RIP JD Salinger

In 2001, Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker that "Catcher in the Rye rewrites" among each new generation had become "a literary genre all its own." He classed among them Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Hunter S Thompson's Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, Jay Mcinerney's Bright Bright Lights, Big City, and Dave Eggers' Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius. That is the cultural impact that Salinger had on so many generations after him. Now If only I knew more about the man and his other works when in fact I only know of Catcher In The Rye & its immense influence on pop culture. I'm also very aware of how arduously hard Salinger fought Hollywood blowhards and their high checks in order to never have them achieve what they wanted: a Hollywood adaptation of his groundbreaking novel. Salinger was a Lion in the winter, a rebel in an industry few of them. A man that was not corrupted by the greed and by the artificiality the main protagonist of Catcher In The Rye so heartily despised.

My top 16 of 2009

2009 had an abundance of quality but if you wanted it you had to get away from the studio system and into the Independent and Foreign circuit. 12 of the 17 movies I've chosen were not given a wide release and -in some cases- came and went in the fury of blockbusters available to the mainstream public. I'm not about to call anything the best movie I saw in 2009. The top five changes on a daily basis- all of them can be called singular and unforgettable. I will only know in time which one will be regarded as timeless and my favourite. What makes the first five films below unique and outstanding to any others this year is due to their uniqueness and bold auteurism. They might be flawed but they decided to fly like no other movies released.

1) Up In The Air (Jason Reitman)

Part of the triumph of Jason Reitman's 3rd movie as director is the fact that he manages to sketch out 3 remarkable characters (Clooney, Famriga, Kendrick) in a movie that is possibly the most relevant one of 2009. George Clooney also manages to give another great performance- in a role that would usually make one feel resentful for his character- instead you kind of like him. (he fires people for a living) However, the real star is not Clooney, it's Farmiga, whom I've adored for years now and is finally getting her due with her last few movies becoming instant critical darlings. Reviewed here.

2) The Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson)

Best Wes Anderson movie. Need I say more? Considered here. It's actually quite surprising that I would say his best movie is an animated one about a rebellious fox that steals chickens for a living but hey that's why I love cinema so damn much, it surprises you in ways you can never expect. The stop motion is just astounding in this one and the humor so good- I recommend watching this on DVD just because you can actually freeze many of its frames and catch the hidden jokes you missed the first time around. Justifiably won Best Animated feature from both the New York and Los Angeles critics.

3) The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow)

Taut, Tense and incredibly terrific movie that -for some- takes more than one viewing to grasp its brilliant execution. It's episodic and I couldn't have liked it more. Think of Jeremy Renner's incredible performance or Bigelow's incredibly controlled command of the action form. She deserves a directing award in the coming Oscars and if she doesn't get it, call it a definite steal. This is the real front runner for Best Picture at this year's Oscars and for very good reason. It deals with male testosterone and adrenaline by studying a man that thrives on it, it the most dangerous of situations. reviewed right here folks.

4) Two Lovers (James Gray)

Here's a movie that came and went but still stuck with me after all these months. It might be the movie that has personally hit me the most and created a kind of emotion that rarely occurs. Starting with a brilliant performance by Joaquin Pheonix as a man confused with the love around him -a never better Vinessa Shaw- and Gwyneth Paltrow as the muse he can never have in his life. It is James Gray's best film and his most maturely assured work. Reviewed in this very blog right here.

5) An Education (Lone Scherfing)

There are two things that make this a remarkable & entertaining movie about how it was to grow up female in 60's London. 1- The great screenplay by the always good Nick Hornsby and 2- Carrey Muligan's amazing performance as the girl that ends up not being the victim but instead the educated and mature one in her relationship with a sneaky 40 year old playboy schlub(Peter Sarsgard). Excellent cast. Excellent movie. dissected right here when I first saw it @ the Festival Du Nouveau Cinema in October.

