This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

A look at the taglines for this week's major releases. How do studios try to hook us when they only have a sentence?

The Last Song

Actual tagline: Do you ever really forget your first heartbreak?

OR: A Story about Family, First Loves, Second Chances and the Moments of Life That Lead You Back Home.

First, a staple: the rhetorical question. Though if I were to answer it anyway, I'd say "No, you don't, especially if your first heartbreak was the moment you realized Nicholas Sparks is a multi-millionaire."

The second tag is an improbably detailed list of what the story is about, although no songs are included. Was there a first draft of this that was even longer? "A story about Family, First Loves, Maturing Your Tween Popstar Image, Reconciling With A Long Lost Parent, Probably A Cute Dog, Someone Dying At The End*, Being White, Sad Piano Music, and the Moments Of Life That Lead You Back Home."

*someone always dies at the end in Sparks things- if someone really dies in The Last Song, then sorry about the spoiler.

Clash Of The Titans

Actual tagline: Titans Will Clash.

OR: Between Gods and men, the clash begins.

I feel compelled to point out that even though I've been including the word "actual" in this feature for a while now, that first tagline is really real. In essence, it goes "Clash Of The Titans: Titans Will Clash."

That's... the best they could do? Why not just "Titans. Clashing.", or even just repeating the title?

They did change it later to "Damn the gods." and other such things, but this one is for the ages. If the movie does well, think of all the time it will save future marketers!

Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too?

Actual tagline: Marriage is an institution they're committed to.

OR: Together. Forever.

Even as an English major and sentence-corrector, I've never been that bothered by ending sentences with a preposition. That doesn't mean the first tagline doesn't sound plain awkward, however- I think it's supposed to be a pun, as if they're committed to a mental institution, but it's trying a little hard to get there.

And how awful is that photoshopped poster? They couldn't even try to take a picture that looked like they were being restrained by giant rings, they just added them around people standing normally? This is so distracting I can hardly even make the requisite Tyler Perry's Tyler-Perry-Produced Tyler Perry Project, Starring Tyler Perry In A Tyler-Perry-Written Role! joke.

IMDB #199 Stalag 17

We break the 200 barrier with the rarely seen prisoner-of-war comedy subgenre, 1953's Stalag 17. "Dramedy" might be a better term, though- we wouldn't want to confuse the tone of such a classic with "Hogan's Heroes."

I mean, sure, there's cross-dressing, near-ubiquitous cross-eyed mugging, and easy laughs, but sometimes people get shot.

The Key Players:

Nice to see you again, Billy Wilder. First alcoholism, now WWII- where will you take us next?

Academy Award-winning star William Holden also appeared on this blog two years and twenty three years later ago, if that makes any sense.

Noted director Otto Preminger takes a rare turn in front of the camera in support, along with the late Peter Graves ("Mission: Impossible") among many others.

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The Story:

Based on the hugely successful play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski (who cameos in the film), Stalag 17 is the story of inmates in a German POW camp somewhere on the blue Danube river. It opens in December 1944, right during the middle of the Battle of the Bulge- from the German side of the line, it sounds like the tides are turning against the Allies.

Barracks 4 mounts an escape attempt, sending two men out with fake papers and civlian clothes through an underground tunnel, but unlike the "Hogan's Heroes" tunnels (which were endless in number and always lead to safety), this one leads the men to gunfire before they even reach the forest.

Holden, a cynical, caustic grifter, callously wagers cigarettes with the other POWs on this very outcome, and cleans up when the shots start firing. The next day, the smirking Stalag commandant (Preminger) orders the men to fill in the tunnel, and takes away the wood stove that covered the entrance- information that had yet to be discovered.

Talk of a mole quickly starts, and suspicion immediately falls on Holden, who brazenly fries an egg for breakfast that he's bartered with the German guards for. He's built up a surplus of cigarrettes and other goods by setting up a distillery, taking bets on literal rat-races, and improvising a telescope to peek at the nearby Russian women prisoner's camp.

In coming days, the mole provides information that gets the barracks' secret radio confiscated, and gets a recently arrived-Lieutenant arrested as a sabateour after he mentions blowing up a German artillery train. Sefton maintains innocence, but the prisoners rough him up in frustration.

Even Holden's friend and assistant Cookie (also our narrator) starts to wonder who the mole might really be...

The Artistry:

There are a lot of broad comedy bits in Stalag 17 that don't really work for me, most of them involving either Sig Ruman Sergeant Schultz (the German guard) or Robert Strauss and Harvey Lembeck reprising their stage roles as an antic comic duo of POWs (an oaf and a wiseguy, respectively). It might be because things like "M*A*S*H" would have the time to do wartime silliness with more restraint, though- and I did enjoy some parts, like Strauss's gravely exchange of "At ease!" with a whiny voiced messenger.

But everything with Holden jumps off the screen- he plays a classic antihero, and does it to a T. Holden reportedly turned down the part initially because it wasn't very sympathetic- he begged Wilder to give him a line about how much he hates the Nazis, to no avail.

Preminger plays the sort of classic smiling and cruel Nazi that everyone went gaga over Christoph Waltz putting a new spin on- flashy and simmeringly particular. I loved the part when he puts on his boots to call his superiors in Berlin on the phone.

The decision to reveal the traitor with 40 minutes (out of two hours) to go works very well for the pace, as ambiguious intrigue gives way to full-on dramatic tension.


After sussing out the mole's message system of a hollowed-out chess piece (and a light bulb cord as a signal), Holden discovers that a man named Price (Graves) is a German-born spy posing as a G.I. from Cleveland. He'd been elected security chief of the barracks, and had all of the sensitive information necessary to tip off the guards.

This leaves him in a quandary- if Price gets wise that he's been made, he'll just leave and be sent to spy on another Barracks somewhere. If he kills him, the Nazis might retaliate by killig everyone.

Things come to a head when the Lieutenant accused of sabotage is about to be marched off to be executed. The prisoners hatch a plan to hide him from the guards- to make sure Price can't interfere, Holden cannily argues that the security chief should stay behind to guard him, to make sure that Holden (the suspected mole) doesn't give them away.

Finally, Holden breaks Price in front of everyone by grilling him on his fake American past, and catches him when Price claims he was eating dinner when Pearl Harbor was attacked (It was lunchtime in the states, dinnertime in Berlin).

Holden goes to escape with the lieutenant to safety, while the rest push Price out of the barracks as a distraction (the guards shoot him, as they do anyone out after dark).


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I think higher, on the whole. As far as the silly parts go, they amplify the impact of the dead-serious moments rather well. Holden holds it all together in a classic lead role.

