggest the difficulty of ever getting a clear bead on the fascination of a vicious criminal for a society whose hunger for heroes was ever and remains indiscriminate. (Listmates: No Country for Old Men, Zodiac, I’m Not There)

SUPERBAD (Greg Mottola)
This mind-bogglingly profane paean to the penis, and the unexpectedly tender ties between two high school guys who happen to sport 'em and obsess over 'em, reaches the rarefied air where Freaks and Geeks once reigned. Director Greg Mottola transcends the teen movie comedy with ease and a subtle, surprisingly tender hand, as one night in search of booze and babes spirals off into giddy comic highs and emotional grace. And the funk soundtrack, at once anachronistic and sublimely revealing, is a brilliant counter to the lame singer-songwriter shenanigans of another more self-consciously generation-defining comedy currently making the rounds. Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) rotate in a world where they know a whole lot more, mostly about sex, than their bodies or minds are prepared to act on, a world where their awareness of Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking and YouTube and iTunes have made it possible for the dweeb to create his or her own self-glorifying scenarios, ones that don’t have to rely on the blatant stereotypes of Revenge of the Nerds. What’s great about movies like Animal House, Dazed and Confused, and now Superbad is the coexistence of dorkdom and cool. In Seth and Evan, and of course in McLovin', the two are joyously fused. (Listmates: Grindhouse, Hairspray)

With its gorgeous, near tactile Panavision Parisian cityscapes, exquisitely timed comedy, considerations of what makes an artist—not everyone can be a great cook, but a great cook can come from anywhere-- and its nimble, surefooted narrative-- the movie is so confident in its magic that it never once wobbles at the notion of our seeing rats in control of a restaurant kitchen—- Brad Bird’s latest triumph not only secures his own position as one of the great American animators, but one of its best storytellers as well. After the relative misstep of Cars (good movie, but clearly not up to company standards), Ratatouille restores Pixar’s head-swimmingly improbable track record for quality. They have proven that animation need not condescend to children, and that a successful appeal to adults lies not just in estimable technology but more importantly in the simple belief, expressed with eye-popping imagination and energy, that a rat can make brilliant soup. (Listmates: I’m Not There, Grindhouse, Hairspray)

I’M NOT THERE (Todd Haynes)
Todd Haynes’ fantasia of the six lives of Bob Dylan strikes me as one of the best biopics I’ve ever encountered precisely because of the way it resists almost every narrative cliche of the genre and splinters the myth of Dylan into the multiple personalities that fans and writers—and of course Dylan himself—imposed upon the enigmatic singer-songwriter. Haynes explodes his own methodology here too, finding a way to break down and reassemble his usual hermetically sealed narrative stunt work with something resembling uncut empathy and respect for the ambiguity at the center of the persona around which all the Dylan personas orbit. The contradictions about Dylan inspire Haynes as a director, as does the music, of which there is a bounty. The performances do as well. Much has already been made of Cate Blanchett’s uncanny Pennebaker-period Dylan, slender, elusive, arrogant and intuitively connected to the tensions within the singer who broke molds more out of restlessness than design. But stay tuned to Richard Gere as Dylan’s Billy the Kid, roaming an apocalyptic Peckinpah landscape in search of the end of the world, and guided by the floating, unforced influence of Haynes’ eye, which in these segments itself seems possessed by the spirit of Robert Altman. (Listmates: Jesse James, Zodiac, Hairspray, Grindhouse)

BLACK BOOK (Paul Verhoeven)
I can’t think of a filmmaker other than Paul Verhoeven who could have pulled off the feat of telling this epic adventure of a Jewish woman who survives a Nazi bombing in the Netherlands and becomes involved in the Resistance, whose plot to have her infiltrate and seduce a relatively sympathetic German colonel takes several unexpected, duplicitous and life-threatening turns. In Verhoeven’s view, no assumptions can be trusted, and the context of world war is no place to expect alliances and philosophies to hold water. The director’s unflinching nihilism is the perfect tincture to inform the world which keeps slipping out from underneath the feet of his heroine. And in Carice van Houten we see the sensuality of that heroine swirling amidst the flinty determination that masks her true allegiances from forces that continually buffet and exploit her. Van Houten’s is, for me, the female performance of the year, and Black Book is an unashamedly thrilling and, yes, erotic tale of wartime intrigue that is unlike any I’ve seen. (Listmates: Rescue Dawn, No Country for Old Men)