6) A Serious Man (Joel Coen)

Dillema'ed here & a more thorough review to come at some point in the near future, possibly after the DVD release. The Coen Brothers have made a very problematic but brilliant feature that damn near floored me in its depiction of Jewish society in the 60's and the Almighty's place -or for some lack thereof- in our lives. Features some of the great scenes of the movie year- including a trippy Bar Mitzvah sequence. Has the structure of The Big Lebowski -in its episodic falvour- but has the depth of some of their best work. Opens with a whimsically brilliant short Yiddish story. The most Jewish movie of the year. (& yes I'm counting the Jewish wet Dream of Inglourious Basterds)

7) The Cove (Louis Psihoyos)

This was a completely immersive documentary -about dolphin slaughtering in Japan- that played like a thriller and had me on the edge of my seat for its entire duration. & given the fact that after the movies' wide popularity among cinephiles in the summer, it influenced Japan to think twice and change the rules of their own cruel game. Psihoyos' film proved that movies weren't just made to entertain but to also change the world. Pondered upon during the summer right here.

8) District 9 (Neil Blomkampf)

I've already talked about how much I didn't like the ending to this movie (with its Transformers like change to action)- but that's just the ending. The rest of it is just phenomenal and as good as audiences and critics led you to believe. 2/3 of a great Sci Fi movie and -at the very least story wise- much much better than Cameron's 'Golden Globe Winning' Avatar. This is a real gem from South Africa and here's the infamous review that I already mentioned above. Word of caution- it's only the ending & I've learned to deal with that.

9) Moon (Duncan Jones)

First timer Jones -David Bowie's son- flawlessly debuts a movie that not only had tremendous tension, but originality to spare. As Sam Rockwell's astronaut goes nuts in his spacial isolation, the audience asks questions about who he really is and why there is a duplicate that appears all of a sudden. It is a movie that combines the retro feel of a 60's space opera with the limitless abandon of Kubrick's classic 2001. Here.

10) Up (Bob Peterson/Pete Docter)

I'm sure you've gotten used to me saying how great a Pixar movie is, every year- well get used to it 'cause it is being said for a reason- cause it's the truth. Up IS in fact a great movie filled with gags and character that have eccentricities you don't expect in your normal Animated movie. It features the best scene from any movie I've seen in 2009- The montage of a young couple meeting and facing life's challenges together, all the way till senior hood and sickness. It's a scene of touching gravity that defies description and really demands to be seen and awed at. Reviewed more in depth here.

10) 500 Days Of Summer (Marc Webb)

Marc Webb's "romantic comedy" is the best possible example of that -otherwise- vehemently desecrated genre. In it our main protagonist falls for Summer, a beauty of a girl that falls in love back. Webb refuses to romanticize love, which gives his film the edge over more by the books fare. He knows that love is a mash up of moments and images that stay in your head forever. He makes sure to show us that with a non-linear narrative that explores basically everything you might go through in a relationship.

11) Goodbye Solo, Ramin Bahrani

I sadly didn't write about this movie but it's a very well written character piece about immortality and the immigrant experience. Bahrani continues his odyssey of the forgotten American folk, featuring two very good performances at its center. Highly underrated and worth a look if its on DVD anywhere near you area. Bahrani's best -& most satisfying-movie so far.

12) Broken Embraces, Pedro Almodvar

Although not the best Almodovar I've seen this is right up their with his finest. It's -like his other films- a celebration of cinema, its actors and its dramatic belongings. The fact that this movie never really gained steam after its release reinforces my love for its structural dramatics and stylistic flourishes. A must see for any movie buff that live on the cinema and its countless limitless energy. All 17 of these movies have the same rebellious cry that keeps the art on movies alive to this day. Reviewed right here.

13) Public Enemies, Michael Mann

I'm a big Michael Mann Fan, so don't be too surprised I dug this one a lot during the summer. Pondered upon right over here. & a freshly stylized perspective on the gangster genre this decade. Not as good as prime Mann, but still Mann & with all the style and details we've come to expect from the master. This is criminally underrated and undeserving of its bad rep.

14) Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli

Scary beyond belief. Peli's low budget film is just as scary as The Blair Witch Project - which is high praise given that that 1999 movie was bloody horrific to begin with. In this film, make sure not to have all the lights off or else you'll be jumping out of your seat. A perfect theatrical experience.

15) Avatar, James Cameron

16) Anvil, Sacha Gervasi

17) Antichrist, Lars Von Trier

18) Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi

19) Bad Lieutenant, Werner herzog

20) The Girlfriend Experience, Steven Soderbergh

21) The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson

21) Julie And Julia, Nora Ephron

22) Taken, Pierre Morel

23) Observe And Report, Jody Hill

24) The Headless Woman, Lucrecia Martel

25) Ponyo, Hayao Miyazaki

26) Duplicity, Tony Gilroy

Image Of The Day 01/24/10

My first Image of 2010 takes us way back to 1993. That Infamous shot of Julliane Moore's pube's in the late Robert Altman's incendiary Shortcuts. Why so infamous? Well you try and figure it out- Americans tend to have a fetish for red.

"Crazy Heart"

It's called Crazy Heart & features a great Jeff Bridges performance as Bad Blake a has been country music star that looks to get a second crack at the industry. I expected some cliches to come roaring down -& they do- but director Scott Cooper gets through them by bringing joyful spirit and musicality to a script that demands it. Talkin' about musicality, T Bone Burnett supplies the music and creates what might just be my favourite soundtrack from the past year.

Not to mention Maggie Gyllenhall who's just phenomenal as Blake's love interest and will likely get an Oscar nom when they are announced in 2 weeks. Ditto Bridges. This movie could have easily sunk down if Bridges hadn't succeeded in bringing life to his fictional character and the alcoholism and heartbreak he goes through. Yep. It's your typical bio with a somewhat stale flavour but the performances are just swell.

Take Note- I've just rewatched Bridges in The Big Lebowski & truly find it amazing how the movie has become a complete cult hit over the years. Bridges' performance when first released wasn't payed too much attention to but now it is considered one of the great characterizations of the 90's. For good reason. His Dude totally abides to the laws of cinema as a one of a kind natural of the camera and a complete original. Something tells me the Coens aren't done working with Bridges, it's a given that these mavericks have a chemistry to make much more.

What If? Bullock and Oscar?

Sandra Bullock actually pulls it off at this years Oscars and wins Best Actress? Surely there were more deserving nominees this year -I can think Of Mulligan, Sidibe, Cornish & Streep- but when all is said and done, this might be the same case as it was in 2001, when Julia Roberts won for her mildly strong performance in Erin Brokovich. It's a case of love for the actress more than love for the performance.

Trust me, I have seen Blind Side & it is not a performance as deserving as the actresses already mentioned here. I'll take all this buzz towards Bullock with a grain of salt and hope the academy gives the award to the deserving actress -any of the four would do. Then again if anybody say the Golden Globes, they saw a humble Bullock winning Best Actress & giving a very gracious speech. Peter Travers is already calling her the winner of the Oscar & I'm sitting here writing this, about to gag.

Scorsese, Greengrass & Polanski

Usually the Hollywood machine releases all the stuff they want to get rid of in the first months of the new year- January to April is usually a wasteland of these sorts of picture. 2010 might be an exception, as Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski & Paul Greengrass -3 singular directors- are releasing new stuff in the next month or two. Which begs me to ask the question, which is highest on your list?

I'm a Scorsese nut so I'm drooling over Shutter Island- which was delayed last year due unknown circumstances (Scorsese claimed the film needed more editing). I know a few people that have already seen it and are considering it high on the Oscar contenders list for 2011 ! woah there cowboys, don't go too ahead of yourselves but nevertheless Scorsese's been on a roll lately with stuff like The Departed and Gangs Of New York already classic stuff in my books.

