Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Perfect pauses: Happening, and protesting America on 4th of July

The timestamp of this post won't show the 4th of July -- it's July 5th in Australia -- but as I type this, Americans are at BBQs scheduled to celebrate the independence of the United States from England. It's a day that has traditionally prompted patriotism even in those naturally inclined not to show it. American flags might not be their thing, but usually they'll throw America a bone one day a year.

Not this year.

As we are all still stinging from the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, I thought I'd put up sort of a protest post today -- in part because it was something I was planning to put up when I wrote about the movie Happening last week, only I forgot. (Plus, posting something French on Independence Day will stick it to a particular subset of the American population, who think France embodies everything they hate about countries that are not America.)

One particular pause during the movie -- what I have periodically identified on this blog as a perfect pause -- yielded me the image you see above.

The main character, Anne, is receiving the prompting from her professor to "continue," as all her classmates look on. It's a particularly fraught moment for her, as we saw her thrive in a similar scenario earlier in the movie. Now, she's been distracted by her attempt to attain a safe abortion and has fallen behind in her studies, leaving her incapable of answering the professor's question and all her classmates fixing her with accusatory stares.

However, in another way, these are stares of anticipation. And the word "continue" is particularly fraught, as it gets right to the core conflict of the movie -- whether to "continue" a pregnancy or not. Everyone in this shot, including the professor, can be seen to be challenging Anne to bring her baby to term -- the perception of a silent pro-life majority, even if the statistics do not bear out that such a silent pro-life majority exists.

Anyway, as an isolated image, it speaks a lot about the film on the whole.

It might be a bit of a flimsy tie-in for 4th of July, except the point is that it's supposed to fly in the face of the holiday. If we're really celebrating freedom and independence, give women freedom and independence regarding their own bodies and what they choose to do with them.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

My 2001 film rankings (in 2001)

This is the seventh in a 2022 monthly posting of the 12 year-end rankings I completed prior to starting this blog, on the occasion of my 25th anniversary of ranking movies. I'm posting them as a form of permanent backup, plus to do a little analysis of how my impression of the movies has changed since then. I'm going in reverse order and will end with 1996 in December. 

I will forever think of 2001 as "the year I randomly decided not to make Memento my #1." I saw Memento back in March, before leaving New York for Los Angeles the following month -- it's actually usually listed as a 2000 movie due to film festival debuts. Then I didn't see Gosford Park until a week or two before my ranking deadline. Even though I didn't keep track of the dates I saw movies back then (though would start within just a few months), I remember it wasn't until January because Gosford Park was half of a double feature with, of all things, Kung Pow! Enter the Fist, which wasn't released until January 25th of 2002. That's right, the Oscar nominations were released later then too, meaning I usually had all of January to keep collecting titles from the previous year, according to my own arbitrary but clearly defined rules of when to close off my annual list. (Rules that recent pushes back of the nominations have forced me to abandon.) 

Speaking of the Oscars, recency bias has often been listed as a reason why one movie gets a best picture nod and another gets forgotten, and I'm wondering if a similar thing didn't happen here. I was, obviously, really impressed with Gosford Park when I saw it, but it doesn't hold a candle to the creativity, individuality, and long-term cinematic impact of Memento. We'll see in a few minutes just how much lower Gosford Park is now than Memento on my Flickchart. (Again speaking of the Oscars, I'm wondering if this wasn't sort of a career recognition award for Robert Altman, who made two movies that would have been contenders for my favorites of the year if I'd been doing my rankings in the early 1990s: The Player and Short Cuts.)

As mentioned two paragraphs ago, 2001 was a year of great transition for me, as I swapped coasts and did not have a very nice landing when I got to the second one. I sort of followed a girl out there, one I had met while in Los Angeles the previous New Year's Eve, and suffice it to say that things curdled pretty quickly between us once I got there -- and not by my choice. (Fortunately, I also had a ton of friends out there, so she was not the only reason I moved.) It was a pretty rough summer for me, and just when I started to come out of it, September 11th happened -- which made it seem all the more profound that I had lived in New York only six months earlier. (And worked in buildings close to the World Trade Center only a year before that.) Fortunately, by September I was also finally feeling like I'd adjusted to living in L.A., and had a mostly very nice dozen more years living there before coming here.

Here is how I ranked my 2001 movies at the start of 2002:

1. Gosford Park
2. Memento
3. Amelie
4. Waking Life
5. Vanilla Sky
6. The Anniversary Party
7. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
8. Rush Hour 2
9. Rock Star
10. Amores Perros
11. A Beautiful Mind
12. In the Bedroom
13. Shallow Hal
14. Ghost World 
15. Moulin Rouge
16. Ocean's Eleven
17. Together
18. Series 7: The Contenders
19. Startup.com
20. Monsters, Inc.
21. Hedwig and the Angry Inch
22. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
23. Ali
24. Black Hawk Down
25. The Man Who Wasn't There
26. Training Day
27. One Night at McCool's
28. High Heels and Low Lifes
29. Monster's Ball
30. Joy Ride
31. All Over the Guy
32. Spy Kids
33. Not Another Teen Movie
34. Heartbreakers
35. From Hell
36. The Royal Tenenbaums
37. American Pie 2
38. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
39. Scary Movie 2
40. The Princess Diaries
41. Pearl Harbor
42. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
43. Blow
44. Baby Boy
45. Bridget Jones's Diary
46. Made
47. Heist
48. The Caveman's Valentine
49. 15 Minutes
50. The Fast and the Furious
51. Mulholland Dr.
52. The Others
53. Shrek
54. Planet of the Apes
55. Evolution
56. Legally Blonde
57. Hannibal
58. Wet Hot American Summer
59. Life is a House
60. Say It Isn't So
61. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
62. The Pledge
63. Cats & Dogs
64. Kiss of the Dragon
65. The Mummy Returns
66. The Dish
67. The Invisible Circus
68. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence
69. The Glass House
70. Jurassic Park III
71. O
72. Sexy Beast
73. The Musketeer

And here is how I rank those movies today on Flickchart. This is out of 5951 films I have ranked on Flickchart. Following the ranking is the percentage of the ranking out of 5951 and the number of slots they rose or fell compared to the other movies from that year on my Flickchart. A positive number indicates a comparative rise of that many slots, a negative number a fall.

