Posts tagged film

Now these are short films: A bundle of twenty 5-second films. Many are indeed funny and poignant. But come on: how much ADD do you expect of you viewers to rush things like this?

While working in After Effects, I moved the location of some files, and while they were unlinked I got this result: I love it. It’s a shame I can’t render it like this…

An interesting post about the Bullitt car chase sequence. It’s incredible that forty-two years later it still is considered the greatest chase ever put to film, and in fact I’m hard pressed to think of car chases as great as the one on Pater Yates’ film. I can only remember William Friedkin’s The French Connection or John Frankenheimer’s Ronin — that generation of directors must have had a special knack for staging chases. (via the very interesting Selvedge Yard)

...and the rest of my favorites

Yesterday I indulged myself into writing my longest post ever, about my favorite films of the decade. Re-reading it, I see I left out of lot of things I should have talked about. I completely negleted non-portuguese and non-american movies (I should have mentioned Cidade de Deus, Rois et Reine, The Beat My Heart Skipped, In the Mood for Love, to say just a few — perhaps someday, when I write a rigorous appreciation of 00s film). And I also forgot to mention the return, around mid-decade, of 1970s-style political/paranoia thrillers (think Syriana or Michael Clayton), perhaps because unfortunately no timeless classic is to be found among the many good films of the genre. It’s telling that the best film so far about the Iraq War (and by a large margin) is the aggressively apolitical The Hurt Locker.

But still I haven’t shut up about film. That’s not only because of my film studies. It’s harder to properly evaluate the decade’s other arts in the last day of the 2000s. I’ve read a lot, but mostly stuff written much longer ago. By taking a quick glance at my shelves, I’d be tempted to nominate Douglas Coupland’s JPod or The Gum Thief as books that capture the decade’s cynicism and disillusionment pretty well, except they are not that great as works of literature. I’d mention Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves post-modern mindfunkiness as a classic waiting to be discovered, but published in 2000 it is essentially informed by a breakdown of the 1990s slacker way of life. Then there’s also Neal Stephenson’s 2400-page novel Baroque Cycle, which chronicles the period coincident with the lifetime of Isaac Newton with a sci-fi sensibility, resulting in the most interesting literary Heavy Meal of the decade (page-wise). A shame it was followed up by Anathem, which I have no doubt in calling Disappointment of the Decade.

What about music? At the end of every year I’d make pretty weak jokes, mentioning, say, my favourite records of 1995 as my favourite records of 2005. What happened was that during the 2000s I completely ceased to care about music, not going to that many live gigs too. Or perhaps I still care about music, but not with the kind of neuroticism I had in the 1990s. Still, I think this was the decade music was finally overwhelmed by postmodernism, resulting in no new styles to speak of, perhaps because the new toys of the 1980s and 1990s (we’re talking digital) are the same old toys by now — so accessible to the point Auto-Tune became a recurring joke. But thankfully there was more to the decade that now ends besides the pitch-corrected vocals: The White Stripes, M.I.A., LCD Soundsystem and TV on the Radio became regulars on my playlists, and Radiohead, Portishead and Boards of Canada continued there with their new releases. Perhaps I listened to far too much Beirut, and Nouvelle Vague made the journey from pleasant to over-ubiquous musak, but was a nice constant in my playlists for a brief moment.

A Naifa — Canções Subterrâneas

A very special mention to the portuguese act A Naifa (video). Their album Canções Subterrâneas was a perfect revision of traditional fado, incorporating electronic instruments and lyrics about being unhappy despite recycling, using public transportation and not watching television. How more contemporary can you get?

Happy New Year!