Roman Polanski -on the other hand- hasn't had much to offer since his triumphant Pianist came out 7 years ago. He missed the mark with his follow up, Oliver Twist, remember that one? I didn't think so, the above trailer is his new movie and -although it has a kind of State Of Play feel to it- I'm looking forward to watching his new movie, remember kids this is the guy that gave us Chinatown 35 years ago.

Last but certainly not least is another director that made his mark in the past decade with THE best post 9/11 movie around United 93. Greengrass' style is very influential -with its handheld camera and add type editing- but I'm looking forward to him reuniting with his Bourne star Matt Damon, in a movie that pushes the questions of the Iraq war.

In the coming days I'll be releasing my 20 favourite movies of 2009 and then we'll be looking ahead to a new decade of movies and a new batch of hopefuls that will want to take a bite out of Oscar.

Titanic Vs. Avatar

Picking up steam, Avatar is not dropping down the rankings of the Box Office- as a few boneheads had predicted. It's quite steady and increasing its overall gross. Which begs me to ask the question, does it have the UMPH to beat out Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time? It's 150 million away and is still at number one- looking at an upcoming weekend gross of (this is my estimate) around 40 million. The reason why this movie is not slowing down must be due to the fact that it is something new and unseen among movie watchers. Here's a movie that demands to be seen on the big screen and has its effect relinquished once seen on the Tele. Add the fact that Cameron is known for going over budget & still producing something essential & spectacular and you get a combo that cannot be fought or dealt with.

My prediction? Avatar will beat Titanic's box office, just in time for the Oscars, where it will be crowned in numerous categories. Best Picture? not sure yet, it's a tough call, especially with this year having 10 nominees, a fabulous George Clooney Vehicle, his ex wife's -Kathryn Bigelow- triumphant war movie The Hurt Locker & the fact that Cameron has already had his moment when Titanic came out 12 years ago. One things for sure, this is gonna be fun times ahead and very interesting to watch as the Box Office and Oscar Noms slowly trickle in during the next few weeks. Let's keep in touch on this.

"Fish Tank" released today

Seek out Andrea Arnold's Cannes winning movie Fish Tank, which I believe comes out today onlin in New York and Los Angeles. I reviewed it last November, here's the REVIEW in case you are curiously minded about this gritty and surprising drama from the UK.

Douglas Sirk and Queer Cinema

Douglas Sirk made All That Heaven Allows in the 50's. It was met as a piece of Hollywood fluff, starring Hollywood handsome man Rock Hudson as gardener Ron that falls for Jane Wyman's Carrie. Forbidden love done with unoriginality and by-the-books flair. At least that's what people thought of the picture and Douglas Sirk 50 years ago.

That perception changed when in the 70's Sirk started giving interviews to the media and started appearing at world film fests promoting his filmography. The press started seeing things in his films that hadn't originally been seen before. For one, his movies -especially All That Heaven Allows- critiqued the bourgeois lifestyle and culture. It also featured Rock Hudson hinting at a homosexuality that bypassed almost everybody in Hollywood except himself. In Heaven there are clues. He claims he 'can't shoot straight' and is asked by his lover what would he think if she 'was a man'.

Those little clues went completely past an audience that was too naive to realize any of the hidden messages Sirk kept inserting into his works The queerness doesn't stop there. Sirk had a love for hiding hiding message with colour and palette. He had the ability to prepare a scenic-like effect and make his performers wear whatever would match the decor. If the scene required steaminess and hot romance, he would make Wyman wear Red and have his lighting shine on her bright- not to mention the red leaves on the trees surrounding her home.

I recently caught up with All That Heaven Allows and was struck by how well put of a Sirkian homage Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven was back in 2002. The similarities were there- instead of a blue collar gardener you had a black gardener & Haynes added a closeted gay husband (Dennis Quaid). More importantly Far From Heaven ended up elaborating on two key things: the world depicted on screen -- although 50 years apart from ours -- bore similarities to the society we currently live in, the bourgeois attitude still present and the homophobia and racism still intact.  It also revealed a trend that was only growing for the past decade - that of the queer auteur.

