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The Top Five for 2005

Vera Drake

Sin City


Good Night, and Good Luck

Brokeback Mountain

Honorable mention

The Aristocrats


*Vera Drake*

I feel like I say this every year, and maybe I don’t need to - - I know this came out in 2004, but I didn’t see it until 2005, so it goes on the 2005 list.  This is an extraordinary, quiet little movie about a working class Englishwoman in the 50s who performs the occasional abortion.  Excruciating performance by Imelda Staunton, should have won the Oscar last year (at least she was nominated).

*Sin City*

Partially directed by my boy Quentin Tarantino, so I had to see it.  It’s a comic book movie, very violent, very visually stimulating.  I had the funniest experience seeing that movie - - I had something to do earlier in the day (I don’t remember what), and had some time to waste before going to the movie.  So I went to the Hello Kitty! store in Times Square.  They started selling a pink satin pillow a few months before, which I wanted with all my heart, but couldn’t rationalize spending $16 on a pink satin Hello Kitty! pillow.  Well, it was now on sale for $12, so it was mine.  And it was the funniest thing, waiting in line to see this ultra-violent movie, with a Hello Kitty! pillow in my bag.


It was a blast.  Great performances by everyone, with a terrific comeback performance by Mickey Rourke, and a chilling performance by Elijah Wood, playing a cannibal.  Who knew our little Frodo could be such a freak?  And Rutger Hauer gets the Best Cameo, Male award this year for playing The Bishop.


You probably read all about this movie in my summer update - - I’ll paste it in, feel free to ignore it:


A brief flashback to last summer: my favorite movie theater in town, Film Forum (, did an Ingmar Bergman film festival.  For those of you who don’t know Bergman, he’s the master of Scandanavian angst.  I think he’s put more emotional anguish onscreen than any other filmmaker.  I was thrilled out of my gourd to see that they were playing *Scenes from a Marriage*, with Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson - - not the three-hour movie version I’d seen on video, but the five and a half-hour original Swedish miniseries!  It was one of the greatest movie-going experiences of my life, and I bought it on DVD (in a box set, including the shorter movie version).


Bergman’s last movie was *Fanny and Alexander*, and he said he was retired.  He did a few more things for TV (one of which, *After the Rehearsal*, was later released as a film), and wrote a couple of screenplays that were filmed by other people (including one directed by Ullmann), but he wasn’t directing movies anymore.  Well, I got an email from Film Forum in May saying that they were showing his *Saraband* in July - - he made it for Swedish TV and was convinced to release it as a movie.  Best of all, it’s a sequel to *Scenes from a Marriage*!  I nearly jumped out of my chair with delight.  I immediately emailed Karen, Jere, and Dale and set up a date.


It was, again, one of the great movie-going experiences of my life.  The movie opens with a longish monologue from Ullmann, addressing the camera as if it were a friend, and I’ve never seen such warmth and ease from an actor speaking to the camera.  In the next scene she goes to Josephson’s house in the woods to surprise him - - it’s a quiet scene, (he’s asleep on the porch), with her walking around the house.  She’s in her 60s now, and still luminously beautiful.  The cinematography (sadly not by the cinematographer of many Bergman films, Sven Nykvist) perfectly captures the sunniness of the Swedish countryside and the dull warmth of the house.  I welled up with tears at the beauty of the scene, and the thrill of seeing a NEW Bergman movie in the theater, something I never thought I’d be able to do.


*Good Night, and Good Luck*

George Clooney directed this movie about Edward R. Murrow taking on Joseph McCarthy.  Stunning film.  You know I was a huge fan of Clooney’s previous movie, *Confessions of a Dangerous Mind*, and was looking forward to seeing him doing something less wacky.  He totally came through for me, it was so precise, so self-assured, so effortless.  Astonishing achievement for a second movie.  I was about to say that it had the best use of music of any movie in the last 10 years, but then I remembered *Kill Bill* (they’re really apples and oranges).


*Brokeback Mountain*

Gorgeous movie, with more aching and longing than in any other movie I’ve seen.  If it’s aching and longing you’re after, this is where to find it.  And the most stunning vistas!  And the actors did their own sheep handling, always impressive.  Great performances by everyone involved, of course.  It had maybe the most exciting moment in any movie this year - - ask me about it, if you’ve seen the movie already (I don’t want to give anything away).

Honorable mention


*The Aristocrats*

Incredibly funny documentary about the dirtiest joke in American comedy history.  They interview 100 comedians, and in many cases get them to tell their version of the joke.  FILTHY.  Not for everyone, but the people who will enjoy it will enjoy it VERY much.  Phyllis Diller gets the Best Cameo, Female for her brief appearance in this movie.  I asked Karen Miller if it was correct to see her performance as a cameo, even though it’s a documentary - - she understood my hesitancy, but said that I was correct in classifying it as a cameo.



