The Return of Modern Mondays

I’ve been inspired to write brief bits about some of the new films I’ve seen recently. I normally post my thoughts on Letterboxd but thought I’d start compiling them here every month or so depending on how much I write and if I have anything worthwhile to say.


Breathe (2015)
The worst bullies I’ve encountered in my life have all been women and some of them started out as friends. Cold, calculating, flat out vicious and mean spirited women who get their power (or attempt to reclaim it) by isolating, manipulating and emotionally abusing vulnerable fellow females. Apparently French director and actress Mélanie Laurent has also experienced this phenomenon firsthand and she does an excellent job of illustrating the complexities between so-called “frenemies” – a cute term that too often masks the genuine ugliness found in aggressive or passive aggressive relationships shared between women and girls.

The film is beautifully composed making creative use of the cloistered environment it builds while maintaining a mournful tone throughout as the girl’s burgeoning friendship blossoms, thrives and finally dies on the vine. We follow them through exhausting school terms, lazy summer days, late night parties and awkward encounters with boys who make poor replacements for missing (or abusive) fathers while Laurent’s intimate camera work invites us to care deeply about their predicament. This intimacy, as well as the young lead’s (Joséphine Japy & Lou de Laâge) shared commitment to their roles, makes the shocking finale particularly brutal and heartbreaking. A dark, dark film and an impressive directorial debut that should have gotten a hell of a lot more press coverage last year.


The Invitation (2015)
The Invitation is one of the best films I’ve seen this year with an impressive central performance from Logan Marshall-Green. Grief and malaise run rampant in the Hollywood Hills turning a dinner party among old friends into a incredibly unnerving and flat out creepy affair.The atmosphere of dread and unease that permeate the proceedings is so thick you can cut it with a serving knife thanks to Karyn Kusama’s taught direction & Theodore Shapiro’s eerie score. A great slow-burn horror feast that didn’t get a wide release so you’ll probably have to catch it streaming online if you want to see it. Best to go into the movie blind with as little info as possible if you want to get the most bang for your buck.


Pee-wee’s Big Holiday (2016)
I was prepared to hate Pee-wee’s Big Holiday when I spotted Judd Apatow’s name in the opening credits but I was pleasantly surprised by this romantic comedy that has our hero finding true love with the muscular, motorcycle riding Joe Manganiello. The film is surprisingly sweet and gently subversive. It also references some classic movies such as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Christopher Strong, which will delight observant film buffs. This might be the first gay love story aimed at kids of all ages and it’s adorable!


The Witch (2016)
Spent Oscar night watching The Witch with a small but enthusiastic crowd at a local theater that politely clapped after the credits rolled. I liked the film a lot, particularly the way it creatively weaved folklore elements into the narrative. With all the hoopla surrounding the film I wasn’t expecting much but I was impressed by the adult nature of The Witch and some of the unusually grim twists and turns the film took. Surprised this got a wide release but I hope that’s a sign of good things to come. So many of the best horror films I’ve seen in recent years (such as last years Aleluia, Cub and Naciye) never make it out of New York or the small festivals they’re shown at. Don’t know how The Witch has managed to get so many breaks and such wide acclaim but it makes my black heart happy.

Favorite Films & Performances of 2014

* IMPORTANT: Before you read any further please remember that ALL films, directors, actors, etc. are listed ALPHABETICALLY on my LISTS and BALLOTS and not in order of favoritism/status. *

Today the Oscar nominations were announced and it seems like a good time to share my 15 Favorite Films of 2014, which I recently posted at the Movie Morlocks along with detailed notes but I thought I’d post my list here as well along with my fleshed out responses to the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) Award Ballot. As is often the case, my own selections differ from the final consensus which you can find HERE. My ballot also includes some worthwhile films and performances that didn’t make it onto my final list of 15 Favorite Films and offers a somewhat broader perspective on my viewing habits as well as my likes & dislikes in 2014.

15 Favorite Films of 2014: Listed ALPHABETICALLY!
1. THE BABADOOK (Dir. Jennifer Kent; 2014)
2. CALVARY (Dir. John Michael McDonagh; 2014)
3. CITIZENFOUR (Dir. Laura Poitras; 2014)
4. ENEMY (Dir. Denis Villeneuve; 2013 – released in the U.S. in 2014)
5. FORCE MAJEURE (Dir. Ruben Östlund; 2014)
6. THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN (Dir. Daniel Geller & Dayna Goldfine; 2013 – released in the U.S. in 2014)
7. THE HOMESMAN (Dir. Tommy Lee Jones; 2014)
8. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (Dir. Jim Jarmsuch; 2014)
9. PENNY DREADFUL (2014 – TV series created & written by John Logan)
10. THE RAID 2 (Dir. Gareth Evans; 2014)
11. STARRY EYES (Dir. Kevin Kolsch & Dennis Widmyer; 2014)
12. THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS (Dir. Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani; 2013 – released in the U.S. in 2014)
13. STRANGER BY THE LAKE (Dir. Alain Guiraudie; 2013 – released in the U.S. in 2014)
14. UNDER THE SKIN (DIR. Jonathan Glazer; 2014)
15. WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (Dir. Sion Sono; 2014)

* Please see my Movie Morlocks’ post for a more detailed write-up about the films on my list.


Notes: One of the most underrated/overlooked films in 2014 is ENEMY, which was not only the best new film I saw all year but also the best horror film I’ve seen since KILL LIST.  In a few years critics will be falling all over themselves to praise it even though they’ve ignored it during this lengthy season of list making & awards. Another highly underrated film is THE HOMESMAN, which is the best western I’ve seen since THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007). THE HOMESMAN seems to have found a welcoming audience in parts of Europe and Asia but it’s been overlooked as critics compile their lists & hand out awards, which is a real shame since it’s one of the most beautiful films I saw last year. Both ENEMY and THE HOMESMAN are well worth your time. If there are any “future classics” on my list or films that will have people talking in years to come it’s ENEMY, THE HOMESMAN and to a lessor extent, UNDER THE SKIN.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

These awards are presented to females and/or males. Again – my picks are listed ALPHABETICALLY!

