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17 January 2005

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David Hudson

Some notes...

Translation. Sofia Coppola's made some wonderful choices here. The scene is played very quietly. At a point when other directors (including a few that have directed Murray before) would have come in tight - "Let's get that look on Bill's face as he does that schtick of his with this line" - we see the group from some distance and, IIRC, Murray is three-quarters or actually does have his back turned to us. Precisely because the line is delivered with Murray's own wonderfully unique brand of faux sincerity, Coppola knows that by playing it down she can draw a melancholic note from the wisecrack.

Before moving onto the next one, a quick diversion: In both the US and Europe, Wong Kar-wai had quite a year, what with the DVD (re-)releases and 2046's run through the festival circuit. I bring this up in part because of Coppola's acknowledgment of her indebtedness to Wong at the Oscars but also because Wong's films seem to me propelled almost solely by the power of perfect movie moments. And I mean that in the best way. 2046 has opened here in Berlin, and as soon as we've fully moved into our new apt, I plan to catch it as a sort of reward for making it through the last couple of weeks with our sanity intact. If we actually do, of course.

One more diversion, speaking of Bill Murray: The Life Aquatic will screen at the Berlinale. Many of your comments have my expectations flying every which way; if many of you were let down, are my expectations low enough that I might be surprised? But if I'm expecting to be surprised... and so on.

Before Sunset. I've looked and looked but can't find it; but I think it was Filmbrain - who I know labeled the whole effort precious - who said Jesse and Celine didn't engage him as characters. I could be wrong (easily!), but I think I know where he's coming from here. If anything is "precious" about Before Sunset, it's Jesse and Celine. There's a lot to say about that, but to move on quickly: Surprisingly enough for a talking movie, the characters as characters are only half the point. The more important half, IMHO, and what makes the screenplay one to rival Charlie Kaufman's as best of the year, is, to put it reductively, the game of truth or dare they're playing with each other. What is each willing to risk; the constant shift in a sort of three-dimensional equation in which all the factors bear more and more weight as they talk on; the self-discoveries, the minor epiphanies... no, this is not light stuff.

Gegen die Wand. It's a wrenching moment, not a lovely one at all. I also just wanted to quickly note here that, as far as film goes, Germany had a great year. As partial proof, many German critics, usually so very hard on German films, have praised more of them this year than I can remember and, in their year-end round-ups, all have noted pretty much the same thing - in somewhat startled tones. It wasn't a bad year at the box office, either. German films racked up 23.5 percent of the domestic market this year - that may not sound like much, but the percentage is usually between nine and 18 percent. I'm not sure anyone knows exactly what's going so right, but here's to an even better 2005.

Those are all the notes I have for now on those movie moments. But there is one more thing that's been cooking in the back of my mind ever since Filmbrain raised several essential questions a day or two ago, and it's come to the fore as I think about a response to a few more questions Luke raised last night, for example, "Does the racism of The Birth of a Nation trump its innovation and technical importance, making it a bad movie instead of a great one? If a critic disagrees with the morality of a picture, should he claim that it is a bad film?"

Well, let me see if my thoughts are fully cooked here... some of this is going to sound pretty obvious, but: Just as I don't believe in a single set of criteria by which to evaluate all films, I also don't believe in trying to assign a final verdict. The absurdity becomes plain when these judgments go numerical, i.e., "3.5 stars out of 5."

Let me say a few stupid things in the hope that something not so stupid comes out of it: A lemon is bitter, but it's got vitamin C. Both vodka and liverwurst are good, but the lemon goes well with the vodka, not with the liverwurst. Ice cream's tasty but, too much of it, and you're bloated.

The thing is, none of the criteria I've heard spelled out here is going to work for every film out there. Can't be boring? Listen, Andy Warhol's Empire is boring, but it's also one of the most brilliant conceptual films I've ever... well, heard about, actually. And seen stills of and so on.

Lars von Trier is one of the most interesting filmmakers working, not so much because his films are "better" than so many others but because he's perpetually curious to find new ways of doing what you're not supposed to do. Most explicitly in The Five Obstructions, but even with the whole Dogme 95 stunt - which was meant as a corrective, not as a set of commandments, clearly, and almost seems meant from the beginning to self-destruct once it'd served its purpose, too. In the same way, I deeply appreciate Britopia's extraordinarily insightful comment here. But I also recognize that it, too, is a (welcome) corrective to a current situation. Which will change. We simply don't know yet which way it'll change, for better or for worse, but there is no doubt that it will change.