I was so pumped to see this movie, and was thrilled with it.  Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a dazzling performance as Truman Capote - - he was the voice and the mannerisms down cold, but I didn’t even notice them after a while, because he’s turned Capote into such a rich and complex person.  Catherine Keener, the movie world would be so very beige without you!  She plays Harper Lee, childhood friend of Capote and co-researcher for *In Cold Blood*.  She goes on to take over the world with *To Kill a Mockingbird* before Capote has even finished his book, which leads to some ripe Southern bitterness from Tru.


Other Notable Films


German film about Hitler’s last days in the bunker.  Amazing, with a juggernaut of a performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler.


Strange duality: *The Interpreter* and *House of Wax*.

I saw them the same week.  My hopes weren’t too high for *The Interpreter*, but I love Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, and it looked intriguing.  It was SO AWFUL.  Dumb, heavy laden with clichés, just plain awful.  Worst of all, Sean Penn had nothing to do and was completely wasted.  The movie would have been twice as good if they had Dennis Quaid playing the Penn role, because it would have been a good match for his skills (and I like Dennis Quaid).  It was heartbreaking to see an actor of Penn’s caliber playing such a nothing role, and it wouldn’t have been that way at all with Quaid.  Thank God for Catherine Keener as Penn’s wisecracking sidekick, she was a breath of fresh air.


I saw *House of Wax* under odd circumstances: I had a dinner date with my Italian soprano friend Maria Fattore at 8, and got off work at 5.  What to do with all that time in between?  I decided to see a movie, and *House of Wax* was the only movie in the restaurant’s neighborhood that started at the right time.  It was fantastic!  It was very well done for what it was, unlike *The Interpreter*, which had high aspirations and failed.  *H of W* was well made trash, and Paris Hilton didn’t even bother me (though it’s a little redundant having her play a wax figure).


*    *    *


Other Categories

Best Cameo, Female

Phyllis Diller in *The Aristocrats*.


Best Cameo, Male

Rutger Hauer in *Sin City*.

Remembrance of Movies Past

The Qatsi Trilogy

In 1983 Philip Glass wrote his first film score, for a one-of-a-kind film directed by Godfrey Reggio called *Koyaanisqatsi*.  The title is the Hopi Indian word for “life out of balance”.  I saw it on PBS or on vid sometime a few years later, then at my campus film society in the late 80s.  It’s an amazing movie, one of the most distinctive and effective movies I’ve ever seen.  There are no actors and no dialogue - - the first half shows scenes from nature: the Grand Canyon, clouds moving through the sky, other gorgeous vistas (there’s that word “vista” again).  The movie then shifts to the evils of our modern age, showing cars whizzing through city streets, people whizzing up and down escalators, and most memorably, Las Vegas.  Glass’s music is prominent throughout - - it doesn’t accompany or heighten the film, as a film score usually does, it’s literally half of the movie.


Glass and Reggio did a second film in 1988, *Powaqqatsi* (life in transformation) and *Naqoyqatsi* in 2002 (life as war).  My dear friend Dale, a huge Glass fan (he introduced me to the Glass version of Cocteau’s film *Beauty and the Beast*, the “Remembrance of Movies Past” from 2003), saw that Lincoln Center was presenting all three Qatsi films, with the scores performed live by the Philip Glass ensemble, and got tix for the four of us: Dale, Jere, Karen, and I (the same gang that saw *Saraband*).  I’d never seen the 2nd or 3rd movies before, so it was a treat seeing those on the big screen, and they were worth seeing in the context of the whole cycle.  I wonder if they’d be good on their own, because they definitely pale in comparison to the 1st movie - - the is no comparison, frankly.  *Koyaanisqatsi* is one of the greatest movies ever made, full stop.  Seeing that on the big screen with the score performed live, it was one of the highlights of the whole year, it was overpowering at times.  If you haven’t seen this movie, run out and rent it!


Movie That Needs To Be Made

My roommate, Claire, looked at my Top 5 archive and said, “Your ‘Movie That Needs To Be Made’ category should be called ‘Biopic That Needs To Be Made’!”  They’re all biopics.  So in her honor, I’m doing a non-biopic this year (though I have the BEST idea for a biopic…):

Eagerly Anticipated

Leftovers from last year, haven’t been released yet:


*Che*: dir by Steven Soderbergh, starring Benicio del Toro, Javier Bardem, Benjamin Bratt, and Franka Potente.


*Therese Raquin*: was originally starring Franka Potente, Joseph Fiennes, and Lynn Redgrave - - it’s now been completed with a different cast: Ludivine Sagnier, Giovanni Ribisi, and the inevitable Glenn Close as the scary diva mother.


*Megalopolis*: was announced, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, last directed movie is *The Rainmaker*, 1997.  No longer on Coppola’s record on imdb.

NOT Eagerly Anticipated: *Untitled Marlene Dietrich Project*, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.  No expected date on imdb, hopefully it’ll die in Pre-Production Hell.

New for this year:

*Bernard and Doris*: directed by Bob Balaban, starring Susan Sarandon as tobacco heiress Doris Duke and Ralph Fiennes as her gay butler, to whom she left her entire fortune.