My favorite films of the decade

So those were my favourite films of 2009. But what about my favourite film of the 2000s? My answer is as obvious (if you have been paying attention to this blog) as it is surprising:

David Simon’s The Wire (2002-2008). That’s right, my favourite film (or should I say my favourite work of moving image art to be more accurate) of the decade was a TV show, despite the fact I went to a movie theatre some seven hundred times in the last ten years, and obviously that means a lot more films if I count the stuff I caught on video or television. Hardcore cinema critics and pseudo-buffs are no doubt readying their torches and pitchforks after reading this, because they don’t understand the following: The Wire is a sixty hour movie. Not a single part of a single episode in any of its five seasons is skippable, and the overall story arc is so flawless it must be treated as a single work of art. It’s the film equivalent of the twelve hundred page novel. A bit too much to fit in an usual two hour screening, so you get to see it in small parts on television, although I’d be more than happy to pay to attend a marathon screening. The Wire defines and makes sense of the 2000s, of how turbo-capitalism conquered all — including hearts and minds — thus stripping people of their worth. What to do then? How do we cope? The Wire’s finale shows us the way character is reincarnated, what’ve seen is one among seemingly endless loops of human condition. If we change in some way — or even die —, someone will step into our shoes. People will be the same everywhere.

The value of blogging for such a long time is that I can read the my favourite film lists for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002 and 2001. I love going out to watch a film in a dark room, despite all the convenient gadgets that appeared during the last decade — HDTV sets, streaming set-top boxes, Internet downloads, etc. — and my love of going to the movies makes me enjoy most of the movies I watch (I think those film critics that rarely rate anything over two stars must secretly hate their jobs). So the following is a highly subjective view of film in the 2000s, and often the context played as strong a role in my appreciation as the film itself.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind first and foremost. I went to see it three times in a row! Who else but this frenchman to deliver a drama that blends campy sci-fi concepts and lots of film nerd trickery into coherent and naturalistic love story? And I disagree with everyone who says this is a sad movie, I’ve seen it in a period of personal distress and in fact it did help me recover.

Ghost World, The Royal Tenenbaums, Punch-Drunk Love. Terry Zwigoff, Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson’s films all had a vibrant indie quirkyness that made you feel like the coolest person in the neighbourhood for watching (P. T. Anderson later directed There Will Be Blood, which I found one of the most brilliant movies ever on an intellectual level, but that’s another story). The first half of the decade was actually a great time for American independents — the brief moment in which market forces gave these authors, grown out of the 90s great age of independent film, all the resources they needed — but still before the damaging moment ’indie’ became a marketing category (probably around the time of Little Miss Sunshine’s Oscar campaign), leading to uncritically acclaimed crap such as Juno, the Benedict XVI-approved anti-abortion pamphlet disguised in Ghost World clothing. In 2006 there was, however, one quirky American indie film that stood out:

Me and You and Everyone We Know

That was Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know. There are few things hardly as great as entering a movie theatre knowing nothing about the film you’re about to watch (there are no known actors, no known director, having seen no trailers, read no reviews), and two hours later leaving the theatre knowing you’ve just seen one of the great films of the decade. Miranda July’s is not primarily a filmmaker, so I felt none of that carreer-defining urgency you often get from independent directors. It’s a quirky little American indie film, but it’s also fearless and careless. I like that.

And what happens when you get a veteran director to do an indie-style flick? Probably a bad idea, but Jonathan Demme was more than up to the task. A couple of days ago I praised Rachel Getting Married, but what I didn’t tell you then is that movie was also watched in a context. Like Jonathan Levine’s The Wackness which I had watched a few months before, it provided eerie moments of identification, and among the most amusing post-film discussions I ever had with a friend. But to delve into that would be something for my novel…


And what can I say about Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kerverne’s Aaltra? Comedy of the Decade, perhaps, despite being surely Most Inappropriate Film of the Decade too. Aaltra blends the offbeat with the darkest humour imaginable, and you’ll often find yourself embarrassed to be laughing (and you will) at the wheelchair-bound travelers.

