Thursday, 31 December 2009

Chasing Pavements

The decade closes.

Thinking back to 12.31.99, I am struck by the fact that time is the most mutational of forces.

I was in New York. It was the eve of the millennium (if you weren’t literal about it); it was the threat of Y2K. It was just another day in Manhattan. Quiet as hell. I remember how nice the dry cleaner was when I went to pick up my outfit. People showed no signs of fear. New Yorkers don’t scare easy.

That night I was at a black-tie party at my mother’s Upper East Side apartment with a great view. I don’t remember much. Bernard was there and there was a lot of champagne and family friends and I think we watched the ball drop on TV and, no, I don’t remember. What I remember mostly are the pictures. The last thing I really remember was the dry cleaner.

Go figure. But time is like that. And champagne.

I only know that on that day in the past, had you asked me my future, had you asked me where I would be on this day, ten years later, I would have been completely wrong. I would have had no idea at all who or what I would be or become. I could not have predicted at all the events and course of this period of time.

I would have said that I’d have directed at least two feature films by now. I would never have said that my primary art would be poetry or performance. I would never have predicted the string of bad boys and boy toys (yeah, I said it). Never have said I’d spend 9 years in that apartment by the sea that needed new carpeting and paint job when I moved in. Never have said I’d watched the Yankees sweep the Mets in a dreamed-for subway series in a grip truck in the middle of a field in Iowa or that I’d fall in love with someone before I’d even met him and then he would do the same and it would all be impossible because of circumstances. Never would’ve predicted so many compromised positions.

I’d have probably said that I’d own a house in L.A. and probably have a dog and maybe a husband or at least another live in boyfriend – the kind who pays his own bills.

If you said, you’ll be known for poetry, and performing, and for presenting artists, you’ll be known for working with kids, that your spirit will wander you as far as your finances will allow – farther sometimes. That you will test your safety net over and over again and find out it is elastic, though stretched thin, that you will never ever compromise your creativity or your vision and you will help many many many others fulfill their own, often to the at least temporary detriment of yours. That artists from all over will be willing to come out and do their thing just because you asked. They will enliven the stages you set, and back you up if you ask and that your favorite band of all time would be a bunch of guys you met at 40’s night when they were undergrads or that one of your closest friends would be in prison for half the decade for the kind of tragic mistake that should just never happen.

That some of the people you feel are family now, you hadn’t even met in 1999, though many of them came to you in dreams before they entered your reality. That despite being raised an only child you’d have nieces and nephews everywhere. That you would find inner beauty in yourself and others you had never imagined and employ it to protect yourself from the evil that is present. That sometimes you would let the beauty trump the protection and get yourself in trouble.

If you said any of that in 1999, I would not have believed you.

In 1999, I had no cell phone. There were no digital cameras taking pictures of that celebration. In 1999, I wouldn’t have predicted that a Writer’s Strike would wreak a kind of final havoc on my financial life. I would have never predicted I’d have the courage I must now possess in order to have lived through this past decade. I would have never told you that it would take me this whole decade to find my brother, and that when I did, it would be on a “social networking site.” (Remember The Well?)

I wouldn’t have even come close to predicting I would be writing this from a room in NW5. That while the people who’ve betrayed stand out, the ones who stand by are a longer list by exponential multiples. That people and their art sustain more than air and food, more than anything except light.

In 1999, I would have imagined women would be a lot further along in our struggle for equality and that the racism that fuels so many fires would have dissipated in the face of firmer knowledge of humanity. I would have had Ann Richards as our first female president, instead of passing untimely.

In 1999, I would have been just plain wrong about the future.

So here’s the important part. Whatever you or I think today, December 31, 2009, about the next decade, we are most likely wrong. The highs and lows of it, the joys and pains we foresee – we are wrong. Think back on your decade. Was it anything like you expected or imagined?

In 1999 would you have predicted George W. Bush? Amy Winehouse? Barack Obama? Katrina? Hulu? Survivor? Sadly, the events of September 11, 2001 might be the most predictable part of the decade. That and the folly of the Time Warner/AOL merger.

Are we solely creating our own destinies? I think not. I think destiny is collective. Can we create a path, or find a path or stay on it? With diligence and energy, yes.

Are we all just chasing pavements? Maybe. Good for us. Because you never know. Whatever you think you know, life will tell you that plus more plus different. Life will show you things you couldn’t envision. Things that can’t be measured right alongside things that can.

Never count yourself out.

Never succumb to boredom.

Never think in dead ends.

Time is not linear. Neither is life.

huge oversight on the music list!