The Legacy:

Strauss and Wilder also earned Oscar nominations, and Stalag is one of the definitive WWII POW films along with The Great Escape and The Bridge On The River Kwai.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Not too many clips, but the beginning of this clip has my favorite Holden vs. the rest scene. "You've put 2 and 2 together and it comes out 4, only it ain't 4!"

Leftover Thoughts:

-A lot of lipservice is paid to the Geneva Conventions in this movie. Remember when people cared about those dusty old things? Good times.

-Did prisoners of war really get mail delivered? This seems dubious to me.

-"One more word. If I ever run into any of you bums on a street corner... just let's pretend we never met before."

Coming Up...

198. Kill Bill Vol. 2

197. Shadow Of A Doubt

196. Sleuth (1972)

IMDB #200 Brief Encounter

In a turn of events shocking to no one, there are no Adrian Lyne movies on the countdown- not even Flashdance. But if you saw his 2002 film Unfaithful and thought to yourself "this would be great without all the sex and violence," then 1945's Brief Encounter might just be the film for you. Let's get British and reserved for number 200.

The Key Players:

You might say that the full title of today's entry is Noël Coward's Brief Encounter, as he wrote the play upon which it was based, adapted it, and produced the film ("Produced by Noël Coward" even comes after the director credit). An accomplished British author, director, producer, songwriter, and even actor (including a key role in the original The Italian Job), he's the type of artist that has busts made of his head in places, and is allowed to have an umlaut for no real reason.

Considering this is a David Lean film, I was surprised to find the running time under an hour and a half. All of the epic, Oscar-type pictures he's known for (The Bridge On The River Kwai, Lawrence Of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage To India) are about three hours on average.

Our star is Celia Johnson, who had worked with Lean and Coward in smaller roles on the British Proganda film In Which We Serve, had a long and illustrious stage career that's mostly been forgotten about. That's the theatre for ya. In support is Trevor Howard (The Third Man).

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The Story:

Told in flashback, Brief Encounter is the simple story of housewife Johnson, who meets a married doctor (Howard) on one of her weekly trips into the city to buy groceries and see a movie.

It begins innocously as he helps get a piece of grit out of her eye. A week later she shares her cafe table with him since there's nowhere else to sit, and he joins her at the cinema.

Somehow the next week it's full-on love, with all the wracked guilt and nervous run-ins with friends that you might expect. Eventually, Johnson finds herself on the brink of physical as well as emotional infidelity (her husband remains cheerfully oblivious)- will she join Howard for a night in a city apartment, or catch the last train home?

The Artistry:

Since it's set in winter, Brief Encounter sees it fit to be darkly lit and noir-ish, a mood fit for its relatively turbulent subject matter. Coward softens the implications of the play slightly- on stage it's left ambiguous whether the love is consummated, but the owner of the apartment (Howard's colleague) returns to interrupt them in the film.

Given the context, I wonder what British audiences thought Brief Encounter was trying to tell them in 1945- did the doctor represent those American GI's with idle time in the isle while everyone's husband was away? Lean and Coward paint a remarkably chaste portrait of love and sacrifice following years of cornball propaganda films, and seem to drive home the message that duty comes before happiness.

Or maybe we're meant to take it as a straight-up tragedy. Who can say? Since the film begins with the lovers' final farewell, we never hold out hope, and it lends a depressing air to even the flirty first moments.

Johnson manages a melodramtic voice-over script rather well, and I can see why her performance was notable enough to cross the Atlantic. At a brisk 86 minutes, no one else has much time to stick in the memory, though.


Any spoilers were really already mentioned, I guess. They never make love, and he moves to Africa with his family to spare them both further longing.

Johnson's husband breaks her out of her flashback-filled reverie at the very end, and in a far too on-the-nose way says "Thank you for coming back to me."


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I guess I was rather unimpressed, on the whole. Maybe the novelty of the subject is important in context- last week's The African Queen drew fire from censors even years later for having two adults cohabitate on a boat when they weren't even married, let alone married to other people.

The Legacy:

There's Johnson's Oscar nomination, and a split of the 1946 Palme d'Or at Cannes. Brief Encounter has also been adapted into a radio play a few different times.

It was also remade in 1974 with Richard Burton and Sophia Loren- it aired on tv as part of the Hallmark Hall Of Fame series.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

My favorite moment: when they see a trailer for a fictional film called "Flames Of Passion." EPOCH-MAKING!!!

Leftover Thoughts:

-This week in pretentious film writing: this article claims the use of a Rachmaninoff piece moves the film along in "an almost Proustian manner." Good to know.

Coming Up...

199. Stalag 17

198. Kill Bill Vol. 2

197. Shadow of a Doubt

This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

A look at the taglines for this week's major releases. How do studios try to hook us when they only have a sentence?

Hot Tub Time Machine

Actual tagline: Kick Some Past.

An easy pun for an oddly high-concept stoner comedy. The trailer also invites you to Get Tub'd This March, whatever that may mean. The best beat is Craig Robinson's deadpan stare at the camera after saying the movie title.

How To Train Your Dragon

Actual tagline: none?

It's like they thought we would get a general idea of the plot from the title, or something. I'm flabbergasted by this. Unless "From the creators of Shrek (meh) and Madagascar (boo)" counts.

IMDB #201 The African Queen

Number 201, ladies and gentlefolk, marks the fiftieth entry in the countdown! Drinks all around!

In fact, let's celebrate with some rust-flavored tea from the boiler of a steamship (since some dowdy preacher's sister poured all the gin overboard), as the last entry of the first fifth of the countdown is 1951's The African Queen.

The Key Players:

The higher we go, the more legendary the talent will become: not only do we visit with Katherine Hepburn for the third time, but we encounter the legendary Humphrey Bogart as well. After a stint playing gangsters in B-Movies, he rose to stardom in High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon- then some chick walked into his gin joint in another film we'll get to a long time from now, and an icon was cemented.

Much like Titanic was made solely so James Cameron could go deep-sea exploring, The African Queen was made largely so director John Huston could shoot an elephant. He insisted it be shot on location, which would be the sweltering, wild, and malaria funhouses of the Congo and Uganda, and kept changing the locations last minute to be closer to ideal big-game hunting spots. Co-screenwriter Peter Viertel got so fed up he later wrote a thinly fictionalized account of the shooting entitled White Hunter, Black Heart, painting Huston as an addled, elephant-crazed Kurtz holding the entire pre-production crew at his mercy.

Despite all this, The African Queen is the most beloved film of Huston's illustrious career- basically six and a half decades of classics, from The Maltese Falcon in 1941 to Prizzi's Honor in 1985.

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The Story:

The plot mirrors that of C. S. Forester's novel pretty closely. Hepburn plays the sister of a British missionary in Central Africa- at the outset of World War I, the German military conscripts all the local natives. Her brother dies after the Germans burn the village (and he goes into shock, seemingly), so she's forced to flee with Bogart, the coarse Canadian captain of the titular African Queen, a steam-powered mining vessel.

