Friday, December 31, 2010

The Best Film of 2010

It's about the creation of Facebook.  It's about a guy who gets his arm stuck between two rocks.  It's about overcoming a stutter.  It's a psychological thriller set in the cut-throat world of professional ballet.  It's about a girl searching for her father.  It's about a girl searching for her father's killer.

Almost all of the films vying for year-end accolades can easily be summed up in a terse sentence (or possibly two in say, Exit Through the Gift Shop's case).  Try as I might though, I just cannot adequately explain Teddy Newton's short Day & Night, no matter how long I prattle on.  Despite a running time 1/15th as long as even the briefest feature, this animated short from Pixar crammed so much imagination, wit, technique and whimsy into six minutes that it left me exhausted and overwhelmed.

Sure, I could try to sum it up by saying it's about celebrating diversity, or overcoming fear, or creating friendships; but time and again those straightforward descriptions do less justice than the admittedly pithy sentences above.   Don't even get me started on the film's technical achievements.  That's just asking for trouble.  What really boggles my mind is the melding of the two disparate qualities.  How Mr. Newton manages to tell the simplest of stories in such a technically complex way.  The first time I saw the film it took me utterly by surprise.  Initially I had to orient myself, finding footing in the short's unique world.  But under Pixar's sure hand and pure vision, before I knew it my perception was sufficiently altered and I was rapt by the characters, their relationship and the message.  Thanks to Newton's imagination, the Pixar wizards' visual ingenuity, and Michael Giacchino's fanciful score, Day & Night was the most exhilarating piece of filmmaking I saw this year.

I have bemoaned Pixar's decision to start churning out non-Toy Story sequels (Cars 2 comes out next summer and a follow-up to Monsters, Inc is currently in production), but as long as the studio continues to push the boundaries of animation and storytelling like they do in Day & Night, I will remain a steadfastly loyal acolyte.

And if you're dying to know what I thought of the lengthier films released this year, here is an unimpeachable top 5 list that will weather the impending storms of popular opinion and be the only thing left standing when film scholars of 2060 look back on this antiquated time:

1. The Social Network
2. Exit Through the Gift Shop
3. Toy Story 3
4. 127 Hours
5. True Grit

Best of 2010

It's the end of another year, which means it's time for another list.  There's various ways one can go about compiling a Best of the Year list, as far as determining what's eligible and what is not.  Arguments about which are usually mind-numbingly boring.  Since this is a Seattle-based website for a Seattle-based film series, this list is only going to include my Top 30 films that played, or were otherwise first available, in Seattle in 2010.

1. Wild Grass (Alain Resnais)

2. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)

3. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy)

4. Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky)

5. True Grit (The Coen Brothers)

6. The Social Network (David Fincher)

7. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese)

8. 127 Hours (Danny Boyle)

9. Like You Know it All (Hong Sangsoo)

10. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach)

11. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)
12. Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (Manoel de Oliveira)
13. Vengeance (Johnnie To)
14. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat)
15. The Secret of Kells (Tomm Moore & Nora Twomey)

16. Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt & the Magnetic Fields (Kerthy Fix & Gail O'Hara)
17. I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino)
18. The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Kim Ji-woon)
19. Around a Small Mountain (Jacques Rivette)
20. Looking for Eric (Ken Loach)

21. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright)
22. The Beaches of Agnes (Agnes Varda)
23. Centurion (Neil Marshall)
24. Winter's Bone (Debra Granik)
25. Made in Dagenham (Nigel Cole)

26. The Exploding Girl (Bradley Rust Gray)
27. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
28. Mother (Bong Joon-ho)
29. Air Doll (Kore-eda Hirokazu)
30. Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Christmas from Judy and Margaret

From one of this year's Metro Classics, Meet Me in St. Louis.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Christmas From Margaret and Jimmy

This week's Critic's Pick from A. O. Scott in the New York Times is The Shop Around the Corner, which we played this past September.  Enjoy!

Friday, December 3, 2010


Another year of Metro Classics has come to an end, and we want to thank you all for coming out and seeing the shows, as well as all the talented, good-looking Metro employees who put up with our nonsense every week, even though neither of us actually work there anymore.

