Rightwing Film Geek

Skandies runners-up — directors

THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE was actually the weaker of Steven Soderbergh's two 2009 films.

Atom Egoyan, ADORATION — A comeback film for Egoyan, both in terms of quality and style. The ending doesn’t come off, a la EXOTICA (indeed “it’s kinda dumb” is more accurate). But the return of the chilly formalism, the piecing together of things that aren’t exactly what they seem, and the postmodern concern with what people say about a thing over the thing itself.

Uli Edel, THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX — This is not a great film and the script loses control of events (like the Red Army Faction itself, perhaps) at the end. But the force and excitement it did have, given the soggy historical-drama trajectory and my British boy’s knowledge of West German¹ politics in the 60s and 70s, comes from Edel’s staging and framing — swift, direct and as overwhelming as a terrorist attack. Starting to wonder if his LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN might seem the same way to me now.

Werner Herzog, THE BAD LIEUTENANT — PORT OF CALL: NEW ORLEANS — The only way Herzog’s direction is not awesome is if you believe that he didn’t notice Cage’s incandescently ludicrous comic performance. And in that case, he’s not weak or misguided or failed — he’s a complete effing incompetent twit. The man who made GRIZZLY MAN, KASPAR HAUSER, AGUIRRE, NOSFERATU, FITZCARRALDO, STROSZEK is not a complete effing incompetent twit. Indeed, he might even be considered to have a thing for “touched” performers and characters. Ergo, it is awesome.

Henry Selick, CORALINE — Sigh. Dropped the wonderfully creepy Grimm/Dahl-like CORALINE right at the end again, like with Dakota Fanning. And, like all animated films of its kind, it was a sweated-out labor of love. Especially for its director. I feel like a complete tool.

Neill Blomkamp, DISTRICT 9 — I’m not the world’s biggest science-fiction or monster-movie fan (still haven’t seen AVATAR), so the fact Blomkamp’s film held my attention is some kind of feat in itself. The pace is kept quick and the various levels of “reality” and “discourse” clear, and thus funny (though the end really hurts the film).

Sam Raimi, DRAG ME TO HELL — I’m not the world’s biggest science-fiction or monster-movie fan (still haven’t seen AVATAR), so the fact Raimi’s film held my attention is some kind of feat in itself. Raimi knows how to use space and score to “goose” you for pulpy shocks aplenty, even when you know your goose is being cooked (though it’s really the end that saves the film).

Steven Soderbergh, THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE — Yes, the “mo-fo.” Orchestrates a few ideas (and not very deep ones, frankly) and some conventionally “weak” actors into a strong whole. It’s like that scene in SOUL FOOD where the chef turns a filet-o-fish into high continental cuisine via his presentation. Only for real.

Corneliu Porumboiu, POLICE, ADJECTIVE — Boring roolz … plot droolz!!! Something I probably didn’t emphasize enough in describing the strange effect of POLICE, ADJECTIVE is that, whatever else it may be, it obviously betrays artful design, breaking the “all wordless following” pattern in about three specific ways, all repeated. Porumboiu is playing us like a piano, and while it’s perfectly fair not to like his tune, it’s clearly being played by a virtuoso.

Olivier Assayas, SUMMER HOURS — I had never been a big Assayas fan, only going as high as a 6-grade on CLEAN (though I’ve not seen COLD WATER or IRMA VEP). But I’ve never denied Assayas has directorial chops, just bad script ideas, and maybe that’s what hurt him here. His film — my #3 for the year — was such a leap forward that I attributed all the newfound dazzle to the script. (So … um … look for beaucoup points in that category.)

Francis Coppola, TETRO — Now I contradict myself, as TETRO fits into, and even diegetically refers to, Coppola’s increasing theatricality (naming Vincent Gallo’s character “dark [mood]” is almost Belliniesque). In other words, it’s all style and operatic flourish and Archers color and inky black-and-white — all hail the director. Too bad the story managed to be both obvious, when you could follow it, and obscure, when you couldn’t — all curse the writer.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, THREE MONKEYS — Translate my words on Coppola into Turkish and they could stand basically unchanged, though I think Ceylan’s direction a bit less grand and his family-feud story a bit cleaner.