THE HOST (Bong Joon-Ho)
Ecological disaster kicked into high gear by American arrogance and ignorance, and perpetuated by an unquestioning media-driven consumption of government disinformation, is the canvas on which Bong’s heart-pounding and ultimately tragic comedy-thriller plays out. A freakishly large, carnivorous mutant tadpole, the result of thoughtless chemical pollution, makes itself known to the citizens of a South Korean river city, and when the daughter of a shiftless concession stand operator is abducted by the creature the man bands together with the rest of his dysfunctional family to try to save her. The director’s facility with juggling tones makes for some bizarre, frightening and unsettling set pieces, but the movie never loses its soul to cheap thrills or the mechanics of a jolt. The spirit and resilience of children reverberates throughout The Host, even within the persona of that man-child father, and by its terrifying, agonizing finish the resilience of adults is put to the test as well. (Listmates: Superbad, Grindhouse)

GRINDHOUSE (Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie)
Ultimately, who besides Bob and Harvey Weinstein really cares that this super-indulgent paean to drive-in-era schlock was not the across-the-board hit it was hyped to be? That it was made at all is some kind of miracle, and anyone who imagined it ever could have gained the ardor of a huge popular audience must have the whiff of delusion about them that might make them prime Hollywood producer material. The real glory of Grindhouse is in its conviction of the guiltless, redemptive pleasures of B-movie trash. From Rodriguez’s near-transcendent zombie parody Planet Terror, to the spliced-and-diced faux trailers (Wright and Roth’s are the peak), to the fully transcendent, pedal-to-the-metal Godardian pleasures of Tarantino’s perfectly realized slasher/chick flick Death Proof (which must have had the old guard at Crown International Pictures salivating with lustful envy), Grindhouse is Exhibit A in not only movie geek love but also the Ratatuoillian concept that great art can come from anywhere. One only hopes that the Weinsteins, having now soaked the DVD market with individually released extended versions of each film, will see fit to follow their own lead in the Japanese market and release the original, self-contained theatrical version. (Listmates: The Host, Zodiac, Superbad, Ratatouille)

RESCUE DAWN (Werner Herzog)
Werner Herzog informs the true saga of Vietnamese prisoner of war Dieter Dengler (a magnificent Christian Bale), a German pilot whose story he previously told in documentary form in the film Little Dieter Needs to Fly, with his singular brand of poetic naturalism and sensitivity to the black heart of nature. Dengler’s story is inspirational in the most wrenching sense—Herzog spares no agony, and his actors, including Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies, look as though the shoot was its own authentic brand of hell, but they get to the heart of Dengler’s experience, and more importantly his unwavering determination, without sentimentalizing it or ladling on unbearable platitudes. The movie understands and even subscribes to the kind of patriotism born of Dengler’s horrific situation: Dengler sees in the hostile Southeast Asian landscape a reflection of his adopted country, one mired in a “conflict” of questionable motivation and murky prospects for victory, a place where he locates an unlikely measure of redemption worthy of his intense desire to survive. (Listmates: Black Book)

