Queer Police would be such a great name for a punk song, or a punk band, but that's not what this is, obviously. From the liner notes:
Above are some fo the Night Club Routines of Billy Devroe and the Devilaires and are presented here just as they are done in the Clubs worked, coast to coast, by this jolly trio. If you need a good laugh, set the needle down anywhere on this album and you're sure to find a cure for what ails you. Gay, naughty songs to make you forget your troubles. And, a bit of verse thrown in.
I imagine a bunch of guys listening to this record at the Elks Lodge. Probably with a closeted gay man among them, whom nobody recognizes as such because he's not prancing around in a silk scarf lisping "Oh, you horrid, horrid man!"
Soylent Verde by Ryan Graber, from this week's LA Weekly.
The Runaways movie was pretty fun. Not a great movie, but I would pick it over Ray or Ring of Fire in a heartbeat. Ebert ends his review with a little story:
Note: Many years ago, while I was standing at a luggage carousel at Heathrow Airport, I was approached by a friendly young woman. "I'm Joan Jett," she told me. "I liked 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.'"
What I find most interesting about this is that in 1970, the idea of an all-girl rock-n-roll band was pretty fuckin' radical. There were female vocal groups, but a group of girls not only singing but playing their own instruments was unheard of. I suppose there was The Shaggs, and maybe The Pleasure Seekers, but until The Runaways' first album some 6 years later, there were certainly no girl bands making the charts.
So I wonder whether BVD is responsible for the existence of all-girl bands. I wonder if, in the same way that scientists get inspired by reading scifi, or police began adopting Sherlock Holmes' detective techniques after reading Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, the idea of female rock bands came into existence as the result of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
The Runaways' manager, Kim Fowley, was a similar svengali to Malcolm McLaren, who claimed to have invented The Sex Pistols. I could see Fowley getting the idea to put together an all-girl rock band after seeing BVD--he seems like that kind of guy--but on their history page, the band claims to have been starting to form before they met Fowley, and I tend to side with the bands in these stories. Still, it's not hard to imagine a young Joan Jett, Sandy West and Kary Krome emerging from a theater after seeing BVD, all having experienced a mutual epiphany that they should start a band, much like The Byrds say happened after they saw A Hard Day's Night.
OK, that took it further than history will grant, but still, I think Ebert's story gives me license to do a little I-Called-It dance. The best review of the film, by the way, is Susie Bright's.
This is taking a bit longer than I expected, because I'm really trying to say something signifigant about each of these films (I'm not sure how good my success rate has been...). But here's the first installment. EDIT: I've decided to add another feature to some of these reviews and suggest another film from the decade to double feature with them. 50. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
The Coen Bros. had this great quote about what makes a good comedy team: you need two or three dumb guys, one of whom thinks he's a smart guy. Think about Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges. Think about the trio from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the bowling team from The Big Lebowski, or the two jailbreakers from Raising Arizona. The important thing is, you have to have the dumb guy who thinks (and has convinced his partners) that he's a smart guy, not only because that sort of unjustified arrogance is funny, but because he's the engine that moves the plot by getting the gang involved in his hairbrained schemes. Now, I ask you, could there be any better description of George W. Bush than A Dumb Guy Who Thinks He's a Smart Guy?
Will Ferrell's Bush impression was the most famous, his over-the-top approach fitting for the almost unsatirable president. He jolts that impression up a few notches in Ricky Bobby, untethering it from the source, but it remains a portrait of 43: an aggressive dim bulb, forever spouting meaningless hominems about victory, consumed by father issues (although, contrary to Bush, the guy actually has the goods on the track). There are many such portraits of Bush-in-all-but-name. The character of Jason Stackhouse in HBO's True Blood, for instance, seems pretty clearly to be based on Bush. GOB on Arrested Development is given parallels to W throughout the series. I don't mean to imply any intent to make a political statement in any of these. Bush is just a fascinating character. Even Oliver Stone's "W" seems more interested in examining Bush as a Shakespearian tragic hero than indicting the Bush administration (in the same way that I don't think Shakespeare was trying to write a scathing expose of the Richard III administration). Which is why Ricky Bobby is a funnier piece of entertainment than You're Welcome, America!