When Bogart explains that not only do they have nowhere to go, but rescue from the British is blocked by the German warship Louisa in a lake far downriver, Hepburn suggests that they fashion makeshift torpedoes out of gas tanks and TNT, strap them on the African Queen's bow, and ram it into the German ship.

Naturally, the every-man-for-him-selfish Bogart objects, but is bullied into it by Hepburn polite Nationalism. So they set off downstream. Along the way: rapids, gunfire, larger rapids, a broken propeller shaft, a muddy river delta, (possibly real) leeches, and an awkward romance!

The Artistry:

As novel as the location shooting was at the time, the real heart of The African Queen is the chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn. I expected a sort of screwball, opposites attract sort of thing- and while there was an element of that, it's mostly Hepburn bullying Bogart into being a hero. My favorite moment is probably when he expects her to be discouraged after the first set of rapids, but she's instead envigorated by the sensation.

The steps after that- he drinks in despair and is rude, she pours out the gin and waits for him to get his nerve back up, he shaves his face and they fall in love- are all staples for a reason, and no one hits them better. I haven't read the novel, but it's played with a welcome humor that any modern day film set in WWI wouldn't even attempt- Bogart mugging and imitating hippos is a little corny, but it's still warm and well-meant.

Not that I can judge it in context, but the technicolor brought Africa reasonably to life, and the only odd moments are the clearly super-imposed backgrounds when they go over rapids. Otherwise the expensive trip to Africa paid off.


The biggest departure from the novel is the ending. In both versions our heroic couple argues about who should man the boat for the run at the Louisa before accepting that neither can leave the other behind. They pull out in a storm, but the holes cut for the torpedoes let in water, and the African Queen capsizes before reaching its target.

The next morning we see Bogart has been captured by the Germans- at their questions, he tells them he was fishing on the lake, but they sentence him to hang anyway. Hepburn is soon brought aboard, and proudly tells the enemy that they were thisclose to bringing down their warship- she's sentenced to hang as well.

Bogart asks the German captain to marry them, to Hepburn's delight and the captain's bemused frustration ("I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution!").

Of course, just in the nick of time, the Louisa runs right into the bow of the derelict African Queen, allowing our heroes to escape into the water as it sinks. The newlyweds merrily swim off to safety on the Belgian-held side of the Lake.

The novel ends with the same failed attempt- only the German captain decides to deliver them to a British nval vessel. They decide to get married when they get back to the consul, and it ends with "Whether or not they lived happily ever after would be difficult to say." Would it, really, omniscient narrotor of a fictional book?

So yeah, the ending is pretty standard Hollywood, and there's an over-reliance on deus ex machina in general: the end, the rainwater that gets them unstuck from the delta, and the sun in the eyes of a German sniper. But the smile that broke out on my face when I saw the upturned African Queen in the water probably means I didn't really care.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I'm going with higher, which is of course pending the rest of the list- there are two other famous Huston/Bogart collaborations to get through, after all.

The Legacy:

Oscars: Bogart won his only acting award out of three nominations for his workmanlike perfomance as Charlie Allnut. Hepburn would score a nomination for actress, and Huston for director as well as screenwriter (with James Agee).

Elsewhere- AFI lists left and right, NFR inclusion, and so on. It was adapted into a radio play (with Bogart reprising) in 1952, and Clint Eastwood even played the John Huston character in a film version of White Hunter, Black Heart.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Pretty much the only non-10m-long clip is the victorious moment in which they first kiss- as stiff as Hepburn's "hip hip hooray!" is, there's some great acting when they realize what they're doing.

It was another surprise that this moment would be so early in the film- I thought they would deny their feelings until much closer to the finale, you know, like you do in these types of films.

Leftover Thoughts:

-I wish that British trailer voice dude up there would narrate all trailers: "And filmed amid the jungles of the headquarters of Africa, the Dark Continent..."

-I'm getting conflicting information on whether or not there were real leeches all over Bogart in one scene. But they sure looked real- if so, there's the Oscar for you.

-This will be getting a region 1 DVD (and Blu-Ray) release for the first time coming up on March 23rd, 2010.

Coming Up...

200. Brief Encounter

199. Stalag 17

198. Kill Bill Vol. 2

IMDB #202 Duck Soup

Hold on to your sides and trim your eyebrows and mustasches everybody, for today is our one and only encounter with the fantabulous Marx Brothers! Out of 14 feature-film collaborations, only 1933's Duck Soup is deemed countdown-worthy by the internet at large.

And what a shame, imdb users. Now I'm going to have to catch up on the rest of the Marx oeuvre on my own time. In Duck Soup alone we get a classic mirror gag, a great quote every other second, and we're all instilled with a desire to carry scissors around in our pockets by the time it's through.

So let's hop to it as soon as you tell me what has four pairs of pants, lives in Philadelphia, and it never rains but it pours.

The Key Players:

Director Leo McCarey, by far the most luminous name the Marx brothers worked with, would go on to win three Oscars for The Awful Truth and Going My Way, and is best-remembered for the hit An Affair To Remember.

Since we'll never see them again, let's run down the Marx Brothers:

Groucho, or Julius Henry Marx is the iconic face of the actm with the quick wit and novelty-glasses inspiring countenance. After rising through vaudeville and cinema with his signature persona, Groucho hosted the game show "You Bet Your Life" for 11 years, essentially being paid to make wisecracks about the contestants for half an hour.

Harpo was born Adolph Marx, but changed it to Arthur in 1911 because he disliked the name- well before any German Adolphs made it unpopular. His nickname came from his skill as a harpist- a self-taught style of tuning and playing. Never once speaking in a film, he played the mime in the act, with his bug-eyed expressions and props providing all the laughs you could need. For me, the real MVP of the Marx brothers.

Chico, or Leonard Marx, was the oldest of the brothers and the only one to carry the vaudeville tradtion of ethnic characters into the films, with his exagerrated Italian mannerisms.

Zeppo (Herbert) Marx appears in his last film before leaving to become a talent agent. Despite being a reputedly hilarious performer, he never developed the distinctive character of his older brothers and played mostly straight-men.

Duck Soup aslo stars Margaret Dumont, a seven-time humorless foil in the brothers' films.

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The Story:

Are we really that concerned? Dumont plays a rich widow endowing the treasury of a fictional country called "Freedonia"- as a condition, she insists that Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) be made president.

A plodding ambassador from neighboring Sylvania plans to marry Dumont and depose Firefly, with the help of Harpo and Chico as incompetent spies. Zeppo plays Groucho's aide-de-camp, and many hilarious things ensue. Let's hit some quotes:

"You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon you can leave in a minute and a huff."

