Friday, February 15, 2008

Brent Sallay on the year in TV and Film

Brent Sallay has sent us his favorite stuff from the year. While it says it was posted by me, it clearly wasn't. How can you tell? Because Brent didn't describe "Inland Empire" as a steaming pile of dog shit.-Jeremy

Movies, a Pretty Good Year

by Brent Sallay

So there were a lot of good movies this year, and a lot of people had trouble picking just ten to put on a list at the end of the year. Fortunately, some visionaries like New York Times critic A.O. Scott found a way around this. It is in that spirit that I present to you, dear reader, pretty much every film I liked this year, squeezed into a top ten:

1. No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood, or movies dealing with arcing social themes (in this case, fate and greed, respectively) in a bleak Western setting. But the similarities don't end there. Both have revolutionary musical scores (one extremely minimal, and the other threatening at times to take over the movie), both have slightly misleading titles (there is in fact a country for old men, they just don't like it there very much; and, while yes, there is blood, it would be about as descriptive to call the film There Will Be Moustaches), and both are refreshingly restrained—unlike say, last year's The Departed, these films are more R-rated in tone than in content. If this is a footrace, NCFOM is probably more perfectly constructed, and TWBB is probably a little more cinematic and memorable, but to my mind, both represent some of the most accomplished filmmaking of this decade.

2. Knocked Up, Juno, and Waitress, or undesirable pregnancy movies. Hollywood having already tapped the well dry for movies about pregnancy under more desirable circumstances in She's Having a Baby, Junior, and Rosemary's Baby, it was long past time to explore the other, darker side. Apparently three different people noticed this, and decided to make the exact same movie about it at the exact same time. Interestingly, each of these three movies also has at least one main character from three of the most missed, cancelled-before-their-time TV shows of the last several years (Freaks & Geeks, Arrested Development, and Firefly, respectively). [Note: 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, while undeniably powerful, did not quite make this list, because in that one, they actually get the schma-schmortion, and also because no one from Wonderfalls was in it.]

3. Lars and the Real Girl, The King of Kong, Eagle vs. Shark, and Year of the Dog, or movies in which we the viewer are entertained by the eccentricities of the main characters, be they the love of an inanimate object, the quest to reach the high score on a classic arcade game, the determination to seek revenge on a high school bully, or, um, being a vegetarian.

4. Once, Sweeney Todd, Walk Hard, I'm Not There, and Control, or musicals/musician biopics that more or less get it right, namely, showing us how to explain why people in a musical are breaking out into song, why they don't need a reason if they are singing about killing people, what's wrong with self-important biopics that "honor" their subjects by reveling in their character flaws, how to make a biopic of a musician that really captures what their music was all about, and, um, because I like Joy Division.

5. Inland Empire, Southland Tales, Brand Upon the Brain!, and Paprika, or glorious head trips. The kind you watch over and over with no hope of ever understanding them, but then, that’s not really the point.

6. The Lookout, The Assassination of Jesse James, Michael Clayton, Eastern Promises, and The Bourne Ultimatum, or movies where the main guy starts out working for a bunch of crooks/a big evil corporation/the government, but then (spoiler alert?) changes his mind.

7. Zodiac, Charlie Wilson's War, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, and Atonement, or movies where the main guy/little girl tries doing the right thing/working through the system, only to find the failures of the system/a Pulitzer-worthy sense of guilt.

8. Paris Je T'Aime and Ratatouille, or movies that make France look like not such a bad place (even though it still is, of course).

9. The Lives of Others and 12:08 East of Bucharest, or foreign movies (which, yes, is a genre), that are set in foreign countries where people speak foreign languages, but that Americans rally around because of the films’ overt critiques of the Bush administration (in this case, I’m going to say wiretapping and, oh, how about, whether or not there were WMDs).

10. Grindhouse, The Host, and Hot Fuzz, or movies that aim to parodize or pay homage to a second-class movie genre, but end up as something so much more.

