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January 1, 2014

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Chase

Alex - I hadn't even considered the Little Big Man echos. They don't suddenly reveal new depths in TLR or anything, but I appreciate the connection. I suppose the biggest divergence is that Little Big Man, like Butch Cassidy or Judge Roy Bean, arrived at a time when the Western was ready to be eulogized (and approached with considerable ironic distance, which all three films adopt). Lone Ranger, much like Verbinski's Pirates trilogy, is drawing upon a genre which has basically been MIA for decades. Whereas people were game for Pirates, Lone Ranger (whatever its inherent appeal) is out in the wilderness, and likely to remain there for a good long while.

I actually liked Francis Ha. It's extremely slight, but the whole movie basically rests on how far Greta Gerwig's charm can take you. Mileage may vary, but in my case, it was very far indeed (or at least 85 minutes). I'm not sure I'd put it on my Top Ten. Then again, my Top Ten includes The Counselor, so feel free to pelt me with stones.

Oh, and all is basically forgiven on account of Walter including The World's End, which is not only Simon Pegg's best performance by miles, but the smartest and saddest of the Cornetto Trilogy. Also a nice palliative to the state of arrested development which consumes 90% of all comedy and action films these days.

Alex Jackson

On THE LONE RANGER, Tonto is an embodiment of the stunted/crippled identity of the American Indian. The character is played by the white Johnny Depp who gives a very attention-seeking self-indulgent Johnny Depp performance, but I think that the film is designed to roll with this and we are supposed to acknowledge it. The idea is that the identity of the "American Indian" has been completely destroyed and can then only be resurrected as an artificial construct. Supporting this is the fact that the character is introduced in a Natural History exhibit, that this framing device (and old man make-up) calls back to Arthur Penn's 1970 LITTLE BIG MAN which also depicts the genocide of the American Indian semi-satirically through the eyes of a white identifying as Indian, and that Tonto is explicitly described as "crazy" within the film. This aspect of the film, that Tonto is neither the colored sidekick and comic relief for the white hero nor is he a superhero himself, is possibly one of the things that alienated the mass audience but makes the film interesting for many of the rest of us.

The biggest dud on Walter's list, by the way (and so far as I have seen), is actually FRANCES HA. Surprised not to see more of a backlash against it; the writing (dialogue, characterization, and plot) reminded me of GILMORE GIRLS (a highly pejorative comparison, if it needs to be said). Compare and contrast with INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, in what it says about the "starving artist", and get back to me.

DaveA

PAIN&GAIN was enjoyable at times, but man, be careful when Michael Bay wants to be funny. Be very careful. Just think of the Dwarf tossing thing, or the EddyMurphy-esque look on Doorbal's face when - SPOILER - they get their death sentence at the end. Bay is really just a mean frat. It's a shame that Dwayne Johnson does probably the performance of his life in this movie.

tom

fair enough. a couple points:
i'm not sure PAIN & GAIN is indefensible. i mean, it's pretty savvy about the psychoses underlying the appeal of shit like TRANSFORMERS. my issue is that the film's thesis basically boils down to "i know my films are the epitome of all that's wrong with america, but dayAMN they're hella fun," which is actually worse and more insulting than just being mindlessly awful. at best his attitude is one of gentle mockery, usually undercut by examples of exactly the shit he was mocking. for that film to genuinely be good it needed to be far more uncomfortable (OBSERVE & REPORT comes to mind), but ultimately it has far more sympathy for its characters than disdain, and any feelings to the contrary are provoked by the actors more often than the director. which is a roundabout way of saying that bay remains indefensible, but maybe a case can be made for the film in spite of him.

i can't comment on THE LONE RANGER, haven't seen it, but a lot of the praise seems to be for how it integrates some brains and detail and spatial awareness into a blockbuster that might've made more money without it. i dunno if you've read walter's review. it doesn't exactly read like a review for the 15th best movie of the year, but maybe it grew in the rearview?: http://www.filmfreakcentral.net/ffc/2013/07/the-lone-ranger-2013.html

i think FFC's relationship with scorsese has always been a little weird. i recall a bunch of the writers and commenters agreeing that RAGING BULL is a lesser film than BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, for example. again i can't comment as i haven't seen the latter. *shrug* for the record i think walter really liked TIDELAND which is pretty recent gilliam. think he was pretty big on AMERICAN GANGSTER and BLACK HAWK DOWN too? and he's always been pretty clear about what he wants from spielberg and how that differs from what he gets - think he still adores near everything up to RAIDERS. anyway, all that aside, i get why you feel his scorsese comments were premature and unnecessarily dismissive.