"-Haven't we seen each other somewhere before?
-I'm not sure I'm seeing you now. Must be something I ate."

"My partner here's got a nose just like a bloodhoung. And the rest of his face don't look so good either."

"I wonder whatever became of me? I should have been back here a long time ago."

"-Why should we have a standing army?
-Then we save money on chairs."

The Artistry:

Blah blah, songs, mirror gag, street vendor, and so on. More quotes!

"I've got a good mind to ring his doorbell and run!"

"This is the fifth trip I've made today and I haven't been anywhere yet."

"-He's had a change of heart.
-A lot of good that'll do him. He's still got the same face."

"I'll see my lawyer about this as soon as he graduates from law school!"

"I suggest we give him ten years in Leavenworth or eleven years in twelveworth."

"-General Smith reports a gas attack- he wants to know what to do.
-Tell him to take a teaspoonful of bicarbonate soda and a half a glass of water."

"-I wouldn't go out there unless I was in one of those iron things. What do you call those things?
-You're welcome."


So they go to war after Groucho slaps the ambassador one time too many, and then they trap the guy in a stocks and throw fruit at him until he surrenders. Victory!


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

So much higher. And where's A Night At The Opera? Or Animal Crackers? come on, imdb. Get the vote out.

The Legacy:

Certain iconic images live on from Duck Soup, though the Marx brothers films tend to run together on the whole, plots being more than beside the point. But it has been added to the National Film Registry and so forth, and makes the middle of the AFI's top 100 comedies every time.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Mirror scene, with Harpo dressed as Groucho and posing as his reflection. Though this idea originated with the Chaplin short film The Floorwalker, Duck Soup remains the most well-known instance of the oft-referenced sight gag.

Leftover Thoughts:

-There was a fifth Marx brother named Gummo that was never in any of the films. Also one more brother died in infancy.

-The secret to Groucho's look? Greasepaint.

-I once did a charity walk in a city called Fredonia, Wisconsin. That is all.

Coming Up...

201. The African Queen

200. Brief Encounter

199. Stalag 17

IMDB #203 Rope

Today Alfred Hitchcock makes the first of approximately eight thousand appearances on the countdown with 1948's Rope. Based on Patrick Hamilton's 1928 play, Rope was inspired the real-life case of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, two brilliant University of Chicago students that sought to commit the "perfect crime."

It starts with a muffled shriek, and ends with a gun fired into the air. In between...cold cuts and champagne! Let's do this.

The Key Players:

It would take a while to list all of theHitchcock films that we'll get to- though oddly the classic The Birds is not among them. Clearly a profound influence on film, Hitch went 0 for 6 in the Best Director Oscar category, though they gave him a Thalberg eventually.

Pretty sure we've seen Jimmy Stewart before.

John Dall we've already met many years (and pounds) later in his life as Glabrus in Spartacus, and Farley Granger will appear with Hitchcock in the future with Strangers On A Train

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The Story:

After the credits (remember when the credits used to all be in front of the film instead of the end? How did people stay awake you guys?), we hear a shriek and then see Dall and Granger finish strangling a man and then stuff the body in a large book chest.

After a breathless few moments that are a clear analogy to a post-coital state, they begin to plan for their upcoming dinner party. The man they killed was David Kentley, whom they considered an inferior being- they decided to commit the perfect murder by strangling him and then hiding his body during a party that includes his parents, his fiancee, and his former best friend.

The nerve! They've also invited their former schoolmaster (Stewart), an intellectual who had taught them Nietzsche's concept of the superman- a superior being unbound by the concepts of right and wrong.

Dall, clearly the more dominant of the muderers, is thrilled and bemused to have pulled it off- he makes several ironic remarks about the victim's abscence, although it worries the rest of the guests. Granger slowly unravels as the night continues, wrought with worry and guilt.

After a few obvious clues, it's clear that Stewart is going to figure it out. But will he approve of the supposed intellectual exercise?

The Artistry:

Rope is shot in an interesting way- in only ten long shots, the camera dancing around the actors and removable scenery like a guest itself. Half of the cuts are disguised by closeups into someone's back, making the film look like five uninterrupted takes. It's fun to watch, and the premise holds up reasonably well for the brisk 77 minute run-time.

Dall's performance sells the film for me- he moves from threatening to charming at will, and his chemistry with Stewart is fascinating. Stewart doesn't show up until 27 minutes into the story, but he takes over once he does, with wry humor and obvious glances at the book chest and Granger's nervous pallour.

It's surprising that the relationship at the film's center made it past the Hayes Code: not a lot of men shared apartments onscreen in 1948. Apparently there are even more undertones between them and the schoolmaster in the play.


After the guests become frantic over their son/fiancee/friend's failure to appear or call, they all decide to leave. The housekeeper accidentally hands Stewart a hat with the dead man's initial monnogrammed on the inside on his way out- he returns a brief time later, pretending to have forgotten his cigarette case.

After some meaningful questions, he finally opens the chest and is horrified. He's also deeply ashamed that his own idle rhetoric led Dall and Granger to the murder. He takes Dall's gun and fires shots out the window- we hear startled neighbors shout in alarm, and sirens approach as the three men stand grimly by.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I think it's fine enough where it is- the way it's staged is memorable for such a director and star. These days it's all Tony Scott cutting every thirty seconds until we get epileptic tremors.

The Legacy:

No awards, no AFI inclusion- it's arugably the least-lauded classic film we've seen so far.

But it stands as one of the gutsiest experiments in Hollywood history.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

A scene near the end, when Dall and Granger realize Stewart is coming back. It was either this or an entire ten-minute chunk, as several people have put the whole thing on there in pieces.

Leftover Thoughts:

-There's apparently a Hitchcock cameo in caricature in the background, but I didn't notice.

-The background itself is a full on miniature replica of the Manhattan skyline, complete with working chimneys.

-Maybe it's for tension, or just to fit into the shot, but a lot of people stand awkwardly close to one another while talking in Rope.

-Make sure to check out the trailer up there, it's a trip- there's a prequel scene not in the film, and then Stewart talks to us as his character.

Coming Up...

202. Duck Soup

201. The African Queen

200. Brief Encounter

This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

A look at the taglines for this week's major releases. How do studios try to hook us when they only have a sentence?

The Bounty Hunter

Actual tagline: It's A Job. It isn't personal. Well, maybe a little...

It's like Gerard Butler made P. S. I Love You and his friend was like "There's no way you could be in a worse romantic comedy," and he was like "Oh yeah?" so he made The Ugly Truth. And then the same friend was like, okay, point made and Butler was all "Still not finished!"

From The Trailer: Arresting Your Ex... Best Job Ever.