We hope to be back in February with more tenuously connected great movies.  When we have any news, we'll share it here first.  Until then, we'll be busy watching as many of the great end of the year movies we can at our local Landmark Theatres, and we'll have some end of the year stuff here as well like we did last year.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, The Rules of the Game

Top 5 Jean Renoir Films:

1. The River (1951)
2. The Grand Illusion (1937)
3. Elena and Her Men (1956)
4. The Southerner (1945)
5. Woman on the Beach (1947)

Top 5 Jean Renoir Films I Haven't Seen Yet:

1. La chienne (1931)
2. French Cancan (1954)
3. Le crime de Monsieur Lange (1936)
4. La bête humaine (1938)
5. The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946)

Top 5 Marcel Dalio Films:

1. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
2. To Have and Have Not (Howard Hawks, 1944)
3. The Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)
4. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)
5. Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1954)

Top 5 French Films of the 1930s:

1. L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
2. The Grand Illusion (Jean Renoir, 1937)
3. Under the Roofs of Paris (René Clair, 1930)
4. The Story of a Cheat (Sacha Guitry, 1936)
5. Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937)

Top 5 Films of 1939:

1. Stagecoach (John Ford)
2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra)
3. Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming)
4. Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks)
5. Young Mr. Lincoln (John Ford)

Links: Rules of the Game

The Rules of the Game, now widely considered one of the greatest films of all-time, did not fare so well on its initial release:

"The film’s initial screenings in Paris in July 1939 are now part of film legend: badly received by both critics and the public, the premiere even saw chairs thrown at the screen and an attempt to set the cinema on fire. Shocked, Renoir cut the film from around 94 to 81 minutes, only to see the film banned by the government censors in October (the ban was rescinded some months later but then reimposed by the Germans during the Occupation). Finally, the negatives were destroyed in a bombing raid in 1942."

The above is from thefilmjounal, where Ian Johnston reviews the film and Criterion's DVD release, which is the version we're showing this week.

Also from Criterion is this essay by Alexander Sesonske, who notes that it is indeed:

"a dazzling accomplishment, original in form and style, a comic tragedy, absurd and profound, graced by two of the most brilliant scenes ever created. It is also, in the words of Dudley Andrew, “the most complex social criticism ever enacted on the screen.” A total box office failure in 1939, The Rules of the Game now ranks as one of the greatest masterpieces of world cinema."

See, I wasn't exaggerating.

OK fine if you don't believe me, or Sesonske, who I've never heard of either.  But would you believe Bernardo Bertolucci, world famous director of The Conformist, The Last Emperor and Little Buddha?  Here he is in The Guardian's The Films that Changed My Life series:

"Renoir is like a junction between the France of impressionism (the France of his father, Auguste Renoir) and the France of the 20th century. Sometimes it's as if he were making films about characters from his father's paintings. But what is really extraordinary about Renoir, particularly in La Règle, is that he loves all his characters. He loves the goodies and baddies, the ones who make terrible mistakes. He loves the ones who are on screen for just two minutes. This is something I have always tried to do."

Monday, November 29, 2010

You're My Only Home

“It seems strange to me that video stores don’t have a section for Gatherings at Country Houses, because to me this is one of the best film genres, defined by its setting like the western, or backstage musical, or space opera. Most of my dreams take place in such environments, which probably explains which movies I’ve picked.”—Stephin Merritt

Last month at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Stephin Merritt, the greatest pop songwriter of the last oh, twenty years, curated a six-film series of films set in country houses.  The schedule was thus: Rene Clair's And Then There Were None, Fassbinder's Chinese Roulette, Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night, Peter Greenaway's the Draughtman's Contact, Harmony Korine's recent Mister Lonely, and of course, The Rules of the Game.

Why do I bring this up, now especially, a month late and three thousand miles away?  For a few reasons.  One, not only does the series feature this week's Metro Classic but it also offers me a chance to plug Strange Powers, the documentary on Mr. Merritt that will be showing at the Northwest Film Forum starting on December 10th.  Sean saw the film in Vancouver and liked it.  Two, it's nice when my hero's tastes sync up with mine.  I mean, Rules of the Game is pretty much a no-brainer but the reception garnered by Mister Lonely was more decidedly mixed.  I thought it was a gem.  Samantha Morton, Werner Herzog and a bunch of sky-diving nuns would never lead you astray.  Three, it gives me an excuse to post a bunch of Stephin Merritt videos.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Coming Attractions: The Rules of the Game

Wednesday, December 1st at 7 and 9:15 pm.