Best English Language Film
1. Calvary – Dir. John Michael McDonagh
2. Enemy – Dir. Denis Villeneuve
3. The Homesman – Dir. Tommy Lee Jones
4. Only Lovers Left Alive – Dir. Jim Jarmusch
5. Under the Skin – Dir. Jonathan Glazer

Best Director (Female or Male)
1. Enemy – Dir. Denis Villeneuve
2. The Homesman – Dir. Tommy Lee Jones
3. Only Lovers Left Alive – Dir. Jim Jarmusch
4. The Raid 2 – Dir. Garth Evens
5. Under the Skin – Dir. Jonathan Glazer

Best Screenplay, Original
1. Calvary – John Michael McDonagh
2. Force Majeure – Ruben Östlund
3. Only Lovers Left Alive – Jim Jarmusch

Best Screenplay, Adapted
1. Enemy – Javier Gullón
2. The Homesman – Tommy Lee Jones, Kieran Fitzgerald & Wesley Oliver
3. Under the Skin – Jonathan Glazer & Walter Campbellv

Best Documentary
1. CitizenFour
2. Finding Vivian Maier
3. The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden
4. Jodorowsky’s Dune
5. Manakamana

Best Animated Film
1. Box Trolls
2. How to Train Your Dragon 2
3. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

Best Actress
1. Essie Davis – The Babadook
2. Alex Essoe – Starry Eyes
3. Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Belle
4. Hilary Swank – The Homesman
5. Tilda Swinton – Only Lovers Left Alive

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
1. Eva Green – White Bird in a Blizzard
2. Sandrine Kiberlain – Violettee
3. Agata Kulesza – Ida
4. Kelly Reilly – Calvary
5. Tilda Swinton – Snowpiercer

Best Actor
1. Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
2. Brendon Gleeson – Calvary
3. Jake Gyllenhaal – Enemy
4. Tom Hardy – Locke
5. Tommy Lee Jones – The Homesman
Special Mention: Philip Seymour Hoffman – A Most Wanted Man

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1. Josh Brolin – Inherent Vice
2. Willem Defoe – A Most Wanted Man
3. Kristofer Hivju – Force Majeure
4. John Hurt – Only Lovers Left Alive
5. Shin’ichi Tsutsumi – Why Don’t you Play in Hell?

Best Ensemble Cast
1. The Homesman
2. Imitation Game
3. A Most Wanted Man
4. The Raid 2
5. Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Best Editing
1. Enemy – Matthew Hannam
2. The Homesman – Roberto Silvi
3. The Raid 2 – Gareth Evans & Andi Novianto
4. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears – Bernard Beets
5. Under the Skin – Paul Watts

Best Cinematography
1. Calvary – Larry Smith
2. Enemy – Nicolas Bolduc
2. The Homesman – Rodrigo Prieto
3. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears – Manuel Dacosse
4. Under the Skin – Daniel Landin

Best Film Music Or Score
1. Calvary – Patrick Cassidy
2. Enemy – Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans
3. The Homesman – Marco Beltrami
4. Only Lovers Left Alive – Jozef Van Wissem & SQÜRL
5. Under the Skin – Mica Levi

Best Non-English-Language Film
1. Force Majeure
2. The Raid 2
3. The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears
4. Stranger by the Lake
5. Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

The following awards honor WOMEN only.

Best Woman Director
1. Hélène Cattet – The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears
2. Jennifer Kent – The Babadook
3. Laura Poitras – CitizenFour

Best Woman Screenwriter
1. Hélène Cattet – The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears
2. Jennifer Kent – The Babadook
3. Misan Sagay – Belle

Best Female Action Star
1. Scarlett Johansson – Lucy/Under the Skin
2. Qi Shu – Journey to the West
3. Hilary Swank – The Homesman

Best Breakthrough Performance
1. Essie Davis – Babadook
2. Alex Essoe – Starry Eyes
3. Gugu Mbatha-Raw – Belle

Female Icon of the Year (a woman whose work in film and/or in life made a difference, presented only if warranted)
1. Laura Poitras
2. Laura Poitras
3. Laura Poitras

Reflecting representation of women’s images on screen.

Best Depiction Of Nudity, Sexuality, or Seduction
1. Nymphomaniac V1 & V2
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
3. Under the Skin

Actress Defying Age and Ageism
1. Isabelle Huppert
2. Meryl Streep
3. Tilda Swinton

Most Egregious Age Difference Between The Leading Man and The Love Interest Award. (Note: I loath this question)
1. N/A
2. N/A
3. N/A

Actress Most in Need Of A New Agent
1. Maria Bello
2. Melissa McCarthy
3. Cristina Ricci

Movie You Wanted to Love, But Just Couldn’t
1. Godzilla
3. Snowpiercer
3. Wild

June & July at the Movie Morlocks

I haven’t been online much the last few months for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I’ve been having some medical problems with my left eye and spending lots of time on my computer reading, watching vids and writing can often be problematic. My eyes get easily irritated and I’m prone to headaches, etc. The other reason is simple net fatigue, particularly on social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter where petty bickering, herd-like behavior and one-upmanship among film fans, critics and journalists can become unbearably tiresome. With that out of the way, I want to apologize to anyone you visits Cinebeats often hoping for new updates (excuses I know… but I seem to be suffering from an extreme case of weltschmerz this year) but you can still find me regularly posting on TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog and I occasionally write articles for TCM’s website. Here are some links to things I’ve written in the last few months:

They Wore It Well: Actors & Mustaches: “Mustaches of all shapes, sizes, widths and weights have long been part our movie history so it’s easy to take them for granted. But a good mustache can have power and presence in the movies and many actors have made great use of their facial hair to seduce costars, entice laughter and menace their enemies.”

Hammer Noir: Terence Fisher’s STOLEN FACE (1952): “While a few of the Fisher’s earlier films, such as SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950), hinted at his penchant for gothic fantasy and costume drama, STOLEN FACE gave the director the opportunity to begin exploring (and exploiting) his apparent fascination with science, philosophy, psychology and medicine that would later permeate his full-color horror films made for Hammer. Amid the noir elements and abundant melodrama that can be found in STOLEN FACE, Fisher spends a noticeable amount of time lingering on strange medical devices while focusing on the doctor’s interactions with patents and colleagues. The doctor also makes a noteworthy trip to a pub where he mingles with some inquisitive locals. This seemingly innocuous event became a staple in Fisher’s horror films…”

Summer Reading Suggestions: “Like many people, I tend to do a lot of reading when the weather warms up and with summer officially about to start on June 21st I thought it would be a good time to share some of the books I’ve been enjoying with my fellow film buffs. My own tastes tend to be somewhat eclectic but I hope readers of all types and stripes will find something that piques their interest when pursuing my list of Summer Reading Suggestions.”


“I wonder if my brother remembers his brother?” – Remembering Eli Wallach 1915-2014: “Leone famously liked to shoot his actors in extreme close-up or in sweeping wide shots where they were barely visible. But Wallach instinctively knew how to make the most of his screen time and easily navigates between these two very different modes of filmmaking. His eyes speak volumes when Leone’s camera zooms in for a signature close-up but when the director’s camera is out of sight Wallach skillfully used his body language to define his character from a distance. Many actors would get lost in the vast deserts, dilapidated cemeteries and shabby old towns that make up Leone’s film but Wallach seamlessly becomes part of the landscape. We know he’s there even when we can’t see him.”

When Fact Mirrors Fiction: AGATHA (1979): “Redgrave and Hoffman make an unlikely pair and some critics apparently found their height difference distracting but I think the two actors have an incredible chemistry on screen. Redgrave seems to be channeling Garbo while Hoffman displays the kind of arrogant charm that made William Powell so likable. Both performers have rarely been as vulnerable, sympathetic, affable and flat out sexy as they are here, which is partially due to the way they interact and seem to identify with one another’s characters. Their unconventional but utterly convincing on-screen romance is one of the many reasons why I find AGATHA so compelling.”