Diary Of A Wimpy Kid

Actual tagline: I'll be famous one day, but for now I'm stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons

OR: It's Not A Diary. It's A Movie.

I don't know much about the kid's series, but seeing as I pretty felt the same way in middle school, and the main character is played by young Bloom from The Brothers Bloom, I wish the film well. Apparently the titular wimpy kid frequently has to explain "It's not a diary, it's a journal," hence the second tag there.

Repo Men

Actual tagline: For a price, any organ in your body can be replaced. But it can also be repossessed.

There are like twenty more, but they're all part of a faux ad campaign for buying replacement organs. The best ones emcourage hard living with no consequences, like "Go Ahead. Have the Cheeseburger." or "We Encourage You To Drink Irresponsibly."

It's all very subversive and seems like it could be a timely allegory, but the trailer looks like a run-of-the-mill action movie.

IMDB #204 Little Miss Sunshine

Words used by real-life film critics to describe today's countdown entry, 2006's Little Miss Sunshine: "funny" "touching" "gracefully written" "wonderful" "riotous" "tender" "brilliantly acted" "both hilarious and bold" and on and on and on.

My question: What film, exactly, did these critics see, and what were they imbibing while viewing said film?

Followup question: How on earth do I agree with Owen Gleiberman about this? What is happening?

The Key Players:

First time directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris cut their teeth on music videos, most famously "Tonight Tonight" by The Smashing Pumpkins. Based on what I know of their work (which is just this movie), I assume their marriage is nothing but shrill, hateful arguments and awkward silence.

Screenwriter Michael Arndt is also a first-timer after paying his dues as Matthew Broderick's personal assistant. His next project is the upcoming Toy Story 3, so look forward to Woody snorting heroin.

The cast is a relatively star-studded affair for such an "indie" project: Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Abigail Breslin, and Steve Carrell play the so-quirky-you-might-just-throw-up-a-little family at the center of the action.

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The Story:

Even though they have two hours to identify them, the filmmakers decide to define each family member by a few specific details.

Kinnear, the dad, is giving a lame presentation of a lame self-help routine that's all about nine steps and winners/losers. He hates losers, values winners. Collette, the mom, smokes and argues with people on the phone (her profession is never stated, despite being the family's primary source of income while Kinnear tries in vain to get a book deal. Whatup with that?).

Arkin, the grandpa, curses a lot (whoa! How edgy.) and snorts heroin (Quirk alert! What capricious individualism!). Dano, the son, wants to be a jet pilot (how...normal?) and has taken a vow of silence until he becomes one (there it is!). Breslin is of course the titular beauty pageant hopeful, and has no character beyond wanting to dance in said pageant and a handful of little kid tropes.

Finally, Carrell is Collete's brother- he's the world's foremost Marcel Proust scholar and has recently attempted suicide after being rejected by one of his male graduate students for the world's second-most Proust scholar. Yes level of relative Proust-scholarship is apparently that simple to identify and rank.

Got all this? Breslin gets into the Little Miss Sunshine pageant, prompting them all to road trip to California in a yellow VW Minibus. That's the whole plot.

The Artistry:

I guess, in an effort to stick to their strengths, Dayton and Faris decided to make Little Miss Sunshine into one long music video- the band Devotchka adapted their song "How It Ends" into the majority of the score, along with a few other songs (notably "Chicago" by Sufjan Stevens). It worked well enough the first time I saw the film, less so now that I'm familiar with the beautiful song itself (which on its own has more impact and dramatic gravitas).

Aesthetically LMS is perfectly well made- it's nicely shot in the desert landscape, and it's even paced snappily. A fine-tuned adventure movie.

It's just that every single character sucks. Does that sound harsh? Let's go back down the list:

Breslin I'm neutral on, but movies assume that little kids are inherently likeable. Nope. She's got ear-piercing kid-voice, asks some corny naive little kid questions, and has nothing else to define her, sorry. Kinnear plays a terrible father, a judgemental boor, and a pathetic motivational speaker. Carrell and Dano get the most mileage out of standard depression and teen angst tropes, but the "quirky mcquirksalot" angles for both of them fall flat: Proust comes up way too much and the silence gag gets old very quickly. Collette is given the thankless Marge Simpson role, only shrill and loud, and it goes predictably.

But the Oscar-winning (!) performance of Arkin is the worst. He curses, he won't shut up, he does drugs OMG, and he's at least a little homophobic. He has exactly two scenes where he shows compassion and spends the rest of his forty minutes or so being the most annoying thing in the film. This is how badly the Academy didn't want to give Eddie Murphy an Oscar that year, people.


After some mechanical trouble that leads to the iconic running starts needed for the minibus, the family stops for the night only to find Arkin dead in the morning.

Because they can't leave the body at the hospital, and dealing with it takes too much time to make the pageant, they quite naturally decide to sneak the corpse out the window and throw it in the trunk. Then the horn starts malfunctioning and beeping on its own.

This leads inexorably to what is without a doubt the Worst Scene of the Countdown so far: A policeman pulls them over for the horn and we wait agonizingly as the horn blows, Kinnear mugs like a fool, the cop nearly discovers the body but insteads finds porn magazines Arkin had bought the day before (what a character, you guys!).

Just hit me with something. Also Dano is randomly revealed to be colorblind and thus ineligible to be a jet pilot. Woe.

Anyway, they get to the pageant, which is insane and gross like pageants are, and Breslin nearly gets kicked off the stage during the talent competition for doing a tame striptease to "Super Freak." The whole family comes up and dances with her, they get banned from future California pageantry, and ride away home- no problems solved or lessons learned, but totally edgy and independent to the max!


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

I bet you could guess. This seems like what Fox Searchlight Execs dream an "indie" feature to be like: curse words, bright colors, road trips, and one marketable star (Steve Carrel was fresh off The 40-Year-Old Virgin at the time).

I know that there's allegedly a heart to all this, and I'm sure everyone involved genuinely thought so, but you can't hide behind the guise of "family" unless you create one that could actually exist. Or as (gulp) Owen Gleiberman put it, "Sorry, folks, but these are not organic characters; they're walking, talking catalogs of screenwriter index-card data."

The Legacy:

As mentioned, Arkin won an improbable Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance, and Arndt also won a statue for the screenplay.

Many of us also were gripped by a deathly fear that it would beat The Departed for Best Picture as well, until the card was read at last. There was a general concern that it would inspire similar Oscar bait, and the following year's Juno seemed to validate it- would there be a never ending parade of affected dialogue and laughably mannered quirks? But recent years have found such films less successful.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

There's a scene with Dano and Carrell near the end that's the most human moment, but I couldn't find it- so here's the video for Devotchka's "How It Ends" instead. Great song.