HAIRSPRAY (Adam Shankman)
John Waters always considered his original 1988 Hairspray as his most perverse movie-- a PG film from the man who made Divine's snacking habits a household horror, and largely it’s a pretty wholesome affair. The movie of the Broadway musical version stays true to that spirit--sharp and irreverent, but also squarely in favor of some ideas that, even in 2007, are still (unfortunately) in need of being termed as progressive, ideas like positive body image, integration and (gasp) a little innocent miscegenation. The performances are all top notch, especially Travolta, who I couldn't imagine being anything but horrible when I saw the trailers, Michelle Pfeiffer, newcomer Elijah Kelley, Nikki Blonsky, and James Marsden as local pop music icon Corny Collins. And the music is both exceptionally catchy, sharp of wit, and exceptionally performed. The cherry on top? Waters himself gives the movie his blessing via a cameo appearance as "the flasher next door" who happily prances past Tracy Turnblad as she belts out the film's opening number, "Good Morning, Baltimore," just before hopping a garbage truck to school. It’s a sublime and satisfying movie—I loved it, but not quite as much as my daughters who, after two times in the theater and now endless exposure on DVD, can sing and shout every ebuillient word.
(Listmates: Superbad, Ratatouille, I’m Not There)

And then there were 10 more…

EASTERN PROMISES (David Cronenberg)
The inverse of A History of Violence, it features a performance by Viggo Mortensen that outdoes his work in the previous film for sheer muscular artistry and, yes, balls.

CONTROL (Anton Corbijn)
The spectral trajectory of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis informed by Sam Riley’s riveting star turn and an apparent pipeline to the kitchen-sink dramatic spirit of Lindsay Anderson.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Brilliant, maddening, misshapen, never less than riveting. Is it less or more than the sum of its parts? Only time will tell. But there is still Daniel Day-Lewis, unshackled and roaring.

Swooning Grand Guignol musical may not satisfy purists, but it is emotionally devastating and ripping in arterial spray, not to mention bearing the Sondheim seal of approval.

AWAY FROM HER (Sarah Polley)
Polley’s debut feature is astonishing in its empathy for a woman slipping away (Julie Christie), but even more so for the agony of the husband left behind (Gordon Pinsent).

Anderson is still Anderson, but the robust feeling that had slowly seeped out of his post-Rushmore films is back in spades. Perhaps the director’s most expressive visual work, as well as the movie which best illuminates and realizes his favored theme of the separation between father and sons .

BUG (William Friedkin)
Were it not for Carice van Houten, my Oscar would go to Ashley Judd, surely the year’s bravest actress, for traversing the paths of madness with such commitment and frightening verisimilitude. And the movie itself is genuinely harrowing.

3:10 TO YUMA (James Mangold)
The most unexpected of treasures—a western colored not by the postmodern work of Clint Eastwood, but instead memories and methods of the genre in its most vital era, the same period—the ‘50s—from whence came the original version that this thrilling picture equals.

HOT FUZZ (Edgar Wright)
Not quite up to Shaun of the Dead, but a brainy send-up of testosterone-fueled Hollywood action movie tropes nonetheless. Wright’s movies have genuine affinity for their targets, as well as an unerring sense of character that deepens even the silliest comedy bits.

THE MIST (Frank Darabont)
Perhaps the year’s most chilling surprise. Darabont dumps the mawkish sentimentalism of his previous Stephen King adaptations in favor of a brutal depiction of the breakdown of a society of survivors holed up in a supermarket and surrounded by a mist that masks the onslaught of some seriously vicious creatures. At times lumpy but never less than riveting, with a nihilistic conclusion that matches the finish of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead shot for horrifying shot.

Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis Runner-up: Viggo Mortensen

Best Actress: Carice Van Houten Runner-up: Ashley Judd

Best Director(s): Joel and Ethan Coen Runner-up: David Fincher

Best Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men Runner-up: James Vanderbilt, Zodiac

Best Cinematography: Roger Deakins, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford Runner-up: Harris Savides, Zodiac

Best Editing: Roderick Jaynes (Joel and Ethan Coen), No Country for Old Men Runner-up: Job ter Burg, James Herbert, Black Book

Best Musical Score: Anne Dudley, Black Book Runner-up: Robert Rodriguez, Planet Terror

Academy of the Underrated: Black Book, Rescue Dawn, Bug, The Mist, Black Snake Moan, 1408, I Know Who Killed Me

Academy of the Overrated: There Will Be Blood, The Savages, Michael Clayton, Enchanted, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Bourne Ultimatum, American Gangster, 300, Juno

The Gigli Memorial “Keep Moving, No Apocalypse Here” Award: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Year’s Biggest Surprises: Hairspray, the degree and frequency with which Marisa Tomei appears nude in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, The Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep, the frequency of laughs in Balls of Fury, and the fact that I liked The Darjeeling Limited and Hostel Part II at all.

