Logorrhea


The good thing about keeping a page that nobody reads: flexible deadlines. The bad thing about keeping a page that nobody reads: nobody reads it. A little late, but my favourite films of the 2000s. 1. Spellbound (Jeffrey Blitz, 2002): I’ve shown this to my class every year since it topped my 2003 year-end (at which point I’d already seen it three or four times), so I’ve seen it about a dozen times by now. My admiration hasn’t dimmed a bit. Rather than repeat everything I wrote eight years ago, I’ll link to my original comments on rockcritics.com. About halfway into the film, right after the eight principals have been introduced, I al- ways hit pause and survey my students on whom they think will win (working from the assump- tion that the winner will be drawn from the eight kids we’ve met). They always overwhelm- ingly zero in on Neil; the actual winner, whom I won’t name in case anyone hasn’t seen this yet, has never elicited more than a couple of votes (and sometimes doesn’t receive any). Above and beyond Spellbound’s inexhaustible surprises, its influence is large. I can think of at least four really good documentaries (one listed below, the other three close runners-up) that exist in Spellbound’s shadow: most obviously Mad Hot Ballroom, a virtual remake transposed to a different context; Wordplay and Word Wars, for the lexicography angle; and, a spiritual offshoot, The Heart of the Game. I was surprised by how disap- pointing Rocket Science, Blitz’s fictional follow-up, was--ambitious, for sure, but a real mess. Rechecking that film’s title on IMDB, though, I see he has gone on to direct a number of Office episodes. I don’t watch The Office myself, but, just in case Spellbound’s Harry gets a cameo in some upcoming Blitz-directed episode, maybe I should start. 2. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007): I hated Fight Club--bombastic, ugly, pleased with its ugliness (I won’t hold the movie responsible for the 5-cent gimmick that presumably belongs to the book)--and a second look at Seven recently wasn’t what I’d call a wise decision. I’ve seen Zodiac six or seven times, and its pull just gets stronger and stronger--I leant it out two weeks ago, and I wish I had it here right now to watch again. When I run the film over in my mind to try to understand why I love it so much, I get a little lost. One explanation may reside in a criticism levelled by San Francisco blogger Steve Rubio: “Yet the film never bothers to explain to us exactly why Graysmith is obsessed with the case. He's on the peri- phery of the events that take place in the Chronicle, he likes to solve puzzles, and then suddenly the identity of the Zodiac killer is all he cares about. But nothing in the film convincingly shows how that obsessive leap takes place.” Agreed--except that I count that unexplained obsessiveness as one of Zodiac’s greatest strengths. I’m someone who’s had my share of obsessions over the years, some productive and some not, some a lot easier to explain than others. Do I understand why I’ve combatted, and continue to combat, a severe addiction to online Scrabble the past seven years? Not really, no--some obsessions defy explanation. So when Graysmith visits fellow-obsessive Paul Avery at one point to try to revive Avery’s interest in the case--Avery having dropped out of sight, his years trying to uncover Zodiac’s identity having decimated his life--Graysmith gives voice to something they both know to be true, even if neither can explain it: “It was important.” It’s a great, great moment. And as good as both Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey are--Downey manages to modulate his congenital showiness enough to disappear into his role--the performance that most knocks me out is Mark Ruffalo’s. His mounting exasperation as he tries to keep one step ahead of Gyllenhaal and Downey’s Good Hardy Boy/Bad Hardy Boy tag-team is something to see. 3. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003): Speaking of performances, Bill Murray gets the nod for the decade. I wrote at the time that he doesn’t go as deep in LiT as he did in Rushmore--specifically, the moment where he meets Max’s father--and I might stand by that. Or I might not; his karaoke run-throughs of “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understand- ing” and “More Than This” are as good as it gets. I vividly recall feeling stunned when he lost the Academy Award that year to Sean Penn’s huffing and puffing in Mystic River. (I shouldn’t have, of course--the Academy Awards are a dog-and-pony show, Penn gave exactly the kind of performance that wins, etc., etc. Even knowing all that, it still threw me. And, if I’m remembering correctly, Murray looked a little stunned too.) So they got