Sunday, May 16, 2010

The joys of Criterion

Anyone interested in film knows that right now, Cannes Film Festival is taking place, and much to my chagrin, I was not able to get a badge, plane ticket, hotel, etc. I plan on attending next year, but for this year I'll just have to sit back and read the coverage as it comes in from, and By the way, that last sentence was one big fat shout out to colleagues Guy Lodge, Sasha Stone, and Anne Thompson, respectively, who are all doing such a tremendous job of covering this festival this year. Keep up the good work guys. See you all in France next year!

Anywho, the point I'm roughly making here is that while my colleagues get to go and enjoy lots of great films in France, I'm kinda stuck here in the US with the leftovers. Unfortunately, even that's slim pickings. 2010, for me at least, has been a rough year for film thus far, and even the good nto great stuff is slim pickings. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I've only actually enjoyed three US releases so far this year. Those, of course, would be the only three films I've had the time or energy to bother to write a review of. Shutter Island, How to Train Your Dragon, and Iron Man 2. I emphasize the fact that while I loved all three of those films, there haven't been any others that I've seen that I even came close to finding watchable. The Bounty Hunter, Dear John, Remember Me, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and countless others have just been outright awful in so many ways. Kick-Ass wasn't entirely awful, just a disappointment and painfully frustrating film on a lot of levels, so I wouldn't even go so far as to say I really actually enjoyed it, because truth be told, it felt like hitting my head against a wall for two hours.

Cue the foreign, independent, and art house cinemas to the rescue. I never got a chance to see the french prison drama A Prophet during it's US theatrical run earlier this year, but I'll be sure to check it out on blu-ray when it's released. What I find myself more and more interested in seeing (even though I'm a little late to the table) is the Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Based on the first of a trilogy of crime novels by Stieg Larsson (my current summer reading, and so far, great stuff), the film gained an extremely positive critical reception here in the states, and the books and first film adaptation have been so wildly popular that an American adaptation of the books (not a remake of the Swedish film, just another adaptation from a different country mind you) is in the works, with David Fincher (who else?) attached to direct. I'll be seeing the Swedish version at the Magnolia theatre in Dallas this weekend while I'm here on a brief little vacation.

Unfortunately, unless there's some really great independent and art-house fare playing this summer, that's pretty much one of maybe three films I'm actually looking forward to anymore. Robin Hood has gotten mixed reviews, but I'll still be seeing it. Prince of Persia is just kind of meh on my radar right now. Shrek 4 looks just awful in so many ways. I never saw the first Sex and the City film, so a sequel is a no-go for me. Macgruber just looks downright terrible. No interest in The A-Team. The remake of The Karate Kid just seems pointless.

I find myself strangely anticipating The Last Airbender. I feel it could go either way. It will either be great and a really cool summer blockbuster. Or it will be a disaster. And that's for one reason and one reason only. M. Night Shyamalan. The man hasn't made a good film since Signs, and really, there's no reason for anyone to give him the benefit of the doubt anymore. Anyone who knows him or has read the numerous books about him knows he lives in a bubble and hasn't been getting any feedback or criticism on his last three disasters of movies (The Village, Lady in the Water, and The Happening) because he simply can't take criticism in any form. Sorry M. Night, but with an attitude like that, you won't last long in this industry at all. The thing about The Last Airbender is that this is going to be one of the most important films in his career. Not because of it's cinematic value or anything. But the film will either save his career with good reviews and great box office (can't just be good, has to be great). Or it will be the final nail in the coffin if it tanks critically and commercially due to bad word of mouth. We'll see.

Toy Story 3 is a mixed bag of anticipation and dread for me. On one hand, Pixar is consistently good, even when at their weakest with Cars, The Incredibles, and A Bug's Life. But when they are at the top of their game with WALL-E, Up, and Ratatouille, they are making downright masterpieces. Toy Story 3 just doesn't feel like it will fit into the latter category. I myself prefer Pixar's originals to rehashed sequels. The problem is that this could be a big let-down based on the sky-high expectations of those of us who grew up with the first two films. If it's anything less than mind-blowingly amazing, it will be seen as a disappointment. Secondly, I feel like How to Train Your Dragon really deserves it this year. A true underdog in every sense of the word, Dreamworks truly outdid themselves and made a film that despite a piss-poor release date did phenomenal box office business and was wildly successful with critics. To place something that special in March and bet the farm on yet another awful Shrek sequel in the summer is kind of unforgivable. Dreamworks bet on the wrong horse and it may cost them come oscar season, but my vote for best animated film of the year, and my favorite film of the year thus far, goes to How to Train Your Dragon in a landslide.

Inception is really the only film I find myself actually excited for anymore. Christopher Nolan has yet to make any film that's less than excellent. Following, Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins, The Prestige, and his dark masterpiece The Dark Knight, were all beyond amazing. Based on the new trailer and footage we've seen so far, Inception looks to continue that trend and be in a good place to finally bring Christopher Nolan to the oscars. In a field of ten best picture nominees, it seems like a shoe-in for Best Picture and numerous other nominations.

But really, this is one depressing slate of films. Even the fall doesn't look so hot, with The American being the main film I'm looking forward to, but coming out in September. Cut to the joys of dvd. Recently, I've been able to discover a great many films, including recent releases, via Netflix and the wonderful people at Criterion. Anyone who calls themselves a self-respecting cinephile knows who Criterion is and how they release meticulous restorations of a great many classic and contemporary films. Recently, Criterion entered a long term partnership with independent film distributor IFC Films, and have been releasing fantastic DVD and Blu-ray versions of recent IFC Films releases, such as Gomorrah, Hunger, Revanche, and Summer Hours. All four of these films would easily have made my top 10 of 2008 had I seen them at the time, and Lars Von Trier's Antichrist would have made my top 10 of 2009 had I seen it last year. In addition, I've had the chance to discover a number of classics I've never seen, such as Jean Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie, Fritz Lang's M, and others. Luckily, this helps ease the pain of my withdrawal from independent and art-house cinema, and honestly, withdrawal from good films. What are you watching these days? Comment below and tell us how your year in film has been going.


Sales on Film said...

My year so far has also been rather bleak, or at least, it was until tonight. I saw "The Secret in Their Eyes" (last year's Best Foreign Film award winner) and it stole my heart. You HAVE to see it! It's my #1 this year, and actually, it's the only film I'd put on a 'best of' list at all so far in 2010.

Kevin K. said...

I've been wanting to see that. I tend to be a little snobbish in the Foreign Film category for the Oscars, after all, this is the same group of people that gave the oscar to The Lives of Others over Pan's Labyrinth (a bonafide masterpiece IMO) and didn't even nominate Gomorrah, and gave the foreign film oscar in 2008 to that Japanese film over Waltz with Bashir and Revanche, and this year gave it to something other than A Prophet, but from what I hear The Secret in their Eyes is still great even if A Prophet kinda deserved to win

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