Giveaways: A Gosford Park DVD courtesy of Scarecrow video and a Gift Certificate to Cinema Books, respectively.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, Out of the Past

Top 5 Jacques Tourneur Films:

1. Cat People (1942)
2. Stars in My Crown (1950)
3. I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
4. Nightfall (1957)
5. Berlin Express (1948)

Top 5 Kirk Douglas Films:

1. Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
2. A Letter to Three Wives (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1949)
3. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
4. The Big Sky (Howard Hawks, 1952)
5. Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960)

Top 5 Robert Mitchum Film I Haven't Seen Yet:

1. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973)
2. Cape Fear (J. Lee Thompson, 1962))
3. Ryan's Daughter (David Lean, 1970)
4. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (John Huston, 1957)
5. The Sundowners (Fred Zinneman, 1960

Top 5 Films Noirs of the 1940s:

1. The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949)
2. The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946)
3. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
4. Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945)
5. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941)

Top 5 Films of 1947:

1. Black Narcissus (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger)
2. The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles)
3. Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin)
4. The Ghost & Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
5. Odd Man Out (Carol Reed)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Links: Out of the Past

Roger Ebert's Great Movies article on Out of the Past, in which he declares it one of the greatest of all films noirs, notes with relish the film's brilliant dialogue, coiling plotline and Mitchum's magnificent indifference to the world around him, exemplified by this later exchange when Ebert interviewed him and asked him about a particular line in the film:

""I don't, honest to God, know that I've ever actually seen the film."

"You've never seen it?"

"I'm sure I have, but it's been so long that I don't know.""

Back before anyone knew what a film noir was (not that anyone has a firm grasp on the concept now), Bosley Crowther in the New York Times was thoroughly confused by the film's complex plot, but enjoyed himself nonetheless (and understood more of why the film is great than he thought):

"But after this private detective has re-encountered an old girl friend (who originally double-crossed him after luring him to double-cross his boss, whom she had shot) and the two get elaborately criss-crossed in a plot to triple-cross our boy again, the involutions of the story become much too complex for us. The style is still sharp and realistic, the dialogue still crackles with verbal sparks and the action is still crisp and muscular, not to mention slightly wanton in spots. But the pattern and purpose of it is beyond our pedestrian ken. People get killed, the tough guys browbeat, the hero hurries—but we can't tell you why."

Finally, Out of the Past is such an exemplary film noir, that the best podcast on the subject takes its name from the film.  Professors Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards, through 50 episodes beginning in July 2005, examined dozens of films noirs, both classic (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep) and neo- (The Big Lebowski, Blade Runner).  The episodes are a bit dry and academic (they sometimes seem like they're reading essays as opposed to having a discussion), but if, like me, you find that charming, then this show is essential.  Their full archive is available, and while they've been off the air for the last year (writing a book about noir), there will apparently be new episodes again in 2011.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Coming Attractions: Out of the Past

A music video mixing the film with Phil Collins's classic Love Triangle song "Against All Odds".

The movie plays Wednesday, November 24th at 7 and 9:10 pm.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Top 5 Top 5 Lists Related To, But Not Including, The Philadelphia Story

Top 5 James Stewart Movies Not Directed by Capra or Hitchcock:

1. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
2. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
3. The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, 1940)
4. Winchester '73 (Anthony Mann, 1950)
5. Harvey (Henry Koster, 1950)

Top 5 Katharine Hepburn Movies:

1. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
2. The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968)
3. The African Queen (John Huston, 1951)
4. Stage Door (Gregory LaCava, 1937)
5. Sylvia Scarlett (George Cukor, 1935)

Top 5 Cary Grant Movies Not Directed By Hawks or Hitchcock:

1. Charade (Stanley Donen, 1963)
2. Ginga Din (George Stevens, 1939)
3. The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937)
4. Arsenic and Old Lace (Frank Capra, 1944)
5. An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957)