Favorite DVD Bonus Feature: “The Fuzzball Rally,” Hot Fuzz

And ain’t it funny how Life Imitates Art (Thanks to Robert Hubbard for this one.)

My Seven-year-Old Daughter’s 2007 Movie Yearbook (In Her Own Words):

BEE MOVIE: Lots of yellow in it! And bees! It made me laugh a little bit—not as much as Ratatouille.

THE CRIMSON PIRATE: I loved the funny action scenes. I never knew pirates were so funny! I liked the captain, but his buddy, the one who didn’t talk, was even better. It was so colorful! I didn’t know old movies could be that good!

ENCHANTED: Was the most hilarious movie I saw this year. In the beginning, it looked like a beautiful cartoon. It didn’t look as pretty when Giselle came out of the sewer into the live-action world. Prince Edward is really good. He was Corny Collins in Hairspray.

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER: Very fun and full of superheroes, bad guys and action—more interesting action than usual. It was interesting to see how the Fantastic Four worked together. But Silver Surfer turns out to be a good guy—I liked to watch him surf. But he was sad too.

THE GAME PLAN: Very football-ish. Some parts are funny, some are sad, but I really liked it. The movie has a big guy in it—Daddy says his name is the Rock, but I don’t think I believe that. He doesn’t look like the Thing from Fantastic Four.

HAIRSPRAY: Lots of singing! Funny! My favorite songs are “Without Love,” “Ladies Choice,” “Baltimore Crabs” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.” My favorite character is Penny Pingleton. I’ve seen it seven times!

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2: Same as Hairspray, but different characters and songs, and different people in it too. Zac is very cute! I have two posters of Zac on my wall. Troy and Gabriella are the best couple.

MEET THE ROBINSONS: Cute and very silly. It had lots of color.

RATATOUILLE: Great! Lots of cooks in it! The one who cooked best was Remy. Problem was, he was a rat. It didn’t bother me to see all the rats in the kitchen. I liked when they kidnapped the health inspector guy. Very, very hilarious! Kids like me love this movie.

THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING: Scary, and it had lots of violence, but I could handle it. I don’t remember much else about it. It’s not so good as most movies.

SHREK THE THIRD: Very funny. All of the characters were so hilarious. Puss ‘n’ Boots is my favorite. It had a very creative look.

SURF’S UP: Lots of penguins and surfing. I liked it better than Happy Feet because the characters had bigger eyes and they were cuter.

TRANSFORMERS: Lots of violence, but just a little bit of blood. Good robots—the cube starts out big and gets small. I liked it when the girl makes the guy take off his clothes and he has Superman undies on.

UNDERCOVER KITTY: Loaded with cats and meowing. I liked Miss Minoes—she was stylish and pretty.

Favorite Shout-outs of the Year:

From cinephile par excellence and all-around good guy Andrew Grant, who mentions me in the same breath with some pretty heady company during this insightful interview. Thanks, Andrew!

From Film.com, some nice props—looks like the decision to stand pat on the title was a good one!

From The Guardian blog all the way over in the UK-- finally, my muckraking ambitions recognized!

In going about filling out the latest quiz, excellent blogger Cinephile has some mighty nice things to say before he posts his typically astute and thought=provoking answers.

Two from Kim Morgan: words and picture.

And last but certainly not least, Ed Gonzalez in the Slant magazine blog saying nice things about my defense of a movie he hated.

