Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010: The Year of Film

One of the many things I'm grateful to my parents for is a love of and appreciation for movies, which they instilled in me early on. Now I know everyone loves movies, so it's not like some big secret club they invited me to, but, still, what I'm grateful for is that they had good taste, and made sure that I saw not just the obvious popular crap, which, for reasons all its own, I *also* enjoy. I can slum as well as anyone, most of the time, and have a great time doing it. (However, I'm still trying to muster up the energy and conviction to go see Avatar, only because so many people have said, "the effects are amazing but the story is shit" to make me feel that I'm going to a tech demo rather than a movie. And ya know, I kinda *like* good stories with my movies. But, yes yes, I will go. I know it is my Nerd Duty to so, so you don't need to berate me about it.)

My first movie memory (and I'm talking about movie theaters here, as my childhood took place in the Caveman Era before VCRs) is going to Yellow Submarine with my mom--and that's a pretty cool first movie! I don't know (and I kinda doubt) it's the first movie I ever went to, but it's the first one I remember. I would have been about 6 years old at the time. And while I obviously missed a good, what, 3/4 of the references, the crazy pop art and (of course) the soundtrack stayed with me. Years later, when the movie appeared on TV--I was watching on the portable black-and-white set in my room--I sat in bed with my audio tape recorder and taped the whole movie onto a couple cassettes, and then replayed it endlessly. My second movie memory is Patton, believe it or not, also with my mom, for which I must have been about 9 years old. All I can remember about that one is my mom telling my brother and I that one did not clap and cheer when the lights went down like we did in kids movies, and then the big opening scene with George C. Scott in front of American flag using really bad words. I was probably too young for that one.

Most of my best memories as an adolescent (and, okay, there's not much to compete with as far as good memories of that time go) are my dad turning me on to a lot of his faves: The Marx Brothers, Woody Allen (this is pre-sex scandal, and also back when he was funny), the great Ernie Kovacs, and more. Recall, again, that this was pre-VCR, pre rentals, pre NetFlix, pretty much pre-fuckin'-everything: You either went to the movies at the theater, or you waited for stuff to show up on TV, where, unless it was on PBS, it was butchered with commercials. So, ya know, the whole universe of movies was NOT available at your fingertips, like now. Netflix Watch Instantly still blows me away. I mean, you all can stop reading this blog right this second, and within less than a minute can be watching any one of a number of Akira Kurosawa's classic movies. In MY day, once I was old enough to drive, I'd have to watch the repertory movie theater calendars--like the Nuart in Los Angeles--like a hawk, circling the movies I needed to see and planning my evenings in advance to make sure I didn't miss them. Because if you missed The Seven Samurai once, you might not have another chance for a year. And that's a movie that you simply cannot miss. My best memory of watching stuff with my dad came a little later--right about the time I started college--when PBS showed, over a series of nights, Rainer Werner Fassbinder's incredible 15.5-hour Berlin Alexanderplatz, a gargantuan, depressing, hilarious, monster of a movie that totally opened up my mind to movies outside the American mainstream.

Anyhoo, the point of all this, beyond babbly nostalgia, is to report that my kid and I decided, while over in Spain this holiday, that 2010 was going to be our Year of Film. (We thought about calling it Year of Movies, at first, but realized that it sounded more appropriately pretentious as "film.") The decision was made after about the third time that I asked her if she'd seen such-and-such movie, and she declared that she hadn't. I can't remember what the movie in question was--it might have been Casablanca, or possibly The Big Lebowski--but in any case we realized that, despite a pretty damn good start, she had too many holes in her movie education still. And with the clock (gulp) ticking until she herself will be off to college (OH MY GOD), I realized I had to ramp up my brainwashing here.

She *has* been off to a fine start. (And I really should lump in music and books with this, too. The day she came in and told me how awesome the Velvet Underground were was one of those great parental triumphs for me--I think I was doing the Rocky theme in my head for like three days following.) She's got a healthy intellectual curiosity and open-mindedness, as well as a budding English (or film!) major's appreciation for subtext and directorial intent (and manipulation). At almost-16, she can sit in pretty much any movie and I know she's going to probably get as much out of it, if not more so, as any adult. Which means that the entire world of movies is now open to us.

