Monday, January 01, 2007

COM: Blogarithmic #191

So about the year in film. I was able to see 230 films this year. And yeah, that includes rewatching quite a few in my collection. It doesn't include me watching some things more than once, or all the cool behind-the-scenes flicks on the dvds. So the total is really much higher.

Anyway, here's the things i liked best of the new stuff:

My end-of-the-year attempt to see awards hopefuls netted me Apocalypto, Blood Diamond, The Good Shepherd, Borat, and The Pursuit of Happyness.

Of these i liked The Good Shepherd above the others. But then i'm into drama. I didn't understand going in that it was about the formation of the CIA. Good thing. I took it at face value as a dramatic rendering, and then looked it up when i got home. While simple assassinations are probably not uncommonplace at the agency, most of the stuff in the film was made up or combined for dramatic purposes (and likely to stave off some liability for libel). In any case, it made for a good film. I can see Matt Damon getting some recognition.

Apocalypto and Blood Diamond struck similar notes for -- epic in scope, pulse-racing scenes beginning to end, and serious intentions.

I dissed Apocalypto's trailer in an earlier review that got some national play because i outed the cat in the film as being from the wrong continent, and the language, while being a nice attempt to inject some authenticity was not only anachronistic, but more accurate versions were available which, as a nice gesture, might have led to a resurgence in near-extinct languiages of the region. But Mel doesn't read my blog, plus it was too late. Beyond the usual biospoilers involving the wrong critters (Blue and Gold Macaw, Northern Wild Turkey, Leopard, Cattle Egret, Reeve's Pheasant feathers) there were some nice local critters filmed and on the soundtrack (Tapir, Green Shrike-Vireo, Inca Dove, Black Howler Monkey, Spider Monkey). No doubt experts in other fields could lay waste to some of the things in use. I also despise the fact that computer graphics still look like computer graphics, and that these are even more obvious because they are often shrouded in fog or smoke (the pyramid village) or blurred (the Spanish boats) to mask the bad effects, which they don't of course. Enough has been made of the excellent acting by Rudy Youngblood as Jaguar Paw, but not enough has been made of his Comanche/Yaqui blood (most obvious in his hair). Considering the hundreds, perhaps thousands of native Yucatecs employed in the film, one would think that the lead role might have gone to someone who was a native speaker of the language. Most folks will think -- they're all Native American -- and be as guilty as those who cast Chinese in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, thereby causing much disdain in Japan. I imagine there are Maya laughing at the crudeness of Youngblood's Yucatec, while we hail him for his portrayal.

Which brings me to Blood Diamond, where Leonardo DiCaprio's dialect (Rhodesian/Zimbabwean) is being laughed at in the African countries that matter. It sounds good to me, and i thought his acting superb, but who am i to judge their language and its delivery. That ignorance unfortunately leads me to like this movie better because i am not so swayed quite so often by inaccuracies as i was by Apocalypto which was made in an area where i have spent quite some time. Nevertheless there were other little piffles -- i don't remember there being any shooting locations listed for the US, and yet in the soundtrack are American Crows and Eastern Wood-Pewees.

So two good movies there, ruined for me somewhat by inattention to details in movies where obviously much attention has been paid to details.

The Pursuit of Happyness has no such trivial detail mistakes that i could detect. What it does have, in diamonds, is a phenomenal performance by Will Smith, all the more a selling performance because there is nary a peep of his trademark laugh or facial tics. I like those in his full-blown comedies or over the top films (like Men in Black). But they would have only served to say "Check out the Frech Prince" in this film. Thankfully he has far more class than that. I might even regard this as the best film i saw in 2006 except that it fizzles at the end. I don't guess that it's really a spoiler to reveal that, in a feel-good Horatio Alger story, he beats the man at the end. But it is anticlimatic for the character, he seems none too impressed with himself -- the glory was in the journey shall we say -- and nothing about the revelation sparks any particular emotion. Yeah, i know, if it had, like Rocky XIX, it would have been dissed from here to Detroit for following the cliche. Yet even taking on a new angle it fizzled and i'm not sure why. Anyway, pretty good movie, great acting, cool story.

The best new thing i saw on the big screen this year is the one that i said from the moment i saw it knew it would be tough to beat -- The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. As i said in my earlier review some of my liking it has to do with it being filmed on homeground. I know those places. But it was a very differemt and starkly intriguing story. I'm no Tommy Lee Jones fan (not since i saw him stumbling drunk at a tribute -- it was classless). Occasionally i've given him his due (as in Men in Black), but still no fan. And yet his direction of this film is excellent, his portrayal is mostly excellent (his Spanish doesn't come off as fluent white rancherspeak, or anything else appropriate half the time), and mostly, his choice of cast is inspired. Dwight Yoakum is superb. Barry Pepper is superb.

As of yet, some of the good things i really would like to see, which are getting good press haven't been in the neighborhood yet, including Babel, Departed, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, Dreamgirls, etc.

A lot of films i saw this year, while new for me, were not really new to the world, it's just in podunk, texas we don't get things like Tarnation or Breakfast on Pluto. So i have to buy those when they come around (thankfully the local Hastings gets a decent array of used dvds), or order them. Among the really good things i saw for the first time this year were: Before Sunset, Bitter Harvest, Breakfast on Pluto, Nrick, Broken Flowers, Capote, The Chumscrubber, City of God, Crash, Gloary, Good Night and Good Luck, Grizzly Man, Gunner Palace, The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, A History of Violence, Hustle and Flow, Lucky Number Slevin, Mad Hot Ballroom, Manic, A Mighty Wind, Mysterious Skin, No Direction Home, Pride & Prejudice, Proof, Rabbit Proof Fence, Riding Giants, Rize, Rock School, Snatch, The Squid & The Whale, Tarnation, Thumbsucker, TransAmerica, Tristan & Isolde, Undertow, Wallace & Grommit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

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