P.S. Or, if you're a stickler for the rules, here's an actual top ten:

1. No Country for Old Men
2. There Will Be Blood
3. Knocked Up
4. Lars and the Real Girl
5. Once
6. Juno
7. Inland Empire
8. The Lookout
9. The King of Kong
10. Paris Je T'Aime

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10 Reasons the Writers’ Strike Makes Me Cry (a.k.a. The Top 10 TV Shows of 2007):

1. Flight of the Conchords (HBO) – This is an important to show to watch, dealing with serious issues of our day like artistic integrity, body consciousness, friend abandonment, the trappings of fame, racism against New Zealanders, and the perils of dancing while angry. Seriously, it’s changed my life.

2. The Sarah Silverman Program (Comedy Central) – Sarah Silverman has gotten plenty of supporting roles in big comedies in the past (There’s Something About Mary, School of Rock) but only now has she really gotten to express herself. Her dirty, dirty, beautiful jewess self. In truth, this show is the perfect example of the brownie with the poop in it. But in this case (and you’re just going to have to trust me on this), the poop goes down just as smooth as the rest of it..

3. Frisky Dingo (Cartoon Network) – You really have to watch this series (from the creators of Sealab 2021) from the beginning to get all the jokes. Fortunately, that will only take a few hours of your time. Also, watching Frisky Dingo (Season 2 in particular) should totally be a prerequisite for voting in the upcoming elections.

4. 30 Rock (NBC) – Still the rightful heir to Arrested Development as the most consistently hilarious network ensemble on the airwaves. If it’s only about 70% as good as that show, well, that’s still pretty good, and I’ll take that any day over 2 ½ (Men)%. (Sorry, even jokes at the expense of Two and a Half Men are lame.)

5. The Shield (FX) – Unlike the Sopranos, which lures in viewers with its promise of sustained intensity, but then too often settles for muted character study (which is not necessarily a bad thing, but may arguably be a copout for thinking up enough plausible awesome things to happen), The Shield, moreso than ever now in its sixth season, actually delivers on the promise, and without sacrificing its characters in the least (other than literally), by having its protagonists, already morally compromised, make even more desperate, morally ambiguous choices, and then face (or attempt to elude) the consequences.

6. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) – Even though the title of each episode gives away exactly what you’re going to see in the next half-hour (The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby, Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person, Dennis Looks Like a Registered Sex Offender, etc.), the journey proves just as satisfying as the destination..

7. Extras (HBO) – In addition to featuring some hilarious cameos by David Bowie, Orlando Bloom, and Daniel Radcliffe, Extras this season (intentionally its last) was primarily concerned with exploring the inner struggle of an artist between being popular and successful and maintaining artistic credibility.

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO) – I hadn’t loved the last few seasons of Curb, but this season really brought the magic back, thanks in great part to the addition of the Black family to the cast, and the fact that Cheryl finally actually did something besides just complain about Larry’s self-absorption.

9. Human Giant (MTV) – It takes a lot for me to willingly put my dial on MTV these days, but a sketch show featuring Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel, and, in particular, Aziz Ansari does the trick nicely.

10. Notes from the Underbelly (ABC) – Quippy perhaps to a fault, you can call it my guilty pleasure, but this show basically completely mirrors my life right now (seriously, right down to the hair color of the characters), so I pretty much owe it a spot on my list.

2 comments:

Christophe von Bellamy said...

Year of the Fucking Dog? For real?

"Eccentricities"? Is that what those were? Were we supposed to be entertained by them? That wasn't eccentricity - that was the most unfathomably contemptible, unsympathetic "character" in movie history. By the end of that movie, that woman was a complete piece of shit. If that's "eccentric," what's Hannibal Lecter? Kooky?

Brent said...

Well, I'm not going to try to defend the movie too much. It only tied for third because I happened to lump it in with the other movies that I placed there, which I thought all more or less had characters that were a bit eccentric--maybe a bit of a stretch in some cases, I'll admit. I didn't completely love the movie, but I liked certain elements of it enough to recommend (John C. Reilly, the framing, much of the dialogue, and yes, I'll agree, she is unsympathetic, and I don't personally identify with the decisions she makes in the end of the movie, but then, I don't personally identify with a guy who eats faces for a living either--that alone shouldn't make or break a movie). Agree to disagree?