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One Year & Many Ideas: Occupy Cinema


Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Movement, as well as the Occupy Cinema Movement, which I first wrote about here. If you follow the link to my original piece you’ll find that many websites I linked to are dead and abandoned, which is a shame. The Occupy Cinema Movement originally had some great intentions and I thought it was one of the most interesting, creative, viable and sustainable ideas that emerged from the Occupy Movement but there didn’t seem to be a lot of interest in supporting it or expanding it. Aggressive political activism and attempts to effect social change with cinema are issues that modern filmmakers as well as critics, film scholars and many of my fellow film bloggers, generally avoid. But using film projection in protest is an idea that I still think is worth exploring and discussing.

The most noteworthy person currently using guerrilla-style projection as an activism tool is Mark Read, who is best known for projecting a giant “Bat Signal” with illuminated text like “99%” “Another World is Possible” and “Don’t Be Afraid” on New York’s Verizon building while thousands of demonstrators marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on November 17, 2011. Read’s creative protest was one of the most important & powerful moments in Occupy’s complicated history but it wasn’t his last. He’s currently trying to raise money and awareness by asking supporters to donate to a Kickstarter campaign that will help fund the Illuminator project and keep it running. The goal of the Illuminator project is to gain enough funds to help buy and maintain a number of Illuminator vans that will be equipped with powerful projectors that will allow them to participate in various protests in different locations across the US. It’s an ambitious idea and one well worth supporting. Read and his crew recently used one of the Illuminator vans to protest the arrest & imprisonment of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot by projecting “Free Pussy Riot” on the Russian Consulate building in New York.

If the Occupy Cinema movement wants to survive it will have to follow Mark Read’s lead. I like imagining a world where Occupy Cinema activists are able to buy & maintain mobile theaters much like these Mobile Drive-In Theaters or even the somewhat limiting Cinetransformers that seat nearly 100 audience members. That way they could easily participate in various protests across the country or create their own politically minded events. Imagine hundreds of mobile drive-ins rolling into towns across the country and sharing films that promoted a cause, illuminated particular ideas or documented history for free. This is just one idea and it would take money to fund these mobile cinemas but like Mark Read, other Occupy Cinema leaders could turn to Kickstarter and social media sites for help as well as reach out to various organizations. It would also be extremely helpful if more filmmakers, critics, scholars and my fellow film bloggers supported the idea of Occupy Cinema.

I personally think the arts are the world’s most effective tools for promoting change. No political speech can match the impact of hearing Bob Dylan sing “The Times They Are a-Changin” or Bob Marley and the Wailers belting out “Get Up, Stand Up.” No political pamphlet can possibly be as effective as Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun or Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and no campaign ad can compare to the experience of watching John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath, Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County U.S.A.,  Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool (1969) or Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008). The transformative powers of cinema are limitless but reaching a receptive audience isn’t easy. Occupy Cinema has the potential to promote positive change but it can’t do that without lots of support.

Unfortunately, mainstream news programs have stopped covering the Occupy Movement even though pockets of it are still very active and alternative news sources have shifted much of their focus to other topics such as the current election. Out of site means out of mind in today’s frenzied news cycle and as attention spans continue to shrink it’s important that anyone involved or interested in Occupy Cinema maintain a visible presence online as well as on the ground. This can be difficult when a movement isn’t run by conventional means. Like the original Occupy Movement, which frustrated journalists trying to pigeonhole it, Occupy Cinema seems to be a collective idea that welcomes all kinds of participants with different motivations and varying degrees of participation. But being active on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube is important and promoting events like the recent Occupy Film Festival in New York is vital so that the ideas behind Occupy Cinema can survive and thrive even if its initial participants lose interest.

I hope the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Movement will help revitalize the concept of Occupy Cinema and encourage future activities and events that help promote change. Or at the very least, it might remind us of how powerful cinema and the projected image can be while inspiring us to find ways we can use cinema to provoke social and political change in our own lives.