Finally, The Dregs of 2007 (in descending order):

300 Neat-looking and all, but if this is the future of filmmaking, I may have to learn to read. Gerard Butler channels Brian Blessed to ever-diminishing effect.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age The essence of overwrought, a giggle-worthy mounting of British history directed as if it were low-end Hammer horror
Bee Movie, Shrek the Third Dreamworks Animation continues its assault on family entertainment with these two deadening, smart-ass joke machines. Where’s the story?
Shoot ‘Em Up This pallid, cacophonous action movie send-up overstays its welcome by about 90 minutes, despite the allure of marquee hotties Clive Owen and Monica Bellucci, which should be resisted at all cost. In a world where Hot Fuzz exists, this looks even worse.
The Hills Have Eyes 2 Pity they forgot the brains, however. (And I’m not counting the ones spilled on the floor.)
Southland Tales Someone get Richard Kelly some hack work, quick!
The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising People tell me this is based on a worthwhile book, but as a movie its yet another failed attempt to capitalize on the Harry Potter/Narnia box-office avalanche. Hyperactive, yet leaden.
Even Money Mark Rydell returns to the director’s chair for this mawkish Crash-esque tapestry of clichés and bad acting revolving around the evils of gambling. Kelsey Grammer gets my vote for most perversely inconsistent character voice of the year as a gimpy detective with a fake nose.

…and the year’s worst:

Juno No, I’m not trying to be edgy or perverse or deliberately out of step with critical consensus. This smarmy comedy plays like the second coming of John Hughes, Voice of a Generation (just not his own), and I realize that for some people that’s a good thing. But in fashioning this tale of a self-possessed, though searching 16-year-old (the titular Juno, played by Ellen Page) who gets pregnant by her best friend Paulie (Michael Cera), flavor of the month screenwriter Diablo Cody shovels a lifetime of what are surely Diablo Cody obsessions and pop culture references onto a very slight frame of a character, all in the name of speaking for, or to, the MySpace generation. Trouble is, does every one of her characters have to sound like Diablo Cody, freshly minted pop culture avatar-- that is, all exactly the same? (Please, name me one 16-year-old girl who would ever reference Soupy Sales. Just one.) Cera escapes this fate by simply relying on his inimitable line delivery and dazed personage. But everyone from Juno, to Juno’s best friend, to Juno’s incredibly understanding, level-headed, straight-outta-Neil Simon parents, to that damned pharmacy clerk (“This is one doodle that can't be un-did, home skillet”) smirks and jabs and delivers the very snappiest, post-Buffy dialogue with relentless and unflappable dedication. The script reads like it’s meant to be reprinted whole hog under the IMDB “memorable quotes” tab (and a quick look there reveals that it practically has been.)

Juno’s dialogue is quotable, all right, and the picture is currently charming a lot of people, but the quippier-than-thou attitude critically undermines the heart of the picture-- what Juno decides to do with the baby-- which practically sits up and begs to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the picture uses the pregnancy in the same way it cranks out the quotable dialogue—for wham-bam short-term effect. The movie, in adopting the same blithe attitude toward the central dilemma as the main character does, skips over any intimation of what pregnancy might really be like for a girl Juno’s age. Instead, we get chapter stops (“Fall” “Winter” Spring”) and cuts to Juno waddling along, a little bigger than before but just as assured and unaffected. Consequently, we’re also less than moved when she confesses to her dad upon revealing the pregnancy that she really doesn’t know what kind of girl she is. How truthful this little moment of self-confession is meant to be. Too bad it’s surrounded on all sides by evidence that Juno, geek goddess, is the only character who does know exactly what she is. The same unearned, unmodulated attitude permeates the entirety of the film. For Juno, and Juno, pregnancy boils down to yet another accessory, an emblem of the character’s ultimate outsider status which the film uses as a weapon (in a particularly nasty scene in which Juno and her stepmother shout down a radiologist for asking sensible questions about her pregnancy) as much as for instant sympathy.