This would and should be pretty high up on the list:

Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros - Streetcore

I don't know how I missed that one.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Top 31-derful Albums of the Decade (but no Ani DiFranco)

Yeah, this list is Deejay Mikecheck's fault. I hope this is the last list. It was hard to make. Hard to choose which ones to leave out, how many from certain bands and all that.

  1. Sigur Ros – Agaestis Byrnjum (I hope that’s spelled right!)
  2. Bjork – Vespertine
  3. Sigur Ros – ( )
  4. Radiohead – In Rainbows
  5. Eels – Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
  6. Bright Eyes – I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
  7. Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
  8. Elevaters – Rising
  9. Animal Collective – Feels
  10. Boards of Canada – The Campfire Headphase
  11. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
  12. The Roots – Game Theory
  13. White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan
  14. Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
  15. Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head
  16. Outkast – Speakerboxx/The Love Below
  17. Rufus Wainwright – Poses
  18. Cinematic Orchestra – Every Day
  19. Elbow – Leaders of the Free World
  20. Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun
  21. Radiohead – Kid A
  22. Once – Soundtrack
  23. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
  24. Dave Douglass – The Infinite (Includes covers of Rufus Wainwright's "Poses" and Bjork's "Unison")
  25. Jill Scott – Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Volume 1
  26. Kanye West – Late Registration
  27. D’Angelo – Voodoo
  28. M.I.A. – Kala
  29. Jurassic 5 – Power in Numbers
  30. Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene
  31. Hella – Hold Your Horse Is

Top 10 Series of the Decade


(But it goes to 11!)

  1. The Wire
  2. The Shield
  3. Battlestar Galactica
  4. Arrested Development
  5. Six Feet Under
  6. Chappelle’s Show
  7. Dexter
  8. Nip/Tuck
  9. Slings and Arrows
  10. Damages
  11. Curb Your Enthusiasm
(Does not include any series that started BEFORE 2000 - i.e. The Sopranos, The Daily Show, etc.)

My Top 25 Faves of the Decade

Some people were upset that I didn't rank the films on my Best of the Decade list. So here are my top 25 -- in order. Are these the best? To me they are the best of the best and my personal faves - movies I'm happy to watch again and again, movies that served as cultural or filmmaking reference points or ones that are just fun and great examples of successful moviemaking.

  1. A History of Violence
  2. Almost Famous
  3. Lost in Translation
  4. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  5. Adaptation
  6. High Fidelity
  7. The Devil’s Backbone
  8. Y Tu Mama Tambien
  9. Motorcycle Diaries
  10. Knocked Up
  11. The Royal Tenenbaums
  12. Kill Bill Vol 2
  13. O’ Brother Where Art Thou?
  14. In the Cut
  15. Inland Empire
  16. Cache
  17. Children of Men
  18. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
  19. Ghost Dog
  20. Good Night and Good Luck
  21. In Bruges
  22. Into the Wild
  23. The Pledge
  24. The Squid and the Whale
  25. Wall-E

Monday, 28 December 2009

my best of the decade movie list

TOP 69

No – I’m not trynta be funny. These are the movies that make my brain just say YES as I pass through their titles in the list. No qualms, no hesitations.

My entire list has over 100 – the rest are below. The best I could do was split my list into two alphabetically arranged “halves”. Sorry, but I just couldn't manage an actual order of preference, which, I think, is as it should be -- movies are subjective things and times and moods change, and with them preferences. Suffice it to say I'd be happy on a desert island with just the top least, for a while.

Most of them need no explanation as they are on a lot of lists (if I think an explanation or encouragement is needed it’s there); some of them were slept on and some of them other people don’t like at all. That’s okay with me. If there are movies you think are missing, I might not have seen them (yet) or I might just not think of them the same way as other people.

So here are my best movies of the decade – alphabetically:

  1. 28 Days Later
  2. 40 Year Old Virgin
  3. 8 Mile – Yes, I mean it. This is a super-tight, old school Hollywood underdog movie. With the best pop song ever written.
  4. A History of Violence
  5. Adaptation
  6. Almost Famous
  7. Amores Perros
  8. Bad Education
  9. Before Night Falls
  10. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead – Slept-on – Netflix this!
  11. Cache
  12. Capturing the Friedmans – This was a tough call, having grown up near the Friedmans and remembering them, I felt that maybe I was including it because I knew them, or maybe including it was in some way exploiting them. I believe it’s on the list because it’s a great documentary that explores the ways that people and truth can be tragically unknowable.
  13. Children of Men
  14. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
  15. Dodgeball – This movie is hilarious every time I watch it.
  16. Elf – Brings magic back to cinema – yes, totally a best.
  17. Ghost Dog
  18. Good Night and Good Luck
  19. Gosford Park
  20. Hero
  21. High Fidelity
  22. Hunger
  23. In Bruges
  24. In the Cut – Ah – slept-on and forgotten, Jane Campion’s sexy thriller features Meg Ryan in her post-divorce image-changing role, Mark Ruffalo on the cusp of all those great parts and yet another perfectly-pitched turn from Jennifer Jason Leigh. For a non-NY-er, Jane Campion gets New York completely right.
  25. In the Mood for Love
  26. Inland Empire – This is my choice for David Lynch of the decade – complex, testy, difficult, puzzling, and ultimately fulfilling.
  27. Into the Wild
  28. Iron Man
  29. Kill Bill Vol 2
  30. Knocked Up
  31. Kung Fu Hustle
  32. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  33. Lost in Translation
  34. Man on Wire
  35. Me, You and Everyone We Know – There is something so delicately wonderful about this film – it is the best of what we used to call Independent, when we meant it.
  36. Memento
  37. Michael Clayton – I think this was robbed of the best picture Oscar.
  38. Motorcycle Diaries
  39. Notes on a Scandal – Goes down as one of the great two-handers – two fine actresses playing great roles with mutually assured destruction in sight. Brilliant.
  40. O’ Brother Where Art Thou?
  41. Once – A little indie movie that brings magic back to filmmaking and revitalizes the musical.
  42. Pan’s Labyrinth
  43. Secretary – Comedy, and black comedy, have made huge strides in the 00’s, and this may have jump-started that process. Maggie Gyllenhaal becomes a star and James Spader regains his title as loveable-but-sexually-odd-and-compelling indie guy.
  44. Shaun of the Dead
  45. Sideways
  46. Slumdog Millionaire
  47. Team America
  48. Tekkonkinkreet – Thanks to alfienumeric I got to watch this fantastic animation. Find it. Watch it.
  49. The Aviator – I avoided seeing this one for ages, because I thought it wouldn’t be interesting. This portrait of a brilliant but fragile mind is devastating and so well-handled. This has my vote for Scorsese of the decade. The Departed was staid, plodding, and run of the mill in comparison.
  50. The Darjeeling Limited – For sure I wrestled with putting two Wes Anderson’s on the list, but this movie feels like a companion piece to Royal Tenenbaums and hits an emotional place his other movies do not.
  51. The Devil’s Backbone – The movie that made me fall in love with Guillermo del Toro – if you haven’t seen this RUN to see it. On a screen, if possible.
  52. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Beauty and perfection.
  53. The Door in the Floor – Gut-wrenching, sexy, emotional, dysfunctional, wealthy writer and family angst. With a little Cougar action thrown in. Jeff Bridges is fantastic and Kim Basinger hasn’t been this interesting since L.A. Confidential.
  54. The Incredibles
  55. The Man Who Wasn’t There – Def slept-on for a Coen Brothers movie. Great Billy Bob, ScarJo, fantastic b&w cinematography, haunting, often amusing, and dangerous.
  56. The Piano Teacher – Haneke is cinema’s great genius and Huppert is at her absolute peak.
  57. The Pledge – Jack Nicholson sheds all his Jack Nicholson-ness to become a haunted and tortured man undone by his own loyalty to justice. Sean Penn’s direction is bleak, intimate and masterful. Robin Wright Penn creates moments on the screen unparalleled by any actor.
  58. The Royal Tenenbaums
  59. The Squid and the Whale
  60. The Unloved – Samantha Morton’s directorial debut. Slept-on.
  61. The Wind that Shakes the Barley – This movie thoroughly undid me to the point that I couldn’t actually finish watching it. And it’s still on the list.
  62. Things Behind the Sun – Allison Anders creates something fragile, intimate, and very close to real life in this movie. Understated, slept-on. Great cast including Kim Dickens, Gabriel Mann and Don Cheadle.
  63. This is England – Masterful.
  64. Training Day – Despite my problem with the third act of this movie, I put it on here. For the level of performance and craft, for its dark soul, for getting L.A. right and for seeing Denzel go for broke.
  65. V for Vendetta
  66. Waking Life – This movie is like a book you can always come back to with new secrets – shocked this is not on more lists!
  67. Wall-E
  68. X-2
  69. Y Tu Mama Tambien

And the bottom “half” which isn’t really half or bottom – also alphabetically:

  1. Across the Universe
  2. An Inconvenient Truth
  3. Bad Santa
  4. Batman Begins – Yes, that’s right. And no, I didn’t like Dark Knight better.
  5. Blood Diamond – I’m not an Ed Zwick movie fan, but this was his best for me so far, with great performances.
  6. Blow – I think this movie should be remembered. It’s got great actors and performances, tells a killer story, is still stylish and doesn’t shy away from its material. RIP Ted Demme.
  7. Broken Flowers – Jim Jarmusch and Bill Murray is a nice combination. Add to that the cameos by great actresses and the meandering spirit of the story. Lacks the intensity of Ghost Dog, but has heart and whimsy.
  8. Collateral – Michael Mann. What a troublemaker. He’s the best of times and the worst of times, but this film is a gem of a two-hander with great performances, great craft, and just enough intrigue.
  9. Downfall
  10. Far From Heaven
  11. Frida – Did everyone forget how lush and exciting this film was?
  12. Friends with Money – Nicole Holofcener cuts both ways for me. She sometimes chooses material that is too light and airy, but I thought this one really brave in examining an issue that heretofore I think was only examined in the Friends episode about splitting the check at dinner (oddly, also starring Jennifer Aniston).
  13. Hedwig and the Angry Inch – Slept-on. I liked this movie BETTER than the actual show.
  14. Hotel Rwanda
  15. House of Flying Daggers
  16. I’m Not There
  17. Igby Goes Down – Did everyone forget Burr Steers’ fantastic directorial debut?
  18. Juno - Yeah, okay - this may be the one instance I've succumbed to peer pressure. TC and I did have a kinda "so what's the big deal" moment in the theatre after seeing it. I think it's iconic, though, and I like it for the way that people behave like people and not like headless reactionaries with big mouths. I like it for J.K. Simmons, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman and Allison Janney's humanity and humour. For the soundtrack. For Michael Cera. And yeah, it's this close to not being on the list.
  19. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Shane Black’s killer return with smooth as silk dialogue, slick performances and sexy everything.
  20. Life as a House – I don’t know what it is about this movie, but, yes.
  21. Little Miss Sunshine
  22. Man on Fire – This movie gets better everytime I see it. Has that In the Line of Fire feel, but with grit and real human stakes.
  23. Maria Full of Grace – This still stands out among the wave of movies dealing with immigration and the wave of Sundance movies.
  24. Munich – Yeah, I’m kinda surprised, too. But it is a great film.
  25. Nowhere in Africa – Slept-on despite its best foreign film Oscar.
  26. Nurse Betty – Bet you forgot how much you dug that movie!
  27. Paris, Je T’aime – Yeah, an anthology – weird, huh? But what a great one.
  28. Passing Strange - How I wish I'd seen the show, but Spike Lee's filming of it is almost as good - in fact, if it were any better, I couldn't stand it. Stew has revitalized the one-man autobiographical show genre by making it musical and letting the other characters speak, sing, and dance for themselves.
  29. Pirates of the Carribbean
  30. School of Rock
  31. Something’s Gotta Give
  32. Spanglish – Unfortunately-titled dramedy that captures the L.A. dichotomy between rich and privileged and poor and immigrant. Great performances by Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Cloris Leachman, and the radiant Paz Vega .
  33. Stranger Than Fiction – I like this movie better now than when I saw it. Go figure. There’s something charming about it.
  34. Superbad – McLovin it.
  35. Sylvia – Allow me one chick poet with a cheating husband personal bias movie on the list. Please. Thank you. Plus great Daniel Craig performance when he still acted.
  36. Synecdoche, NY – I found watching this movie absolutely excruciating. It is, however, a great film. Not for everyone – you have to really love Charlie Kaufman.
  37. Syriana
  38. The Anniversary Party – Yes, they are slightly evil, spoiled, childish people. They are also completely exposed by this film in ways that make them just like everyone else. The spirit of collaboration that made the project happen cannot be ignored, either, as it brings to much of the resonance of personal histories into the mix.
  39. The Hangover – Inventive, raucous, silly, wrong wrong wrong. And thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.
  40. The Others – This movie should be on more lists, I think. Haunting, visually stunning and probably the last Cruise-Kidman collaboration.
  41. The Quiet American – Slept-on. Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser in a Graham Greene adaptation with a screenplay by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan. Directed by Phillip Noyce.
  42. The Science of Sleep – Delightful over and over. Don’t take life so literally and you might just get what you want. Gondry is the genius invention of the 20th Century and Gael Garcia Bernal a perfect muse.
  43. Tropic Thunder – This movie was LOUD! And funny as sh*t.
  44. Venus – Unexpectedly touching – Peter O’Toole is still an actor with fine craft. Vanessa Redgrave is wonderful. Roger Michell's direction restrained and in service of the text and actors, as usual. Script by Hanif Kureishi.
  45. Vicki Cristina Barcelona – I found the first ten minutes of this movie EXCRUCIATING. And the rest sheer bliss. Tribute to Javier Bardem and yes, Penelope Cruz deserved an Oscar.
  46. Wet Hot American Summer
  47. Whale Rider
  48. White Oleander – Slept-on. A great adaptation of a truly fantastic book. Strong actresses in a strong story, well-told.
  49. Wonder Boys – I loved the book so much, the movie fell short, but it still has a place in my heart. I’d always imagined Jeff Bridges in the part, but Michael Douglas is alright and it’s the best of Kaite Holmes we’ll ever get.