Top 5 George Cukor Movies:

1. It Should Happen To You (1954)
2. A Star is Born (1954)
3. What Price Hollywood? (1932)
4. My Fair Lady (1964)
5. Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

Top 5 Films of 1940:

1. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch)
2. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks)
3. Waterloo Bridge (Mervyn LeRoy)
4. Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock)
5. Fantasia (Walt Disney)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Links: The Philadelphia Story

The raves for The Philadelphia Story began right away, with Variety writing in 1940:

". . . a picture every suburban mamma and poppa must see--after Junior and little Elsie Dinsmore are tucked away. Producer Joe Mankiewicz has tossed in the works to turn out as sophisticated a picture as Mr. and Mrs. Know-what-it's-all-about are likely to see.

The smarties are going to relish "Philadelphia Story" a lot more than the two-bit trade; they're going to get a boot out of catching on to such subtleties as photog Ruth Hussey's crack to reporter Jimmy Stewart after he's been neatly put in his place by Cary Grant: "Here's a handkerchief. There's spit in your eye and it shows." A number of such are, no doubt, going to pass 'em by.

It's Katharine Hepburn's picture just as it was her show, but with as fetching a lineup of thesp talent as is to be found, she's got to fight every clever line of dialog all of the way to hold her lead. . . .

For Miss Hepburn this is something of a screen comeback. Whether it means she has reestablished herself in pictures is something that can't be said from this viewing for she doesn't play in "The Philadelphia Story"; she is "The Philadelphia Story." The perfect conception of all flighty but characterful Main Line socialite gals rolled into one, the story without her is almost inconceivable. Just the right amount of beauty, just the right amount of disarray in wearing clothes, just the right amount of culture in her voice - it's no one but Hepburn."

One month later, Bosley Crowther agreed in the New York Times:

"All those folks who wrote Santa Claus asking him to send them a sleek new custom-built comedy with fast lines and the very finest in Hollywood fittings got their wish just one day late with the opening of "The Philadelphia Story" yesterday at the Music Hall. For this present, which really comes via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, has just about everything that a blue-chip comedy should have—a witty, romantic script derived by Donald Ogden Stewart out of Philip Barry's successful play; the flavor of high-society elegance, in which the patrons invariably luxuriate, and a splendid cast of performers headed by Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart and Cary Grant. If it doesn't play out this year and well along into next they should turn the Music Hall into a shooting gallery."

Reelclassics has a nice article by Ian Irvine from the Sunday telegraph in 1995 on the occasion of the death of the society lady who inspired Hepburn's character in The Philadelphia Story.  It covers the background of the film, focussing especially on the unique world that was Philadelphia Main Line society, Hepburn's comeback and its further life as a Grace Kelly/Frank Sintra/Bing Crosby musical by Cole Porter.

""Everybody had so much money - there were so few taxes. People gave grand dinner parties and dances: women wore wonderful dresses and men came in fine evening clothes," she remembered. "It's a way of life that's completely gone now. It was really an imitation of Edwardian days in England. It was all quite artificial.

"When Phil told me he had written this new play, and that Katharine Hepburn would play me, I thought it was great fun, but I really didn't pay that much attention. I don't really think Tracy Lord was like me, except that she was very energetic and motivated." Barry took his idea for a comedy, based on the glamorous figure of Hope Scott, to Katharine Hepburn - who had made a great success of the society girl with brains and beauty in the film version of his play Holiday. His proposal came at just the right moment for Hepburn: her career as an actress both on Broadway and in Hollywood was at a turning point. Her films, including some which we now consider among her finest, Bringing Up Baby and Holiday, were not commercial successes, and the studios considered Hepburn too independent and unconventional.

Shortly after Bringing Up Baby's release, Harry Brandt, president of the Independent Theatre Owners of America, published as an advertisement a list of stars who were "box-office poison"; Hepburn's name was at the top. She was in good company, with Fred Astaire, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, but the publicity damaged Hepburn in the eyes of both studios and public, and after being offered a very B-movie project, she bought her way out of her contract with RKO, vowing to return only on her own terms."