When the pregnancy is over, Juno and Paulie are brought together, the pregnancy now just a blip as life goes on and the two serenade each other while the camera pulls serenely away toward the end credits. And speaking of music, it’s only severely disingenuous that a movie whose main character name-checks seminal punk rockers like Iggy and the Stooges and holds them up as a barometer of everyone else’s taste in music would eschew that very punk rock at every turn, instead making room on its soundtrack for Mott the Hoople, the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Sticking with You” and, to use my friend Kim Morgan’s word, twee singer-songwriters like Belle and Sebastian and the ubiquitous Kimya Dawson. (Maybe Juno’s director, Jason Reitman, surmised that Iggy might put off a goodly portion of the real-life Junos and their 18-to-25-year-old brothers and sisters who have spare change to spend on the soundtrack album.) Juno is well-acted, especially by Cera, Jennifer Garner as the coldly sympathetic yuppie wannabe mother who, with her immature husband (Jason Bateman, fine in a thankless straw-man role) enters into an agreement to adopt Juno’s baby, and even Ellen Page, whose performance will be cherished in exactly the measure that one can tolerate her character’s chirpy smugness. But it’s a supremely self-satisfied and insular movie that doesn’t shed 1/50th of the light on what it is to be a teenage girl, much less a pregnant one, that Superbad bathes its raunchy, angry, blindly horny little bastards in.

But don’t take my word for it: Juno has been chosen by no less than smart people like Roger Ebert and Andrew Sarris as the best movie of 2007. I don’t know what to say about that. However, I do know that the somewhat less cerebral Rex Reed recently said of Juno: “These are people of all ages who are way down at the bottom level of maturity, but the snappy, new wave dialogue and a sprightly cast that considers suburban insanity as normal as an addiction to nasal spray and one-calorie breath mints turns Juno into an incendiary comic spree. Think A Date With Judy on crystal meth." Come to think of it, Rex Reed might just be the ideal audience for Juno; that little knocked-up icon of individuality talks just like he wishes he could. Glad you enjoyed it, Rex. As for me, it’s one new-wave-dialogue-dotted doodle I can do with-diddly-out, home skillet.

Finally, for further reading on the year just past:

The Slate Movie Club

The 2007 Village Voice/L.A. Weekly Film Poll

Armond White’s 2007 “Better Than” List

Jonathan Rosenbaum’s last year-end list?

Matt Zoller Seitz on Paul Thomas Anderson

Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy’s Moments Out of Time 2007

MSN’s Top 10 List Roundup featuring Jim Emerson, Kim Morgan, Sean Axmaker, Dave McCoy and many more.


And as a wish for a peaceful new year in 2008, here’s something a friend of mine shot earlier this year outside of the memorial on the site of Hiroshima bombing. He relates being overwhelmed by the enormity of the history and the emotion, the clarity of realizing the ghastly horrors that were visited upon the citizens on the very spot where he was standing. And as he walked away from the site, he was besieged by a group of first-grade students assigned to interview gaijin (foreigners) and overwhelmed again, this time by the sweetness of these children, so happy and inquisitive in the shadow of this most devastating event. I leave you with this short video clip, one that I hope conveys a sense of hope for the future we could all do well to tap into in the hopes of a better year to come.

Have a wonderful new year, everyone.


UPDATE 1/9/2007 10:21 a.m.:
My friend Larry Aydlette has pointed me to one of the more recent edition's of Roger Ebert's Questions for the Movie Answer Man which has some direct relation to the ongoing conversation about Juno:

Q: On the strength of your naming Juno the best film of the year, I just took it in at my local googleplex, and I was a tad disappointed, even though I largely agree with your review. I was distracted to the point of annoyance at the implausibly hipper-than-thou sentences zipping out of the lips of Juno's characters. Juno was hip. Juno's friends were hip. Juno's parents were hip. Even Rainn Wilson's character, the guy behind the counter at the store, was hip. Only Jason Bateman's and Jennifer Garner's characters seemed to be spared this indignity, probably to make some obscure point about the evils of yuppiehood.A wise reviewer once wrote: "I have a problem with movies where everybody talks as if they were reading out of an old novel about a bunch of would-be colorful characters. They usually end up sounding silly." Well, of course that reviewer was you, and the movie was Raising Arizona. So can you explain why the affected English bothered you in one but not the other? -- C. Morris, Noblesville, Ind.