1. Vanilla Sky (34, 99%) 4
2. Memento (138, 98%) 0
3. Waking Life (223, 96%) 1
4. Gosford Park (234, 96%) -3
5. Moulin Rouge (293, 95%) 10
6. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (309, 95%) 1
7. Together (399, 93%) 10
8. Amelie (412, 93%) -5
9. A Beautiful Mind (419, 93%) 2
10. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (648, 89%) 28
11. In the Bedroom (696, 88%) 1
12. Amores Perros (723, 88%) -2
13. Rush Hour 2 (761, 87%) -5
14. The Anniversary Party (767, 87%) -8
15. Monsters, Inc. (884, 85%) 5
16. The Royal Tenenbaums (906, 85%) 20
17. Shallow Hal (936, 84%) -4
18. Rock Star (965, 84%) -9
19. Ocean's Eleven (1127, 81%) -3
20. Training Day (1137, 81%) 6
21. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (1189, 80%) 1
22. One Night at McCool's (1239, 79%) 5
23. Series 7: The Contenders (1342, 77%) -5
24. Mulholland Dr. (1349, 77%) 27
25. Ghost World (1377, 77%) -11
26. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (1486, 75%) -5
27. The Others (1495, 75%) 25
28. Joy Ride (1729, 71%) 2
29. From Hell (1959, 67%) 6
30. Startup.com (1993, 67%) -11
31. The Man Who Wasn't There (2219, 63%) -6
32. Heartbreakers (2270, 62%) 2
33. Black Hawk Down (2565, 57%) -9
34. The Princess Diaries (2772, 53%) 6
35. High Heels and Low Lifes (2816, 53%) -7
36. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2835, 52%) 6
37. Not Another Teen Movie (3027, 49%) -4
38. Ali (3076, 48%) -15
39. Shrek (3167, 47%) 14
40. Spy Kids (3452, 42%) -8
41. Monster's Ball (3588, 40%) -12
42. The Pledge (3604, 39%) 20
43. The Fast and the Furious (3695, 38%) 7
44. American Pie 2 (3704, 38%) -7
45. Blow (3794, 36%) -2
46. All Over the Guy (3800, 36%) -15
47. Pearl Harbor (3813, 36%) -6
48. Bridget Jones's Diary (3838, 36%) -3
49. Life as a House (3858, 35%) 10
50. Baby Boy (3903, 34%) -6
51. Evolution (4060, 32%) 4
52. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (4132, 31%) 16
53. Legally Blonde (4153, 30%) 3
54. Planet of the Apes (4257, 28%) 0
55. The Caveman's Valentine (4394, 26%) -7
56. 15 Minutes (4406, 26%) -7
57. The Invisible Circus (4510, 24%) 10
58. Hannibal (4650, 22%) -1
59. Heist (5026, 16%) -12
60. Wet Hot American Summer (5099, 14%) -2
61. Kiss of the Dragon (5222, 12%)
62. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (5263, 12%) -1
63. The Dish (5348, 10%) 3
64. Cats & Dogs (5369, 10%) -1
65. Sexy Beast (5371, 10%) 7
66. Say It Isn't So (5392, 9%) -6
67. The Glass House (5425, 9%) 2
68. Jurassic Park III (5576, 6%) 2
69. Made (5624, 5%) -23
70. The Mummy Returns (5687, 4%) -5
71. O (5735, 4%) 0
72. The Musketeer (5834, 2%) 1
73. Scary Movie 2 (5867, 1%) -34

Five best movies I've seen since closing the list (alphabetical): Battle Royale, Donnie Darko, In the Mood for Love, L.I.E., The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra
Five worst movies I've seen since closing the list (alphabetical): Domestic Disturbance, Freddy Got Fingered, Life Without Dick, See Spot Run, Tomcats
Biggest risers: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (+28), Mulholland Dr. (+27), The Others (+25)
Biggest fallers: Scary Movie 2 (-34), Ali (-15), All Over the Guy (-15)
Stayed the same (*new feature!): Planet of the Apes (54th), O (71st)
Average percentage on Flickchart: 51.81% (2 of 7 so far)

Although Vanilla Sky moved up four spots to #1, making this the second straight year where my #1 of the year is no longer my #1, it isn't actually my favorite movie from 2001 either. My real #1 is a movie I didn't even see in 2001, Donnie Darko, which was subsequently named my favorite of the decade and which currently sits at #23 on my Flickchart after having spent much of its life in my top 20. 

That's only a taste of the wild west we're seeing among the movies I had seen, as it becomes further clear that the longer removed I am from a movie, the less I remember how well I liked it -- a rather obvious statement, but one I wouldn't have expected to be borne out quite to this degree. 

We have to start with the biggest faller, Scary Movie 2, which dropped 34 spots -- hard to do within a list of only 73 movies. That's the most any movie has dropped since I started this project, and it's not the first time I've considered this phenomenon on this blog. Ten years ago, in order to celebrate 15 (rather than 25) years of ranking movies, I made a top ten list of the worst ranking mistakes I'd made over those 15 years -- and Scary Movie 2 was #1. You can read the full post here, but here's what I wrote about Scary Movie 2:

"Did I have a brain embolism when I was making out my 2001 rankings? Or have I just completely forgotten the things about this movie I might have once found funny? The reason this movie is my #1 ranking mistake is because I currently think of it as so loathsome, so puerile, and so inept, that I have it ranked #3289 on my Flickchart -- out of only 3329 films total. That means that according to my current understanding of Scary Movie 2, there are only 40 movies that I've ever seen that I hate more. Yet in the year 2001, I thought it was better than nearly half of the movies I saw -- 34 movies in that year alone. What's the real truth? And could I possibly be so intrigued by this odd disconnect that I would actually watch it again? Eh, probably not."

Well, I did watch it again -- two nights ago, actually, while mid-draft of this post. And yeah, it real bad. The 2001 version of me was the crazy one, not the current one. The only thing I can think of was that I found Anna Faris delightful, as I always do, and that I was sort of amused by the opening Exorcist spoof. But Scary Movie 2 does not deserve a single other word from me so I'm moving on.  

The other biggest fallers (Ali, All Over the Guy) are movies I must have just steadily thought less of over the years, but the biggest risers -- which are also of more than 25 spots -- were all movies I realized I got wrong at the time and consciously reconsidered with subsequent revisits. I really didn't care for The Fellowship of the Ring the first time I saw it, and have only really come to embrace it after loving The Two Towers and The Return of the King so much. When I saw Mulholland Dr. I had no idea it was destined to be considered a classic -- let's just say I didn't get it the first time, and no, I don't think leaving in the middle to have to take a shit (the only time I can ever remember having to do that) made a huge difference one way or the other. And The Others I consciously put under the microscope for a series called Second Chances that I did around ten years -- if you're really curious you can see that post here. Also worth mentioning is The Royal Tenenbaums (+20), which I only reappraised within the past two years -- and I liked it a huge amount better. I reckon it will still go higher when it wins the right duels. 

I wonder if because it was a year of transition for me, 2001 was also a year I was super mixed up when it came to movies?

In August -- a month I will be in the U.S. for most of the month -- I will consider the year 2000. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

The fight for a life

This is my final Roe v. Wade post. For now. I think.

Last night I rented another abortion-themed movie from iTunes, this one for $6.99 rather than $3.99, further donating my rental dollars to the cause. (If you want to see what I'm talking about, read this post.) This time it also counts toward my current year movie rankings.

Happening was released in France last year, but has made its way to the rest of the world in 2022, and I'm not sure how it could be more timely. Audrey Diwan's adaptation, which she also directed, of Annie Ernaux's eponymous novel about her own experiences looks at what it was like to try to get an abortion in France of the 1960s, when it was illegal, when it could lead to the jailing of the person in question, and when the attempt could also lead to her own death due to such ill-considered home remedies as trying to put bleach in her uterus.

When they started making the movie, they couldn't have known the Supreme Court was about to overturn Roe v. Wade -- though of course it's only an American-centric worldview that considers the U.S. to be the only country where reproductive rights are being fought over. 

For me as a viewer, the film reminded me most of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu's 2007 film that became my #2 of 2008 when it had a similar release a year later outside of its home country of Romania. That film really stuck with me, despite only that single viewing, and made my top ten of the decade. I still haven't seen it again, perhaps because the subject matter is so hard to watch.

Happening is not the film that is, but it's an important film. Interestingly, though, it could make the case for both sides of the argument.

The right to a legal abortion is clear in every moment of this film, given the lead character's attempts to end her pregnancy -- which she can't even talk about in the open without fears of imprisonment. The lack of anyone to help her leads her to take matters into her own hands at one point -- though fortunately not with bleach. She does eventually find someone with medical training who may be willing to help under the shroud of heavy secrecy, though even this is not an experience without its significant travails and threats to her life. (It's not a spoiler to tell you she survived, since we already know the novel was based on the life experiences of its author.)