Chase

Tom - I think we're on the same page in a lot of ways. It seems that once or twice a year, Walter will cathect some completely ludicrous choice (like Carrie, or the Fright Night remake), and this is actually one of the more charming aspects of the sight. I'd also agree that Walter is more than willing to put down movies from his darlings; off the top of my head, Christopher Nolan, Hayao Miyazaki, Guillermo del Toro and David Fincher are all professed favorites which have had at least one or two pans (usually with justification).

My only real point of contention is that there's a difference between a lack of bias - which seems to be what we're discussing and which would be admirable - and a lack of context, which just seems blinkered. To use both of my previous examples: Pain & Gain is basically indefensible, and the best Walter can offer about it is that it reflects the zeitgeist. Great. For better or worse, the Transformers films were HUGELY reflective of the zeitgeist. Would that elevate them as well?

Re: The Lone Ranger, I don't think it falls under the aegis of championing some obscure film (a la Stoker or OGF, as stated below). 250 million dollar Disney flicks don't get to play the underdog. Walter sighs over the racial politics in 12 Years a Slave, but Tonto is... what exactly? All in good fun? Forgivable pulp? Really, Lone Ranger is nothing if not the outgrowth of the enormous, Rube Goldberg leviathan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies... which Walter basically hated. I should mention in passing I liked both Pirates AND the Ranger. But I like them as stylish and satisfying garbage, not as some unappreciated gem(s).

What rankles about Scorsese, from the offing, is simply the tone. That he USED TO be good doesn't ring as quite the compliment you seem to suggest, and that the FFC criticisms largely amount to an unappealing sense of "Get off the stage, old man" is mighty unfortunate. Walter may be willing to view news films context-free, but he has a bad habit of dismissing directors (careers, really) like some French monarch. And once they're gone, they stay gone. So Scorsese is too old to ever direct another good film. How long before (like Ridley Scott, Terry Gilliam, and Stephen Spielberg before) FFC starts picking over the old bones and deciding he was never that great to start with?

tom

in fairness i'm not sure it's "contrarian preening" so much as an extension of what walter has always said about dishonourable mentions -- there's no point naming the stuff everybody already knows is shit. the same goes in the opposite direction, he's more inclined to defend the the films that need defending rather than make the same list as all the other like-minded critics on the internet. i'm not saying he consciously does this (maybe he does, idk), i'm saying most of us sub-consciously do this.

of course, it's also possible that he just thinks those films are better. you're being kind of presumptuous. one thing i tend to enjoy about walter's criticism is he judges every film on its own merits rather than being blinded by legacy or reputation; if even his most favourite filmmakers (let's say tarantino) put out a stinker i do believe he'd call it out, and he's just proven he'll do the opposite (i can't think of any filmmaker he's slated more than bay). maybe his comment about scorsese needing to retire is a bit harsh, but there's an argument that he hasn't been a particularly vital voice since the '90s, and in a sense the comment is a compliment to his legacy (as in, the reason his new stuff disappoints so much is he was once so great).

besides, 'the lone ranger' has actually been promoted by a bunch of good critics, especially for its keaton-esque set pieces and whatnot. 'pain and gain' is getting a shitload of good reviews (far too many in my opinion but that's by the by). if anything, the likes of CARRIE and WE ARE WHAT WE ARE would seem like more contrarian picks, except that he's argued well for their inclusion here and elsewhere.

Chase

There's no real point in arguing with a best of list (which is itself the point, and also the fun of it), but it was somewhere around the fifth random swipe at Scorsese that you guys started to get just a tiny bit monotonous. I've come to tune this out from Walter, who only seems capable of viewing directors in some OCD binary of either GOOD or BAD (re: the frantic taxonomy of his Prometheus review), but seriously, where is this coming from?

Marty had a two-picture slump with the empty, Shamalyan-style Shutter Island and with Hugo, which was little more than an overly expensive gift to his granddaughter. Does that eradicate The Aviator, The Departed, his Boardwalk Empire pilot, and now The Wolf of Wall Street?

For that matter, were Island and Hugo any worse than New York New York, Cape Feare, Kundun, or The Color of Money? Is it unreasonable to suggest that from day one, the guy has always had his share of artistic failures, none of which register in light of his successes? Honestly, Scorsese may be the only director wherein I don't even like half of his films and would still consider him a candidate for Best Ever status.

The Wolf of Wall Street is his best film in a decade, but still obviously inferior to The Lone Ranger and Pain & Gain. Or is it possible that those films made the list purely out of contrarian preening? If Pain & Gain is Michael Bay's best movie, it's still markedly less enjoyable than a spinal tap.