Will Farrell is the sort of over-the-top comic actor who, like Jim Carey, Adam Sandler or Robin Williams, can be brutally hilarious, or intolerably irritating, depending on the strength of their material (and whether they have a strong director to reel them in). In this sense, he's very lucky to have Adam McKay, his collaborator going back to the SNL days, who has assisted Farrell in developing material that makes the best use of his particular silliness, and I'd give McKay a lot of the credit for Farrell's career being so much more consistent than those I've just mentioned. But he's also lucky to have launched his film career during a period of time that called for his particular lunacy. You could make a good argument that Farrell and McKay's first feature, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is a better film: it makes better use of its ensemble cast, the plot is more coherent (there are specific plot points in Talladega Nights that I honestly can't recall...how did the whole storyline with Sacha Baron Cohen resolve itself again?), and it maybe even makes a more interesting statement about the psycho-political landscape of Bush-era America. But Ricky Bobby feels like the embodiment of so much that went on in America in this decade that I have to choose it.
Suggested Double Feature: The Foot Fist Way (Jody Hill, 2006) - Jody Hill and his star Danny McBride mine a lot of the same territory of America's masculinity anxiety in their independent feature, althought they put a darker spin on it. A more perfect match would be the same duo's HBO series East Bound and Down, which matches the insanity of Talladega Nights, but being that it's a TV series, it doesn't really work well as a double feature.
49. Jandek on Corwood (Chad Friedrichs, 2003)
Documentaries about cult bands and musicians became their own prominent sub-genre throughout the 00's, with results ranging from Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns, a very fun and entertaining film about They Might Be Giants with slick production values and smooth editing, to We Jam Econo, a recount of the Minutemen's career that adds little insight and feels more like something included in a promo pack than a creative feature (but being a huge Minutemen fan, I found it nearly as fun to watch as Gigantic). You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson and The Devil and Daniel Johnston make a great double bill--both Texas-based musicians dealing with severe schizophrenia and mother issues (Roky is an incredible singer, a consistently brilliant songwriter and a competent guitarist, while Johnston is an occassionally brilliant songwriter who can't sing or play at all, but both are fascinating stories). The free-associative nature of The Fearless Freaks, a documentary on The Flaming Lips, fits the anarchic tone of its subject.
One that made an especially deep impression on me was Transatlantic Feedback, a documentary on The Monks. The Monks were a group of U.S. GI's stationed in Germany in the mid-60's whose excellent records have had a slowly growing cult following over the years. I'd been a fan of their one album for several years, but I always thought of them as just an exceptionally aggressive garage rock band. Watching this doc, and getting some context on their music, I came away thinking of them in much more singular terms. Like The Velvet Underground or The Mothers of Invention, The Monks were totally their own thing. In fact, if you were an archeoligist, and were trying to reconstruct the history of rock based only on listening to the records (ie, not having interviews with the members of first-wave punk bands to tell you what they were listening to), you would probably attribute to The Monks the signifigance that is regularly attributed to VU. The Monks sound more like the source of punk than the Velvets do, despite the fact that very few if any Americans and Brits had heard of them in the mid-70's. You can also draw a very clear line from The Monks through Faust, Can, Kraftwerk and NEU!.
But if I had to choose just one entry in this genre, it would be Jandek on Corwood. Jandek has been putting out albums steadily since 1978 with no clue to his identity other than a P.O. Box in Texas under the name of Corwood Industries. Most of these records consist of his voice and a spare acoutsic guitar singing strange, lonely songs. There are some photos of him on his early records, and a single phone interview, but he otherwise remains shrouded in mystery. The experts interviewed can barely agree on how to pronounce his name. (He has actually become a bit more public since this documentary was released, even giving a few live performances starting in 2004.)
I may have a slight bias toward this doc over the other entries in this genre, because it's so new to me. I was aware of Jandek, and had heard a couple of his songs over the years, but had never really delved into him. But more than that, there's the mystery. There is (was) no footage of Jandek, so the filmmakers were forced to work around it, which they do with long, evocative shots of a sparse apartment, acoustic guitar laying on a bed, or other images that fit the tone of the subject. The various rock critics interviewed all have their theories, romanticized ideas of a solitary weirdo artist, but they all ultimately admit that these could be completely off. Maybe Jandek is a successful, well-adjusted accountant with a wife and kids in the suburbs. Nobody knows.