Leos Carax, TOKYO! — Another French director whose previous work I wasn’t a great fan of (admittedly just LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF), though unlike with Assayas, Carax got weirder and more juvenile. We get the persecuted outsider and the rest of it (maybe given what Merde does, he ought to be persecuted). It would be terrible if Carax didn’t dance around (and sometimes gleefully leap past) the line between demented and perverted, essentially in service of a sick joke. And Merde’s being a 40-minute short in an anthology prevented it from overstaying its welcome as what it is — a singular experience out of Carax’s infantile brain.

Pete Docter, UP — Sigh. Dropped the wonderfully joyful and heart-breakingly wise UP right at the end again, like with Christopher Plummer. And, like even animated films of this kind, it was a sweated-out labor of love. Especially for its director. I feel like a complete tool.

Michael Haneke, WHITE RIBBON — My man Mikey gets short-listed by right. And if it had just been a lame script, he might have snuck his way in. But some of his directorial choices just as clearly watered-down the Germanic scold I love. Still, will be rooting for WHITE RIBBON to win the Foreign-Film Oscar, not because it’s good, mind you, but to see Michael Haneke’s give an acceptance speech to AMPAS.
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¹ Yes, kids … “West Germany.” I had to learn as an adult how to say simply “Germany” in the present tense. And get off my lawn!!

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February 9, 2010 Posted by | Skandies | Leave a comment

Skandies runners-up — scripts

I need to catch up on Bahrani's earlier films, MAN PUSH CART and CHOP SHOP. He has a clear gift for writing and direction that don't come across as writing and direction.

Jane Campion, BRIGHT STAR — Yeah, there’s all that sissy Keats poetry and stuff, but that isn’t why Campion’s script is good. It’s because she begins from the POV of a character with artistic impulses of her own (I wish she’d done more with the feminist fashion-as-women’s-art subtext) and because she makes images that match without mimicking the poetry and/or letters being read.

Pedro Almodovar, BROKEN EMBRACES — Shucked it away earlier than usual for a Pedro script because, at the end of the day, it just takes too long to peel away all the layers. But nobody can braid storylines, play with multiple levels of discourse, and find an emotional connection in garish gestures and details than Pedro can.

Brock Norman Brock and Nicolas Winding Refn, BRONSON — I thought about short-listing Refn’s operatic direction, but then decided … no, here what works is really the script, which structures the film around several bold conceits. Tell a biographical story in an un-biopicky way — as a stage autobiography, performed without a real fourth wall by a man who wants to create his own legend in our mind. While at the same time, resisting the “Rosebud” temptation to have the gimmick be the explanation for “Bronson’s” life.

Andreas Dresen and Jorg Hochschild, CLOUD 9 — I compared this film in my Toronto capsule to SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, and no higher compliment exists. The script structures itself around a to-and-fro between sexual reverie and bitter quarrels, the latter gradually taking over and then finally enfolding things.

Wes Anderson, FANTASTIC MR. FOX — Yes, I relented after declaring Wes! dead to me after THE DARJEELING LIMITED. Primarily because “Roald Dahl cartoon” sounded like something that would anchor and restrain him. It does somewhat, or at least makes the archness less annoying. It’s may be Wes Anderson’s CHICKEN RUN, but that’s still CHICKEN RUN.

Chris Rock et al, GOOD HAIR — Yes, seriously. It IS a documentary, but in the genre of the comic essay, not cinema verite. And while I don’t know how much of the on-screen comedy is improvised, when it’s being done by the same person performing and co-writing the voiceover, it’s enough to consider it a unified writing work. And on those terms — it was really funny. And edumacational without being hectoring.

Bahareh Azimi and Ramin Bahrani, GOODBYE SOLO — I freely admit that the last third is a bit … not exactly “contrived,” more like “telegraphed.” But like the Italian neorealists AO Scott and others have compared him to, and contrary to how Bahrani’s (and the Italians’) films look, Bahrani meticulously plans everything after working it all out with his non-pros. Everything that looks accidental or “real” is in Azimi and Bahrani’s script.

February 9, 2010 Posted by | Skandies | Leave a comment