The Malaise of the Ghetto: LA HAINE (1995): “The broad appeal of Kassovitz’s film can also be traced to another film that mesmerized young audiences in 1955, Nicholas Ray’s timeless classic REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Both films focus on a troubled threesome who form a makeshift family during the span of 24 hours. The neighborhood fighting might be on a much smaller scale and the suburban hood of 1955 Los Angeles appears much more inviting than the suburban slums of 1995 Paris, but both movies use the threat of gun violence to their credit. Neither Plato (Sal Mineo) nor Vinz (Vincent Cassel) can fully comprehend the lethal power of the weapons they’re carrying and their shared desire for some kind of notoriety or control in the face of an indifferent world is something many young people can unfortunately sympathize with . Does LA HAINE have the staying power of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE? That remains to be seen.”

A Century of Scares: Happy Birthday Bava!: “This week marks the 100th birthday of Mario Bava who was born on July 30th (according to leading Bava researcher Tim Lucas and author of the essential Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark) or 31st (if you want to believe and Wikipedia). The brilliant Italian director, cinematographer, special effects artist and screenwriter died in 1980 but today he’s fondly remembered by horror film enthusiasts as the Maestro of the Macabre. Bava has long been one of my favorite filmmakers so I couldn’t let this important anniversary pass without acknowledging his artistry.”

Girls Gone Very, Very Bad


Addendum #2 to my list of Top 10 Favorite Films of 2013. . .

James Franco’s pitiful mating call battle cry from Harmony Korine’s SPRING BREAKERS (“Look at all my shiiiiiit!”) became a sinister mantra that echoed through many films in 2013 including Sophia Coppola’s THE BLING RING, Woody Allen’s BLUE JASMINE and Martin Scorsese’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. Both BLUE JASMINE and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET are nominated for multiple Oscars this year and while I appreciated some of the performances in the pre-mentioned films (particularly Andrew Dice Clay’s surprising turn as Augie in BLUE JASMINE who somehow managed to make Cate Blanchett’s overcooked performance look amateurish ) I preferred the lower-budget exploits of Harmony Korine and Sophia Coppola. Both filmmakers demonstrated an insight into modern day pop culture and social trends that their elders lacked while tackling similar themes with a kind of youthful exuberance and visual panache that I really admired.

The noisy neon world that Korine conjured up in SPRING BREAKERS seemed to have emerged from the dreams and nightmares of his young female stars. The story centers around a group of God loving college girls desperate to crash the endless party known as Spring Break in Florida. Lacking funds, they decide to rob a local diner and head south where would-be gangsters and drug-pushing rappers await them with open arms. The film eventually transforms into a Peckinpah-style western as reimagined by a strung out MTV camera crew when the girls decide to don Pussy Riot-style ski masks that match their itsy bitsy string bikinis and charge into a luxurious drug den with guns blazing. And Like Peckinpah, Korine has no interest in condemning or validating his character’s actions. This fractured fairy tale leaves you feeling as if you’d just survived a dangerous journey through wonderland with a pistol-packing Alice as your guide.


THE BLING RING takes a different approach but the two films share similar DNA. Coppola transforms the money drenched Hollywood Hills into a sterile wilderness that seems to mirror her young protagonist’s unspoken anxieties and complete disconnect from reality. The film was based on the spectacularly strange but true story of a group of greedy attention deprived teenagers who attempt to fill the gaps in their hearts and souls by obsessing over TMZ-made celebrities and their endless supply of “bling.” They take a lot of selfies but exhibit no self-reflection and their extreme narcissism and complete lack of empathy is utterly chilling at times. Many viewers will find it impossible to sympathize with this juvenile gang of fame obsessed cat burglars whose only concern seems to be getting more Versace dresses, Chanel bags and Bulgari jewels to fill their closets. But the film refuses to turn these kids into little monsters and through their envious eyes we’re given a firsthand look at Hollywood pride, greed & gluttony. This is evolution gone wrong, parenting gone awry and pop culture gone mad but Coppola allows viewers to be the judge and jury of the infamous Hollywood “bling ring.”

2013 at the Movie Morlocks

jfrancoJess Franco 1930-2013

What follows is a collection of links to some of my posts at TCM’s Movie Morlocks from 2013. These are (in my estimation) the best and most interesting articles I wrote last year but you can read my entire output for 2013 at the Movie Morlocks if you peruse the archives. From this point onward on I’ll be collecting links to my Morlocks’ posts and sharing them here at the end of each month.

Rio – Rififi Style! GRAND SLAM (1967)
A Brief History of the Telefilm
Out, out, brief candle: Jon Finch 1942-2012
This is a Time for Ghosts : THE AWAKENING (2012)
All Love is Mad : MAD LOVE (1935)
Does Oscar gold come with an Oscar curse?
Telefilm Time Machine: DAUGHTER OF THE MIND (1969)
Tracing My Irish Roots Through the Movies
The Pulp Adventures of Lee Marvin
Telefilm Time Machine: THAT CERTAIN SUMMER (1972)
In Memoriam: Jesús “Jess” Franco (1930-2013)
Lon Chaney Jr. – Lady Killer
Comic Relief with ARTISTS AND MODELS (1955)
Telefilm Time Machine – FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973)
GUN AND SWORD: An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1955-1980
Personal Passions: Alain Delon
Derelict Dancers: Gerard Depardieu vs. Roman Polanski – A PURE FORMALITY (1994)
Hail Cleopatra! Queen of the Nile & Queen of ’60s Style
Arsenic & Ambiguity in David Lean’s MADELEINE (1950)
Final Faces
Francois Truffaut – Friend, Teacher & Film Critic
Someone is Bleeding: LES SEINS DE GLACE (1974)
Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be? : SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950)
Telefilm Time Machine: Steven Spielberg’s SOMETHING EVIL (1972)
Four Reasons Why I Love Natalie Wood
Julie Harris 1925-2013: “And we who walk here, walk alone.
The Story of Film: UN CHIEN ANDALOU (1928)
In the Trenches with James Whale
Hollywood Goes to the Dolls
Telefilm Time Machine: SATAN’S TRIANGLE (1975)
Vincent Price Takes Center Stage
Vincent Price’s Small Screen Successes
Vincent Price & Gene Tierney: A Doomed Romance
In the Kitchen with Vincent Price
Adults Only: HOUSE ON STRAW HILL (1976)
Fighting Prejudice with Sidney Poitier
A Celluloid Revolution – James Dean: Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray
Telefilm Time Machine: HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1972)

Prometheus Unbound: Ridley Scott & Me

How much did I love Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979) after seeing it at the tender age of 11? Too much. The commercials for ALIEN terrified me and the film’s tagline (“In Space No One Can Hear You Scream”) sent unprecedented chills down my spine but I was determined to see it. I can’t remember how I convinced my mother to let me go to the movie with friends but she never set any rules regarding what I was allowed to watch and read. I’d seen plenty of adult films before but ALIEN was the first ‘Rated R’ film I saw in a theater without parental supervision. I went with three friends (one female and two male). One of the boy’s fathers picked us up in his custom painted van with plush carpet interior. When we arrived at the theater the boy’s father preceded to tell the woman at the ticket booth that he ‘approved’ of us kids seeing the film alone. We bought popcorn and settled in for the film.