Doubly frustrating since these lists also champion some of my underdog favorites like Stoker, Byzantium, and especially Only God Forgives. But a little perspective might not hurt. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Martin Scorsese is actually a BETTER director than Michael Bay. Or Rob Zombie. Or Gore Verbinski or, for that matter, Spike Jonze.

Wolf of Wall Street isn't Goodfellas. Sorry. There's quite a few others films that aren't either.

tom

no disrespect intended toward the more recent additions to the team (i particularly enjoy angelo's stuff), but come back alex :( also ian pugh!

i share the love for SPRING BREAKERS (http://themissingslate.com/2013/11/21/private-theatre-harmony-korines-spring-breakers/), the best of the many american dream dissections this year. i'm interested in how the FFC folks felt about THE CANYONS though?

i'm also digging any and every year-end list that excludes crap like PINES, MUD, FRUITVALE STATION, PRISONERS, PACIFIC RIM, as well as the likes of GRAVITY, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, THE PAST and THE SPECTACULAR NOW, all servicable films which failed imo to justify the hype. kudos folks.

maybe the biggest surprise is that there's no place for the denis film on walter's list. does BASTARDS count as 2014, or did you not see it, or did you actually... *gulp* not like it? i also wish MUSEUM HOURS and THIS IS MARTIN BONNER made the top 25 (the former is probably my favourite of the year), but at the same time i'm glad you even mentioned them at all. have any of you folks seen THE UNSPEAKABLE ACT?

can't wait for the 2014 list already. UNDER THE SKIN, A FIELD IN ENGLAND (amazing), BLIND DETECTIVE (amazing), STRANGER BY THE LAKE (amazing), BLUE RUIN, ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE and so many other intriguing titles, and that's just the ones which already premiered o.o

darling of the city fathers


"possessed of real meaning--instinctual, intellectual, complete."

Goddamnit Walter Chaw, you get to the root of a film's success or failure with such incisive and unerring regularity I feel quite inadequate. I love that. Thank you.

Alex Jackson

Delighted to see myself still talked about from time to time in these parts. Yes, loved SPRING BREAKERS saw it twice in the theaters, got the Blu-Ray, was tempted at one point to record an audio commentary but was too lazy to figure out how to actually do such a thing much less how to publish it. It's absolutely sublime stuff, personally one of the high points of my life is seeing that in a mall theater-- that bittersweet ending of spring break finally coming to close and Ellie Goulding's "Lights" appearing on the soundtrack. Wonderful. Proud of the critical community also for not dismissing it. Audiences didn't get it, but critics actually did their job and saw that there was something there. There's something to that idea of mixing-and-matching "hot teenage girls" with "ghetto black gangsters"; how both groups actively embrace their dehumanization as transcendence. I don't think that it's simple provocation, I think that it makes liberals uncomfortable in a fruitful way. Or there may be some more profound commentary to be made about how our identity and sense of spirituality is formed through a corrupt consumerist culture.

Loved these lists by the way. Not only is SPRING BREAKERS in everyone's top four, but stuff like CARRIE, LORDS OF SALEM, THE LONE RANGER, PAIN AND GAIN, and COMPUTER CHESS are part of the conversation. I didn't love-love all those movies (would still put them behind things like BLING RING and GRAVITY), but I do like them quite a bit, I admire them, and thirty years from now they are likely to be the movies that film buffs are still watching and remembering. What a great place, Film Freak Central!

tom

he loved it -- ranked it in his top 50 of all time on criticker.

Ryan

Excellent lists, all. Curious if anyone knows where Alex fell on Spring Breakers?

tom

it's certainly bay's most interesting, tightly-crafted and self-aware film, but i found PAIN & GAIN disturbing in a bad way. i've no doubt at this point that he's acutely aware of his own (repulsive) legacy, but this is hardly his UNFORGIVEN, its gestures toward self-criticism are half-hearted if not insulting given how often he continues to wallow in the muck without complication or shame. the guy loves himself too much to ever really punish us for enjoying his films, and only dwayne johnson's performance refuses to be swallowed up by that ego (which is some achievement considering it's effectively the ego of an entire nation). otherwise it's like watching the building of a concentration camp while hitler offers some winking satirical commentary over the top.

STOKER is kind of wonderful though, i'm so glad not everyone has forgotten or dismissed it. ditto for WE ARE WHAT WE ARE. these are the kinds of films the so-called vulgar auteurists ought to be preserving.

Garyellison

Nice to see Lords of Salem getting some love on these lists. I hate to be that guy, but I'm pretty sure Chiwetel Ejiofor is British, not African American. Looking forward to seeing the films on these lists that I haven't seen yet!

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