Leftover Thoughts:

-If you're curious, the old Worst Scene of the Countdown was Faye Dunaway and William Holden's awful love scene in Network.

-Hollowest note of many: Carrell at some point looks at a full-page ad in a paper for his rival's "Surprise Marcel Proust Best-seller" and is chagrined. Are we supposed to believe that Proust scholarship is a hot-selling ticket, and that the publishers of same take out full page promotional ads? This is a thing that happens?

Coming Up...

203. Rope

202. Duck Soup

201. The African Queen

IMDB #205 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

I bet you thought this was never coming back, didn't you? The countdown is resurrected with Ang Lee's epic wuxia international sensation, 2001's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Read on for spontaneous flying, a sword that can cut any other sword, fluffy romantic melodrama, poison darts, and reportedly terrible accents.

The Key Players:

Ang Lee is of course the Oscar winning director of snubbed masterpiece Brokeback Mountain (which is... NOT on the countdown! And Crash is?! Oh, humanity: will I ever regain faith in you?). You may also know him from The Ice Storm (like American Beauty before it went to art school and got annoying), the Emma Thompson Sense And Sensibility, and the 2003 flop Hulk, which I actually think is underrated in its insanity.

The story focuses on two couples. Chow Yun Fat (long famous to us Westerners for The Replacement Killers) and Michelle Yeoh (she was in one of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies! Remember that?) play the elder, stately couple that's never admitted their feelings because they're too busy being warriors and all.

Zhang Ziyi broke through in her role here and went on to Hero and House Of Flying Daggers, as well as a Golden Globe nominated turn in Memoirs Of A Geisha. Chen Chang (2046) joins her as the other half of the young, passionate but annoying couple.

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The Story:

Yun-Fat plays a renowned swordsman going through a crisis, so he sends longtime friend Yeoh to give his sword to a mutual friend in Peking. Yeoh used to be engaged to Yun-Fat's "brother by oath," before he died in battle, so they both feel it would be dishonorable to be with one another. Tear.

Yeoh delivers the sword and meets Zhang, the due-to-be-married daugher of a governer. That night Zhang, dressed in all-black ninja gear, fights of Yeoh and steals the sword (which is called "The Green Destiny sword," by the way- everytime they said it I just wondered "how can a destiny be 'green'?").

Yun-Fat arrives in town, and learns of not only the theft but the rumored presence of Jade Fox, the woman who killed his master to steal the secrets of their martial arts! She's been hiding out as Zhang's governess for the last ten years, training her to be all ninja-y. In a confrontation between all four of them that night, Jade Fox kills an undercover policeman and escapes, while Yun-Fat is intrigued by Zhang's clear potential and offers to train her.

Then suddenly some dude shows up (Chang), and we get to see a long flashback of how he and Zhang met in the desert and fell in love. He's a desert bandit, and would never be accepted by her parents. So she sends him away, he retreats to a mountain on Yun-Fat's advice, she gets married and then runs away anyway (and steals the damn sword again!

Will these two pairs of star crossed lovers ever get it right? Lots of sword-fights and clunky dialogue ensue.

The Artistry:

I like Lee as much as the next guy, but this is really Yuen Wo Ping's film: he's the fight choreographer most famous (here) for The Matrix and Kill Bill films, and all of the memorable scenes in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon involve flying limbs and twanging swords.

Then there's the nature of wuxia stories themselves- I remember seeing this for the first time and being like "Why are they randomly flying around like that? Is this ever going to be addressed?" and my friend Dan saying "It's part of the culture. Shh!" This also extends to paralyzing people using acupuncture points, and using inner energies to heal wounds and such (though not poison. More on this later). It leads to some fun setpieces like an early chase over the rooftops, and a swordfight perched on thin tree-branches.

On the acting: it was good? I'm never really sure how to penetrate the language barrier, especially when it's an Asian langauge that doesn't really translate word-for-word at all (my limited knowledge of Spanish gives me a minor leg-up for movies in the Romance languages. At least I can hear which word they're emphasizing).

So the verdict on that's not mine to render, though I will say the chemistry between Yun-Fat and Yeoh was doing laps around that of Zhang and Chang, and they didn't even get to make out and all. At the time, my friend Steve He did tell me that everyone's Mandarin accents were different and dodgy (especially the non-native speakers Yun-Fat and Yeoh), but clearly that didn't affect my experience.

And I'm not sure if it's a factor of the translation of the subtitles or the source material, but the dialogue rarely did it for me. Examples:

"I'm getting married soon, but I haven't lived the life I want." (hold up- what's the subtext here?)

-Zhang: So you're still that little boy looking for shooting stars."
-Chang: And now I've found the brightest star of all."

It was pretty much just all on the nose. It made it hard to engage with the characters/love stories, and thus hard to really root for anyone in any given fight.

In fact, my favorite is probably the big Yeoh/Zhang showdown in the second half, mostly because Yeoh is furious at Zhang for being a spoiled brat and I'm totally with her. To that point Zhang's character has stolen a priceless and revered sword twice, rejected Chang when he came back for her, then run away anyway and beaten up an entire platoon of local fighters for no real reason. And to top it off... we'll, let's go behind the spoiler wall.


Yun-Fat tracks Zhang down and offers to train her, again, but she throws the offer back in his face, again. He throws the Green Destiny sword into the river, but she dives in to get it, and is saves by Jade Fox, who has escaped some time ago from Peking.

Yeoh had been tracking Jade Fox, and she and Yun-Fat arrive at her hideout just in time to get thousands of poison-tipped darts fired at them- fortunately in these movies you can just deflect those with your sword by moving it really fast, and Yun-Fat kills Jade Fox, avenging his master. But wait- dun dun dun! he's got one of the poisoned darts in the neck, and will die soon.

Zhang, finally remorseful at the trouble on her account (eyeroll), rides back to town to have the antidote made, but returns too late- in the meantime Yeoh has watched Yun-Fat die, but not before dramatically swearing his love.

Aw. Zhang goes to Chang in the mountains for one last night. In the morning she asks him to make a wish, and he wishes they'll always be together. The she jumps off the cliff!

Now, Chang had told an earlier legend claiming that jumping off the mountain will grant you dearest wish. And then "Long ago, a young man's parents were ill, so he jumped. He didn't die. He wasn't even hurt. He floated away, far away, never to return. He knew his wish had come true."

So does this mean Zhang floats away, never to return...and they'll be together for ever? It's not very clear, and the general ability of everyone to sort-of fly makes even less so.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

A little lower, I'd say- it wouldn't make my top 250, and mind you plenty of subtitled films would. I just wasn't into the saga, and didn't jibe with the resolution- as much fun as some of the action was, I couldn't really get behind Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2001, and it hasn't grown on me.