I’d grown up watching horror and science fiction movies (Note: including ALIEN predecessors like PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE) but nothing had really prepared me for what I was about to experience. The POV camera shots combined with the murky cinematography and natural performances made viewing ALIEN an uncanny experience unlike anything I’d witnessed before. I spent most of the time watching the movie between the fingers of my left hand, which gripped my face tightly like an alien “facehugger.” By the end I had become a lifelong member of the Ridley Scott fanclub. Not only was ALIEN a great movie but it had also provided me with a female hero I greatly admired. Forget that bitchy broad Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley was my kind of space heroine! She was tough, smart, uncompromising and didn’t take shit from anyone. But in the face of incomprehensible danger she was also empathetic enough to worry about a cat. Last but not least, she managed to kill the monster all on her own without any help from the boys. You go grrrl! All the sexual innuendos in ALIEN (tentacle rape, white undies, etc.) went over my head at the time but I do remember feeling slightly unnerved by it. But feeling unnerved by a film is something I’ve come to deeply appreciate. It was only later when I started exploring H.R. Giger’s darkly erotic artwork that I would start to understand the sexual implications of Scott’s film.

I don’t remember discussing the movie much with my young companions. We were probably all in various stages of shock (at least I was anyway). I do remember coming home after seeing the film and being greeted by my mother who asked me about ALIEN and all I could muster was, “It was one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen!” Afterward I bought the novelization by Alan Dean Foster, collected the bubblegum trading cards (which I still own – see picture above for scanned evidence) and was inspired to buy my first film magazine, an issue of Famous Monsters featuring ALIEN on its cover. I read that magazine over and over again until it literally fell apart in my hands. Soon afterward I would buy more film magazines (Famous Monsters, Fangoria, etc.) and start reading reviews by film critics in my local newspapers, which led me to write my first movie reviews a few years later for my school paper. Seeing ALIEN in 1979 was one of the many important steps that led me to create Cinebeats 6 years ago.

Flash forward 12 years later . . .

I met my future husband at a screening of the director’s cut of BLADE RUNNER (1982) in 1991. Afterward we spent hours discussing the movie. The impact of falling in love while you’re immersed in the world of Phillip K. Dick as re-imagined by Ridley Scott and special effects guru Douglas Trumbull (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, SILENT RUNNING, etc.) shouldn’t be underestimated. We’re celebrating our 15th anniversary this year and the foundation of our relationship owes a sliver of gratitude to Scott’s visionary science fiction film. Coincidentally, during our delayed honeymoon trip to the UK in 2000 we visited the London Museum where the Gladiators & Caesars: The Power of Spectacle in Ancient Rome exhibit was on display inspired by Scott’s film, GLADIATOR (2000). It was one of the most spectacular exhibits I’ve ever seen and it managed to make me feel like I could afford a trip to Italy as well as the UK that year. I must tip my hat to Scott for that as well.

Which brings me to PROMETHEUS (2012) . . .

Ridley Scott has always been a whipping boy for critics and while I haven’t liked all of the director’s films myself, I made time to see his third excursion into the realm of science fiction when it opened last week. Reviews of PROMETHEUS are unsurprisingly mixed but I personally enjoyed the movie a lot. It wasn’t without its problems and I had issues with the character development but as usual, Michael Fassbender managed to enthrall me. His performance as the android David was the key (or the finely stitched together monster) that held the film together.

All of Ridley Scott’s science fiction films can be linked to Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which happens to be my favorite work of fiction so it’s not too surprising that I’m drawn to Scott’s movies like a moth to a flame. Man’s desire to create life, both naturally and artificially, in an effort to fend off or put an end to our own mortality is ever present in Scott’s best work. In PROMETHEUS the director tackles these big ideas head on. Having only seen it once I don’t feel that I’m ready to really delve into the film’s execution but I was impressed with its depth and scope. It may not have hit every intended target but I appreciated how wide it was willing to throw its net. The production was stunning and I literally felt like I was walking through some of H.R. Giger’s paintings at times thanks to the wonders of modern film technology. I also enjoyed the way Scott’s film gently reminded viewers of the original ALIEN while embracing the new. PROMETHEUS seemed to want to mix the outright scares generated by ALIEN with BLADE RUNNER’s thoughtful slow-burn approach to maximize suspense. It worked well at times but I’d be a liar if I didn’t say I was hoping for a few more “jump out your seat” moments while watching PROMETHEUS. My desire to be scared witless undoubtedly colored my view of the film but I was able to put aside my expectations and enjoy the ride PROMETHEUS took me on. Overall, I think the film’s a fascinating and important addition to Scott’s patchy oeuvre.

So much has already been written about all of Ridley Scott’s film that its unlikely that I’ll throw my own hat into the ring but I may return to PROMETHEUS and write more about the movie in the future. In the meantime I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passages from Percy Shelley’s poem, Prometheus Unbound, followed by links to reviews of the film that I particularly liked.

This is the day, which down the void abysm
At the Earth-born’s spell yawns for Heaven’s despotism,
And Conquest is dragged captive through the deep:
Love, from its awful throne of patient power
In the wise heart, from the last giddy hour
Of dread endurance, from the slippery, steep,
And narrow verge of crag-like agony, springs
And folds over the world its healing wings.

Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance,
These are the seals of that most firm assurance
Which bars the pit over Destruction’s strength;
And if, with infirm hand, Eternity,
Mother of many acts and hours, should free
The serpent that would clasp her with his length;
These are the spells by which to resume
An empire o’er the disentangled doom.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.

Recommended Reading:
At the Cinema: Prometheus by Craig Bloomfield
Prometheus (2012) by Tony Dayoub
The Savior of Summer by Zach Baron
Recommended Viewing:
– Mark Kermode reviews PROMETHEUS on his radio show (video posted below).

Ben Wheatley’s KILL LIST (2011)

If you happen to keep track of my activities at you might have noticed that I shared a list of my ‘Top 10 Favorite Films of 2011’ there. The list is alphabetical but if I rated the film’s from best to worst, Ben Wheatley’s KILL LIST (2011) would fill the top spot at number #1. But it’s not just my favorite film of the year, it’s also one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a decade. Wheatley’s made a brilliant movie that I absolutely love so I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to write about it for Cineaste. My write-up goes into plot details that you might want to avoid until you’ve actually seen the film. It’s somewhat of a personal piece where I expand on themes and ideas that I took away from the movie. You can find my review here:

WEBTAKES: Kill List by Kimberly Lindbergs

KILL LIST is a very special film and I have to applaud IFC for distributing it in the US. They’re also responsible for releasing another great horror film that I’ve championed in the past, LEFT BANK (2008). Both KILL LIST and LEFT BANK would make for one terrific double feature. They’re two of the smartest, most original and unsettling thrillers that I’ve seen and I don’t say that lightly. Very few new horror films spark my imagination the way that KILL LIST has and I hope the film will reach a wider audience. At the moment it’s getting a limited screening in NY and LA but it’s also available on-demand if you have cable TV access and you can currently watch it at

I’ve also compiled some of my favorite images from the film into a Flickr gallery that you can find here.