Haynes gave his best shot with Far From Heaven at reproducing the stylistic flourishes of a Sirk film exprience and, in the process of it all, made us remember one of the forgotten contemporaries of Hollywood's golden age.


James Cameron's Avatar (4/5) has already made 1.4 Billion dollars in 24 days, that's a record and a sense of the crazed mania happening in theatres these days towards Cameron's latest opus. Does it deserves everything it is getting? considering it is a breakthrough in cinematic visual, I'd say yes. The technological achievements are major and only near the end do they wear thin to an unoriginal plot.

You see, Avatar's story is not very well realized nor is it very involving but watching it in 3D makes it a one of a kind experience that cannot be shaken when you leave the theatre. It is very flawed with its limp dick story but a complete breakthrough with its visual images that pop out at you like nothing else seen before it's release. Especially the scenes that take place in Pandora- home of the Na'avi & glowing with colour and fierce light that crowns a nation of blue. Guess what? as much as the story sucks, there's no denying the breakthrough that Cameron has created here. He basically gives the finger to the industry and sets his own rules as far as to what he can and cannot do. As far as we are concerned we are now living in a post-Avatar industry of movie making, whether that is a pleasant thought or not (It isn't necessarily to me)

It's going to change everything and anything in terms of 3D and movies in general. Deny it all you want but that is basically what it has come down to. Sure, its final 40 minutes start to die down the exuberance of its first 2 hours but there is an incredible adrenaline rush in watching something that is new and completely fresh on screen. Cameron has never been about dialogue, he's always been about visuals. He has a talent to make his movies look great and visually rich. just think of his classic movies (T1, T2, Titanic, Aliens) those movies could easily be watched with a mute button and you could still experience the hell out of it- The images mattered more than the words. He has made a movie that demands to be seen on a big screen with goofy looking 3D glasses, which is one of the reasons why people are actually churning out their hard earned cash instead of just settling for the illegal download or official DVD (whenever that is out)

If there is one movie that I have seen in 2009 that should and will be called groundbreaking in the years to come, this is it. A flashy, flawed, hokey, visionary epic made by a man that was once king of the world and getting back that title as we speak.

Peter Jackson's Lovely Bones

Opening nationwide on January 15th, The Lovely Bones has been unfairly dismissed in the press as a low point in Peter Jackson's career. When in fact it is an achievement that only he could have made, blending gorgeous special effects with an intimate story of loss. I mentioned it before but Stanley Tucci is crazy good and will likely get the supporting actor nod he deserves this month. Of course, the negativity that has surrounded this movie isn't without reason. The PG-13 Rating prevents it from going into darker and more arduous territory- the murder isn't shown & rape barely hinted at. & the changes between the in between and life at times suffer overtly drawn dramatics. I wish Jackson could have pushed this to an R rating and -in the process-pushed the boundaries of the film. He also has a badly set tone, switching from bleak to comic relief &- trust me- the last thing this movie needs is a change in tone, even if it plays with both Fantasy and Drama.

It'd be easy to nitpick @ Peter Jackson's latest movie. It has melodramatic tension that sometimes reduces its powerful impact. However -& this is a biggie- its strongest moments are dreamy and terrifying as a 14 year old girl (Saorise Ronan) is murdered by a rapist -incredible played by Stanley Tucci. The girl narrates the movie as she struggles to find her way to heaven, she's stuck in between our world and another life. I don't know why this movie struck me as powerfully as it did but it could be because of its themes and spirituality- which have always been part of me & the fact that it looks at death not as a terrifyingly bleak consequence, but as an experience for thought and spirituality. There's a humanity here that I found very resonant, it ain't gonna hit everybody but it sure did hit me.