So I think I've decided that I will chronicle, or at least list, the Year of Film in this space. I'm going to include both movies at the theater and movies we watch at home. It's not all gonna be the hifalutin' stuff. You'll see. And also, because I'm anal this way, I'm going to include movies that I watch just on my own, or with my wife. Just as kind of a small sub-project on this site. I may just start a separate sidebar list on the site here, so I don't clutter up the posts. Or maybe I'll include them in blog entries with mini-review/writeups. I dunno. Whaddya guys think?
But to start, here's how the year has begun:

1/2 The Dark Knight. Saw it in Spain w/friends--them for the first time, us for the second. Liked it even more this time around.

1/4 The Informant! - on plane back to the U.S., and I liked it so much I went out and bought the book the very next day. Soderbergh took maybe too goofy of a tone with it, I think, but Matt Damon was great, and Scott Bakula was a freakin' revelation. His facial expressions alone nearly stole the movie.

1/4 State of Play Ugh. I wanted to like this. And with Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, and a subdued Ben Affleck all trying hard, you'd think it'd be good. And it was, for about 2 hours or so. But the movie utterly collapses in the last 15 minutes, with a twist so ludicrous it basically destroys the rest of the movie. The more you think about it, the less it makes sense.

1/5 Oldboy - Netflix Watch Instantly - hyperviolent 2003 South Korean movie that I saw cuz I noticed it was on a bunch of "Best of the Decade" lists. I think I was still too jetlagged to appreciate it all, but the story (guy is imprisoned for 15 years without knowing why or by whom, gets out and seeks revenge) is fantastic, and the one set piece I remember--an extended, long, one-take fight scene that keeps scrolling horizontally like a sidescroller game--was freakin' amazing. Need to watch this again when more awake.

1/6 Pickpocket Netflix Watch Instantly - 1959 Robert Bresson movie is probably too dated for some, but very cool in that it is a clear, obvious influence on Scorcese's Taxi Driver, and some neat choreography of the crimes themselves.

1/7 The Marriage of Maria Braun - Netflix Watch Instantly - 1979 Fassbinder film starts with a poster of Hitler getting blown up, and then tells the tale of a German woman whose husband doesn't come home from WW2 and has to pick up her life from there. Unpredictable, crazy and decadent as always with Fassbinder. Also, completely "adult"--by which I mean that adults actually act like adults. You watch a movie like this (and so many made in the 1970s, even in the US) and you realize just how many movies now have such an infantile emotional range and tone for the adults they portray, and how easily we've come to accept it.

And if all that sounds too pretentious, let me assure you that the movie I enjoyed the most in the past couple weeks, which didn't make this list only cuz I saw it at the end of '09, was The Hangover. Nothing like a few good dick jokes to trump art house ennui!


Anonymous said...

Don't know if you're a Mamet fan, but probably even if you're not, I have to suggest "Red Belt" (or maybe it's "Redbelt"... one word? I dunno.) Anyway, I find it to be one of his greatest, and has this quiet majesty about it, and also manages to give you that same feeling you had watching "The Karate Kid" the first time too, a bit. (Yeah, seriously.) It's on Netflix instant watch (or at least was last week) and I highly recommend it. My oldest is 5 now, and I plan on doing something similar as soon as she's old enough to deal with some of the more adult themes. Although I've probably already pushed the boundaries (and hopefully horizons) with her already watching Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, both awesome for kids (although I was probably 10-ish when I saw them.)

Anonymous said...

Pickpocket is one of my all time favorite films. I'm glad you liked it. Funny that I haven't thought of it as an influence on Taxi Driver as that is also one of my favorites.

I look forward to seeing what else you check out. Also, you continue to hold the coolest parent on the internet award for making your daughter watch great movies.

Mathew Byrne said...

Randomly I had exactly the same idea with my girlfriend just after Christmas. So far we've been on an oscar winners spree, watching Slumdog Millionaire, There Will Be Blood, No Country For Old Men, The Wrestler, Lost in Translation & Crash. Some of this stuff has been way outside my normal comfort zone for movies, but nearly all of it has been amazingly good. We're planning to start going back a bit further this month and see some real classic movies.

Jonathan said...

It's really cool that you're doing this. Really respect that you're not just going for art films. Too many film buffs ignore mainstream cinema in favor of shoving their head further into their ass.

It's funny that you mention Kurosawa because I'm actually working my way through all of his films chronologically I'm almost out of the 1940s at the moment.