However, the movie might give just as much ammunition to a pro-lifer. As the pregnancy ticks on into later and later stages and an abortion becomes increasingly less viable -- not quite but almost to the period of time depicted in the title of the Romanian film mentioned earlier -- we get, shall we say, certain biological reminders of just how far along this fetus is in its development. There's a "money shot" here just as there was in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

Of course, no one but the most deluded conservatives could think that Diwan was making a movie that argued for the right to life of the fetus. Really, her movie is just about the horror show that is this whole process, and why it can't be allowed to get to this point of visceral reality. Legal abortions keep the whole thing within the realm of medical safety and prevent the sort of body horror we see here.

Although some of the scenes in Happening will be the thing people talk about most for their unsparing biological detail, the real message here is not how an abortion occurs, but why a woman might want one. 

Anne (Anamaria Vortolomei) is not a promiscuous type -- not that that should matter anyway (no slut shaming here) -- but an extremely studious one, who aspires to teach or write. She has all the answers when her professor calls on her, in direct contrast to the "je ne sais pas" ("I don't know") offered by her classmates. There's no doubt she could go far, and will -- unless she's consigned to the role of a "housewife."

Although Anne does try to be discreet when all the people around her try to shush her, never knowing who will report her to the authorities, she takes a risk at one point to explain to her professor why she's fallen behind in class and needs his lectures to catch up in time to take her exams. He asks if she's been ill, and she confirms she has -- "the illness that only affects women and turns them into housewives."

If we shouldn't slut shame Anne, we shouldn't housewife shame those who want to do that. But that's not Anne, and even if she were inclined that way, the father has no interest in it. Anne wants to retain control of the trajectory of her own life, explaining that she's not sure she could love a child if that child prevented her from having the life she believe she's capable of -- the life she wants.

So Anne is fighting for life alright -- her own. She's fighting to have a life, and the sacrifice she must make is a child who isn't a child yet, who she wants eventually but who came along too soon. And when she's ready for that child, she'll be that much better of a mother to it. 

Anne is pro-life by being pro-choice, though that term probably didn't exist back then. It's what pro-lifers don't seem to understand. Women who choose to have an abortion are fighting for the net good of one life, when the other option is the net bad of two . And it will be the net good of two lives eventually, when and only when she's ready. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

When a reprehensible pro-lifer infiltrated Hollywood

In the continuation of The Audient's coverage of Roe v. Wade ... and reconsidering previous stances ... 

I was a lot less harsh than your average critic on Hillbilly Elegy, Ron Howard's 2020 Netflix movie that brought J.D. Vance's memoir of the same name to the screen. I thought the movie had its uneven parts -- Amy Adams in particular didn't know how to modulate her performance correctly -- but overall I thought it was a reasonably competent, reasonably sympathetic depiction of a story worth telling, even though the occasional broad strokes muddied its prospects for success. After all, Howard has proven himself much more than a competent director -- which doesn't mean he's incapable of misstep, only that we should consider it a lot more closely before we accuse him of such. I gave the movie a 5/10 on ReelGood. You can get the gist of my thoughts in my review.

In giving it a not-quite-but-almost positive review, I no doubt had a fair amount of sympathy for Vance, the intelligent young man who got into Yale Law School but was constantly called back to Kentucky to look after his junkie mother (Adams). This conflict almost, but did not quite, kneecap his career trajectory. In his clear desire to get out of an environment that obviously narrowed his own prospects, Vance had been cast as a bit of a low-level hero in my mind -- someone who didn't feel superior to his upbringing, but also knew he couldn't let it define him. If you asked me to break it down to its political roots, he was a Republican yearning to become a Democrat.

Boy did I get that wrong.

In my email this morning I saw Vance's name pop up again for the first time in a while. I might have seen it sooner had I been following U.S. politics a bit more closely, but I'm still on kind of an extended break after the 2020 election -- a luxury I can, and do, indulge by virtue of living halfway across the world.

This morning's email was from Tim Ryan, Democratic candidate for the Ohio senate seat being vacated by the retiring Republican Rob Portman. The line that caught my attention was "My opponent JD Vance called overturing Roe a 'victory' and said pregnancy from rape is merely 'inconvenient.'" 

The name was familiar to me, in part because of my own nickname, Vance, and the fact that I have a good friend named JD. I pointed out to him at the time that this guy was a mixture of our two names.

I thought it was the Hillbilly Elegy guy, but it didn't seem like it could be -- not according to the idea of this guy I had in my head, a guy who attended Yale Law School and ended up marrying an Indian classmate. Being pro-life didn't fit my notion of this man.

But yes, it was. Wikipedia tells me he's always been Republican but was critical of Trump in 2020, referring to himself as a Never Trumper. However, he's since gotten the itch for politics and has gone to Mar-a-Lago to kneel at the throne of Trump, to apologize for his previous transgressions and to get Trump's blessing. Which Trump has given. And now Vance has won the Republican primary to replace Portman. 

"Reprehensible" is a strong word, and I would not apply it to anybody who is pro-life. I have friends who are pro-life, and though I don't love their opinion on this topic, I still love them. You can't just rule out anybody in your life who differs in your opinion on something, even something as foundational as this. 

But I use the word because of Vance's comments. Here's the full quote I find so distasteful:

"It's not whether a woman should be forced to bring a child to term, it's whether a child should be allowed to live, even though the circumstances of that child's birth are somehow inconvenient or a problem to the society." Vance said this last September.

The word "inconvenient" is objectionable and the word "somehow" just makes it that much worse.

Let's set aside the obviously problematic word "inconvenient" for a moment and focus on the "somehow." The qualifier suggests that rape is "somehow" inconvenient -- as though rape is not objectionably inconvenient, but only inconvenient from a certain point of view. Again, we know "inconvenient" is a terrible choice of words, but we're setting that aside for now.

Translated: "You liberals seem to think rape is inconvenient, but every child born is part of God's plan."

Some people truly believe this. Some people think "Your brother would not have impregnated you unless God had a plan for that child." This is also part of a presumption that if God exists, he could never be fallible.

I don't want to get into the weeds of the argument. More, I want to talk about how I feel like I was taken in by the narrative Vance sold me in Hillbilly Elegy -- as was Ron Howard, a political liberal.

Last month Howard said he was surprised by some of the positions Vance had taken and his move toward far right politics -- indicating, to me anyway, that he thought he was in bed with someone only moderately Republican, not rabidly so. "I always knew he was conservative, but he struck me as very center-right, a kind of moderate thinker."

Translated: "You asshole, why the hell did you associate my name with your brand of right-wing hatred?"

It's a tricky area. It can be argued that one of the biggest areas Hollywood needs to diversify is in the core political assumptions of its cinematic output. I don't know that I'm arguing that, but it's reasonable to argue it. It's extremely rare to see any sort of movie that contains even the slightest conservative agenda. It usually has to be heavily encoded if the filmmaker wants to put it there. (I'm sure there are plenty of conservative agendas encoded into Clint Eastwood's directorial body of work, but he's smart enough to bury them under the surface so that they only function as dog whistles for like-minded partisans in the viewing audience.)

So in a way, I saw Howard's attempt to work with Vance -- whose basic political outlook he understood at the time he accepted the project -- as a step in that direction. Hollywood shouldn't want to disenfranchise Republicans, and of course in its biggest projects, it doesn't -- one of the reasons Top Gun is doing so well is that it is as friendly to Republicans as it is to Democrats, maybe even more so. But Republicans are almost 100% disenfranchised from independent filmmaking, which Hillbilly Elegy essentially is. Maybe calling it "small-scale dramatic filmmaking," since Howard is one of Hollywood's most successful directors and isn't really "independent" (never has been), is more accurate. 

But Howard put himself out there, made a movie that most critics and some audiences hated, and two years later, has been bitten for it by a man who says of abortions in the case of incest: "Two wrongs don't make a right." 

I'm glad Vance finds incest wrong at least. 

