January 10, 2008 | Comments ()

By Daniel Carlson | Guides | January 10, 2008 |


Jan. 5, 2008
To: John Williams, Dustin Rowles

Guys (I’m running out of ways to address us) —

Lots of good things going on. I like how we all seem to be arriving at slightly different places when it comes to the best films of the year, or at any rate our favorites. Anyone who says film and art are purely subjective is fooling themselves, but conversations like this one highlight the interesting tension between objective good in art and how that gets filtered through our respective individual worldviews. For instance, I can see Lars and the Real Girl and love it and rank it as one of the best films of the year, but I also know that well-told stories about awkward men in their twenties are going to necessarily resonate with me more than others.

Before I forget: John, I see where you’re coming from on Into the Wild, and I definitely don’t think of McCandless as a spoiled brat, and hopefully never used the phrase or anything close to it. I think it was a good film, but felt like a horror flick in a way: You’re strapped to a chair for two and a half hours, begging McCandless to hurry up and find the migratory salvation he needs before he dies. Maybe it’s because I’ve got a kid sister, but I couldn’t imagine cutting myself off like that from the only person/people who loved me just to find myself. Damn, did I hurt for that kid. I’m also with you on Pixar productions; it seems that their films keep getting better every year. Do you think Wall-E will be able to live up to Ratatouille?

On another note: It’s been 24 hours since I saw There Will Be Blood, and I still can’t get it out of my head. I grew up on the few films P.T. Anderson put out while I was in high school, including Magnolia, which came out in the magic year of 1999 that I mentioned last time. So maybe it’s only fitting that Anderson’s next masterpiece would come in a year so stocked with wonderful films and amazing performances. Daniel Day-Lewis in Anderson’s film; Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and a surprisingly affecting turn by Josh Brolin in No Country for Old Men; Ryan Gosling in Lars and the Real Girl; Ellen Page in Juno; and on and on. This seemed a banner year for individual performances. I second Dustin’s love for Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War, which without him would have just been a decent but predictable non-drama.

bournemug.jpgAnyway: Dustin, as for films that fell outside of awards season, I have to wholeheartedly echo your vote for The Bourne Ultimatum as the most awesome film of the year. I don’t think I caught my breath until the credits rolled. I still have a soft spot for Doug Liman’s film that kicked off the series, but Paul Greengrass has, with The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, made two of the best action flicks of the past decade, no question. And I’m with you, too, on Zodiac, which was an effective combination of psychological thriller and reporter’s crusade. I also think The Darjeeling Limited is getting unfairly passed over, considering it’s the best film Wes Anderson has made since The Royal Tenenbaums; the same goes for Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, which was hard sci-fi at its trippy best, and The TV Set, a fantastic inside baseball look at selling out for your art. Also, despite the series’ age, The Simpsons Movie was a good, if not great, animated comedy, and a reminder of just how influential the show has been.

So, we all seem to think it was a good year for movies, but what does that mean going forward? Do you think 2008 will hold another crop of wonders, or are we doomed to only cyclically find such joy at the multiplex and art house? I’m tempted to think the number of quality films this year was slightly more fluke than planned. There’s so much crowding at the theater now that the law of averages would almost have to insist that more of them would be better. But I also don’t want us to forget the number of sequels and threequels we had to stomach this year — the woefully disappointing Spider-Man 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Shrek the Third, etc. — or the fact that the U.S. film industry has been putting out a couple dozen sequels every year for the past few years. There are currently 16 sequels scheduled for 2008 release, and that’s a drop. What can that mean? Are we doomed to live in a society where mainstream cinema increasingly runs out of ideas and simply squirts out retreads and remakes? Then again, am I being overly dramatic? This summer brings Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the mere mention of which sends me into girlish squeals. Are sequels even necessarily bad? Let me hear it.

A few parting notes before I sign off and hand this over to you two: John, you should know that Atonement is a good movie, but can never compare to the experience of reading the book, which blew me away and made me suddenly obsessed with Ian McEwan. Dustin: I disagree with you about the ending of No Country for Old Men — I found it haunting, and sad, and abrupt in a perfect way — but we’re on the same page about the rest of the film. Also, I promise not to make fun of you for wearing Nirvana T-shirts.

Dan

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Jan. 8, 2008
To: Dustin Rowles, Daniel Carlson

D&D,

To quickly address Dan’s direct questions: You never used “spoiled brat” about McCandless. I thought your take on the movie (and him) was fair. And like you, I certainly can’t relate to him on a specific level — in addition to loving my family far too much to cut myself off from them, I’m about as outdoorsy as Frasier Crane. I greatly enjoy being near nature, but I’ll sleep in a bed, thank you very much. As for Wall-E, I’ll see it, but I’ll be surprised if it lives up to Ratatouille, only because I think that’s probably the studio’s best work.

I haven’t been as thorough as you two in my box-office consumption. Zodiac is next up on my Netflix queue, and I’m excited about it. I tend to like David Fincher’s movies, and I kept meaning to see this one in the theater and kept managing not to for some reason. I didn’t see The Bourne Ultimatum on purpose. I liked the first entry in the series, but I’m a strong opponent of the ADD editing technique for reasons both aesthetic (it’s ugly) and physical (it makes me nauseous).

hoaxmug.jpgI’m not ready to say that the highlights of 2007 portend equally strong moments in 2008. At best, that would be strained optimism; at worst, a jinx. While I avoided, out of some combination of snobbishness and exhaustion, the mega-stinkers like the third Spider-Man, the nineteenth Shrek, and anything based on an amusement park ride that also involves Johnny Depp as a scenery-chewing pirate, I’m sure that dozens of the same are in the pipeline. What I did see a lot more of this year — thanks almost entirely to assignments for Pajiba — is a certain kind of serviceable mainstream project that falls between the tie-in landfills and the indie universe. I’m thinking of movies like Breaking and Entering, Catch and Release, The Hoax. These movies varied in quality, but they all represent a type that I’d stopped bothering with a long time ago. I’m glad I rediscovered the genre, because occasionally an example of it would step up and really surprise me — like The Jane Austen Book Club, which wasn’t brilliant, but was ten times better than I expected it to be.