UrbanEconomist said...

This sounds glorious. I wish that I had done something like this with my father at that age. I also entirely support your decision not to stick with "the classics" there are honestly getting to me more of those than one can watch in a year and there is a whole other set of movies that one really needs to be conversant and literate in the field.

Have fun! I can't wait to see the updates!

Anonymous said...


Please consider watching the original, BBC version of State of Play. It is far superior.


Macroe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Macroe said...

Great idea. Sounds like the "Broadening Horizons" experiment that Sean Sands did over at GWJ, though he did it with games genres that he would usually not play.

In this vein, you should also check out one of the iconic Mexican movies from the 40s:

Neither you nor your daughter will regret it!

JSD said...

RE: Avatar, the story isn't bad, just predictable and done before. It should appeal to your Berkeley sensibilities. It did to mine.

Go see it in the theaters in 3D. It's a landmark film in the same vein as Star Wars and The Matrix, and a must for any film fan.

I'm a few years younger than you, Jeff, but I remember in the 70s that movies had much longer legs, which gave them time to find an audience and so you could go see them a few times spaced apart. Star Wars ran for 44 weeks in theaters, for example. But I'm glad that modern technology has given us wide access to almost any movie we want, if not instantly within a few hours or days.

Rob Drimmie said...

Jeff, my vote is for posting everything to the blog, not to the sidebar. Your loyal RSS readers will appreciate it; or at least this one will.

Sean said...

Jeff you should really check out the films Krzysztof Kieslowski. Very few filmmaker can create such beauty with an emotional charge. My advice would be to start with The Double Life of Veronique, followed by The Three Colors Trilogy, then lastly his most ambitious work, The Decalogue.

James D. Bausch said...

Jeff, please see Moon when it comes out on DVD tomorrow.

Almost nobody has seen it, but it was truly excellent. Sam Rockwell is amazing in it.

Jeff Green said...

Sean:I've seen all those Kieslowski movies except the Decalogue. Just added to queue!

James: Moon has been added to the queue!

Otakudad: Wow, don't know why I've never heard of that Mamet film. Added!

Macroe: Never heard of those Mexican films either. Cool. Added!

Thanks gang! Now I have even more to watch, you bastards! :)

Kevin said...

This American Life did a great story on the Informant! guy. Definitely worth checking out in addition to the book and movie:

Tristessa said...

I had a similar tradition with my dad. Overall our relationship was pretty terrible but we went out and saw a movie every week or two for years. I came from a large family (classic U.S. east coast Irish Catholics) but more often than not, the other siblings were left out. All the space in between those viewing events disappeared whenever we were in the theater. He took me to movies that were clearly out of my age group - like the 1979 re-release of 'The Exorcist' (I was 11) and virtually every slasher film in the early 80's. This practice continued off and on through the home video era and straight into the 90's.

He died two years back and it's all those weekend movies that I vividly remember...maybe most of all our long argument about 'Repo Man' (he hated it, I didn't...he brought it up for weeks). We might not have been a close family unit but we had a movie going bond that will last as long as I do.

Shifting gears...

It was already said but I'll chime in too - 'Avatar' doesn't have a bad story. It's just that the 'Dances With Wolves' kind of thing has been done a few times before. The movie is huge fun though. Cameron has never disappointed me.

'Oldboy' is a brilliant film! Have you seen any of Park Chan Wook's other ones? 'Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance', 'Joint Security Area' (a little slower than his other ones) and 'Lady Vengeance' are all quite good.

Have you seen 'Moon'? It was one of my favorite films of last year. A very low key 70's feeling, philosophical science fiction story that's worth checking out.

I've been trying to convince my fiance that he needs a film education. But I think he's afraid of my obsession with 70's and 80's Chinese martial arts movies.

Once again, I blogged in your blog!
Cheers! =)

Anonymous said...

Here in Canada, on CBC Newsworld, there was a wonderful show called 'Gilmour On The Arts'.

Sadly, David Gilmour departed the show to pursue other endeavors - and it was a great shame, because his love of the arts transferred right across the t.v. screen.

Here's one of those endeavors. This book was released about eight or nine years after his departure. You can pick this up through Amazon, of course.