I wonder if another big director will be so eager to take that step again. How are more center-leaning conservative values ever going to be brought to a larger audience if the few initial attempts are hijacked by the right wing?

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Ready to vote with my rental dollars now

Like everyone else -- everyone I want to be associated with, in any case -- I have spent the last few days feeling glum about those corrupt, lying political partisans on the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

Last night I did a small part, a very small part, in contributing financially to the protest pro-choice Americans have been making in the streets since Friday.

I don't know to what extent movie rentals are considered a form of expressing your displeasure with something -- in reality, almost none. But I thought it was important not only to watch Eliza Hittman's 2020 abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always on Monday night, but to pay for that rental -- even if it may have been available on one of my streaming services, which I didn't even check.

Maybe it's just important for me. After all, the first two times I wrote about this movie was to complain about how much it cost.

I could link those posts but I won't, possibly due to retroactive shame. But I'll summarize. 

The first was the first time I had encountered a $19.99 iTunes rental price for a movie, which I obviously did not pay. That has since become commonplace, but it was a new pandemic novelty at the time, so I thought it was worth writing about, with a small amount of faux outrage. 

The second time was when I went to see when it would be available for rental at the non-premiere initial price, and that rental date was still more than seven months away. The only option at this time was to buy it, which I don't believe in doing on principle. So again I didn't watch it.

If it could play the smallest role in Roe v. Wade still being the law of the land in the U.S., I'd buy that movie ten times over.

I didn't buy it last night. I still rented it. Now it's only $3.99. I still don't believe in buying movies I haven't seen, unless it's very specific circumstances -- like trying to finish watching Martin Scorsese's movies for a series I'm doing on my blog, and only being able to watch New York, New York if I bought it on DVD. Apparently this principle is a stronger belief in me than my belief that a woman should have the right to choose.

But of course neither buying the movie nor renting it means a damn thing. I can't accomplish anything with my piddly little rental any more than the protestors in the streets, who are really doing something, will be able accomplish anything, unfortunately. Clarence Thomas only listens to protestors when he and his wife believe in what they're doing, like trying to overthrow the U.S. government.

But I do like to think that somebody, somewhere, tabulating iTunes rentals for a two-year-old movie, will see that I rented it on this particular day and will know what that means. It's one more small voice in the chorus decrying this travesty of justice.

The movie is pretty powerful, sneakily so. I say "sneakily" because Hittman's film deals in understatement. We know how awful this trek to New York to get an abortion is for a pregnant Pennsylvania teen and her cousin, not because the movie tells us this, but because it gets incredible mileage out of facial expressions, monosyllabic responses that reveal so much underneath that isn't said. And between the lines of this movie, we see how toxic men have put these girls in this position, and how they continue to do so, even when they are in the midst of it.

Kind of like the toxic men who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.

They've won. They're laughing. Clarence and Ginny Thomas are giving each other high fives every hour on the hour.

Maybe our opposing voices, joining together in a chorus, will one day be enough to set things right again. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

That hot erotic thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow

Flickchart is known for having a wide variety of alternate posters for its movies, and its algorithm is capable of throwing different ones up there on any given occasion. It can be really delightful to see variations on posters you've seen a hundred times -- like, instead of Bruce Willis' haunted face next to Nakatomi Plaza with its rooftop exploding, a weird bit of German abstract art with few recognizable shapes.

Because the crew who add movies to the site -- some of whom I know -- like to pick up whatever posters are out there, we also get the terrible baits and switches. Like this one I saw today.

I guess James Gray probably shouldn't have called his 2008 movie Two Lovers if he wanted to avoid this inevitable prurient form of false advertising.

If you've seen this movie, you know that it's an indie romantic drama, and a really good one at that. At this point I don't really remember what I loved so much about it, but I obviously think very highly of it, as it currently sits at #653 on my Flickchart out of nearly 6,000 movies. 

This is the more typical example of its poster, and the one that far more accurately depicts what the movie is about and what viewers should expect from it:

Now, this does suggest intimacy and possibly even eroticism, but it also shows Paltrow in a winter cap. And that's something I do remember about this movie, it being very wintry.

To the alternate poster's credit, it does contain a tagline that's a bit more reflective of the film's true tone: "Sometimes we leave everything to find ourselves." It may be reflective of the tone, but I'm not sure how well it actually encapsulates the film's themes. 

In searching to find Two Lovers' exact spot on my Flickchart, I first encountered The Killing of Two Lovers, my #3 movie from a couple years ago that's even higher on my chart at #351. Just for a kick I decided to see if having the word "two lovers" in your title basically forces you to lean into the potential eroticism angle.

And while there's certainly a poster giving the accurate depiction of Robert Machoian's wintry, windswept indie ...

... you have to go to Asia to get it. (Sorry, I can't say for certain what language that is.) While the less accurate American version is ... 

Hey, skin sells. 

And if it's baiting and switching viewers into a good movie, it's for the greater good. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Praise as absurd as the movie

I noticed last night that Dear Evan Hansen had come to Amazon Prime, and because of a perverse sense of wanting to continue looking at this car crash, I clicked into it.

That's how I was able to see the hilarious description you see here.

Since the print is pretty small, I'll type it out for you:

"The breathtaking Broadway phenomenon becomes a soaring cinematic event as Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award winner Ben Platt reprises his role as an anxious, isolated high schooler aching for understanding ..."

And the part you can't see is:

... "and belonging amid the chaos and cruelty of the social-media age."

Whew.

I almost wonder if this is someone at Amazon taking the piss out of this movie.

If not, this is some of the most florid language I have ever seen unironically applied to a movie. Words like "breathtaking" and "soaring" and "aching" are so purple that you can't read them without laughing. 

The thing I thought was even more ridiculous was the heaping of awards on Ben Platt, because Platt is, hands down, the biggest problem with the movie. I'm sure he was good in this role on stage, when he won his Tony, but his persistence in playing the role of a 17-year-old at age 28 is a decision from which the film never recovers. (Incidentally, Platt's father provided significant funding for this film, and Platt has basically said "Well if I didn't play Evan then this movie probably wouldn't have gotten made." While commendably honest, that's also one of the most damning assessments you can make about the motivations for making this film and the likelihood of it ever succeeding.)

Because this performance is all I have to go on for Platt, it's hard for me to believe he could have also won and Tony and a Grammy. He must have thought this was his chance to get a career EGOT, that terms applied to people (like Lin Manuel Miranda) who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony. Sorry Ben, Oscar must have missed putting you on its ballot. (Incidentally, the Grammy and Emmy were both offshoots of his stage performance so that feels like a bit of a cheat.)

Since I've never written about this disastrous film on this blog, referring to it only briefly in a post earlier this year about The Pallbearer, it would seem this would be a good time for an extended evisceration, so you know exactly what's so bad about it. However, I'll let two other things on the internet do that work for me. One is my own review, which you can find here. Far more humorously and extensively, there's the great takedown by whip smart YouTuber Jenny Nicholson, which I will include below. (She's worth watching any time she presses record, even if you've never heard of the thing she's talking about. Brilliant humorist.)


Thursday, June 23, 2022

Audient Bollywood: Anand

This is the sixth in my 2022 monthly series watching Bollywood movies. 

After watching Anand, I think I have witnessed the template for half the movies Robin Williams made in his career.

That's an exaggeration, of course. It also makes it sound like I didn't like Anand, which I did.

In June, I purposefully went back in time in Bollywood's history after a string of 21st century movies, which was also an intentional choice to see how much the things we today associate with Bollywood -- singing and dancing -- were present closer to its origins. Anand, a 1971 film about a man with a terminal illness, seemed to be a perfect test case for that.