Genre film, then. I’ll deal primarily with the only genre I have a degree of affinity with — science fiction. The 2000s was not a great decade for that, as everyone was busying themselves with Lord of the Rings-type fantasy and superhero adaptations. Some true science-fiction tentpoles were shockingly bad (I, Robot or Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, which I won’t even bother linking), and the only good recent one - Avatar - is itself a marriage between fantasy and science-fiction, more of the former in fact than the latter. But there were a few bright spots in the bleak landscape of sci-fi nowadays (a statement I would also extend to books): Steven Spielberg did score a hit before that spectacular miss with Minority Report. Danny Boyle’s Sunshine missed the chance at becoming a great classic of the genre with that horror/slasher ending, but did deliver some of the greatest sci-fi images of the decade. Moon, directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones looks and feels like a science fiction film of the 1970s — in a great way. And then, the only timeless classic the decade brought us — a Soylent Green for the 21st century:

Children of Men

Alfonso Cuarón Children of Men. Not only it updates, at long last, our collective vision of futuristic nightmare, it does so in a frighteningly realistic way: of course we do not expect the implausible event of worldwide sterilty being the catalyst for doom as it is in this film, but we can too well imagine things such as raging climate change or energy crisis leading to a year 2027 pretty similar to Cuarón’s depiction. Perhaps this one too is one of the great films of the decade. All of the films I listed here so far — like the quirky indie one — are deliriously and deliciously avoidant (and I like them), but Children of Men, like The Wire, defines the noughts in a way others don’t. The Wire might be a very long essay on turbo-capitalism. Children of Men is by contrast a small cautionary tale about the Bush/Blair doctine of international relations.

This was also an interesting decade for Portuguese film. As always, the institutions are reacting very slowly to technological innovation and to a generation change, so the great Portuguese films I enjoyed watching are probably not those seen with great interest at the Film Institute or by our film critics who generally have such a narrow-minded view of authorship and le cinema they become cannibalistic fetishists, hating (not a strong enough word) far more movies than the few put out by the authors they love. And yet, these films I’m talking about have a merely incidental commercial appeal (ostensible efforts at commercially successful films in Portugal always have ended up in total artistic disaster). Therefore they somehow slipped through the cracks of the system.


João Canijo’s Noite Escura, perhaps the most academically acceptable of the lot, set a Greek tragedy in a roadside brothel. But more insteresting is the fact this was one of the first portuguese films I had ever seen that was perfectly acceptable from a technical standpoint. No more faded film stock, no more unperceptible dialogues — shit that needlessly drives people away. All of a sudden low-budgeted Portuguese films looked and sounded… okay (here’s a sigh of relief). That was 2004. The following year, Marco Martins’ Alice became an unexpected hit, and all of a sudden it seemed as if we portuguese could crank out decent, watchable films if we just learn to ignore the old cranks and their apostles, and dismiss the sleazes in for a quick buck in the film production business. Even Miguel Gomes, out of the film criticism heart of darkness that lead to pretty bad short films, cranked out a surprisingly good movie in 2008 called Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto. And I’d also highlight Tiago Guedes and Frederico Serra’s Entre os Dedos, or this year’s 4 Copas by Manuel Mozos. We even had a science fiction film in this decade, and a good one! Solveig Nordlund’s Aparelho Voador a Baixa Altitude, an adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s Low Flying Aircraft.

What about moments in movies? There were perhaps too many to be interesting, but I would definitely highlight Bill Murray singing More than This in Lost in Translation, which placed Roxy Music’s song in top of my personal list of Top Songs that Are So Depressing It’s Funny. There was also another very funny moment, halfway David Lynch’s Inland Empire. Jeremy Irons’ character, a film director, is seen in a seemingly endless monologue trying to instruct his gaffer to place a light just right. I burst out laughing like a maniac during that scene, the only person laughing in a packed room full of bored people. I had spent the previous days working in Corações Plásticos. My job? Getting the gaffer to place the lights just right.


It’s that time of the year yet again: My favourite (and not so favourite) films of 2009, chosen among the sixty-one features I watched in a movie theatre (picking up from my last year’s dismal less-than-weekly film-going).

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married felt unique among all the films I’ve watched in 2009. It didn’t feel like a movie at all, instead I left the theatre feeling I had attended that wedding and met all the characters. Demme’s use of improvisation and Anne Hathaway’s performance gave the film a truer feeling than perhaps a documentary about a real misfit attending a real wedding could (and there lies the genius of it). And then there’s the soundtrack. Loved that soundtrack.