You can watch the whole thing on YouTube, if that's how you like to do this stuff.
48. Burn After Reading (The Coen Bros., 2008)
At this point, the Coens are like Michael Jordan or Jimi Hendrix: there's just nobody performing at their level. And as great as their 80's/90's run was, they actually got BETTER in the 00's. Despite blowing a year unsuccessfully developing To the White Sea, then making the middling screwball comedy Intolerable Cruelty and a poorly-received remake of The Lady Killers (which I still haven't seen), they still managed to put out five masterpieces in the course of the decade. A Serious Man, while it's not my favorite of their films, is an incredibly dense piece of work that I know is going to reward repeat viewings over the years to come. I had to literally restrain myself from including their pitch-perfect film noir The Man Who Wasn't There. And I tried to convince myself not to include Burn After Reading, but fuck it, this nasty little screwball noir is just too damn good to leave off.
First of all, if you haven't seen Burn After Reading, you should know that it's not at all the movie that the trailers--basically montages of all the funny faces Brad Pitt and George Clooney make in the movie--portray. I'm not sure whether those trailers contributed to my confusion, but following in the wake of the vicious No Country For Old Men, it seemed like a minor, oddball film. But you gotta watch them Coenses, because that's pretty much how I felt about The Big Lebowski (following the triumph of Fargo) on first viewing, and that one eventually settled near the top of my Coen Bros. pantheon.
In Lebowski, an oddball character is insterted into a film noir storyline, and wackiness ensues. A similar thing happens in Burn, with a group of goofy gym employees finding themselves in an espinoage thriller, but it's not quite the same. The Dude's personality defined the tone of his film, from the meandering story to the 70's rock soundtrack to the hallucinatory dream sequences, but in Burn, the world is unconcerned with the characters that have found their way into it.
In order to talk further about this film, I have to get the characters straight in my head, and delve into some spoilers, so be warned. Two worlds interact in Burn, the world of low-level intelligence workers and that of employees at a gym. The latter group includes Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand), a shallow woman pushing 40 and convinced that her happiness depends on preserving her youthful good looks, Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), basically a dumb guy (Linda is the dumb guy who thinks she's a smart guy here), and Ted Treffon (Richard Jenkins), a soft-hearted guy with a crush on Linda. On the other side, there's Osbourne Cox (John Malkovich) and Harry Pfarer (George Clooney). There are a few others, but these are the characters I'm going to focus on.
When we meet Osbourne Cox, he's being informed by higher-ups that he is being transferred to a new job. This seems to be an act of kindness. All the evidence we are shown indicates that Cox is an incompetent drunk, and probably should have been fired, but Cox refuses to acknowledge this reality, and quits on the spot in an effort to cling to some bit of dignity. After quitting, he doubles down further on his delusions. He is convinced that he can make some money "consulting," and he begins working on his memoirs. When Linda and Chad begin blackmailing him, instead of blowing it off (after all, he must know that they have nothing of value), he commits even further to this delusion, perhaps delighted to have a more interesting reality to live in. He seems to have convinced himself that he was some kind of important intelligence agent, but from what we can see, his job was that of a low-level beuraucrat. In his final confrontation with Ted, he lets loose with a paranoid tirade against the morons who have held him down all his life.
For that matter, we're not really sure what Harry's situation is either. Wikipedia identifies him as a Treasury Agent, but it's not clear how active he is. He certainly doesn't seem to be that intelligent, but his wisdom about your instinct kicking in during a gunfight proves true enough.
In the end of the film, JK Simmons as a CIA supervisor (no name given for the character in the credits) serves as a sort of Greek chorus, trying to figure out what the hell happened. His scenes here are like a link between the final scenes of No Country and A Serious Man. Unlike A Serious Man, Burn let's the audience know more than the protagonist, but the results are no more satisfying. The joke is that the forces that led to the situation confronting the supervisor are not random, but are so mundane, so unimportant and meaningless, that even if he knew he wouldn't believe. Linda isn't a force of pure evil like Anton Chiggurh, she's just a dumb, selfish and all-too-typical person. The fact that she actually gets what she wants while (unintentionally) destroying the lives of every person around her is a sick irony, and it's difficult to feel much beyond disgust for her, but to have a mind so fucked up that you believe your entire hope for happiness depends on massive cosmetic surgery must deserve some sort of pity.
47. Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009)
I switched District 9 out for this film, despite D9 fitting in a little better with many of the other offbeat genre films on this list. Moon is just a better movie. Probably should be higher on the list (somewhere between 35 and 40, maybe), but I don't want to totally uproot my structure here.
It's pretty much impossible to talk about Moon without revealing the central "twist," although I'm not sure I consider anything that occurs in the first half of a movie to be a true "twist." I don't think knowing this stuff necessarily interferes with enjoying the film, but I'll leave that to you to decide.
In Moon, Sam Rockwell plays an astronaut who discovers that he is a clone, and that the life he thought was waiting for him back on earth does not exist. In fact, he plays two clones, and manages to give each one a distinct personality based on their situations: Sam 1 is a man who has been clinging to hope for 3 years in order to maintain his sanity, and has just discovered that that hope does not exist. Sam 2 hasn't gone through that, so the revelation, while still heartbreaking and disorienting, has hit him somewhat differently. He's trying to maintain a sense of detachment, to avoid fully feeling the emotional blow. He can barely bring himself to look at Sam 1, and wears his sunglasses indoors to avoid eye contact.
It's a remarkable performance(s), one of the best of the decade, and bolstered by the film doing a great job in a very short time of conveying the crushing loneliness of the life of a solitary human on a lunar mining station, with only a HAL-like computer (GERTY, voiced by Kevin Spacey) for company. Some of the images, including the image of Sam 1 in Sam 2's brief dream, are unforgetable. This isn't some kind of "mind fuck" story, where the ideas are designed to blow you away. It's a story of human emotion.
Suggested Double Feature: Sunshine (Danny Boyle, 2007) For some reason, I really love movies about the loneliness of space. Boyle's film is visually stunning and genuinely haunting, and even when it falls into an easy Hollywood formula in its last half hour, it manages to be effective (ie, scary as hell).
A final note: I'm sure Duncan Jones would prefer that every damn writer who reviewed this movie didn't bring up the fact that his dad is David Bowie, but who can resist making comparisons to "Space Oddity?" But then, after reading this, I started thinking that maybe we were all thinking of the wrong Bowie song.
46. Hustle & Flow (Craig Brewer, 2005)
I can tell you that my favorite Oscar moment of all time was 3-6 Mafia winning for "It's Hard Out There For a Pimp." Man, I just jumped out of my seat on that one. It's nice to see a song that actually serves some purpose in a movie win, and I'm always happy to see hip hop getting some recognition, but more importantly, that's just a great goddamn song. Hustle & Flow drips with the atmosphere of a sweaty, grimy Memphis where people still party in juke joints and grease hangs in the air. The bluesy incidental music, coupled with shots of worn-down buildings and spanish moss, makes you feel the heat and humidity of the South.
The themes of H&F are the themes of hip hop: hustlers living dead end lives discover a talent they didn't realize they had (Flow) and reach for the American Dream (Hustle). This may sound corny on paper--after all, didn't we already have a hip hop version of Rocky with 8 Mile?--but the film makes no bones about DJay's life as a low-level pimp and drug dealer, and is pretty clear about what pimps actually do, and his road to success (riding off the hype of shooting another rapper) doesn't exactly make him a role model (but then, neither is Daniel Plainview). It also helps that Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, Taraji Henson, DJ Qualls, Ludacris and Taryn Manning breathe life into their characters, making much more of them than exists on the pages of Brewer's script. The cast really make their characters dance. And you get one of the most realistic (if abbreviated) scenes of music (or any collaborative art) being made that I've ever seen on film:
Bob put up the complete discography of early Florida punk/powerpop band The Reactions. It's up for a limited time, so get it while you can. FREE, but why don't you show your appreciation by buying a t-shirt?