Further Reading & Viewing:
Occupy’s ‘bat signal’ tries to keep the movement in spotlight by Peter Rugh
“Occupy Bat Signal” Artist Returns With “Occupy Batmobile,” Codenamed “The Illuminator” by Benjamin Sutton
The Illuminator official site
Occupy artists take message to streets from BBC News
Occupy the Film Festival by Michelle Chen
Occupy Cinecittà – Workers of the Italian film industry protest as the famous studios of Cinecittà in Rome face closure after a disastrous privatization from Struggles In Italy
Occupy Cinema on Vimeo
Magnificent Revolution promoting ‘Bicycle Powered Cinema’ in the UK

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psycho

The Man of the Hour: Alfred Hitchcock

Back in May when I debuted Klara Tavakoli Goesche‘s video tour of VERTIGO locations at the Movie Morlocks I made note of the fact that: “Alfred Hitchcock’s name seems to be everywhere these days.” It seems that my observation was somewhat premature because I had no idea that Hitchock would became a subject of daily debate among critics & film fans following his top position on Sight & Sound’s controversial, self-important and highly publicized list of what they call The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time. Yesterday, on what would have been Hitchcock’s 113th birthday, the blogosphere and various social networking sites were being bombarded with “Top 5” and “Top 10” lists of Hitchcock films. My inner cynic’s response was; “How in the hell do you narrow down Hitchock’s filmography to a simple Top 5 list? You can’t. And if you can I suspect you haven’t seen many of Hitchcock’s films. Compiling a Top 10 is tough enough but compiling a Top 5 is a fool’s errand.” I stand by that observation because 5 years ago I tried to make my own list of 5 Favorite Hitchcock Films followed by a list of 10 Favorite Hitchcock films and I failed at both. I ended up with a list of “15 Favorite Hitchcock Films” instead.

My own list of favorites hasn’t changed in 5 years but occasionally I regret not including a few. I’m prone to to shouting out SHADOW OF A DOUBT (as longtime readers & friendly acquaintances can attest) when I’m asked what my favorite Hitchcock film is but there are a number of Hitch’s movies that I find equally engrossing for a variety of reasons although Joseph Cotten will always get my vote for giving the best performance in any Hitchcock film. Period! No room for argument there.

Below is an alphabetical list of my own “15 Favorite Hitchcock Films” that I’m reasonably comfortable sharing. As I mentioned 5 years ago, I  didn’t bother numbering the list because their numerical order isn’t significant to me and frankly I kind of enjoyed seeing VERTIGO at the bottom of my list. Don’t get my wrong, I love VERTIGO but it seems silly and reductive to single it out in a filmography that’s loaded with so many great movies. The impact of every Hitchcock film changes for me with each viewing. Some films grow in stature while others lose some of their original luster but these 15 remain my personal favorites.

The Birds (1963) “Can I bring the lovebirds, Mitch? They haven’t harmed anyone.”

Dial M for Murder (1954) “Do you really believe in the perfect murder?” Foreign Correspondent (1940) “I’ve been watching a part of the world being blown to pieces. A part of the world as nice as Vermont, and Ohio.”

Frenzy (1972) “Do I look like a sex murderer to you? Can you imagine me creeping around London, strangling all those women with ties? That’s ridiculous… For a start, I only own two.”

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) “To a man with a heart as soft as mine, there’s nothing sweeter than a touching scene.”

Marnie (1964) “You don’t love me. I’m just something you’ve caught. You think I’m some sort of animal you’ve trapped!”

North by Northwest (1959) “And what the devil is all this about? Why was I brought here?”

Psycho (1960) “She might have fooled me, but she didn’t fool my mother.”

Rebecca (1940) “Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me.”

Rope (1948) “I’ve always wished for more artistic talent. Well, murder can be an art, too.”

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) “The world’s a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?”

Spellbound (1945) “We both know that the mind of a woman in love is operating on the lowest level of intellect.”

Strangers on a Train (1951) “My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer.”

The Trouble with Harry (1955) “He looked exactly the same when he was alive, only he was vertical.”

Vertigo (1958) “Anyone could become obsessed with the past with a background like that!”

On a side note, I’ve been catching up with episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (TV Series 1962–1965) lately and really enjoying them. If I get a chance I might write about a few of my favorites.

garyoldmanoscar

The 84th Academy Awards

for Best ActorIt’s awards season again and for the 4th year in a row I’ll be “live tweeting” the Oscars over on Twitter. As usual, I haven’t been able to see all the Best Picture nominees but in all honesty most of them hold little interest for me. I did see a lot of 2011 releases but overall I thought 2011 was a rather lackluster year for modern movies. And many of the films I enjoyed watching such as Abbas Kiarostami’s CERTIFIED COPY and Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE felt all too familiar. There’s been a lot written about the nostalgia surrounding Oscar nominated films such as THE ARTIST, HUGO and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS but I think it’s symptomatic of something bigger. Director’s are relying much too much on “homage” lately when they should be developing their own vision, their own voice and their own ideas.