Velvet Goldmine: Celluloid Pictures of Living

vgfilm0 “Histories, like ancient ruins, are the fictions of empire. While everything forgotten hangs in dark dreams of the past, ever threatening to return.” – Todd Haynes, Velvet Goldmine

When Velvet Goldmine was originally released in 1998 it confused and frustrated a lot of critics who were turned off by its uninhibited style, hyper editing, abundant close-ups and nonlinear narrative structure. They also bemoaned the film’s playful take on musicals and biopics. This glam infused Citizen Kane homage didn’t appeal to a 1990s audience hooked on grunge rock. Ticket sales plummeted as many critics and the general public turned their backs on Velvet Goldmine but I embraced Haynes’s film.

I became familiar with Haynes’s work in the early 1990s after seeing Poison (1991) on video followed by Safe (1995) during its initial theatrical release. Both films mesmerized me but Velvet Goldmine turned me into a lifelong Todd Haynes fan. As someone who came of age in the seventies and later bummed around in various bands as a keyboardist during the eighties while struggling to find work as a music journalist, I immediately formed a deep kinship with the film’s main protagonist, Arthur (Christian Bale). Like Arthur, I went down the rock ‘n’ roll rabbit hole and managed to come out the other side but I’m also a little worse for wear. An unrestricted look deep inside the bowels of the music industry took a lot of the sparkle off the blinding light of celebrity. Seeing Arthur transform from a spotty, awkward adolescent kid seduced by the power of music into a jaded adult trying to sort out his past is all too familiar to me and Bale makes his character’s journey a convincing one.

“Meaning is not in things but in between them.” – Todd Haynes, Velvet Goldmine

I also appreciate the way the director captured the downright dirty and dangerous side of rock ‘n’ roll. As a gay artist, Haynes knows what’s it’s like to be a real outsider and he understands the appeal of beautiful boys who are willing to bare all on stage while they exploit our deepest desires and fears. Unlike Cameron Crowe’s terribly hackneyed Almost Famous (2000), which supposedly offered viewers an “insiders” look at the life of a young “rock journalist” but is completely devoid of passion, Haynes’s film gives us a journalist’s down ‘n’ dirty romanticized fantasy populated by the shadows of seventies pop idols like David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Marc Bolan and Bryan Ferry that’s much more imaginative and heartfelt than Crowe’s incredibly benign and dreadfully dull creation.

Velvet Goldmine works because all the talented performers involved (Christian Bale, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette, Eddie Izzard, Micko Westmoreland, Etc.) fully embrace the glamorous world they’re inhabiting and give 100% to their roles. And Haynes’s kinetic directing style gives the film genuine energy that should be a prerequisite when you’re making a film about the power of music.

Naturally critics loved Crowe’s Almost Famous, which has currently earned a whopping 88% of “like” votes on Rotten Tomatoes while Haynes’s Velvet Goldmine languishes at a mere 55%. It’s a sad reminder of how conservative and conventional film criticism was 10 years ago. Thankfully the predictability of film criticism seems to be slowly changing and that’s partially due to the onslaught of film blogs and film sites that are willing to champion lesser seen or forgotten movies that are often overlooked by mainstream critics. And speaking of Velvet Goldmine and alternative film sites … ejm

I recently had the opportunity to write a little tribute to Velvet Goldmine for Fandor. Fandor is an online movie service devoted to independent films where you can watch award-winning titles, festival favorites, and international gems. If you have eclectic film tastes and are looking for an alternative to Netflix I highly recommend giving Fandor a look. Fandor also publishes articles and news features about the films they program on their Keyframe blog.

Earlier this month, the editors of Fandor asked a group of writers to contribute a brief piece about a film that portrays a “vanishing way of life” so I decided to share some thoughts about Velvet Goldmine. It might seem like an odd choice and I suppose it was but I had just seen the film again recently so it was fresh in my mind and I wanted an excuse to write about it. Hopefully I’ll find the time to write a longer piece about the film someday since there’s much more I’d like to say about Velvet Goldmine but here’s a little snippet from my Fandor contribution:

“Todd Haynes‘ Velvet Goldmine is a love letter to a rock ‘n’ roll past that is often more fiction than fact, because the history of rock simply can’t be written. It’s told in tall tales exchanged in smoky bars where the drinks are poured generously and the music is so loud that you can’t hear what anyone is actually saying. Haynes knows this but he also wants us to believe that rock ‘n’ roll once had the power to change the world, or at the very least, it could transform the inner world of one teenage boy.”

You’ll find my full piece along with the others at the site: – Last Picture Shows: Essential Films About Vanishing Ways of Life

The fictional character Jack Fairy sings one of my favorite Roxy Music songs (“2HB”) in Velvet Goldmine

A Decade of Fear

It’s taken me a year but I’ve finally managed to compile a list of my Favorite Films of the Decade: 2000-2009 so I thought I’d share it. My introduction echoes some earlier thoughts about fear and cinema that I shared during Halloween and wanted to expand upon. Besides my alphabetical list of Favorite Films of the Decade I also compiled lists of some Favorite Documentaries, Favorite Animation Films and Favorite Female & Male Performances. Naturally I haven’t seen every film produced between 2000 and 2009 so this list is limited to what I have seen and what made a lasting impression on me.

Letʼs just talk about fear. Fear, after all, is our real enemy. Fear is taking over our world. Fear is being used as a tool of manipulation in our society. Itʼs how politicians peddle policy and how Madison Avenue sells us things that we donʼt need. Think about it. Fear that weʼre going to be attacked, fear that there are communists lurking around every corner, fear that some little Caribbean country that doesnʼt believe in our way of life poses a threat to us. Fear that black culture may take over the world. Fear of Elvis Presleyʼs hips. Well, maybe that one is a real fear. Fear that our bad breath might ruin our friendships. Fear of growing old and being alone. Fear that weʼre useless and that no one cares what we have to say.
– Colin Firth in A Single Man; 2009

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself
—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

– Franklin D. Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address; 1933

The decade began with a bang heard around the world.

I’m always a little surprised when people write about how “shocked” they were by the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. 9/11 didn’t shock me at all but it did horrify and sadden me. As soon a George Bush Jr. was crowned President I was fully aware that we were in for a shit storm of epic proportions that was going to rain reign down hard on us all. What did surprise me was the way that Americans responded to the events that took place on September 11, 2001. At first there seemed to be a genuine sense of unity and compassion among friends, family and strangers. But unity soon turned to fear and compassion transformed into distrust. Fear seemed to spread like a cancer and it ate away at the very fabric of the country while hindering progress of any kind.