Watching a genre movie, especially one of those scifi action films, you make a bargain with the filmmaker: as long as they entertain you, you'll suspend your logical faculties for two hours. Sometimes the filmmakers will take advantage of you in that bargain, and you feel betrayed. I know that I was going right along with Speed, despite all the absurdities, but when that bus jumped over the incompleted overpass, it lost me. The Spider-Man movies have a similar problem. There's absolutely no logic, scientific or otherwise, to the idea that being bitten by a radioactive spider should give you the powers of a spider. But you accept it, because you're having fun. But I'm sorry, when the alien symbiot comes to earth, and out of all the people on earth, finds Spider-Man to latch onto, then Spider-Man gets rid of the symbiot, and by total coincidence the guy who has sworn a blood oath to kill Peter Parker walks into the church and picks the symbiot up, I have to sign off. You're taking advantage of our bargain, Mr. Raimi!
And that's how I feel about the 10 nominees for Best Picture. We all know Oscars are meaningless bullshit, but you don't have to rub our faces in it. I already feel like a sucker for getting into it every year. Of course, I'm still going to get into it this year, because I really am a sucker, and Steve is co-hosting, but I feel really cheap about it.
The L.A. Times has been running a series where they ask celeberities what they would change about the Oscars to make the ceremony better. What would I change? Actually, I'm not sure how I would fix it, but I do know what's wrong with the ceremony. It's this idiotic idea that the ceremony is "too long," which makes the producers constantly look for ways to cut it. Case in point: the event I was most looking forward to at this year's ceremony was the lifetime acheivement award being given to Roger Corman. So I was not pleased to find out that Corman won't be a part of the telecast. He was already given his award, along with Lauren Bacall, cinematographer Gordon Willis (who did Woody Allen's Manhattan and the Godfather films) and producer John Calley, at a special dinner in November. What should have been the most entertaining moment of the night was thrown out because the Oscars are always "too long."
A third case in point: EW just informed me that none of the best song nominees will be performed, although considering the crop, maybe that's not such a bad thing. But I mean, come on. We just need to accept that four hours is how long an Oscar ceremony lasts, and that's a perfectly reasonable amount of time. The problem, of course, is that it's live on the west coast, so for people back east, it goes on until midnight or something. Moving the ceremony to Sunday was a big improvement, but apparantly people still hate staying up til midnight when they have to be at work the next day. So they want to cut out all the "unnecessary" stuff, which is the stuff that makes the show entertaining in the first place. Not sure how you fix that--move it to 3:00 pm maybe?--but THAT is the problem with the Oscars.
Anyway, here's my list. Some of the stuff I'm rooting for is for films I haven't even seen yet (I'm still hoping to catch Precious between now and Sunday), but it's just more fun if you go into it rooting for someone. In cases where I didn't have a personal preference, I just went with the nominee I expect to win.
Best Picture: Inglourious Basterds (but really, as long as it's not Avatar, The Blind Side or Up in the Air, I'll be happy)
Director: Katheryn Bigelow!!!
Actor: The Dude (only because Sam Rockwell didn't get a nomination for Moon)
Actress: This is a tough one, because Meryl Streep really was amazing in Julie & Julia, fusing her comic character roles of recent years with her dramatic roles of earlier times for one of her best performances. I'm not a Streep cultist, but she definitely deserves to have that cult. Still, rooting for Meryl Streep for an Oscar seems so boring. Hopefully, I can catch Precious before the show, as I'd like to root for underdog Gabourey Sibilde. Otherwise, Meryl Streep, just to block Sandra Bullock from getting it.
Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique Supporting Actor: Christopher Waltz Those two are pretty much locks, so no reason to go into them.
Original Screenplay: A Serious Man or Inglourious Basterds Adapted Screenplay: In the Loop!!!