What you think is missing from my list that I haven’t seen: Persepolis, Waltz with Bashir, Avatar, The Hurt Locker, White Balloon (and other late 2009 releases), Inglorious Basterds, The Lives of Others, Gladiator, The Departed, Oldboy, Audition, Up, Best of Youth, Spirited Away, Gomorrah, the Harold and Kumar movies, and probably some more.

I just wasn’t that into them: There Will Be Blood, No Country for Old Men, Traffic, Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Dark Knight, Ocean’s 11, The Bourne Ultimatum, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Mulholland Drive, Erin Brockovich, et al. Yeah, I know they’re on everyone else’s lists.

The trends I saw in the aughts that were interesting:

The gradual death of American Independent film. As directing became a default choice for a generation of film school graduates, the actual vision associated with independent film became more and more diluted, the voice and vision that made American Independent cinema rise has given way to a bunch of people who want to direct, but are lacking point of view and stories to tell. There is no next Tarantino, as there was no previous Tarantino. Around the world, compelling stories are happening every day, and in places like Iran, Israel, Palestine and Mexico, directors with vision are rising to tell them. While there is always room for stories of true intimacy and identity, the day-to-day stories of cushy American life can’t hold a candle to the struggles going on daily around the world from which amazing stories emerge – at least, not the way they are currently being approached.

The return of Funny (or Smart and Funny?) – Maybe it was the times, the wars, the post 9/11 angst, but funny movies haven’t had it so good since the first crop of SNL stars got out of their contracts and hit the big screen. The handover from Farrelly Bros to Apatow is complete and welcome. The stakes for comedies have been upped, the subgenres remapped and one hopes the hits keep coming.

George Clooney – Not the best actor. Yet invariably involved with great material as an actor, director, and producer. Uses his star power to consistently get great things made and out to the world. Much respect.

New Mexican Cinema – Not so new anymore, but directors like del Toro, Cuaron and Gonzalez Inarritu are not only doing challenging and beautiful work, they are helping others to do the same. (If you haven’t seen Cuaron’s 1998 version of Great Expectations with Gwyneth Paltrow,Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper and Anne Bancroft, you might want to check it out.)

That's it. That's all I got. Unless I remember some more. Feel free to take issue, take me to task, or send me iTunes gift certificates so I can watch your favorite movies that I might have missed.

P.S. I've done my best to mitigate spelling and factual errors, not confuse Chris O'Donnell with Brendan Fraser (close call) and generally be on point. Feel free to point out errors and ommissions in a kind fashion.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

the first female director to win an oscar goes to...

Kathryn Bigelow?

There's a better than good chance that she'll be nominated for THE HURT LOCKER, which seems to be on every critics year-end best list.

There's a good chance she'll take it home, too.

The fun part?

There's a good chance James Cameron will also be nominated - for AVATAR.

And therein lies a good-old Tracy-Hepburn Adam's Rib kinda showdown. (Written by husband and wife team Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin!)

Exes battling for the same award.

Martin Scorsese never had to have a showdown with Julia Cameron or Isabella Rosselini.

Strong women? Yes. Creative? Yes. Directors? Not really.

What next -- Sofia Coppola and Francis Ford Coppola nominated against each other?

It's not that they mind us making movies, or playing instruments, or even sports. As long as they don't have to have us around the tour bus, the locker room, or cutting into their share of the glory.

Is this some kind of first step? I don't know. Is Kathryn Bigelow the best female director out there? I don't know. Are prizes and art inherently suspect? Absolutely. Does it hurt that it's a war film instead of a chick flick? Rhetorical.