At first it looked like I might have finally found a movie with no singing and dancing. But that proved to be only half right. There were no dance numbers and nothing that even really resembled syncopated physical movement during the songs, but eventually there were indeed songs, some of them quite catchy.

As you might be able to tell from the poster, the title character -- played by Rajesh Khanna -- is a man with an easy smile who doesn't let a terminal diagnosis get him down. He's got the very rare lymphosarcoma of the intestine, and it means he only has six months to live. Anand Sehgal's got a contagious personality type and is always trying to make everyone around him laugh, partly because that's his nature, and partly because he doesn't himself want to be the cause of their sadness. If he only has a short time to live, seeing everyone else around him in grief is certainly no way to spend it.

Can't you see how Robin Williams would have played this role in the American remake?

The other main character is his doctor, who can't do much for him, and who takes on a larger role as his friend. That's Dr. Bhaskar Banerjee (Amitabh Bachchan), a dour sort who gets irritated at being asked to cure the fantasy maladies of the rich, when he wants to save the poor but can do nothing for them. He's let his sense of hopelessness color his whole personality. His interactions with Anand transform him, so much so that he writes a book about them -- in fact, the events of this movie are essentially him recounting his experiences with Anand while accepting an award for his book in the film's opening minutes.

There are side characters -- a doctor friend who has taken a different path than Bhaskar, and love interests for both of them. That's right, Anand is still trying to find someone to fall in love with, an optimist to the end.

It's not an intricate movie plotwise, which makes it a real departure from most of the other Bollywood movies I've seen this year. But it has a pretty strong cumulative effect and works the sentimental angle pretty hard, though usually well. There are a few moments that prompt involuntary sniggers, as they are pitched a bit more dramatically than the scene may call for. But these are relatively few, and overall it's a really nice portrait of triumph over despair.

I wanted to take a moment to mention one of the funny little differences between these and Hollywood movies that I've been observing, few of which I've mentioned so far. One is that many of them have a legal document that appears on screen before the film, that I believe is the government's approval to screen the film. I've found that funny but gotten used to it, and I've been forgetting to bring it up. 

The one I noticed during Anand was related to the opening credits themselves. I've never liked the phrase "guest appearance by" -- how can you be a guest on a one-off project? -- but they do it a little differently in Bollywood, or at least back in the Bollywood of 1971. In this case the two actors singled out were listed as "friendly appearances." I thought that was cute. 

I feel like I should have more to say about Anand, but as you know, I've gotten a bit behind in my writing, and nothing else is really jumping out at me. It's a nice movie that has nice things to say about the human spirit. I'm glad I watched it.

Now that we're halfway done with this series, I have to start carving out time for a few movies I've singled out that I feel like are a must-watch. The problem is, some of them are more than three hours long. Will I have time for this in July? Doubtful, though stretching it out over two nights worked last month, so maybe that's the way to go. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Settling the Scorsese: The Color of Money

This is the third in a bi-monthly 2022 series watching Martin Scorsese's remaining feature directorial efforts that I haven't seen.

I have to say, this Martin Scorsese series is not going well.

After being underwhelmed, to put it kindly, by Who's That Knocking at My Door in February and New York, New York in April, June made it 3-for-3 with The Color of Money. I think I liked it better than those two, but the margin is pretty narrow.

In order to prepare for this, I watched The Hustler in late May. I didn't love The Hustler either, but I got what it was going for. I'm not sure if if it's the intention of these movies to make our skin crawl from spending so much time stuck in smoky pool halls. If so, good job, you succeeded.

Knowing what Paul Newman's Eddie Felson went through in that movie -- including the suicide of his girlfriend, played by Piper Laurie, ex-wife of the man I wrote about yesterday, Joe Morgenstern -- I feel like I want to shake him for continuing to live his life in these slums infested with degenerate gamblers.

Maybe it is a failure of having the right expectations coming in. I didn't of course see The Color of Money in 1986, but I had friends who did, and I got the idea it was supposed to be really cool. At age 13, we didn't like movies because they probed the tortured souls of desperate people. We liked them because they were cool. We liked them because Tom Cruise looked awesome making trick shots and whooping people at billiards. 

I guess that happens here, but it never felt thrilling to me. It never gave me the sense of something to aspire to. Even if you are ultimately going to demonstrate the hollowness of a particular pursuit, because it's a movie, first you have to make it look sort of cool, right? Maybe the 48-year-old me just doesn't see it that way.

It occurs to me that there's an interesting parallel here with Lightyear, which I saw on Sunday, about five days after I saw Money. If you'd like my Lightyear review, it's here, but I'll give you a taste of the relevant part right now. If you know the premise of Lightyear, you know it's supposed to be the movie Andy and in his friends saw that all made them want a Buzz Lightyear toy in the original Toy Story. Having seen the movie, I have no idea how they'd think a kid who aspired to see brave and uncomplicated heroes on screen would have liked this movie at all, much less immediately demanded an action figure of the same character.

I similarly don't get what drew the 12- and 13-year-olds who were my peers to this movie. (I was 12 for three more days when it was released on October 17th of 1986.) Yeah it starred Cruise, but it was not as easy as I expected it would be to wish ourselves away into his shoes, the way we did for movies like Top Gun, and if we had seen them by this point, Risky Business. The fact that pre-teen boys seem to develop a fascination with pool, independent of films like this, surely helped. (Don't know if they do anymore nowadays -- I'm not even sure if my 11-year-old knows what a pool table is.)

Don't get me wrong, Scorsese does try to make it look cool, at least on the level of interesting camera angles capturing balls scattered all over tables, or resoundingly chunking home into the nearest pocket. Thelma Schoonmaker's editing shines in these scenes, and Newman and Cruise certainly picked up enough skill at pool to make some good shots and make it all look very believable. Knowing what we know now about Cruise, he wouldn't have had it any other way.

But the scenes between the pool games don't offer us a life I want to live, or would have wanted to live even in 1986. There's a lot of fighting and anguish, some of which I didn't fully comprehend even though I was paying attention and only nodding off a little bit. I thought this movie reached some weird, sudden emotional crescendos that had nothing preceding them in the dialogue, at least that I could figure out. Suddenly people were mad about something and quitting on each other and, well, I guess I must have been nodding off more than I thought I was.

And like I said earlier, I wanted to shake Newman. Maybe I expected him to resemble a more stereotypical, probably lazier version of this character, where he'd be three steps ahead of everyone, winking slyly and staying above the fray. But Eddie Felson is right smack dab in the middle of the fray, no better off now than he was 25 years earlier, no wiser for all the miles he's put on that pool cue. Perhaps the disappointment of that, even if it was the point, was something I never got over.

As for how this fits into Scorsese's career? Well I suppose it contains the criminal element Scorsese always flirts with, though I couldn't see his obsession with Catholicism rearing its head. Maybe I just wasn't looking for it. I'm sure there were crucifix shapes embedded in the mis en scene had I been more observant.

But the Scorsese I've seen so far in 2022 has not really whet my appetite to be more observant, even though the director's undeniable mastery of cinematic language should invite that. The Scorsese movies I've missed to this point in my life, I appear to have missed for a reason.

In August I'll be watching New York Stories, only one-third of which Scorsese directed. I'll watch all the segments, not just his, though it helps to have a little less to talk about, seeing as how I will be off to America for the first 20 days of the month and squeezing this in to the last 11. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

So long Joe ... so long me?

I haven't been keeping up regularly with the KCRW film reviews of Joe Morgenstern, whose reviews appear in print for the Wall Street Journal. The audio form of those reviews are one of the least frequently visited podcasts on my Stitcher app. Although I dearly love this stalwart critic and I sometimes read my own reviews with his voice in my head reading them -- to see if they sound anything like his exceptional version of the craft -- the fact is, most of the time I haven't seen the movie he's reviewed, and if I have, it's only three minutes worth of content. When I'm putting on a podcast to do some chore or to accompany some form of commute, I usually want something in longer form so I can just set it and forget it.