*All the King’s Men*: dreamy cast: Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins.


*Manderlay*: part 2 of Lars von Trier’s *Dogville* trilogy.


*Youth Without Youth*: dir by FF Coppola, starring Tim Roth and Bruno Ganz.


*Marie-Antoinette*: written and dir by Sofia Coppola, starring Kirsten Dunst as Marie-Antoinette, Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI, Rip Torn as Louis XV, also with Judy Davis, Marianne Faithfull, and Molly Shannon (surely the oddest assemblage of actors in recent memory).


*The Women*: a remake of the 1939 catty classic, starring Annette Bening (as the wronged wife) and Uma Thurman (as the mistress), also with Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, and Meg Ryan (I’m dying to know what roles they’re playing, also who’s playing the Countess), directed by Diane English (the woman who brought us *Murphy Brown*) and produced by Mick Jagger (I’m not making this up).  Might be awful, but will surely be worth seeing.

Follow-up to Last Year’s Eagerly Anticipated

*Elizabethtown*.  I decided to wait for this to get on DVD, after I read the New Yorker review by David Denby, which said: “At times, the movie became so boring that I experienced the uncanny sensation that I could physically feel the film passing through the projector.”


*Rumor Has It*: My interest waned by the time it actually came out.  Another one for Netflix.


*Bewitched*.  Fun, but junk.  Shirley Maclaine almost gets a Viva la Diva nod for this movie - - it really should go to Michael Caine, who was the highlight.

Woody Allen’s latest movie, *Match Point*, was good.  It got a lot of press and rave reviews, mostly because people are happy to see Woody doing a good movie for a change.  It was a drama, and he generally does well with dramas - - at least that way you don’t have to feel bad about not laughing.  My wish for Woody is to do a drama starring his chosen diva Dianne Wiest and the incomparable Glenda Jackson

Most Deserving of a Comeback

Winona Ryder.  Very gifted actress, loaded with charisma, time to put her sketchiness behind her and do a movie!  I’m glad to see that she has a few projects coming up, including a movie about the Darwin Awards, which I hope will be funny.

New Category: Viva La Diva

There are so many movies where one supporting female performance punches out of the texture through sheer force of will and personal power, and becomes the highlight of the film.  In most cases it’s a good movie without her in it, but you sit there looking forward to her scenes and get a special frisson when she’s on screen.  Some examples: Judith Anderson in *Rebecca*, Jean Hagen in *Singin’ in the Rain*, Dorothy Malone in *Written on the Wind*, Thelma Ritter in *Pillow Talk*, Eleanor Parker in *The Sound of Music*, Ruth Gordon in *Rosemary’s Baby*, Dyan Cannon in *Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice*, Ann-Margret in *Carnal Knowledge*, Lauren Bacall in *Murder on the Orient Express*, Cloris Leachman in *Young Frankenstein*, Piper Laurie in *Carrie*, Anjelica Huston in *Prizzi’s Honor*, Dianne Wiest in *Bullets Over Broadway*, Judi Dench in *Shakespeare in Love*, Kim Basinger in *L.A. Confidential*, Olympia Dukakis in *Moonstruck*, Sigourney Weaver in *Working Girl*, Barbara Hershey in *The Portrait of a Lady*, Lisa Kudrow in *The Opposite of Sex*, Catherine Keener in *Being John Malkovich*, Maggie Smith in *Gosford Park*.  The mother (pun intended) of all Viva la Divas is Angela Lansbury in *The Manchurian Candidate*, one of the most searing performances ever put on screen.  They come in every variety - - there are glamor pusses, brittle loners, drama queens, wisecrackers, and total weirdos on this list.  Please note that not every commanding supporting female performance is a Viva la Diva - - Marcia Gay Harden was extraordinary in *Pollack*, but she was too much of a team player.  She shared her scenes.  A Viva la Diva has to take over, she has to destroy.


I thought about inventing this category last year in honor of Sharon Stone in *Catwoman*.  The movie was total crap, but worth seeing just for her, she chewed up the scenery in a way that would make Bette Davis proud.  So she gets special credit.  But this year’s Viva la Diva goes to Tilda Swinton in *The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe*.  You might say this isn’t a supporting performance, since she’s a title character, but the story is really about the kids, and the Lion and the Witch are there to support them.  The Witch is supported by her wardrobe - - fabulously bizarre gowns that look like they were done by John Galliano for Dior.  Swinton was made nearly immobile in a few of them, but she didn’t let this deter her for an instant.  She made her entrance on the battlefield in a gold faux-Fortuny gown and odd *Blade Runner* eye makeup, in a chariot being pulled by polar bears.  My movie date, Karen Miller, and I guffawed uproariously at that point, and the earnest moviegoers around us were puzzled.  The highlight of the film is when the Witch petrifies a butterfly in midair.  A round of hearty bravos to Swinton, I can’t imagine anyone else doing such a good job in that role (though a *Bewitched*-era Agnes Moorehead would have been divine).

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