The Legacy:

It's the most succesful foreign film in the U.S. in history, grossing $128 million on our soil and winning four Oscars (including Art Direction, Cinematography, and Score).

It lead to the heavy U.S. marketing of Zhang Yimou's Hero (which grossed $53 million) and House Of Flying Daggers (which grossed $11 million, and ended the trend).

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

Yeoh. Zhang. Green Destiny sword. A half-dozen other weapons.

Leftover Thoughts:

-I know this is an old complaint, but I was dissappointed to find only figurative tigers and dragons.

-Check out that awful trailer up there, which relies on Trailer Voice Guy instead of lousy old subtitles. "And a Princess....Destined....To Become....A Warrior!"

-Next updates will be soonish, but I'm not scheduling specific dates anymore.

Coming Up...

204. Little Miss Sunshine

203. Rope

202. Duck Soup

Lessons Learned This Oscar Season

1. Most Media Outlets Are Annoyingly Unfocused

I decided to include relevant quotes in previews of the acting races, so I searched the blagosphere for interviews with all 20 nominees. I will now paraphrase a couple of them for you:

THE MEDIA: Jeff Bridges, what was it like to be old in Crazy Heart!?

Jeff Bridges: Well, I-


Or, alternately:

THE MEDIA: Carey Mulligan, what's it like to play so much younger in An Education?!

Carey Mulligan: Well, I-


Carey Mulligan: Well, I-


2. Money Can't Buy You Love

I think we all know what the biggest story is- or as Roger Ebert tweeted uber-succintly: (! > $)

3. There Are Certain Categories I Will Never Get Right

For the curious, I lost to Dave again 16 to 18, exactly the same result as last year.

But for the three years I've been doing this now, there are four categories I've yet to predict correctly even once: Documentary Short, both Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, and most embarrassingly Cinematography.

The other four I missed this year were Adapted Screenplay (the only true surprise of the night) Foreign Language and the remaining two short films (with a Wallace & Gromit film losing Animated Short the only other thing remotely shocking). Dave managed to miss only Foreign film, Sound Editing, Costumes, and Art Direction in addition to those two upsets.

4. Meryl Streep Will Never Win Another Oscar

I'm sorry, this is true. There's got to be a mathematical formula out there for the "overdue" factor- it would be age, number of popular roles, and some sort of personality index (off the charts for Jeff Bridges, negative for Eddie Murphy a few years back), all divided by total wins and nominations. So Bullock had a big number on top over nothing on the bottom (let's call it 1 because you can't divide by 0), while Streep had a huge factor to divide by. Of course this same formula would probably tell me Christopher Plummer should have won Supporting Actor..

5. There Is A Surefire Way To Win Adapted Screenply

And that is to mention the novel that was adapted every time people say the title, as with Precious: Based On The Novel 'Push' By Sapphire. Some people say that it was Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's uncomfortable credit battle that cost them, but even so you didn't have to look hard at the list to find a replacement- it says it right there!

6. Do What The Guilds Tell You

The only mismatches for each respective guild this year were Adapted Screenplay (Sheldon and Turner won the WGA), Sound Effects Editing (Avatar), and Cinematography (The White Ribbon won the guild. Otherwise if you took the same choices as the CAS, ACE, ADG, CDG, PGA, DGA, SAG, VES, ASC, MPSE, and the WGA winners you'd have an easy 12/15 to start with, plus gimmes in Animated, Documentary, Makeup, Score, and Song. That's 17 correct choices without breaking a sweat, and then you just spitball Foreign Film and the three shorts to see if you can break twenty. Maybe that's what I'll do next year...

This Week In Actual Movie Taglines

A look at the taglines for this week's major releases. How do studios try to hook us when they only have a sentence?

Green Zone

Actual tagline: Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller is done following orders

Three things I'm supposed to learn here: 1. Matt Damon plays a warrant officer named Roy Miller. 2. He's like, the best one there is. 3. Remember those orders you gave him? Not happening.

Also implied is 4. This is almost-but-not another Bourne movie.

Our Family Wedding

Actual tagline: To have and to hold... 'Til dads do us part.

It's a high-concept family comedy where two dads try to lay an old feud to rest as their children get married. One is played by Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker. The other is played by Carlos Mencia, without a doubt one of the worst human beings alive today. I'm going to go light something big on fire.

Remember Me

Actual tagline: Live In The Moments

From The Trailer: He broke the rules....He lost his way...Until the moment...He let someone in.

All of those things appear on the screen during that trailer, yet strangely not the word "Twilight." Also "breaking the rules" equals smoking in a non-smoking area. What a badass, you guys.

She's Out Of My League

Actual tagline: How Can A 10 Go For A 5? It'll All Add Up March 12

OR: When she's this hot, You get one shot.

Is this one of those general parody movies, but of Apatow films? Was the working title Shlubby Jew Scores Hot Chick Movie?

More terrible lines flash up there during the trailer Trailer, which has the distinction of finally killing Weezer for me. I gave them so many more chances, but that was it. Something snapped.

The Top Ten Films of 2009

My favorite films of 2009. Since they're already semi-covered in detail in my preferred Oscar nominations and since we have best of the decade stuff coming up, let's go with some best-of particulars in lieu of paragraphs about why they're each awesome.

10. In The Loop

Best quote: " falls well within my purview!"
-"Within your 'purview'? Where do you think you are, some f**king regency costume drama? This is a government department, not some f**king Jane fucking Austen novel! Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your sh**ter with a lubricated horse c**k!"

Best Quote Safe For Work: None.

Best Post-Script: When you, presuming you're an ignorant American like myself, are informed by Wikipedia that In The Loop is a spinoff of the BBC series "The Thick Of It," which means there is at least nine more hours of Peter Capaldi as Malcom Tucker.

9. Broken Embraces

Best Left Field Soundtrack Selection: "Werewolf" by Cat Power

Best Plot Twist: Most of the plot, for once, seems plausible, which is rare for Almodovar. But late in the film we find out that someone is someone else's father, in a familiar soap-operatic moment that is never adressed again. It made me chuckle.

8. Inglourious Basterds

Best Film Within A Film: There's a German propagande movie in the big premier at the end of IB about a sniper that kills 300+ Allied soldiers, and it seems to be entirely composed of hilarious pratfalls and Wilhelm Screams.

Best Mangled Italian: "A-ree-ver-DARE-chee."

Best Mangled English: the title.

7. Sherlock Holmes

Best Victory Of The Rational: Spoilers: much of Sherlock Holmes points toward a villain that controls the Dark Arts, but the big ending reveals it was all trickery. I nearly clapped: I'm sick of things coming down on the supernatural side anytime there's a question- even if its mostle religous horror films (The Reaping, Stigmata, The Exorcism of Emily Rose) or every episode of "The X-Files" (was Scully's skepticism ever prudent?).

