Friday, November 2, 2007

Archives Project: STL #35

Because I was hasty in my last archival post, and misnumbered the last post of March 2004 as the first, I'm going to do all three March posts today. Silly me.

Title: Roll Out the Red Carpet
Description: Oscar fallout/Top 10 films of the year.
Date: 2 March 2004

I may never again be in the position to issue a top 10 list. Sad.

Every year I watch part of the Oscars, and every year I reflect on how much I hate actors. Not just there shmoozing and rampant insincerity, but what they do onscreen. There are exceptions of course, and the big money and superficial standards of Hollywood doesn't promote devotion to craft. Some seek it on their own: Bill Murray has emerged as our greatest actor, by way of sketch comedy and continental philosophy, and his head is actually screwed on straight. Sean Penn has finally been honored, and perhaps all the shouting about Mystic River is warranted. But how do you reward Rene Zellwigger's pinched-face and small-minded performance? I didn't see Mystic River or Monster, so can't comment on Charlize Theron or Tim Robbins, though nothing I've seen from either of them could be called good. I'm not likely to watch either film, because they both seemed geared to emotional grandstanding that elicits Oscar noms, rather than the subtlety of out best actors.

Not that I care too much about them either. Hitchcock called actors cattle, and he should know. Directing, writing, editing, set design, even special effects-- these are the qualities I like in movies. You know how I feel about lists, so here's my top 10 films for 2003.

1. (tie) Kill Bill and Lost in Translation. I've written about both before, but putting them together illuminates their very different notions of what a director is-- QT's authoritarian autuership vs. Coppolla 2.0's smartmob collaboration. I'm glad Sofia won for her script, too.
3. (tie) Spellbound and Etre et Avoir. Some of the best movies of the last 10 years have been documentaries, because real life has a way of bucking against cliche and histrionics. Note the vivid personalities in these movies are achieved without actors.
5. 21 Grams Ok, here's where I give in. Both this and the next are "acting clinic" type movies I generally dislike, but Benicio Del Torro, Naomi Watts, and Sean Penn actually earn the emotion in the former (and the non-linear structure rewards intelligent attention).
6. In America. This movie goes for the pathos, and in retrospect I don't like it as much as I did sitting in the theatre. The little girls, though, especially the elder, give stellar performances.
7. Bad Santa. Wicked funny, in the Bostonian and Satanic senses of the word. Finally, a movie that captures the true meaning of Christmas.
8. Raising Victor Vargas. The director has found the post-Terrence Malick visual grammar that David Gordon Green has been flailing after. The performances are naive and moving.
9. The Company. Altman lets a kind of corny, sorta obvious plot just kind of drift in and out of the background. It has the controlled chaos of Nashville, which I never really liked but maybe should reconsider.
10. The Return of the King. Which deserves all its honor. Really a triumph of the imagination, though I'd love if they cut the hobbits out. (No really, I would).

I might revise this after seeing a few more '03 movies, like Fog of War. Even writing the few words on Vargas and Company, I felt that maybe my pleasant surprise caused me to over-value them. Until next time.

reading: Clan Apis, Firework-Maker's Daughter (Pullman), The Profession of English (Berube), Fanny by Edmund White
listening: Will Oldham projects
viewing: Northfork, Thirteen

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