Unfortunately, that means I only just now saw an April 30th piece called "Swan song for now," which I hurriedly put on as soon as I grasped the potential meaning of that title.

True enough, Morgenstern has stepped away from film criticism. 

It's a sad day. Or, it was a sad day seven weeks ago. 

In truth, I thought Morgenstern was more likely to die than to retire. He turns 90 in August, and though he hasn't lost a step in either his writing or his performance of his own words in his on-air reviews, many people have been retired for 25 years by the time they're 90, and many others have been dead for at least ten. 

The saddest part, I think, is that Morgenstern doesn't appear to be quitting -- "for now," he teases us -- because he can't do it anymore. It's not even because he doesn't want to do it anymore. It's because he doesn't recognize the version of the movies he sees today as they slip away from their once-central role in the culture.

And maybe only a little bit because he can't gladly adapt to this new-fangled method of watching movies at home through screener links ... which is more evidence, to him, that movies are no longer the thing that called him to this profession so many years ago.

I hope the podcast doesn't disappear from my app anytime soon, though I don't think it will. I can still go back and listen to all the reviews I neglected over the years ... even the ones for movies I haven't seen.

Morgenstern's retirement comes along at an interesting crossroads for me as well.

I have lately found the task of continuing to feed movie reviews to my site, ReelGood, to be perfunctory at best, arduous at worst. Not that we have tons of devoted readers awaiting each bit of new content, but I feel an obligation to keep posting one or two new reviews a week, to keep up what is increasingly a facade: the notion that the website is a vital entity powered by energetic critics and other film lovers. I do have a couple others who review for me, less frequently than I'd like, but I really need more, and I need those more to be more diverse -- at the moment, we're three privileged white men talking about the latest in movies.

I've known I need to bring in additional writers for the entire two years I've been running the site, a gig I picked up when the former editor got jack of it in a way I'm feeling all too keenly now. But when you are feeling a certain lethargy for the thing you are doing, you also feel a certain lethargy to make it any better. It's sort of easier to keep rolling along with the status quo than try to sell someone what you sort of think is a lie: that now is the time to try to increase the profile of a film review website. 

One issue is that I don't feel like I can really offer them much. I can't pay them, of course, so all I'm really offering is a chance for them to see their work in print, and maybe the occasional advanced screening or screener link, though those have decreased in quantity as well. 

The other is, what really is the future of movie reviews? And who is going to be its shepherd?

Increasingly, it doesn't feel like me. And that's perfectly fine. I would love nothing more than to hand over these reins to a young go-getter, preferably someone who is very different from me demographically, and stay on in a sort of senior film critic role, who writes only when he's really inspired to do so. 

But in order to find this person, first I have to do the legwork, posting in job spaces that are not very familiar to me. Then I have to find a person whose writing is good and who strikes me as a potential heir. And then I have to convince them this is a brand worth preserving and growing in a climate where cinematic attendance is dropping precipitously, and the center of our culture is television more than movies -- though television also faces its own challenges with its mind-boggling number of options and its difficulty in focusing around a single transportive program the whole culture can share. 

Complicating this moment in time is that I have to renew the site's domain, and it's not as simple as charging another year to my credit card. (So yes, I am losing money on this non-profit-generating enterprise as well.) 

The former editor I mentioned earlier had the site linked to his ABN, which stands for Australian Business Number. All Australian businesses must have one, even if that "business" does not generate any profit. I imagine they assume anyone who has an ABN is trying to make money, but that would be an incorrect assumption.

Anyway, when he dropped all things ReelGood he also saw no reason to keep his ABN afloat, and it has lapsed. The site that hosts our domain has recognized this and has sent me emails saying that the ABN needs to be renewed or transferred to a new registrant, and that the latter process could require some kind of bill of sale or letter on company letterhead that legitimizes it and proves that I'm not attaching the site to some rogue business that's going to turn it into a kiddie porn site or something. 

Ha ... as if ReelGood has "company letterhead."

When I first heard about this I thought it might be the thing that breaks me. Not that this is hard as such, but it does require my brain to work things out that are unfamiliar to me, and when I've got so much other house admin to wrangle with, children's school and playdate-related logistics to coordinate, and an upcoming U.S. trip to plan that contains a long-delayed memorial for my mother, who died in 2020, it just feels like it could be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Bye bye ReelGood, bye bye my ability to still describe myself as a professional film critic. 

I was seriously mulling this over. What if I just let this site die? When I agreed to take it on from the former editor, I came to it with the knowledge that I wanted to keep the brand alive to hand on to the next person, doing my duty to maintain it as a permanent entity -- whatever that means in this day and age. But it wasn't because he necessarily seemed to demand it. Sure, he'd prefer if the thing he created didn't disappear from the world. But more than anything, it was clear that he just wanted -- needed -- to get out. Whatever else happened after that point was somebody else's problem.

Well, that's not going to happen. Not yet.

Instead of getting a new ABN -- something that is probably easy but felt incredibly hard to my little brain -- I'm going to be able to use the existing ABN for the ReelGood Film Festival, which operates as a slightly different entity under the same name (and does actually generate profit, fancy that, though its organizers are hanging on by their fingernails as well, and didn't actually hold a festival in 2022 in anticipation of coming back stronger in 2023). 

Then in discussions with the tech staff at the domain hosting site, I found out that the type of domain I have -- I can't even be bothered to remember the term they used -- means that a more informal sort of change of registrant can occur on the site itself, without further documentary evidence like bills of sales or involving company letterheads.

I haven't done that yet, but I still have about 45 more days before the domain expires.

I'm hanging on. For at least a little while longer.

And if I ever have to ask myself why -- why I'm paying something like $150 a year, and maybe twice that considering that I am also paying for a podcast hosting site that I no longer use -- the answer is simple:

I still need to be a critic.

Sure, there's the fringe benefit of continuing to go to movies for free with my critics card, which costs me only $75 per year and returns probably four times that value. But the reality is, they might not even notice if ReelGood disappeared and might continue to renew my membership.

No, it's that I still need to be able to call myself a critic, and I still need it to be true.

You could argue that I stopped being able to call myself a professional film critic when I wrote my last paid review more than ten years ago. Truth is, I could never support myself on the $20 per review I made back then. Believe me, I tried in the year 2001, and it was a financial disaster. 

But the changing face of film criticism inevitably means that we redefine what it means to be a professional critic, and in reality, I can just drop the word "professional" and still be fine with it. Nowadays, so few critics make money doing what they do -- unless they have a outlet that still pays them, or they have a Substack, or they really know how to monetize their blog -- that we all understand we can call each other critics just by appearing in print for some organization that has some minimum level of reputability. 

Heck, I won't deny someone who wants to call themselves a critic even if they just write for their own blog. I'm inclusive like that, even if it does tend to diminish my own accomplishments, my own exclusive right to that particular title.

And the reality is, I still need this. Some part of my soul needs to define itself as a film critic to complete the professional picture of myself. It's the thing that keeps me from being just an IT guy who specializes in a program schools use to pay their creditors and do their attendance. And while I like that job quite a bit, and am good at it, I still need the words "film critic" to feature prominently in my obituary one day.

I also can't discount the possibility that I'll get the love back.

If we look at this blog, we know it goes through peaks and valleys. I'm in a bit of a valley right now. I actually have about three posts I want to write, two of which are actually the posts for my recurring series, but I just haven't found the time to pull up to the desk and write them. 