The “Naughts” as they’ve been labeled were years when fear seemed to replace reasonable debate and logical arguments. Fear became the weapon of choice for politicians and media outlets trying to sell ideas and products. We were told to fear our neighbors, fear our food, fear teachers, fear doctors, fear plane travel, fear France, fear new ideas and finally to fear ourselves. Whether we want to admit it or not, the terrorists did what they set out to do on 9/11. They terrorized Americans and turned many of us into skittish creatures that jump when we see our own shadow and mistrust the motivations of just about everyone we come into contact with.

During the naughts people over the age of 60 seemed to disappear from public viewing. They were rarely seen on American TV or in Hollywood films except as figures of ridicule and humor. Old age is the last stage before death and people wanted none of it. We ran away from old age and death as if our own demise was somehow avoidable. Plastic surgery became commonplace. What was once a luxury for the incredibly wealthy or a medical procedure for those with debilitating scars was suddenly a beauty option that everyone should consider. It didn’t seem to matter that plastic surgery made most people look like aliens from another planet just as long as it masked their real age. In other words, looking like something from another world was far better than looking like an elderly person here on planet earth.

While we attempted to avoid the inevitable onset of old age we naturally began to obsess over our appearance. Image became everything. The naughts was a decade obsessed with physical beauty but often completely devoid of intellectual curiosity. American’s apparent obesity epidemic got lots of news coverage while anorexia was glamorized or swept under the rug. We were encouraged to shun overweight people and embrace silicon boobs. And no news outlet wanted to cover the rising poverty and hunger occurring in America throughout the decade. Starving children are not easy to talk about or pleasant to look at and you can’t make jokes about them. Where’s the fun in calling malnutritioned kids lazy and stupid?

In this kind of toxic environment the medical, diet and beauty industries thrived like never before while selling their snake oils in-between episodes of Extreme Makeover, Make Me a Super Model and The Biggest Loser. But it wasn’t just our bodies that needed fixing. Our minds were also in desperate need of a makeover and pharmaceutical companies fed on our fears. Having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning? Hate your job? Feeling trapped in an unhappy relationship? Got a bad case of the blues? Take a pill! Over-the-counter drug pushers made record profits in the naughts while praying on people’s depression during one of the countries most depressing decades. There seemed to be a pill made for everything and people bought what the drug companies were selling. Is it any wonder that legal drugs appear to be killing more people than illegal drugs these days?

School systems continued to crumble and the dumbing down of the nation not only became unavoidable, it was celebrated. Everyone had something to say. Everyone became a critic. Everyone started to blog (yours truly included) or visited chat forums and social media outlets where they could express their opinions no matter how vile or ignorant. When confronted by something that didn’t fit within their comfort zones or confirm to their limited world view many lashed out with hostility. It quickly became apparent that there were a lot of angry and miserable people sitting at home behind their computers and they all seemed to want to point the finger at someone, something or anything but themselves.

Lots of documentary filmmakers also seemed to enjoy using fear as a tool to win attention and forgo good filmmaking. What they lacked in ideas and information they made up for in scare value. Did you know that gorging yourself daily on McDonalds’ food will make you ill and probably kill you? Were people really unaware of this simple fact before Super Size Me (2004) was released? I guess so because for some strange reason the movie was nominated for countless awards and endless imitators have followed Morgan Spurlock’s lead. Ignorance is killing us and fear sells.

But there was some benefit to all this fear peddling. After two decades of scant thrills and very little chills horror movies finally got scary again. Really scary! They also got really good.

Thanks to the rising popularity of Asian horror movies in the late ’90s as well as a new wave of independent horror cinema the naughts began as a decade ripe with possibility and the horror genre blossomed. Hollywood may have kept its head in the clouds while it regurgitated tired scripts and remade classic films into easily forgotten entertainment but outside of Hollywood and in other countries many filmmakers never let us forget that we were living in extremely scary times. Government sanctioned torture, suicide bombers, environmental disasters, serial killers, domestic violence, police brutality, sexual predators, date rape drugs, mental illness, increasing isolation, infectious disease. . . The list of terrors lurking around every corner grew endless and horror films gave us an unblinking look at them all.

I’ve appreciated the extremely graphic nature of horror films made during the last decade. Americans weren’t allowed to see the dead bodies of soldiers killed in an illegal war fought in our name but we could experience some catharsis through the movies we watched. I identified with the victims and sympathized with their plight because they were reflections of us all and our own fears. I also found myself occasionally stunned by the smart, scary and creative ways in which so many directors were able to infuse the tired genre with life. Violent, chaotic, bloody red and uninhibited life, but life nonetheless. Horror cinema was willing and able to tackle the very real terror that seemed to engulf the planet in the last decade and it also offered up the only constant critique of it. Directors around the world found inspiration in the horror films of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that were often politically motivated and socially conscious. But like the horror films that came before them it will probably take another 10 or 20 years before these recent horror movies are fully understood and appreciated.

You’ll find that many of the films on my “Favorite films of the Decade” list are horror films made by talented directors like Danny Boyle and Brad Anderson as well as Gaspar Noe, Béla Tarr, Gus Van Sant and Claire Danes. Now I know what you’re thinking, horror films?! Most of those directors make art films, not horror film! But my response to that is bullshit poppycock. Film is an evolving art form still in its infancy. Thinly defined genres are always changing and assumed boundaries should constantly be re-imagined and tossed aside. If you lack the imagination to see films like Irreversible, Werckmeister Harmonies, Elephant and Trouble Every Day as horror films it’s your loss. Not mine. I embrace these films because of their darker nature and their ability to explore and unmask our fears. So to the horror films of the last decade, I salute you! I’m extremely thankful for all the directors that made my favorite film genre interesting and exciting again.

I’d like to write more in-depth about all of these films in the future and expand on the ways in which horror cinema challenged us and entertained us during the last decade, but that could easily turn into a book length article. I did link to a few articles I previously wrote for some films in 2009 during my “Modern Monday” updates.


