The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Sunday, December 30, 2012
THE YEAR BOTH MY BROTHER AND MY WIFE WERE BORN: I have listed my favorite films of
2002, 1992, and 1982. You may have perceived a pattern here.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1972, it gave its Best Picture award to The Godfather. As for me...

1. The Godfather
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Coppola and Mario Puzo, from a novel by Puzo

Every so often, the Academy gets it right.

2. The Ruling Class
Directed by Peter Medak
Written by Peter Barnes, from his play

The rap on this movie is that it isn't as profound as it thinks it is. My response: Yes, but it's funny.

3. Images
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Altman and Susannah York

This isn't usually classified as a horror movie, but it's one of the few films that genuinely scared me as I watched it.

4. The Candidate
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Written by Jeremy Larner

Every time I flip by this on TV, I wind up watching it to the end.

5. Frenzy
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Anthony Shaffer, from a novel by Arthur La Bern

Hitch's most modern movie is actually rather traditional, once you look past the nudity and the graphic violence: a straightforward thriller about one of the director's most familiar characters, the innocent man wrongly accused.

6. Sleuth
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by Anthony Shaffer, from his play

"The shortest way to a man's heart is through humiliation."

7. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Directed by Luis Buñuel
Written by Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carrière

At this point in his career, Buñuel is horsing around. He's earned the right.

8. The King of Marvin Gardens
Directed by Bob Rafelson
Written by Rafelson and Jacob Brackman

"Do you think that you're the only one who's entitled to be selfish?"

9. Cries and Whispers
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

One of the most painful films I've ever seen. Part of me thinks it should be much higher in this list. Another part doesn't want to include it at all.

10. Bone
Written and directed by Larry Cohen

A strange and engrossing little art-film/blaxploitation hybrid, starring the always enjoyable Yaphet Kotto.

Honorable mentions:

11. Tup-Tup (Nedeljko Dragić)
12. Play it Again, Sam (Herbert Ross)
13. The Heartbreak Kid (Elaine May)
14. Fat City (John Huston)
15. Love in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer)
16. The Getaway (Sam Peckinpah)
17. Deliverance (John Boorman)
18. The Mechanic (Michael Winner)
19. Junior Bonner (Sam Peckinpah)
20. Ulzana's Raid (Robert Aldrich)

Best film about a near-future simian revolution: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

If you compare this list to the version I posted a decade ago, you'll see that the only major difference is that I added some honorable mentions (and that a couple of movies that used to be in the top 10 got squeezed down into the teens).

Of the films of 1972 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in What's Up, Doc? And I suppose I ought to watch Cabaret someday.

posted by Jesse 6:06 PM
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Thursday, December 27, 2012
TWOS UPON TWOS: So far we've seen my favorite films of
2002 and 1992. Onward to the '80s.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1982, it gave its Best Picture award to a bland biopic called Gandhi. You certainly won't find that one on my list, and I say that both as a movie buff and as an admirer of the man who gave his name to the film.

1. Fanny and Alexander
Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

"It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world."

2. Danton
Directed by Andrzej Wajda
Written by Wajda, Jean-Claude Carrière, Jacek Gasiorowski, Agnieszka Holland, and Boleslaw Michalek, from a play by Stanislawa Przybyszewska

Probably the best film ever made about the French Revolution, though you can make a good case for Marat/Sade too. Any parallels to events in the director's native Poland are strictly intentional.

3. Blade Runner
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, from a novel by Philip K. Dick

In a blow to the director-as-auteur theory, this movie owes its greatness less to Scott's direction than to Dick's story and Lawrence G. Paull's production design. That said: If you haven't seen Blade Runner before, it's the director's cut that you should watch, not the studio's somewhat blandified original release.

4. Fitzcarraldo
Written and directed by Werner Herzog

My favorite Herzog, about a mad scheme to build an opera house deep in the Brazilian jungle.

5. Dimensions of Dialogue
Written and directed by Jan Švankmajer

Terry Gilliam praised Švankmajer's films for "moments that evoke the nightmarish spectre of seeing commonplace things coming unexpectedly to life." And, in this one, seeing them digest and regurgitate one another.

6. Say Amen, Somebody
Directed by George T. Nierenberg

I've never been to Heaven, but I kind of like the music.

7. Veronika Voss
Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Written by Fassbinder, Pea Fröhlich, and Peter Märthesheimer

If David Lynch directed Sunset Blvd....

8. Forbidden Zone
Directed by Richard Elfman
Written by Elfman, Matthew Bright, Nick James, and Nick L. Martinson, from a story by Elfman

If John Waters directed Hellzapoppin'...

9. The Draughtsman's Contract
Written and directed by Peter Greenaway

Greenaway is one of those moviemakers whose shorts tend to be better than his features, perhaps because there isn't enough time for the picture's conceit to get tiresome. Despite that, this feature-length puzzle-box about sex, sketches, and secret societies is my favorite of his films.