The Film Club: A True Story of a Father and a Son (Paperback) - by David Gilmour

"In this poignant and witty memoir, Canadian novelist Gilmour (A Perfect Night to Go to China) grapples with his decision to allow his teenage son, Jesse, to leave school in the 10th grade provided he promises to watch three movies a week with his father.

Determined not to force a formal education on his son, former film critic and television host Gilmour begins the film club with Truffaut's The 400 Blows—with Basic Instinct for “dessert.”

There are no lectures preceding the films, no quizzes on content or form: just a father and son watching movies together.

Expertly tracing the trials and tribulations of teenage crushes and heartbreak, Gilmour explores not only his choice of films but also Jesse's struggles with his girlfriends and burgeoning music career. There are “units” on everything from undiscovered talent (Audrey Hepburn's Oscar-winning debut in Roman Holiday) to stillness, exemplified by Gary Cooper's ability in High Noon to steal a scene without moving a muscle.

Gilmour expertly tackles the nostalgia not only of film but also that of parents, watching as their children grow and develop separate lives. With his unique blend of film history and personal memoir, Gilmour's latest offering will deservedly win him new American fans. (May) (Publisher's Weekly)"

The Goose

Christopher said...

Hey Jeff - I felt the same way about State of Play. The best parts of the movie were the chronicling of the decline of print journalism - that was both interesting and incredibly sad. But you are right - the last 15 minutes ruined it for me. They always have to tear down the idealist!

As to gems found on the instant queue - check out The Man from Earth. It was an interesting discussion of mortality (immortality, more precisely).

My first child (a daughter) was born on 1/04/2010, and we are starting her off with some good books. I grew up on all the Tolkien stories, and I am currently reading her the Hobbit. I know she wont understand it for a few years - but in that time I will be able to read it to her a few times, and hopefully create another soldier for the nerd army:) The movie marathon year will have to wait for another decade.

All the best!

Chris A said...

Jeff, please keep the movie posts inline! This stuff is just as good as video games.

And for everyone else skimming the comments, I second the Kieslowski recommendations, and in the same order suggested by Sean.

Oh! Also, Jacques Demy's Umbrellas of Cherbourg. One of the most beautiful films ever made.

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Anonymous said...

@Christopher - that's funny you're reading your 2 week old daughter the Hobbit. I just bought a copy (an hour ago) to read for my 4 year old son & worried that maybe I was jumping the gun and getting a bit over his head. Looks like I had no idea where the bar was :)

Jeff - I used to run a theater when I was in college & had a great time programming the upcoming semester's selection. I left that job many years ago, and since then I haven't been as much of a film buff. I don't know what happened for sure. Either I burned out or it just wasn't as fun if I wasn't doing it for an audience. Nowadays my interests, when I'm not watching any of the recent spate of great television series, seems to run to older movies.

So from the bottom of my film programmer's heart to you, here are a few faves off the top of my head:

The Most Terrible Time in My Life by Kaizo Hayashi (I think this is on Netflix & is a B&W cinemascope pastiche of both detective flicks and Yakuza flicks - wonderful)

Bad Day at Black Rock

The Killers

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Train

The Philadelphia story

And of course, anything by Hitchcock :)

Tydigame said...

I agree, The Killers is a good one.

Mark said...

I'm actually doing something similar but just by myself - resolving to watch more movies. A couple of years ago my love of videogames was seriously reignited and I feel like movies were pushed aside. I recently watched District 9 and Iron Man both for the first time, made me remember how varied and fantastic cinema can be.

A personal suggestion for you and your daughter, albeit a cheesy one, would be Dazed & Confused. It's a very sweet, nostalgic film set in 1979 and charting the end of several characters time at high school.

Ravi said...

Your blog reminds of the time when I was in India, without a proper internet connection. It used to take me close to an hour to download one of GFW radio podcasts. I used to go to a friend's house and download them there, and load them on my mp3 player and listen to them on my want to class.

Now, I am in America on a 8mbps connection, and it takes a few minutes at the maximum to download a podcast, but there is no GFW radio anymore.

But like you said in your last podcast, things will change, that's just how it is.

However, its ironic, I was thinking to myself back in the homeland, that when I get to the US, I will subscribe to the magazine. Sadly that never happen, and I don't own a GFW or CGW magazine.

But I've been a huge fan of the podcast. You were the funniest guy of the lot.

Good luck with everything.