Best Broken Instruments: To give the score more "edges" to be in tune with the mid-Industrial-Revolution period film, Hans Zimmer just up and broke stuff. From an interview: "A lot of the percussion in the movie isn’t percussion...It’s someone totally mistreating their upright bass."

And what became of the out-of-tune piano they used? "...then I thought, rather than use big drums what would a piano sound like if you dropped it down a flight of stairs? ...We rented 20th Century Fox’s underground car park one Sunday and did hideous things to a piano."

6. District 9

Best Pre-Emptive Strike: I think an underrated part of the Best Picture race is the degree to which District 9 stole Avatar's thunder some months beforehand- who would have thought it would only be the second-best sci-fi actioner in which a human betrays his own kind to save an alien race, ultimately becoming one of them? It makes it easier to argue for The Hurt Locker, which is truly one of a kind this year.

Best Dodged Bullet: Does anyone really think that a movie based on the "Halo" video game series, which fell apart and led to District 9 instead, would have been anything but a big-budget disaster? When has a video game movie ever worked? Seriously, try to read the plot summary for "Halo" without your eyes glazing over.

5. Up In The Air

Best Trailer Of The Year: The first teaser was craftily edited to Clooney's motivational speech:

Best Scenes Of Destruction: For me, the most resonant images of our economic times from Up In The Air weren't the real people they worked into the firing scenes, but a few images of ravaged workplaces- our heroes arrive to fire the last few people in a stripped empty cubicle pool, or seeing Kendrick sitting in a room full of unused chairs.

4. Star Trek

Best Flawed Science: Though the time-travel logic in Star Trek is sound, nearly everything else is completely backwards. Among many innaccuracies, there's no way to conceivable drill to a planet's core without the hole collapsing, a black hole made out of a planet would only be the size or a marble, how big Vulcan would be in the sky on Delta Vega, supernovas can't really "threaten the galaxy," and there's no way the warp core explosion would have saved them at the end.

But you know what? It was too awesome for me to care.

Best Terrible Pun: "Are you out of your Vulcan mind?!"

3. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Best All-Purpose Curse Word Substitute: Expressions uttered by claymation animals in this film include "Cuss yeah," "The cuss you are," and "A real cluster-cuss." That's how you keep it PG.

Best Vague Anthropomorphism: The Fox family and friends all walked, talked, and listened to Burl Ives records, but I wasn't clear if they could speak directly with humans- at one point there's a recording of an animal hostage, but there's no dialogue. They do communicate in notes written with cut-out magazine letters, though.

2. The Hurt Locker

Best Abrupt Snap To Reality: One of my favorite lines from The Hurt Locker comes about halfway through- Anothony Mackie's staff seargeant, after a night of dunken bonding with his renegade superior Jeremy Renner, asks him if he thinks he has what it takes "to put on the suit," the protective gear of the OED squad leader.

In a boilerplate sappy war film or Hollywood action movie, he would of course reply: "Someday," or whatever, but instead Renner snorts a derisive "Hell no."

Best Stand-in For Civilian Banality: the grocery isle at the supermarket:

1. The Brothers Bloom

Best Opening Sequence In Rhyming Verse: "What kind of cave? -A Cave..Of Wonder! -Psh! -Shut up, Dave."

Best Card Trick: None of this is CGI:

True story.

2009 Top Ten List

I would first like to send my sincerest and deepest apologies to Avatar, The Cove, An Education, A Single Man, and Up in the Air. I did not see these five films, which have all been lauded. I am relatively certain that if I had seen one or all of them, it would have affected this list.

However, I make due with what I have. Away we go!

10.) The House of the Devil: A tense, low budget, horror film that evokes the nostalgia of quality the 1980s. Ti West’s film works because it is minimal in all approaches and never tries to be anything more than it really is. Also, how can you not love its tagline: Talk on the phone. Finish your homework. Watch T. V. DIE!

9.) In the Loop: The satirical take on the United States’ invasion of Iraq is hilarious. Utterly foul mouthed, this movie is blisteringly funny with a top notch cast. Most notably, Peter Capaldi delivers one of the most underrated (and probably under-seen) performances of the year as an offensive British Intelligence leader.

8.) District 9: I did not see this film until last weekend. Neil Blomkamp’s first true outing did not disappoint. What makes this movie action science fiction movie special is that it has a heart and its thought provoking. I also like to imagine that Peter Jackson prank calls Universal Studios periodically and reminds them that they could have had Blomkamp direct Halo.

7.) Sin Nombre: It’s poetic, touching, and beautifully shot. It’s also in a different language, which makes it even more artsy.

6.) Up: The much hyped opening 10 minutes of the film do not disappoint. It sets the tone for a movie that will make you smile and cry, sometimes at the same time. While Up is not the best entry in the Pixar canon, it ranks near the top.

5.) The Hurt Locker: Kathryn Bigelow’s mediation on the tensions that surround war is outstanding. Jeremy Renner breaks out in the most suspenseful film since The Bourne Ultimatum (I feel like Rex Reed when I say something like that). The tension created by Bigelow is mesmerizing and Mark Boal’s script hits all the right notes.

4.) A Serious Man: I enjoy every Coen Brothers’ film (even The Ladykillers). However, what made A Serious Man special was how personal it was. The Coen Brothers tend to focus on subversive people, while this film was about a college professor and his life’s troubles. I may be trivializing the film’s plot with that summation because it also deals with faith, family, adultery, and Jefferson Airplane.

3.) Drag Me to Hell: 2009 will be remembered – at least for me – as a fun year. 2007 had many films that could be called masterpieces, but this year was about being fun. Drag Me to Hell was easily the most fun I had at the movies this year. Raimi’s return to his roots was vintage form and Alison Lohman served admirably as the new Bruce Campbell.

2.) The Reader: I saw it in theatres five times in 2009, but it qualified for last year’s list.

2.) Fantastic Mr. Fox: On any given day, Drag Me to Hell and Wes Andersen’s first animated effort could swap places. However, this was the film I was most excited for this year and it delivered even more than I imagined. The meticulous attention to detail by Andersen proved to be rewarding because it was nice to have a film that was completely done by hand, as opposed to computer wizardry.

1.) Inglourious Basterds: This film has Quentin Tarantino’s pulp fetish fingerprints all over it. From the opening frame, to the screaming conclusion, the film is a masterpiece. The terrific performances supplied by all players, especially Christoph Waltz, rival the enthusiasm with which Tarantino directs. The film, while heavy on the dialogue, may disappoint the purest action fan, but it compares well to another World War II picture – The Dirty Dozen. This is a film that I can easily re-watch over and over again and still find it entertaining every time.

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