A: Your local "googleplex"? We discourage that kind of hip coinage around here. Isn't "movie theater" good enough? Although you have caught me in a contradiction, I would argue that the dialogue in Juno mostly works because Ellen Page sells the tone so convincingly. She wins us over. Think of Diablo Cody's words in the mouths of Page's contemporaries and you cringe. Yes, her parents talk that way. Where do you think she learned it? As for the drugstore clerk, and her best girlfriend, it's as if she affects the linguistic weather when she enters a room.

And here is Felix Vasquez of the Bronx, N.Y.: "This movie has divided audiences around the Internet. Some love its cute and intelligent way of addressing teen pregnancy, while others hate the pop culture quip-dialogue and put Diablo Cody through the ringer for it. Yet they never seem to complain when Tarantino or Kevin Smith use the exact same sense of dialogue."

When Larry sent me the section of the column I wrote a response back:

“I would argue that the dialogue in Juno mostly works because Ellen Page sells the tone so convincingly. She wins us over. Think of Diablo Cody's words in the mouths of Page's contemporaries and you cringe.”

I don’t buy this precisely because she didn’t win me over. If she had, I don’t think I would have had the problem with her character that I did. Of course she may have adopted some of her charm from her parents—her dad does even claim genetic pride in her quippishness at one point—but she’s amplified and expanded on it partially as a way of setting herself apart from those who can claim an influence because it gets in the way of her imagining herself as such an original. The movie wants us to accept her the way she sees herself, and that ain’t good enough for me, especially when she does seem like everybody else in the movie, except for those yuppie parents.

“As for the drugstore clerk, and her best girlfriend, it's as if she affects the linguistic weather when she enters a room.”

Now, there’s a stretch!

“Some love its cute and intelligent way of addressing teen pregnancy, while others hate the pop culture quip-dialogue and put Diablo Cody through the ringer for it. Yet they never seem to complain when Tarantino or Kevin Smith use the exact same sense of dialogue."

Well, I don’t know if I’d buy the comment that it’s the exact same dialogue: I don’t remember either Smith or Tarantino ever writing from the point of view of an affected, sassy, geeky outsider 16-year-old girl, and I think that does make a difference. I will say that I did think about this comparison, though. For me, the shine has worn off of Kevin Smith—he’s a cottage industry, and he’s just gone back to the well too many times. At this point I would say yes, he’s in the Diablo Cody camp. Tarantino, however, is a filmmaker as well as a writer, and he’s up to a whole lot more than just trying to get people to buy the pizzazz coming out of his character’s mouths. It does make me cringe a bit when Jungle Julia calls Stuntman Mike “Zatoichi” as a way of saying “Can’t you see it’s raining outside?” (Even though she’s seen in an apartment decorated with old film posters, sensibility imposed by Tarantino or not, that would at least explain why or how she’d make such a reference-- still waiting for that Soupy Sales explanation for Juno, however.) One of the many good things about Tarantino in Death Proof is that he’s beginning to recognize that he may be making references to a pop culture that is now officially closed off to the most recent permutation of the film generation—that scene with Stuntman Mike trying to impress the girls with his career working for Robert Urich is funny and poignant precisely because of this. But finally, for me with Tarantino it comes down to one of Roger’s oldest adages, which he trots out again in his response here—the difference is that Tarantino makes me care, Diablo Cody (so far) has not. If that’s a generational thing so be it, although I don’t think it is, if Ebert and Sarris’ reaction to Juno can be counted as evidence.

Thanks, Larry, for pointing me, and us, to this. Now, about Superbad... :)


UPDATE: January 21, 2008 12:49 p.m.: Lots of interesting discussions abounding on the Internets about Juno these days. I haven't kept up with them all, obviously, but two excellent ones can be found here at Scanners, which considers the movie in light of the phenomenon of the backlash, and The Man from Porlock, whose author, Craig, posts an illuminating article about those scenes in movies involving fringe characters that attempt to incite an audience's yahoo reflex and uses the Juno ultrasound technician beat-down as a starting point.