But that could just be because of all I have going on, the so many things that keep life from feeling like it will ever be simple again, and inevitably dull passions such as this one.

I have to remember that at the start of this year, I was writing so much, and subsequently interfacing so much with movies, that it's no exaggeration to say that I sometimes had six or seven posts already written and in the can, just waiting for a free day to be published. 

When that time comes again, I don't want to have already quit. 

Joe Morgenstern likely wasn't always "feeling it" through all the decades of his long career. But he always got it back. And when he finally, indisputably, determined he wasn't going to get it back, he was 89 years old, a reasonable time to stop doing anything in life that doesn't give you absolute joy.

And even he left the door open to the possibility of a return in some fashion.

Film critics. You can't kill us until you actually kill us. 

I'll try to remember that the next time I think of hanging it up. 

Saturday, June 18, 2022

The omens didn't end up being good ones

I kept seeing the Boston Celtics pop up in whatever I watched this week.

I didn't know they would factor into Hustle, Adam Sandler's new movie, which I watched on Monday night. I knew Sandler played a scout for an NBA team, but I knew it wasn't the Celtics -- I would have heard about that. It turns out it was the Philadelphia 76ers.

But the Celtics do factor into this movie in a non-zero way. The film stars real NBA player Juancho Hernangomez, who, as it turns out, was on the Boston Celtics at the time of filming. I watched most of the Celtics games this year, and even I had forgotten he was on the team, probably because he was a garbage time guy and I had nothing to distinguish him from any of the other bench guys, not knowing he was about to star in an Adam Sandler movie.

But indeed, Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens has a brief appearance and a line of dialogue, and we see a number of my beloved Celtics, including Jayson Tatum (whose t-shirt I have), on the floor with Hernangomez in a closing credits sequence. (And if you think that's a spoiler for Hustle, you are vastly overestimating how unpredictable this movie is.)

As you know from my previous post last weekend, I was concerned about their prospects in the series, so seeing them on screen gave me a little bit of hope and raised my spirits a bit. I'm not superstitious, but I do like to retroactively create narratives about what certain things mean, if certain outcomes occur. (Okay, maybe that's just straight-up superstitiousness after all.) 

A single appearance would have been just a one-off, but then the Celtics factored into the episode we watched of Kevin Can F**k Himself on Tuesday night, after they'd lost Game 5 earlier in the day to go down 3-2. (I'm not such a prude that I wouldn't spell out the word, although I did do that recently on this blog. But I think the title actually contains the asterisks, if only because it must be published in polite contexts the vast majority of the times it's published.)

In that episode, the eponymous Kevin (Eric Peterson) -- resident of Worcester, Massachusetts and a diehard Boston sports fan -- has a dream sequence where he imagines himself getting advice from Brian Scalabrine, a bench player throughout his five-year tenure on the Celtics, but elevated to additional prominence in Boston sports lore by currently functioning as the color analyst for local broadcasts of Celtics games. Scalabrine, now 44, appears in uniform, even though he hasn't played in the NBA since 2012 for the Chicago Bulls. 

The Celtics did not appear in The Color of Money, which I watched later on that night -- but now that I think about it, the color of money is green, and that's also the color of the Celtics.

All signs point to a Celtics victory in Game 6 and forcing a Game 7 back in Golden State?

Nope.

The dream is over, folks. I know it's not your dream, but it was mine, and on Friday, during the extended lunchtime hours Australian time, I finally had to give it up. 

I knew this was coming pretty much since I wrote Sunday's post, when only the first of an eventual three more losses for the Celtics had been recorded, but the writing felt like it was on the wall. They made efforts to wrest control of each of these next two games -- coming all the way back from a big deficit to momentarily take the lead in Game 5, and starting Game 6 on a 14-2 run -- but Golden State just had more poise and more players capable of making circus shots. (You'd think I was talking primarily about Steph Curry, but Jordan Poole made two of the most ridiculous playoff shots of all time in these finals.)

It's alright, I'm moving on, I just needed one more post on my blog to sulk about it.

Even when the universe seems to be telling you "It's alright, Vance, it will all work out in the end," sometimes that's not really true. 

Sometimes coincidences are just coincidences, and sometimes the team you love needs one more year of seasoning before they can win it all. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

My 2002 film rankings (in 2002)

This is the sixth in a 2022 monthly posting of the 12 year-end rankings I completed prior to starting this blog, on the occasion of my 25th anniversary of ranking movies. I'm posting them as a form of permanent backup, plus to do a little analysis of how my impression of the movies has changed since then. I'm going in reverse order and will end with 1996 in December. 

As I was typing out the movies in my 2002 rankings, and got to about the mid-50s, I thought "How much longer do I have to go?" I could tell I wasn't near the bottom yet, but I knew that in 2003, I had ranked only 58 movies before my ranking deadline -- not from memory, but because I'd only just posted about it a few weeks earlier. In the last ten years or so, my annual numbers have only tended to go up or drop by a handful of titles at most, so it was stunning to me to discover that I ranked 80 movies in 2002 -- and 22 fewer than that only a year later.

I can't really account for it in terms of my life experiences. In both 2002 and 2003, I spent most of the year dating my last serious girlfriend before I met my wife. We got together at the beginning of March in 2002 and broke up at the beginning of November in 2003, meaning about two months in both years that I was not together with her. Yet our habits must have changed between the two years, because I consumed far fewer movies the second year. Hmm. It's not a specific choice I remember.

Other things I noticed about this year was the handful of movies I watched, on the down low, at my new job, my first job in IT, when I didn't have enough to do and worked in a back room where my boss almost never came. There were a handful of movies I was able to sneak in under these circumstances, spread kind of evenly throughout the list, which I downloaded through Kazaa, an old file-sharing service where I also picked up some songs I really liked. 

The first two movies I ever saw at the drive-in as an adult -- Scooby-Doo and my worst of the year, Bad Company -- were also watched in 2002. Which was also my first full year as a Los Angeles resident, having moved in May of 2001. 

Here is how I ranked my 2002 movies at the start of 2003:

1. Adaptation
2. Chicago
3. 25th Hour
4. Kissing Jessica Stein
5. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
6. Bowling for Columbine
7. Y Tu Mama Tambien
8. About Schmidt
9. Auto Focus
10. Igby Goes Down
11. The Quiet American
12. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
13. Full Frontal
14. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
15. One Hour Photo
16. About a Boy
17. Blue Crush
18. Signs
19. The Cat's Meow
20. Reign of Fire
21. 8 Mile
22. The Kid Stays in the Picture
23. Minority Report
24. Scooby-Doo
25. Ice Age
26. Insomnia
27. Punch-Drunk Love
28. Brotherhood of the Wolf
29. Star Trek: Nemesis
30. Monsoon Wedding
31. Catch Me If You Can
32. Far From Heaven
33. Pumpkin
34. Moonlight Mile
35. Lovely & Amazing
36. Spider-Man
37. The Time Machine
38. Stuart Little 2
39. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
40. Austin Powers in Goldmember
41. The Hours
42. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
43. Like Mike
44. Jackass: The Movie
45. The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course
46. Lucky Break
47. The Rookie
48. Changing Lanes
49. The Bourne Identity
50. Men in Black II
51. The Importance of Being Earnest
52. Treasure Planet
53. Stolen Summer
54. All About the Benjamins
55. Lilo & Stitch
56. The Powerpuff Girls Movie
57. Red Dragon
58. Dragonfly
59. Resident Evil
60. Narc
61. Thirteen Conversations About One Thing
62. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
63. Snow Dogs
64. Death to Smoochy
65. Gangs of New York
66. The Rules of Attraction
67. Birthday Girl
68. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
69. Big Trouble
70. The Good Girl
71. Kung Pow: Enter the Fist
72. Storytelling
73. Hollywood Ending
74. 40 Days and 40 Nights
75. Secretary
76. Blood Work
77. Two Weeks Notice
78. A Walk to Remember
79. Eight Legged Freaks
80. Bad Company

And here is how I rank those movies today on Flickchart. This is out of 5916 films, which is the same number as when I did this post for 2003 about a month ago. I guess it's been a slow three weeks on Flickchart. Following the ranking is the percentage of the ranking out of 5916 and the number of slots they rose or fell compared to the other movies from that year on my Flickchart. A positive number indicates a comparative rise of that many slots, a negative number a fall.

1. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (55, 99%) 4
2. Adaptation (58, 99%) -1
3. Kissing Jessica Stein (140, 98%) 1
4. Chicago (155, 98%) -2
5. 25th Hour (197, 97%) -2
6. The Cat's Meow (341, 94%) 13
7. Y Tu Mama Tambien (383, 94%) 0
8. About Schmidt (589, 90%) 0
9. Ice Age (593, 90%) 16
10. Bowling for Columbine (760, 87%) -4
11. Signs (784, 87%) 7
12. Full Frontal (808, 86%) 1
13. Reign of Fire (845, 86%) 7
14. Blue Crush (849, 86%) 3
15. The Quiet American (866, 85%) -4
16. About a Boy (943, 84%) 0
17. Auto Focus (1028, 83%) -8
18. Minority Report (1140, 81%) 5
19. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (1218, 79%) -5
20. Brotherhood of the Wolf (1614, 73%) 8
21. Punch-Drunk Love (1618, 73%) 6
22. 8 Mile (1659, 72%) -1
23. The Kid Stays in the Picture (1775, 70%) -1
24. One Hour Photo (1883, 68%) -9
25. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2089, 65%) -13
26. Spider-Man (2174, 63%) 10
27. Igby Goes Down (2208, 63%) -17
28. Stuart Little 2 (2251, 62%) 10
29. Catch Me If You Can (2283, 61%) 2
30. Insomnia (2470, 58%) -4
31. Far From Heaven (2564, 57%) 1
32. Star Trek: Nemesis (2578, 56%) -3
33. Monsoon Wedding (2612, 56%) -3
34. The Importance of Being Earnest (2988, 49%) 17
35. Jackass: The Movie (3059, 48%) 9
36. Lucky Break (3095, 48%) 10
37. Moonlight Mile (3182, 46%) -3
38. The Time Machine (3258, 45%) -1
39. The Bourne Identity (3261, 45%) 10
40. Stolen Summer (3315, 44%) 13
41. Dragonfly (3446, 42%) 17
42. Lovely & Amazing (3455, 42%) -7
43. Red Dragon (3485, 41%) 14
44. All About the Benjamins (3561, 40%) 10
45. Like Mike (3563, 40%) -2
46. Treasure Planet (3576, 40%) 6
47. The Hours (3679, 38%) -6
48. Pumpkin (3752, 37%) -15
49. Lilo & Stitch (3754, 37%) 6
50. Resident Evil (3761, 36%) 9
51. The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (3785, 36%) -6
52. Changing Lanes (3929, 34%) -4
53. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (3989, 33%) -14
54. The Powerpuff Girls Movie (4000, 32%) 2
55. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (4066, 31%) -13
56. Scooby-Doo (4082, 31%) -32
57. Austin Powers in Goldmember (4144, 30%) -17
58. Gangs of New York (4188, 29%) 7
59. Birthday Girl (4678, 21%) 8
60. Death to Smoochy (4735, 20%) 4
61. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (4875, 18%) 7
62. Narc (4894, 17%) -2
63. Thirteen Conversations About One Thing (4899, 17%) -2
64. Men in Black II (4930, 17%) -14
65. Big Trouble (4958, 16%) 4
66. The Good Girl (5069, 14%) 4
67. My Big Fat Greek Wedding (5070, 14%) -5
68. The Rookie (5116, 14%) -21
69. Bad Company (5186, 12%) 11
70. Secretary (5212, 12%) 5
71. Snow Dogs (5269, 11%) -8
72. Storytelling (5479, 7%) 0
73. Blood Work (5537, 6%) 3
74. Hollywood Ending (5538, 6%) -1
75. Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (5557, 6%) -4
76. A Walk to Remember (5574, 6%) 2
77. The Rules of Attraction (5661, 4%) -11
78. Eight Legged Freaks (5697, 4%) 1
79. Two Weeks Notice (5744, 3%) -2
80. 40 Days and 40 Nights (5778, 2%) -6

Five best movies I've seen since closing the list (alphabetical): Equilibrium, Infernal Affairs, Irreversible, The Pianist, Rabbit-Proof Fence
Five worst movies I've seen since closing the list (alphabetical): The Chateau, Fear Dot Com, Master of Disguise, Swept Away, 29 Palms
Biggest risers: Dragonfly (+17), The Importance of Being Earnest (+17), Ice Age (+16)
Biggest fallers: Scooby Doo (-32), The Rookie (-21), Austin Powers in Goldmember/Igby Goes Down (-17)
Average percentage on Flickchart: 47.74% (6 of 6)

The first thing worth commenting on is that the farther distance I get from these movies, the less well I remember their impact on me. This feels kind of like the wild west compared to other recent years. A full 22 of the movies, more than a quarter, moved up or down by double digits compared to how I ranked them nearly 20 years ago, and this year also has two of the biggest differentials so far in the 32 spots and 21 spots Scooby-Doo and The Rookie dropped. While the former is a case of reassessing it more recently when I watched it with my kids -- meaning I could see flaws I had ignored on that fun night at the drive-in -- The Rookie is simply a case of not correctly remembering how much I disliked it, which was a lot less than I remembered. I only ranked these films on Flickchart seven or so years after seeing them, so that was when I fixed on a semi-permanent impression of them.

Another notable detail is that this is the first year I've looked at (remember I started in 2007) where my highest ranked movie on Flickchart is not the film I ranked highest at the time. Although in a straight-up duel between Adaptation and Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I would almost certainly pick Adaptation, the fact is that the latter sits three spots ahead of the former, due largely to the vagaries and inexactitudes of the Flickchart process.

The reverse of that is that my worst movie in 2002, Bad Company, is not very close to being the worst now. Incidentally, this was the other movie I saw at the drive-in with Scooby-Doo, which certainly didn't help its prospects at the time like it did for its double feature partner. There are now 11 movies worse than it, which I can only attribute to it winning some random duel and catapulting upward in my chart. In truth, while I do think of it as a bad movie, I'm surprised I saw it fit to saddle it with my number last of that year -- in retrospect anyway. 

All three of my risers are films that I now think I like better than I actually did. Dragonfly and The Importance of Being Earnest are just mediocre-plus movies for me, with Dragonfly bearing the novelty of my having seen it at a test screening -- in other words, a screening done to gauge audience reaction, with the possible intention of making changes before the final film is released. In fact, I don't actually know what resemblance the Dragonfly I saw bears to the Dragonfly you saw -- presumably they both star Kevin Costner. Anyway, I obviously hold it in higher esteem, in retrospect, than I did at the time. I always liked Ice Age, but it has invariably dropped some in my mind in the wake of something like five sub-par sequels, only one or two of which I've seen. Curiously, you'd think that would have the opposite effect of dropping it lower on Flickchart, but it still stands tall. 

One other thing of note is how middle heavy this list is. Although only the bottom nine movies are lower than the tenth percentile on Flickchart, the overall percentage is the lowest of any of the years I've looked at so far. My top five are all in my top 200 on Flickchart but it drops off pretty precipitously from that point.

I could probably analyze this more but I've taken enough of your time already. We'll look at 2001 in July.