Favorite Films: 2000-2009
Title/Director/Year/Country or Main Countries of Origin
28 Days Later (Danny Boyle; 2002) UK
American Psycho (Mary Harron; 2000) US
The Bank Job (Roger Donaldson; 2008) UK
Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku; 2000) Japan
Before the Fall (F. Javier Gutiérrez; 2008) Spain
Bright Future (Kiyoshi Kurosawa; 2003) Japan
Bright Star (Jane Campion; 2009) Australia/UK
Brotherhood of the Wolf (Christophe Gans; 2001) France
Calvaire (Fabrice Du Welz; 2004) Belgium/France
Capote (Bennett Miller; 2005) US
Cecil B. DeMented (John Waters; 2000) US
Cloverfield (Matt Reeves; 2008) US
Control (Anton Corbijn; 2007) UK
Cracks (Jordan Scott; 2009) UK
Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier; 2000) Denmark
The Devil’s Backbone (Guillermo del Toro; 2001) Spain
The Dreamers (Bernardo Bertolucci; 2003) Italy
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry; 2004) US
Exiled (Johnnie To; 2006) Hong Kong
Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff; 2001) US
Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett; 2000) Canada
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Niels Arden Oplev; 2009) Sweden
Gus Van Sant’s Death Trilogy (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days; 2002-2005) US
High Tension (Alexandre Aja; 2003) France
Hunger (Steve McQueen; 2008) UK
I’m Not Scared (Gabriele Salvatores; 2003) Italy
Ichi the Killer (Takeshi Miike; 2001) Japan
Innocence (Lucile Hadzihalilovic; 2004) France
Irreversible (Gaspar Noé; 2002) France
Last Life in the Universe (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang; 2003) Thailand/Japan
Left Bank (Pieter Van Hees; 2008) Belgium
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson; 2008) Sweden
Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch; 2009) US
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola; 2003) US
Love Songs (Christophe Honoré; 2007) France
Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay; 2002) UK
Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch; 2001) US
No Country For Old Men (Ethan & Joel Coen; 2007) US
Oldboy (Chan-wook Park; 2003) Korea
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (Michel Hazanavicius; 2006) France
The Piano Teacher (Michael Haneke; 2002) Germany/France
The Proposition (John Hillcoat; 2005) Australia
The Quiet American (Phillip Noyce; 2001) Australia/US
[Rec] (Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza; 2007) Spain
Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky; 2000) US
A Single Man (Tom Ford; 2009) US
Session 9 (Brad Anderson; 2001) US
Shadow of the Vampire (E. Elias Merhige; 2000) US
Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright; 2004) UK
Strigoi (Faye Jackson; 2009) UK/Romania
There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson; 2007) US
This Is England (Shane Meadows; 2007) UK
Time Crimes (Nacho Vigalondo; 2007) Spain
Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis; 2001) France
Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr; 2000) Hungry
Wonder Boys (Curtis Hanson; 2000) US
Zodiac (David Fincher; 2007) US

Honorable mentions: Sunshine (Danny Boyle; 2007), The Prestige (Christopher Nolan; 2006), In Paris (Christophe Honoré ; 2006), Antichrist (Lars von Trier; 2009), Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas.; 2008), Hostel Part: II (2007), Suicide Club (Shion Sono; 2001), Vinyan (Fabrice Du Welz; 2008) and Puffball (Nicolas Roeg; 2007).


Some Favorite Documentaries: 2000-2009
Title/Director/Year/Country or Main Countries of Origin
51 Birch Street (Doug Block; 2005) US
Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki; 1003) US
Children Underground (Edet Belzberg; 2001) Us/Romania
Chris & Don: A Love Story (Guido Santi and Tina Mascara; 2007) US
Crazy Love (Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens; 2007) US
The Fog of War (Errol Morris; 2003) US
Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog; 2005) German/US
Gumby Dharma (Robina Marchesi; 2006) US
In the Realms of the Unreal (Jessica Yu; 2004) US
Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (Mary Jordan; 2006) US


Some Favorite Animation Films: 2000-2009
Title/Director/Year/Country or Main Countries of Origin
Blood: The Last Vampire (Hiroyuki Kitakubo; 2000) Japan
Chicken Run (Nick Park; 2000) UK
Metropolis (Rintaro; 2001) Japan
The Powerpuff Girls Movie (2002; Craig McCracken) US
Ratatouille (Brad Bird; 2007) US
Samurai Champloo series (Shinichirō Watanabe; 2004-2005)
Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki; 2001) Japan
The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet; 2003) France
Vampire Hunter D (Yoshiaki Kawajiri; 2001) Japan
Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman; 2008) Israel


Some Favorite Female Performances: 2000-2009
Asia Argento (The Last Mistress)
Maria Bello (History of Violence)
Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream)
Abbie Cornish (Bright Star)
Béatrice Dalle (Trouble Every Day)
Julie Deply (Before Sunset)
Cécile De France (High Tension)
Eva Green (The Dreamers)
Naomie Harris (28 Days Later)
Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher)
Katharine Isabelle & Emily Perkins tie (Ginger Snaps)
Nicole Kidman (Birth)
Eline Kuppens (Left Bank)
Julianne Moore (Blindness)
Samantha Morton (Morven Callar)
Kate Winslet (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)


Some Favorite Male Performances: 2000-2009
Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer)
Christian Bale (American Psycho)
Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men)
Min-sik Choi (Oldboy)
Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood)
Leonardo DiCaprio (Revolutionary Road)
Michael Douglas & Robert Downey Jr. tie (Wonder Boys)
Michael Fassbender (Hunger & Fish Tank – tie)
Colin Firth (A Single Man)
Louis Garrel (Love Songs)
Stephen Graham (This Is England)
Viggo Mortensen (History of Violence)
Bill Murray (Lost In Translation)
Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later)
Sam Riley (Control)
Jason Statham (The Bank Job)

A Look Back at 2009

2009 was an interesting year here at Cinebeats. It was the first year that I wrote about films made after 1979 and my blog traffic rose considerably because of it. While I appreciated the interest in my “Modern Monday” posts, I’m not planning on continuing with them in 2010. I do plan on sharing a complete list of my favorite films of the last decade soon and I’ll occasionally try and post a collection of my thoughts about recent films when I find the time but I want to focus more of my attention on older movies again.

My favorite blogging moment of 2009 occurred when I got the opportunity to interview the British actor Shane Briant by email who I’ve admired for a long time. Briant appeared in many of my favorite Hammer films and I was thrilled that he took the time to answer some of my questions. I also enjoyed spending a lot of time writing about the 1968 film Girl On A Motorcycle in honor of the director and cinematographer Jack Cardiff who passed away last year. The post that seemed to generate the most blog traffic from visitors last year was my very personal piece about the actor Klaus Kinski titled “Stalking Klaus Kinski or How I Worshiped a Madman.” I suspect that the provocative title was partially to blame for the high-level of interest.

As I mentioned to Adam Hartzell in his recent piece for SF360, I didn’t have the opportunity to see many new films when they were initially released. I’ve only recently caught up with a lot of 2009 films on DVD but I wish I had been able to see more of the films I enjoyed in a theater. I think 2009 was a terrific year for new movies so I thought I’d share a list of my favorites.