10. Burden of Dreams
Directed by Les Blank

A documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo (see above), in which Werner Herzog seems at least as mad as his protagonist.

Honorable mentions:

11. Moonlighting (Jerzy Skolimowski)
12. The Verdict (Sidney Lumet)
13. Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman)
14. Honkytonk Man (Clint Eastwood)
15. Down to the Cellar (Jan Švankmajer)
16. The Atomic Café (Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty)
17. The Return of Martin Guerre (Daniel Vigne)
18. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling)
19. The Year of Living Dangerously (Peter Weir)
20. Salamanders (George Hornbein, Marie Hornbein, Tom Keiter, Ken Thigpen)

Best mess: Q: The Winged Serpent.

If you compare this list to the version I posted a decade ago, you'll probably notice that the film in the old number-one spot—Chris Marker's Sans Soleil—is now missing. Apparently I misdated it last time, and it belongs atop my 1983 roster instead.

Of the films of 1982 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in You Are Not I.

posted by Jesse 2:16 PM
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Monday, December 24, 2012
1992 REVISITED: On Friday I reeled off my favorite films of
2002. Today we move another decade into the past.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1992, it picked Unforgiven as the best movie of the year. That one almost made it to the top of my list—but not quite:

1. Glengarry Glen Ross
Directed by James Foley
Written by David Mamet, from his play

It's a filmed play, and it shows. But it's also the best Mamet adaptation ever to grace the screen.

2. Unforgiven
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by David Webb Peoples

Wise and bleak.

3. Brother's Keeper
Directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

How is it that two moviemakers could go to a small town, start filming the real events transpiring there, and somehow capture a story more engaging, compelling, and mysterious than almost everything produced by people who get to make shit up?

4. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
Directed by David Lynch
Written by Lynch and Robert Engels

The Cannes crowd praised Lynch's Wild at Heart, and then they lacerated this nightmarish prequel to his TV series. They got it exactly backwards.

5. Prime Suspect 2
Directed by John Strickland
Written by Allan Cubitt and Lynda La Plante

A mystery miniseries with unpredictable plot twists, genuinely misleading red herrings, and other features sadly lacking from most TV police procedurals—including, alas, some of the subsequent Prime Suspects.

6. Food
Written and directed by Jan Švankmajer

Not very appetizing.

7. Porco Rosso
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, from his manga

"I'd much rather be a pig than a fascist."

8. Reservoir Dogs
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Tarantino and Roger Avary

Tarantino's great. Keep your stupid backlash, and stop blaming him for the lousy imitations he inspired.

9. The Player
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Michael Tolkin, from his novel

"I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we've got something here."

10. Candyman
Directed by Bernard Rose
Written by Rose, from a story by Clive Barker

Lots of horror movies are based on urban legends. This one is about urban legends, and the whole process of cultural transmission that they represent.

Honorable mentions:

11. Swoon (Tom Kalin)
12. A Brief History of Time (Errol Morris)
13. The Crying Game (Neil Jordan)
14. Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris)
15. My New Gun (Stacy Cochran)
16. L.627 (Bertrand Tavernier)
17. Barjo (Jerome Boivin)
18. Léolo (Jean-Claude Lauzon)
19. Rock Hudson's Home Movies (Mark Rappaport)
20. Malcolm X (Spike Lee)

If you compare this list to the version I posted 10 years and a day ago, you'll see that Alex Cox's Highway Patrolman and Lars von Trier's Zentropa have gone missing. That isn't because I stopped liking them. It's just that I've learned since then that they had their initial non-U.S. releases in 1991. When I made my 1991 list last year I found room for von Trier but not Cox.

Of the films of 1992 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Society and Careful.

posted by Jesse 11:50 AM
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Friday, December 21, 2012
REMEMBER WHEN THIS BLOG WOULD LINK TO MY ARTICLES AS THEY WENT UP?: I swear I used to do that. Anyway, here's a roundup of recent (and sometimes not-so-recent) work:

• "
Years Without a Santa Claus": On the Reason site today. The abolition and evolution of Christmas.

• "2012: The Year in Books": I and others pick the most enjoyable and/or significant books of the year. Somehow I selected a book from 1800. And it wasn't a very good book, either. Well, I had my reasons.

• "The Taming of the Tea Party": Post-election analysis. Argues that the Tea Party movement didn't just lose on Election Day; it lost repeatedly throughout the campaign.

• "Living in Lovecraft's World": I review Michael Saler's As If, a book I like.

• "Homeland Security Meets Office Politics": I review Daryl Johnson's Right-Wing Resurgence, a book I don't like.