So if I’m not all that interested in most of the movies up for nomination this year why am I watching the Oscars? As I’ve explained many times before, I’ve been watching the Academy Awards since I was a kid and I appreciate the pomp and circumstance of the whole gaudy affair. I like seeing my favorite actors dressed to the nines and hobnobbing with one another. And I enjoy rooting for my favorite artists and performers to take home that gold statue even if they don’t. And they usually don’t. Most of my favorite directors and actors have never won an Academy Award and they never will. This is showbiz folks and showbiz has very little to do with the fine art of making great motion pictures.

But the fact remains that every year one or two people I greatly admire usually gets nominated for an award and I have fun rooting for them. This year I’m particularly excited for Gary Oldman who’s an actor I’ve admired for a very long time and I thought his low-key performance in TINKER TAILOR SOLIDER SPY was brilliant. The odds are stacked against him but I really hope he takes home that gold statue on Sunday night. His terrific work in films such as SID AND NANCY, PRICK UP YOUR EARS, TRACK 29, ROSENCRANTZ & GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, JFK and LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL (just to name  a few standout performances) should have won him a nomination many years ago. I also appreciate the comedic skill of his top competitor, Jean Dujardin, but Oldman’s quiet, thoughtful and intimate portrayal of an aging British spy was some of the best acting (or non-acting) that I’ve seen in years. None of the actors nominated along with Oldman for Best Actor can match his range or hold a candle to his incredible body of work.

Among the Best Supporting Actor nominees four of the men nominated are performers I admire a lot and none of them has ever won an Academy Award. It seems bizarre (and it is) but even though Nick Nolte, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer and Kenneth Branagh have all been nominated in the past, none of them has ever taken home an Oscar. I think Max von Sydow and Nick Nolte are both extremely talented actors and I have a soft spot for Christopher Plummer. As for Branagh, he’s also done some great work and recently he’s been in top form on the excellent PBS crime drama WALLANDER so it’s nice to see him getting some much deserved attention. It would be fun to see any of these talented men win the award even though I’ve only had the opportunity to see Plummer in BEGINNERS, where he was his usual charming self. Kudos to them all!

We lost a lot of noteworthy performers last year as well as directors and composers. Elizabeth Taylor, Ken Russell and John Barry are three names that come to mind immediately but there were many more. I hope the Academy makes time to properly honor the memory of some of these people. Just seeing their picture flash by in a quick montage with some sappy song played over it will not do. I’d like to see a musical tribute to Barry and Dame Elizabeth deserves a tribute fit for a queen. Hollywood owes her something special and they better deliver but I’m not getting my hopes up. It’s the Academy Awards after all and chances are I’ll be grinding my teeth and bitching through the whole spectacle tomorrow night. See you on Twitter!

A Retro Night Gallery

Vincent Price by SHAG
“Vincent Price”

One of my favorite working artists is SHAG (aka Josh Agle) and he’s created some wonderful retro style pieces inspired by various movies over the years. A lot of his best work takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to horror and sci-fi films so I thought I’d share some of my favorite SHAG pieces during the Countdown to Halloween. Please visit SHAG’s official site for more info about the artist and his work @ SHAG. I’ve also included links to a couple of other artists doing retro-style artwork inspired by horror films that should appeal to SHAG fans at the end of this post.
The Hitcher by SHAG
“The Hitcher”
The Human Fly by SHAG
“The Human Fly”
The Drunken Cleric by SHAG
“The Cleric”
SHAG Collage
Top: “The Impatient One” & “Morbid Cat”
Middle: “The Object of My Dismay” & “Maiden Of The Moon”
Bottom: “Thirsty Like the Wolf” & “Sad Executioner”

Watson And The Shark #1 by SHAG
“Watson and the Shark”
Faster Pussycat Kill! KIll! by SHAG
“Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!”
Le Moineau by SHAG
“Le Moineau”

If you like SHAG’s work I highly recommend visiting these other sites:
Doo Wacka Doodles with artwork by Belle Dee.
The Art of Stephanie Buscema with artwork by Stephanie Buscema.
Both artists are participating in the Countdown to Halloween. They’re also selling prints of their work & original art so don’t forget to take a look at their online shops!

Film Locations: Kensal Green Cemetery

Redemption I.
“Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode, The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road… My friends we will not go again or ape an ancient rage, Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age. But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth, And see undrugged in evening light the Decent Inn of Death; For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen, Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.”
– From “The Rolling Road” by GK Chesterton

In December of 2000 I visited the UK for the first time with my husband, Andis. During our trip we were determined to see one of London’s spectacular old cemeteries and we decided to visit Kensal Green. We chose Kensal Green for three reasons:

1. It wasn’t as popular as the well known Highgate Cemetery so we assumed it would be empty of people & a great spot to take lots of photos.
2. It contained the remains of some of the most fascinating figures from the Romantic era such as writer and political radical Leigh Hunt, Lord Byron’s closest friend John Hobhouse as well as Byron’s wife Annabella Milbanke and Charles Babbage who was Byron’s daughter Ada’s companion and the inventor of the Analytical Engine. As well as painter John William Waterhouse and writer Wilkie Collins among others.
3. It has an ossuary.