Favorite Films of 2009 (listed alphabetically):
Charlotte Gainsbourg and friends in Antichrist (Lars von Trier; 2009)

Antichrist (Lars von Trier; 2009)
I first experienced Lars von Trier’s work in the mid ’90s after a friend suggested I watch the horror series he made for Danish television called The Kingdom. I’ve admired the director ever since and I was excited to learn that he had decided to return to the horror genre with Antichrist in 2009. This haunting, disturbing and atmospheric film about a couple trying to repair their broken marriage is beautifully shot and well acted by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe but it’s Lars von Trier’s direction that was really the star of the film for me. Von Trier was able to conjure up some truly eerie imagery in Antichrist and there’s an otherworldly feel to the film that seems to permeate every frame. I found the negative and reactionary critical response to it really surprising but Lars von Trier often seems to be a target of critics. I appreciate the complicated nature of his work and I thought Antichrist was one of the director’s most challenging efforts.
Ben Whishaw & Ambie Cornish in Bright Star (Jane Campion; 2009)

Bright Star (Jane Campion; 2009)
Bright Star does an incredible job of detailing the relationship between the British romantic poet John Keats and his ladylove Fanny Brawne. Anyone familiar with 18th century Britain will be impressed with the way the social customs and quirks of the period were handled. It was wonderful to see a romantic figure like Keats played by such an earthy actor like the talented Ben Whishaw, but actress Ambie Cornish managed to steal the film as Keats’ love interest in the movie. Cornish is unforgettable as the young and passionate Fanny Browne and if I had my way she’d win the Oscar for best actress this year. I loved the way she was able to make Fanny into a smart and forward-thinking young woman without removing any of her inherent charm. So many historic biopics rely much too heavily on melodrama and histrionics. Bright Star doesn’t shy from the romantic aspect of Keats’ life and poetry as well as the tragedy that befell his relationship with Fanny, but the film never succumbs to the overacting and theatrics that plague so many similar productions. I’ve admired Keats’ poetry for years and when I was in London I made the trek to the home that Keats and Fanny Brawne shared together. My expectations for Bright Star weren’t particularly high since I’ve had mixed reactions to Jane Campion’s work in the past but I fell in love with the movie. I think Bright Star is her finest film and one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in years.
A scene from District 9 (Neill Blomkamp; 2009)

District 9 (Neill Blomkamp; 2009)
District 9 really surprised me. I didn’t know anything about the movie before I saw it and I really liked the way the material was handled. Especially considering the budget, the relatively unknown actors, etc. It reminded me of an ’80s science fiction flick loaded with plenty of action and thrills. But District 9 also contained a lot of unexpected social and political undertones. I probably could of done without the parent/child alien relationship that got in the way of the plot at the end, but overall I thought District 9 was an entertaining ride.
Michael Fassbender reaches out to Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold; 2009)

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold; 2009)
This potent coming-of-age drama presents a surprisingly bold look at young lust and uninhibited passion. The film stars newcomer Katie Jarvis who is terrific as an angry young woman named Mia trying to make sense of the world and her place in it. The handsome and charming Michael Fassbender becomes an object of obsession and desire for young Mia (who can blame her?) and their complicated relationship is what really drives the film.
Eva Green & Sam Riley in Franklyn (Gerald McMorrow; 2008)

Franklyn (Gerald McMorrow; 2008 – was not available to see in most American cities until 2009)
I’m surprised that this involving fantasy film hasn’t gotten more attention. If I didn’t know any better I might assume that Franklyn was scripted by Neil Gaiman and directed by Dave McKean, but it’s actually an original film from first-time director Gerald McMorrow. The movie features solid performances from all of the actors involved but I especially liked watching the romantic relationship unfold between Eva Green and Sam Riley. I think they’re two of the most beautiful and charismatic actors working today so it was just mesmerizing to watch them perform together. Franklyn isn’t without some problems and I think the film was trying to do too much with too little but I also thought it was an impressive first effort from director Gerald McMorrow.
Michael Fassbender & Rory Mullen in Hunger (Steve McQueen; 2008)

Hunger (Steve McQueen; 2008 – was not available to see in most American cities until 2009)
Incredibly haunting and troubling film impeccably directed by Steve McQueen. This slow-moving meditation on martyrdom is not easy viewing. It’s one of the most brutal movies I’ve ever seen and if you’re familiar with my viewing habits you know that I don’t make that claim lightly. But among all the filth and human suffering depicted in the film there are also some truly beautiful and transcendent moments that make Hunger not only one of the best movies I saw in 2009, but also one of the most important and memorable films that I’ve seen in the last 10 years.
Diane Kruger & Michael Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino; 2009)

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino; 2009)
I’m probably one of the few people in the world who thinks Quentin Tarantino is becoming a better filmmaker as he gets older. His affection for old and often obscure films seems to be morphing into something more than just mere homage lately and I like the direction he’s taken in the last few years. He just needs to learn how to trust his audience more and I personally wish he’d hire a composer to score his films. I think Tarantino will probably make his most interesting work when he’s 60 or even 70 years old. Inglourious Basterds is without a doubt Tarantino’s best looking film and I appreciate the way he writes his female characters. I was also impressed with the performances he got out of his actors, in particular Diane Kruger, Christoph Waltz, Mélanie Laurent and my favorite basterd, Michael Fassbender.
Isaach De Bankolé in The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch; 2009)

The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch; 2009)
Along with Antichrist, The Limits of Control is easily one of the most critically maligned and misunderstood films of 2009. At least Lars von Trier has a lot of loud and smart defenders but it’s not easy to find thoughtful critics who are willing to go to bat for Jim Jarmusch over this film and that’s a pity. If there’s another working American director who is less appreciated and more misunderstood in his own country I can’t think of them at the moment. This brilliantly deconstructed political thriller is a feast for the senses. You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to appreciate the pure beauty of the film, which was photographed by Christopher Doyle. Jarmusch uses his wit and incredibly dry sense of humor to pay homage to classic existential crime films such as Point Blank (John Boorman; 1967) and Le Samouraï (Jean-Pierre Melville; 1967) but if you don’t appreciate those movies you probably won’t be able to appreciate The Limits of Control, which I happen to think is Jarmusch’s best work since Dead Man.
Sam Rockwell in Moon (Duncan Jones; 2009)

Moon (Duncan Jones; 2009)
This impressive debut from Duncan “Zowie Bowie” Jones borrows a bit too much from every science fiction film made before it (2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Silent Running, etc.) but it kept my interest thanks to Sam Rockwell’s impressive star performance and Clint Mansell’s wonderful score. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Duncan Jones does next.
Michael Stuhlbarg in A Serious Man (Ethan & Joel Coen; 2009)

A Serious Man (Ethan & Joel Coen; 2009)
The Coen brother’s strike gold again with this funny and thoughtful look at man’s never-ending quest for answers to unanswerable questions. It’s also the best Woody Allen film I’ve seen in 20 years even though Woody Allen had nothing to do with it.
The cast of Thirst (Park Chan-Wook; 2009)

Thirst (Park Chan-Wook; 2009)
This uneven vampire film has gotten mixed reviews but I personally thought the good outweighed the bad. The story involves a priest (Kang-ho Song) who accidentally gets turned into a vampire while taking part in a medical experiment. The first half of Thirst is flawless and contains some truly memorable moments and breathtaking cinematography. Unfortunately the story suffers when the focus of the film changes. I wish the director had explored the religious implications and spiritual aspects of the priest’s personal plight more but the film’s creative ending almost makes up for the film’s flaws.

There are still a bunch of films on my “must see” list that I wasn’t able to watch before compiling my list including 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis; 2008), An Education (Lone Scherfig; 2009), Air Doll (Hirokazu Koreeda; 2009), Chloe (Atom Egoyan; 2009), Love Exposure (Shion Sono; 2008), A Single Man (Tom Ford; 2009), The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Vallée; 2009) and The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke; 2009. There’s a high probability that one or more of these movies might have made it onto my list if I had the opportunity to see them.