Breach is another from that middle-of-the-road category, and Dan, I can’t applaud the whole thing the way you do. Cooper was fantastic (deserving of an Oscar nomination), but I found the rest of it limp and forgettable. It makes for an interesting contrast to Michael Clayton, actually, which I think is getting underrated around here. Even though Breach was based on a true story, Clayton felt more genuinely suspenseful. And whereas Cooper was working opposite the (to put it charitably) underwhelming Ryan Phillippe, George Clooney as Clayton was surrounded with terrific work by Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, etc.

With apologies for the laundry lists (utilized to keep this from spinning out of control):

My best actors of ‘07 would come down to Clooney in Michael Clayton, Cooper in Breach, Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Irfan Khan in The Namesake, Josh Brolin in No Country, and Mathieu Amalric in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The best supporting work I saw was done by Alfred Molina in The Hoax, Adrien Brody in The Darjeeling Limited, Tom Wilkinson in Clayton, Tommy Lee Jones in No Country, Ken Marino in Diggers, and — the best, in my opinion — Hal Holbrook in Into the Wild.

It’s true that there’s still a gender gap in quality roles, but several leading and supporting actresses did stellar work this year: Cate Blanchett in I’m Not There, Laura Linney in The Savages, Catherine Keener in Into the Wild, the ensemble of The Jane Austen Book Club, Tabu in The Namesake, Ellen Page in Juno, Lauren Ambrose in Starting Out in the Evening.

With that, I’ll stop rambling about ‘07 and wish everyone a happy — and cinematically rewarding — new year.

Best,
John

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Jan. 8, 2008
To: Daniel Carlson, John Williams

John and Daniel —

grindwrap.jpgI think with the Pajiba lists and the roundtable, we’ve managed to hit most of the highlights of 2007, though there are a few more movies that are worth a mention before we move onto 2008. 3:10 to Yuma, for instance, was the best Western I’ve seen in years (I didn’t manage to see The Assassination of Jesse James) — Christian Bale, apparently, can do no wrong, as the little-seen Rescue Dawn doubly suggests (and Dan’s fine reviews validate both those mentions). I couldn’t believe the relatively poor box-office reception that Hot Fuzz and Grindhouse received; Bourne aside, those two theatergoing experiences were the most fun I had in a movie theater all year. I don’t know what it means going ahead that a Tarantino film bombed so spectacularly, except that it seems apparent that audiences are no longer that excited about self-referential works or wink-wink filmmaking. Fortunately, the box-office success of Juno has restored my faith that independent films still have a shot in the marketplace (among 2007’s top 50 films, Juno is the only film that didn’t come out of either a major studio or Lionsgate). Among “family films,” both Bridge to Terabithia and Enchanted deserve some mention, as being the best in that category aside from Ratatouille. However, it wasn’t a very good year for horror movies at all (The Number 23? Ugh), but 1408 was an excellent, terrifying flick that stood above the rest. I’d also like to note that Disturbia was a fine film for what it was: A fun, throwaway thriller.

Moreover, it was a terrible year if you had a movie with an anti-war message, and it didn’t matter how good the movie was: The documentary No End in Sight was a devastating, damning attack on the administration’s handling of the war; Grace Is Gone was a touching, emotionally heavy look at the toll the war has taken on individual families; and, as much as it pains me to admit it, Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah was pretty good, mostly because of Tommy Lee Jones’ performance, which was borderline mind-blowing (if you liked his No Country character, his Elah character is similar, only he gets four times more screen time). Unfortunately, those three films (as well as the decent Rendition) all failed to make a mark in 2007.

And picking up on your question, Dan — it’s hard to look too far into 2008, but the summer crop of films looks damn right painful: Aside from a few choice event movies — Wall-E (which comes from the Finding Nemo writer/director, so I have high hopes), The Dark Knight, Indy IV and maybe Iron Man — the slate looks positively wretched: Speed Racer, Sex and the City, What Happens in Vegas, The Incredible Hulk 2, Starship Dave (Eddie Murphy), The Love Guru (Mike Myers), Space Chimps, and yet another M. Night movie. And, of course, there are three more Scarlett Johansson films and four more Nicolas Cage movies. It’s hard to believe that the writers’ strike hasn’t really affected the studios yet.

Finally, the Apatow uprising looks like it’s gonna take over Hollywood in 2008; Apatow has four films in the works, Seth Rogen is in five, and the rest of his regulars will be peppered all over this year’s schedule. And while I expect they won’t all be good, I still don’t get the sudden Apatow fatigue. I can see how John, as well as many of our illustrious readers, can quibble with his lack of depth, but I think he’s being held to too high a standard. He makes comedies, and until Apatow came along, 80 percent of the marquee comedies over the last few years involved Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Jack Black, or molested pastries. In 2006, I doubt there were a lot of debates about how females were depicted, how realistic the relationships felt, or how relatable the characters were, and as uncomfortable as the Superbad and Knocked Up comment threads on our site got, it was refreshing in a way to see that much conversation about a comedy. Comedies are about something again, and I think that we have Apatow to thank for that.

This was a lot of fun, guys. Thanks to you two, as well as the rest of the Pajiba writers, for another year of great reviews, and to our readers for indulging us. It’s been a real pleasure working with everyone involved with Pajiba in 2007, and Happy Bitching in 2008.

Cheers,
Dustin

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Guides | January 10, 2008 | Comments ()




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