On the day we were scheduled to go the sky turned a nasty shade of gray and spilled buckets of icy rain down on London. I was not going to let that stop me so I put on some industrial strength clothing, wore two jackets and grabbed the umbrella along with my 35mm camera before heading for the tube station. The trip to Kensal Green took about two hours because we got a little lost trying to find our way there (a common occurrence in London). As we reached the cemetery gates the sky began to clear a bit and the downpour stopped. What luck I thought! And then I took a good look around the cemetery…

Overpopulation

Kensal Green is old. Very old. Almost 180 years old to be exact. And it’s suffering from serious decay and neglect. On the day we visited the grounds were saturated from the rain storms which had been hitting London on and off for weeks and you could see many graves that had been filled up with water now spilling their ancient muddy contents everywhere. The faint scent of rot and mildew filled the air. The necropolis was also vast and the grounds seemed to stretch out forever in the gloomy light. Realizing that we needed a little help, we headed to the small office to see if they were open and might be able to offer us some directions. Andis spoke to one of the helpful caretakers who offered us a copy of a crude hand drawn map and some important advice, “Stick to the roads and paths!” The area had grown dangerous over the years and the recent storms just added to the problems. She also mentioned that the catacombs were only open to the public on certain days of the year when special tours occurred. Unfortunately today was not one of those days so I wasn’t going to be able to see the ossuary, but I wasn’t going to let that get me down. There were plenty of incredible things to see on the cemetery grounds.

A Plot in Perpetuity

We heading in the direction of Leigh Hunt’s permanent resting place and began our exploration of Kensal Green. Signs such as “DANGER – COLLAPSING GRAVES AND STONEWORK” were everywhere but I decided to ignore them. I was determined to get some good photos no matter what the dangers might be. Besides the caretakers, we were virtually alone in the place but as we began to wander into dangerous areas we saw a haunting figure in black coming towards us. It turned out to be an old Scottish priest with a heavy accent carrying a large camera around his neck. He was a friendly man but he looked a bit lost and tired. He mentioned that he had been exploring Kensal Green for the past week and still hadn’t seen it all or found the graves that he was seeking. We discussed the dangers of roaming the place in the rain and wished each other luck before going our own way again. And as he waved goodbye he warned us once again to, “Stick to the roads and paths!” To say we weren’t a little disturbed by his words would be a lie. We were. But again, I was determined to get some good photos so I conveniently put his warnings, as well as the caretakers, out of my mind as I headed out into the soggy cemetery.

TheySleep

I started to move quickly because every ten minutes or so a few drops of rain would fall from the sky and I was sure we’d be caught in another downpour at any moment. Before long I was wandering off the roadways and paths while going my own way as I heard Andis saying behind me,”Be careful and watch where you’re walking!” Well, I wasn’t watching where I was walking. Soon I was dirty and mud soaked but I didn’t really take notice. I was too busy looking through the camera lens trying to get a good shot of the incredible scenery as well as trying to locate the graves I was especially interested in paying my respects to. As I made my way up a grassy saturated hillside I slipped. My foot went down deep and taking a good look around me I suddenly realized that I was knee deep in grave mud.

Respite from Flight

I couldn’t free my foot so I called to Andis for help but I couldn’t see him anywhere. Surrounding me were old damp graves erupting from the swell of water. The smell of ancient rot and mildew suddenly seemed stronger and I couldn’t seem to shake the voice of the priest warning us about the dangers in the area. As I struggled to pull my leg out of the thick muck I was struck by the fact that I was truly experiencing a scene straight out of one my favorite horror films. I expected a rotting zombie corpse to suddenly grab hold of my leg at any moment and pull me deeper into the ground as it gurgled out the word, “Brains!” I quickly came to the conclusion that zombies must had already gotten a hold of the priest, which is why we hadn’t seen him again or anyone else for the past few hours. I also suspected that the zombies had gotten Andis. A scream began to rise in my throat but at that moment my foot suddenly started to come loose and I heard Andis making his way towards me saying, “Move slowly, very slowly! You’re surrounded by collapsing graves!”