Animated Feature: Up, Mr. Fox and Coraline are all great films, and Secrets of the Kells looks fantastic. Even The Princess and the Frog doesn't look horrible. I think Up is the best of the batch, and will probably win, but as with Meryl Streep, rooting for Pixar seems so dull, I'm going to go for an underdog again: The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Documentary Feature: First of all, this award isn't based on the artistic acheivement of the filmmakers, but on how important the subject matter is. That's just a fact, so we may as well accept it up front. In that respect, there are two movies here that really challenge the way people look at our world: Food, Inc. (the only nominee I've seen) and The Cove (which I've purposely avoided because I just don't think I can watch it--I'd prefer to just read the information). Part of me wants to root for Burma VJ, since it (like The Messenger) was released by Adam Yauch's Oscilloscope Laboritories (go Team Beastie!), but judging from the reviews, it sounds like The Cove is gonna be hard to beat. When a documentary has been spoofed on South Park, you know it's making a cultural impact.
Documentary Short: Haven't seen any of these, but let's see, The Last Truck sounds like the kind of thing that would win an award. But then there's Music by Prudence, the story of a wheelchair-bound girl in an African village with an inspiring singing career. OK, that's gonna win, come on. But then what about Rabbit a la Berlin, a cute nature documentary with political overtones about the bunnies that lived between the Berlin Walls? If the filmmakers could do something interesting enough with that, it might win, but I haven't seen it, so who knows. One more worth mentioning: The Tears of Szechuan Province: China's Unnatural Disaster. This one is on YouTube in full. I haven't watched the whole thing, but I've watched this first segment, and it gives you a pretty amazing view of what life is like in a communist country (a real one, not like Canada or something):
The staging is so interesting, and perfectly suited to the story. I also like how clearly the characters are rendered, so you know everything about them at one glance. The other two are Logorama, which uses more than 2,500 corporate logos. It looks pretty clever, but from what I can tell, doesn't have much to say about it's subject. The other one, A Matter of Loaf and Death, is A NEW WALLACE AND GROMMIT SHORT. I had no idea this existed, and it looks pretty cool, but even if it's better than The Wrong Trousers (doubtful), I don't think it would be quite as interesting as French Roast. One thing Loaf and Death has in its favor is that it is the only nominee that's not primarily CGI, but being anti-computer animation in 2010 is like being one of those stupid folkies that was anti-electric guitars in 1965. So my pick is French Roast.
Live Action Short: Haven't seen any of them, but Kavi seems like the clear winner.
Visual Effects: Avatar (duh!)
Art Direction: I'm sure this will go to Avatar, which has a lot of good design work, but mostly looks like a bunch of shit from old Yes albums and Bros. Hildebrandt illustrations. I'm rooting for the much more imaginative designs in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.
Film Editing: The Hurt Locker
Sound Editing: The Hurt Locker Sound Mixing: The Hurt Locker These two categories are ones where I'm never sure exactly what I'm supposed to be looking for, but those high-tension scenes in THL are incredibly effective, and I have to think the sound mixing and editing was some kind of factor there.
Cinematography: This is another one where I'm never sure what I'm supposed to be looking for. I think all these had some good moments.
Costume Design: Haven't seen any of the nominated pictures except Parnassus, but since Coco Before Chanel is pretty much ABOUT costumes, it seems like a safe bet.
Makeup: No idea.
Original Score: You know, I don't really pay much attention to scores. I guess I'm left with a vague recollection of enjoying the score in Up, so I'll go with that.
Original Song: I checked all the songs out on YouTube, and none of them are particularly terrible or particularly memorable. My first impression is that each one is a likeable enough pastiche. With no reason to prefer one over the other, I'll go with what I think has the best chance of winning: T-Bone Burnette's "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)".
My name is Chris Oliver. I'm a stand up comic, writer and English (ESL) teacher living in Los Angeles. With my wife, comic Bobbie Oliver, I am the co-proprietor of Tao Comedy Studio. I direct the web series Saving Face (starring Bobbie Oliver and Sally Mullins), host the comedy/talk show podcast Psychedelicatessen Radio (with Bobbie) and host the music podcast Sleestak Lightnin!!!. I was born and raised in Stuart, Fla. (Jensen Beach, to be more precise), a small, beachy suburb north of Palm Beach on the Atlantic coast. Went to LaGrange College in GA. Got married after graduating and moved to Athens, GA. In '97, we moved to L.A. Psychedelicatessen is the name of a band I was in in high school and college. You can find links to my comedy videos, podcasts, web series and more right below.