• "Back to Columbine": A brief item -- I wasn't able to go over 400 words or so. Compares and contrasts the aftermath of the Columbine massacre and the aftermath of the Aurora massacre. I guess I could write this one all over again now. Dammit.

• "Stepford Guys": In which I mark the 40th birthday of Ira Levin's novel The Stepford Wives and the film franchise it spawned.

• "MSNBC's Chris Hayes and Reason's Jesse Walker on What Tonight's Debate Really Needs": Just what it says on the tin. Chris Hayes and I did a dialogue shortly before the first Obama/Romney debate. (Remember the Obama/Romney debates? They were all the rage at the time.) Published by New York magazine, or rather by the magazine's website.

There have been blog posts aplenty too, on subjects ranging from those mass shootings to George McGovern, from Repeal Day to my preferences in presidential elections. Read 'em all at Hit & Run.

Finally, a note about the status of the paranoia book. We're about halfway through the editing process now—or, at least, my editor has gotten half the chapters back to me. At this point we're looking at an August release date.

posted by Jesse 10:32 PM
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A LONG-EXPECTED PARTY: Ten years ago, when this blog was young, I sat down to write a roundup of 2002's best films and ended up doing something else. "I wish I could add to the flurry of December top-ten movie lists," I
wrote, "but I haven't seen enough of the year's films to do a credible job. Many of the pictures on other critics' lists haven't even made it to Baltimore yet. I'm as fond of this game as the next fellow, but I won't play until I have a reasonably complete deck." And so instead of listing the best pictures of 2002, I posted my picks for the best pictures of 1992. Then I did 1982, then 1972, then 1962.

We'll revisit and revise those lists in the next week or two, and then we'll go on to the pre-'60s decades that I skipped the first time around. But before we get to that, we have some long-delayed business to attend to.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 2002, it chose Chicago as the year's best film. I like that one, but there are at least 15 motion pictures released in those 12 months that I like more:

1. The Wire
Written by David Simon, Ed Burns, Rafael Alvarez, David H. Melnick, Shamit Choksey, Joy Lusco, and George Pelecanos, from a story by Simon and Burns
Directed by Clark Johnson, Peter Medak, Clement Virgo, Ed Bianchi, Joe Chapelle, Gloria Muzio, Milcho Manchevski, Brad Anderson, Steve Shill, and Tim Van Patten

I've been inconsistent in how I treat TV shows in these lists. But this, more than any program that isn't officially labeled a "miniseries," is a single narrative divided into hour-long installments. Put it together with the other four seasons of The Wire, and you've got the best motion picture of the decade; look at this season in isolation, and you've got the best motion picture of the year.

2. Talk to Her
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Almodóvar explores the intersection between fetishism, projection, and unrequited love.

3. Mai's America
Directed by Marlo Poras

The best documentary I've ever seen about immigration.

4. The Office 2
Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

The bleak second season of the original British Office. You know those Peanuts comics where the punch line is more depressing than funny? The final scene of this one is like that.

5. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind
Directed by George Clooney
Written by Charlie Kaufman, from a "memoir" by Chuck Barris

In which a CIA assassin imagines he's pursuing a more socially beneficial life as the creator of The Gong Show.

6. Decasia
Directed by Bill Morrison

A beautiful abstract film built from the shards of earlier, decaying films. Someday it too will decay.

7. The Quiet American
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Written by Christopher Hampton and Robert Schenkkan, from a novel by Graham Greene

Proof (a) that Brendan Fraser can act and (b) that a remake can be much, much better than its predecessor.

8. Dirty Pretty Things
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Steven Knight

"We are the people you do not see. We are the ones who drive your cabs. We clean your rooms. And suck your cocks."

9. About Schmidt
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Payne and Jim Taylor, from a novel by Louis Begley

If you thought The Office was awfully bleak for a comedy...

10. City of God
Directed by Fernando Meirelles with Kátia Lund
Written by Bráulio Mantovani, from a novel by Paulo Lins

"A kid? I smoke, I snort. I've killed and robbed. I'm a man."

Honorable mentions:

11. Man on the Train (Patrice Leconte)
12. 25th Hour (Spike Lee)
13. The Girl on the Train in the Moon (Bill Daniel)
14. Femme Fatale (Brian De Palma)
15. Hero (Zhang Yimou)
16. Chicago (Rob Marshall)
17. Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson)
18. In Smog and Thunder (Sean Meredith)
19. 28 days later… (Danny Boyle)
20. Biggie & Tupac (Nick Broomfield)

Of the films of 2002 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in The Kid Stays in the Picture.

Finally, I'd like to tip my hat to the third and best season of The Sopranos, which I should have included in my list last year but didn't because I was under the mistaken impression that it was transmitted in 2002. We'll straighten that out in another decade.

posted by Jesse 2:20 PM
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