Thy Will Be Done

When Andis finally reached me he could see the look of panic on my face and knew exactly what was running through my mind. Thankfully I had come to my senses and we both burst out laughing and decided to continue our exploration of Kensal Green. I should mention here that I’m an independent person who often goes her own way without thinking things through properly and I think Andis might have gotten a small kick out of seeing me suffering the results of ignoring all the warning signs around me. But without one word of condemnation he helped me off the crumbling hillside.

We continued to explore the old cemetery for another hour or so but unfortunately we couldn’t find all the graves we were looking for and it was beginning to get dark. We both thought we had experienced enough horror film-like moments for the day so we decided to make our way back towards the main gates. Once there we realized we couldn’t possibly get back on the tube in the condition we were in. We were both covered in mud, dead leaves and the dust of a few ancient Londoners so we asked the caretaker if we could clean up in the office. She was surprised by our appearance so I had to confess that I had ventured off the path and had a minor accident. She seemed to get a laugh out of it (dumb Americans!) and pointed us to the bathroom. I spent 10 minutes in there trying to get cleaned up but I was still dirty when we finally left. I was rewarded for my exploits with a terrible cold which almost put me out of commission for the last two days of our trip and stuck with me for almost two weeks once we returned home to the states (I called it the “London Black Phlegm Flu” and it occasionally returns in the winter transforming me into a hacking beast and reminding me of my trip to Kensal Green). Would I do it again? You bet I would! It was one of the most memorable days of my UK trip and I wouldn’t change a thing. I also think I got some decent photos out of it all too.

Redemption II.

When I returned home I discovered that Kensal Green had been used as a location for some great movies including two Richard Burton films, Look Back in Anger (1959) and Villain (1971) as well as two great horror films, Theater of Blood (1973) and Afraid of the Dark (1991). I’m particularly fond of Theater of Blood and I’ve written about the film before so I thought I’d share some of my photos of Kensal Green, which was used to great effect in the movie. They even re-created one of the cemetery’s most well-known tombs for the final resting place of Edward Lionheart (Vincent Price), which is visited by his daughter (Diana Rigg) in the film. It’s also the spot where my favorite scene in the movie takes place involving actor Dennis Price and a runaway carriage. If you enjoy pitch black horror comedies Theater of Blood is well worth a look. More of my thoughts on the film can be found here.

Racist Images in Classic Films

ts1954

A recent discussion on Twitter inspired me to ask a group of classic film lovers, fellow bloggers and Twitter users to contribute to a conversation at The Movie Morlocks about racist images in classic films. It’s a topic that’s too often swept under the rug or completely ignored by film fans and critics. It also coincides with the end of TCM’s annual look at Race and Hollywood and their month long event, Arab Images on Film. Participants included Sarah Dyer, Jason Gilmore, Farran Smith Nehme, Bob Turnbull and Sara Maria Vizcarrondo who all shared their own thoughts about this extremely sensitive topic. Please follow the link to read more.

Racist Images in Classic Films: A Conversation @ TCM’s Classic Movie Blog

It’s That Time Again

cfo

It’s that time again – Oscar night is here! And for the third year in a row I’ll be “live tweeting” the show. If you want to follow along or join in the fun you can find me on Twitter here.

Update 2/28: I wanted to update this with some more thoughts about last nights Oscar show but I managed to erase my previous post. Que Sera, Sera! I will mention again that I’m especially happy that Colin Firth won Best Actor last night. He should have won last year for A Single Man but his performance as the stammering king was mighty impressive. He’s a terrific actor who has been delivering consistently great work in films for decades such as Another Country (1984), A Month in the Country (1987), Apartment Zero (1988), Trauma (2004), etc.

A Decade of Fear

decadeoffear
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

sman
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.

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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).

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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

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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

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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)

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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)

Elvira’s Not A Witch

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’80s horror icon Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (aka Cassandra Peterson) is back on TV again. She’s hosting a new version of her syndicated show Elvira’s Movie Macabre that airs on Saturday nights. I’ve only caught one episode so far but some of the movies she’s shown in the last few weeks include The Giant Gila Monster (1959) and The Terror (1963). In the early ’80s I was introduced to some great horror movies thanks to Elvira’s original Movie Macabre show.

Today Elvira released a very funny ad for her new show that I just couldn’t resist sharing. In this timely TV spot Elvira pokes a little fun at the conservative politician Christine “I’m Not A Witch” O’Donnell. I don’t know about you, but I’d personally like to see Elvira run for office. The current political climate in America is just plain nasty. We could use some politicians with a sense of humor who could take on the nut jobs running for public office with a wink and a smile. Not to mention her other assets…

If you’d like to find out when Elvira’s Movie Macbare will be playing in your area just visit The Official Elvira Website.