I haven't the vaguest idea how to answer a question like, What do you look for in a movie? We're talking about an art form as vast and varied as life itself! What do you look for when you get up in the morning? What do you look for in Italy, as opposed to what you look for at Macy's or in church or under the table?

At times, it's something very specific. At times, surprises are welcome; other times, not. But we do love looking.

lizpenn

these are lovely. can't wait to see "Gegen Die Wand" -- has it opened here yet, even briefly?

i don't see how a wes anderson fan can not be disappointed in 'the life aquatic.' but if you really love bill murray, it might carry you through.

also: who says "yuck!" in ESOTSM, and when?

Matt

Head On is definitely one worth waiting for. It's a film that you don't see coming, and it really hits you hard if you let it.

David Hudson

Liz, it looks like Gegen die Wand is opening in New York on the 21st. If you catch, I definitely look forward to seeing your thoughts; I'll be very curious to know how it plays in the States.

Fortunately, yes, I do really love Bill Murray.

As for "Yuck!"... I'll be perfectly honest with you: I'm too embarrassed to describe the moment in too much detail, but remember when Joel is under the table? He's back to around five-years-old (hoping he and his memory of Clementine will be safer there) and she's melding with a memory of an adult friend... so she tries to remind him it's really her.

David Hudson

Matt slipped in - Hi! - yes, I agree, you do have to be open to it.

dave heaton

"i don't see how a wes anderson fan can not be disappointed in 'the life aquatic.'"

I feel the exact opposite, actually, how can a wes anderson fan be disappointed in "the life aquatic"...but to each their own i know.

I'll share a moment from it, nonetheless, because it's one of my favorite film sequences of the year:

(spoiler alert, this is near the end of the film)

a transcendent, otherworldly Sigur Ros song plays as the very bruised and emotionally battered Zissou and crew finally get a glimpse at the sea creature that they've vaguely considered an arch-enemy, or at least the object of their quest, and are awed by how strange and beautiful it looks, how otherwordly and transcendent...

dvd

A few:

~ Zhang Ziyi, trying to keep a stiff upper lip when Tony Leung first reveals exactly how deep his feelings for her run, in 2046.

~ Nicole Kidman losing it on the beach in Birth (also: the obvious three minute close up)

~ Klaus stomping away from the crew of The Belafonte as they discuss mutiny, only to peek with a single eye back through the portal in the door, in The Life Aquatic

~ The moment when Celine and Jesse finally both find themselves unable to speak (or unsure of what to say) while ascending the spiral staircase in Before Sunset.

~ Will Ferrell, explaining the meaning of love, via song, to his news team, in Anchorman.

~ Exploring heaven in Notre Musique.

~ Bud driving to Daisy's parents's house in The Brown Bunny.

~ Making the wooden airplane in Undertow.

~ Isabelle imitating the Venus De Milo in The Dreamers.

~ And yes, the entire train sequence in Spiderman 2.

lizpenn

oh, dvd's last one reminds me of one that was on my short list and that i totally meant to use: at the very end of Spiderman 2, when Spidey/Peter -- they've kind of converged by that point -- is holding up that wall to keep it from falling on Kirsten Dunst, and he says, "This is really heavy." i've written a whole column about it here.

lizpenn

ps. i remember the "yuck" moment now ... hee.

Peter

*The violin player singing the Spider-Man theme song in Spider-Man 2.

*While on the same track, the hospital sequence in the same: deliciously malevolant, it's a classic Raimi setpiece, brimming over with sociopathic mania that still manages to be darkly funny.

*David Carradine gracefully making a sandwhich for his daughter at the end of Kill Bill 2. The delicacy and precision of his actions says as much as any speech he makes.

*A long overhead shot in the insurance office of The Incredibles, as Bob Parr sighs and accidentally knocks over a pencil holder, a perfect symbol of the small defeats life continually hands him.

*Sitting behind a dumpster in the midst of a demon battle, Hellboy notices a a sucker stuck to his arm. Out of nowhere, a monster limb tears through the dumpster wall, and with a perfect mixture of resignation, annoyance and genuine surprise, we get the classic Hellboy/Ron Perlman rendition of "AWWW CRAP!"

Hmm. Comic movies and Kill Bill 2. I'm not sure I like what that says about me.

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