Murray’s char- acter right, but for the film to work, they had to get Scarlett Johansson’s right too. They did. (Middle-aged sigh.) They did. 4. The Heart of the Game (Ward Serrill, 2005): Another one I show annually to my class, tak- ing care to hit the mute button when Darnellia goes off on the guy in the stands. (There’s another random “Fuck!” in the locker room after a close loss; that one’s tougher to dodge, but I manage.) Darnellia and Bill Resler are just about the best movie odd couple this side of, I don’t know, Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. And I mention lambs only because they might have worked for one of Coach Resler’s sales pitches to his players: “Okay, girls, this year I want you to think ‘Flock of Lambs’--wild and wooly on the outside, loyal to the herd, a solid core of gentility underneath.” I’m totally winging it, just like Resler. (Came across this when I checked to see if he was still coaching. Sad.) 5. The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach, 2005): Such an odd film--I knew I’d seen some- thing the first time I saw it, I just wasn’t sure what. It’s about Laura Linney, who’s sane, and the three men she lives with (as the story begins, anyway), who aren’t. They hiss at each other for 70 minutes, then the older son buckles under the weight of all the hissing and breaks down crying. Then he runs off to the museum. And if that isn’t enough for three or four films, I also owe Baumbach for introducing me to Bert Jansch. I went home that night and tracked down “Courting Blues,” played over the end credits, immediately leading me to “Running from Home,” which on some days is my favourite song ever. He did it all over again in his next film, the good but lesser Margot’s Wedding, this time unearthing Karen Dalton. 6. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003): When I saw this the first time, I hadn’t seen Gerry, and I didn’t know about Bela Tarr. Elephant did make an impression on me--I’ll again link back to my original comments--but you can tell I’m a little out of my element. I had to get past that “Oh.” I did: four or five viewings later, I find Van Sant’s conception of Columbine deeply moving. That “teenage small-talk” I referred to somewhat dismissively matters a lot--more than anything, it’s what the killers violate, and Van Sant very methodically makes sure you feel that violation--as does all the dreamy tracking. And that’s where Gerry and Tarr come in; I’d already come to love Elephant by the time I caught up with its antecedents (just within the past couple of months, to be honest), so it was actually Elephant that helped me find my way into them. 7. No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Martin Scorsese, 2005): A friend of mine has assured me that this is Dylan’s film, not Scorsese’s--starting with the fact that all of Dylan’s inter- views were conducted with an interviewer of his choice, probably even wholly scripted by him (cf. Nate Hentoff in 1966, if legend is to be believed). Maybe; I honestly don’t know, and I’m not sure it makes a difference. There’s just so much stuff to lose yourself in here, and out of the morass, the chaotic sweep of events, a story does come into focus, one that has something to do with the way Dylan spends much of the film trying to disengage himself from those events, constantly reminding the interviewer that that--politics, folk music, glamour, “the sixties”--was their thing, not his. Nothing new, I guess, he’s been feinting and dodging forever; I’m Not There might have been a good title too. There’s a multiplicity of other stories that come into focus, too, criss-crossing all over each other, and they’re harder to sort out. In one of my favourite conceits in the film, the Beatles get acknow- ledged exactly twice: once verbally (something along the lines of “Would you ask the Beatles that?!” at one of those toxic press conferences), the other time as a listing in Billboard (in a close-up of the chart where “Like a Rolling Stone” hits #2, you can see the Beatles sitting at #1 with “Help”). “Oh yeah, those guys...” That very noticeable omission is a pretty good story in and of itself. 8. No Country for Old Men (Ethan & Joel Coen, 2007): The older I get, the greater my aversion to screen violence. The violence in No Country is so swift and so drastic--in impact, I mean, not in quantity (it’s like The Godfather that way)--not to mention so loud, I was on edge for the duration the first time I saw it, on edge in a very unpleasant way, and in fact spent a lot of the time semi-covering my eyes. Yes, I still do that at movies that scare me. But after a second and third viewing mitigated all the nasty stuff, I was able to appreciate just how beautifully, and classically, this film was structured (some- thing it shares with the similarly triangulated Zodiac). Jones and Bardem are great-- conceding that Bardem’s character is essentially an arted-up version of Jason or Freddy Kruger--but, again as with Zodiac, I’ll single out the less celebrated vertex of the tri- angle, Josh Brolin, as giving the subtlest performance among the three leads. I’ve seen a lot of Coen Brothers films over the past 25 years; this joins Miller’s Crossing and Fargo as the only ones I love (and it didn’t happen immediately with Fargo, either). 9. Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001): Coming on the heels of Crumb, I think I decided Zwigoff was the world’s greatest director when I first saw this. I lost track of him after Art School Confidential (liked that one too, with reservations), but I watched Ghost World again a couple of years ago, and it held up very well. The best moment is right out of Crumb--when Enid throws the Skip James record (of which there are “eight known copies” according to MetaFilter) on her chintzy turntable one night and disappears. 10. Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film (Ric Burns, 2006): In an almost identical version of this list I submitted to an I Love Everything poll a few weeks ago, I had this at #11 and Wendy and Lucy at #10. I’ve only seen Wendy and Lucy once, though, and just don’t remember enough specifics to write about it, so I’ll go with the Warhol documentary. I liked Chuck Workman’s Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol from a few years ago, but Burns’s PBS-sponsored version dwarfs it. (Stuff you find out when checking credits: Workman re- leased a documentary last year on Jonas Mekas. Hadn’t heard a word about it—-can’t wait till it makes its way here.) I don’t know if this is as dense as No Direction Home (also of PBS origin--I think both were part of American Masters), but clocking in at an extra 40 minutes, you can bet there’s quite a morass to lose yourself in here, too. There's a section on the JFK assassination right at the end of part one that I’d probably name as my single favourite sequence of the decade. You see the assassination through Warhol’s eyes; he’s still feeling his way at the time, still trying to get his name out there, and the '60s--and everything that that phrase has come to encapsulate--have begun but haven’t begun. He hears the news, goes back to his studio (“What does this mean?” he keeps asking anyone within earshot), and before long is furiously painting those now-iconic images of the grieving widow. As one of the interviewees explains it: “He understood instantaneously the second Liz turned into ‘Liz’--which was with her tracheotomy, and her sexual scandals in the early ‘60s--and with Jackie, the second JFK was shot, just to understand that imme- diately they were...incomprehensible spectacles that would make one speechless to contem- plate. And he got that immediately.” Melodramatic? Maybe--give me some evocative music in the background, and my defences against such rhetoric crumble away. Not only do I buy it, I want to live inside those quotation marks; my new greatest aspiration in life is to become an incomprehensible spectacle that would make one speechless to contemplate. Ten more: 11. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008) 12. The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia (Jennifer Baichwal, 2002) 13. Stevie (Steve James, 2002) 14. Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, 2007) 15. Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (Kevin Rafferty, 2008) 16. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon, 2007) 17. Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (Marini Zenovich, 2008) 18. A League of Ordinary Gentlemen (Christopher Browne, 2004) 19. Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008) 20. Capturing the Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki, 2003) Finally, the decade’s big film story for me, living in Toronto (perhaps mirrored in other cities), was the closure of so many theatres. We lost the Bloor repertory chain (since resurrected, sort of, but not nearly as good), the York, the Eaton Centre Cineplex (I saw both Persona and C.H.U.D. there!), the Uptown and Uptown Backstage, the Hyland, the Hum- ber, the Carlton...I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few. Maybe you’d expect to lose that many theatres in the course of a decade, I don’t know; it felt like an onslaught. I’d be sur- prised if the Cumberland lasts too much longer. Here I am on the Carlton’s last night. Just to clarify, I’m waving goodbye to the theatre, not to capitalism or Michael Moore, at least one of which I’m hoping lasts.

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