Ursula Meier’s Home was a film with a simple concept. A family lives next to an unfinished motorway, and have all the fun people do when they’ve got a large area of asphalt all for themselves — eg. playing hockey. But one day the motorway opens for traffic. What used to be one kind of paradise became traffic noise hell, and slowly the family falls into madness and despair. It’s a simple idea that proves you don’t need sophisticated situations and villains — a family fighting against the lack of silence will do for one of the most engaging films I’ve seen.

The Hurt Locker

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. A prime example of the stupidity of portuguese film distributors is that I had to go watch what is perhaps the prime contender in the coming award season in a shitty screen in an expired mall in the suburbs of Gaia (itself a suburb) because it was the only screen in all of northern Portugal showing this movie. But it was perhaps appropriate I watched The Hurt Locker in a shithole I had last went to watch Starship Troopers (that was twelve years ago), because this is no glossy picture. It’s a raw depiction of the daily life of a bomb squad in Iraq, and a soldier-centered portrait of war addiction. Parts of this film are so unexpected that I honestly felt as watching some kind of bizarre Wile E. Coyote cartoon, except the characters are real people and that ACME stuff is massively deadly. I disagree with the Slashfilm critic that said Avatar was a far superior (metaphorical) film about the Iraq War. James Cameron knows very well Avatar’s audience is very wide-ranging so he did make not-so-subtle points about war and imperialism, which is fine by me. But The Hurt Locker is another kind of movie, presumed to be watched by people who know all that and appreciate a movie that skips the too-obvious criticism. This is Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket territory.

Between watching RocknRolla on January 1st and Sherlock Holmes last Saturday (the two Guy Ritchie films being nice-but-not-great bookends to my film-going year), there were many other films I found great in 2009:

Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler made the 1980s feel like an entire lifetime ago. Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a fun pleasant surprise. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen didn’t disappoint in its adaptation of my favourite comic book. Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino felt like a perhaps-somewhat-premature farewell to Clint-the-actor, and could perhaps do without the singing in the end credits. Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity was a good caper — and I do love capers. Steven Soderbergh’s two-volume fighting diary of Che delivered some great filmmaking while showing the man in your t-shirt did kill people, demistifying the argentine revolutionary. Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control was a cool film — and that’s all I wanted, really. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s little film about revenge Five Minutes of Heaven delivered exactly what its director set out to do. Public Enemies showed yet again how much we as an audience tend to assign meaning to a movie’s technical medium, and that Michael Mann’s a genius in the way he teaches us to stop envisioning the past in black and white, documentary truth in handheld video, night time in saturated blues. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds was an orgasm of alternative history. Gianni di Gregorio’s Pranzo de Ferragosto was a lovely little comedy, and perhaps the best I’ve seen all year. James Gray’s Two Lovers was a solid drama to start the Fall season. Tom Hooper’s The Damned United was a pretty unique sports film — a real story about a 1970s English football manager — which I still can’t tell whether I really liked it that much. I found Duncan Jones’ Moon among the best science fiction films of the decade, and surely the best of the year. I welcomed Tetro as a good comeback from Francis Ford Coppola after his last film’s utter debacle. And finally, James Cameron’s Avatar, despite being a very predictable Pocahontas in space (the Disney version), is well worth the (3D) ticket price, just for the visual gorgeousness of it.

There were unfortunately not many portuguese films of note. I did like the austere visuals of Sandro Aguilar’s A Zona and Manuel Mozos’ emphasis on simplicity in his 4 Copas.

Finally, in a year I didn’t catch many bad or mediocre films, there was one undisputable Champion of Suckiness, with the potential to start a flame war just for saying so: J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek. Let’s just say that I can warm up to blue natives riding dragons over floating mountains. But time-travel and parallel universes (exploited by writers that show no guilt in weaving Deus Ex Machinas into the story) make me mad!