Original & Redux. "Walking Tall" in the 70's and Today

I recently caught up with Walking Tall. No, no. Not the action blockbuster starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson but the original one from 1973 starring Joe Don Baker as an ex marine moving into a corrupt town and looking to clean it up from Prostitution, gambling &blackmail. Mind you, the picture I saw was not significantly any better than the remake from 5 years ago.  In a way it was a step lower in its action sequences and effects- most likely because the damn picture was made 36 years ago. The characters were overacting, the direction was sloppy and the action was -at times- not very well staged.

So why remake a movie that has clearly not the best of reputations? Most likely cause Walking Tall is based on an ideological, nowadays primitive, sense of violence in a male dominated society and portrays it as such in a macho kind of way, a way that would be copied by future action filmmakers and is still being copied to this day. It's was part of Americana where the man was the boss.

It was the start of action movie Machoism and came out right as the black panthers -& black people in general- were getting more and more freedoms due to the civil rights movement. It was a time when they started revolting and talking against all that was wrong in American society. It was also the end of Vietnam and the end of a presidential regime that had single-handedly destroyed the country. The movie explicitly draws upon these issues in a very thorough and direct way but it seems to be labeling these issues instead of going into them in a more forthright manner.

Walking Tall was the beginning of the action picture and the ticking point of the blockbuster era (2 years later Jaws would get released). If it weren't for this picture, there would probably be no Schwarznegger, Van Damme, The Rock or Stallone. Joe Don Baker brought forth the first alpha male action hero.


I have received a few emails inquiring as to when my ten best list will be made. Look for it in the coming weeks, i still need to see Avatar 3d before i can make one & something tells me it could make it in there. But some titles that are sure things would Jason Reitman's Up In The Air, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker & James Gray's Two Lovers. & Because it has been an overall good year for film, i will most probably make it into a top 20.

With all this talk about lists, I'm reminded of an article by EW's Lisa Schwarzbaum, in which she refuses to make a top ten of the decade, declaring she finds it odd how men are obsessed with making lists of everything (movies, girlfriend's, Cars etc.)

Oddly enough, she ended up making one a few weeks later. I'm assuming her editors had something to do with it & something tells me they might be male.

Leone and The Arcade Fire

This is one of the best things I've seen on Youtube. Sergio Leone's classic backed up by my favourite current band as we speak- The Arcade Fire. The blend is pure and simply amazing and the video deserves the close to 2 million hits it has received since its posting. I'm actually quite surprised that whenever I talk about this video I don't always get a person that knows this band or any song from them. It's time to get with the program people ! You are missing out on some of the best Rock and Roll of the past decade.

The blend of cinema and music here is just very fitting, as fitting as putting on Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon w/ The Wizard Of Oz. Every sound and gesture dances with the music in the background. & If you haven't already heard the Fire's Neon Bible, check it out. Very cinematic also and terrifyingly beautiful in its delivery.

The White Ribbon

I have seen Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon 2x now. It is an infuriatingly frustrating and brilliant account of how evil emerges and how it comes from a root or a seed from within a society. It goes at a comatose pace and has a dragging atmosphere to it that prevents its reign amongst the years best pictures. It takes place in pre-WWI Germany as a remote village is victim of numerous unforeseen violence. Haneke decides to not tell us whom has actually done the bad deeds- or if it was more than one person. His goal is instead to show us that any of they villagers were capable of such criminal activities- especially the children whom are treated in such disciplinary ways that there's a hint that Nazism isn't far from their future.

This is definitely not a family night out kind of flick or THE feel good story of the week. Haneke -auteur of the brilliant Cache- isn't in the same league as that previous movie, this is a love it or hate it type of movie, yet I fall right down the middle of the debate. The acting and mood are setup in a phenomenal matter yet what distinguished his previous movies was the mysterious dramatic tension that escalated between his characters. There is not much tension on here, it's a sprawling movie, filled with 30+ characters and they don't all get their fully fleshed out due. You come out of The White Ribbon feeling pummeled by the narrative ambition of Haneke's work. I'll take a dozen of these movies any day, instead of another Hollywood hack story. The call on this movie is still to be determined but the currency says it's a Sprawling Ambitious Mess.