Sunday, January 31, 2010

ranking the best and worst of the sundance film festival

From the opening-night film through today's award-winner screenings, I was here at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. (Or, as they called it, SundanceTwentyTen.) From worst to best, here are the films I saw (including ones I screened prior to the festival) with links to my reviews where applicable:

Sympathy for Delicious

Jack Goes Boating
Holy Rollers
The Company Men
Waste Land
The Romantics
Contracorriente (Undertow)

The Taqwacores

Winter's Bone


The Freebie

The Extra Man
Waiting for Superman
The Kids Are All Right
Mother and Child
Exit Through the Gift Shop



Please Give
Animal Kingdom
The Tillman Story


A Prophet

I Am Love

Blue Valentine
Southern District (Zona Sur)
12th & Delaware


As you can probably gather, I'm not as high on Winter's Bone as my colleagues (and the jury) were. That movie may deserve a second look. But later ... right now I need some sleep.

Friday, January 29, 2010

bon iver - re: stacks

I'm iffy on Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago album, but its final track, "Re: Stacks," is a constant comfort to me. (I'm assuming it's about, y'know, heartbreak and stuff, but it's just so soothing.) The song is used in The Romantics, which I saw here at Sundance, and I've been humming it ever since. Now maybe you will, too.

fringe - the bishop revival

Nowadays when a bad guy in a movie or TV show is a Nazi, I always find it slightly adorable -- they're the one group it's still totally OK to portray in a stereotypically cliched way. Last night's Fringe illustrated my point a little too well .... my recap is up at Vulture.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

'the romantics' review

Can a twentysomething comedy-drama be exceptionally glib and yet resonant? It can if it's The Romantics, a film that bugged me on many levels but also got to me, too. My review is at Screen International.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

'the extra man' review

Love Kevin Kline? Then you'll want to keep an eye out for The Extra Man, which stars him as an eccentric, would-be aristocrat living in New York. The movie's pretty great, too, which I review at Screen International.

'twelve' review

Director Joel Schumacher's Twelve is in the proud tradition of movies like Kids and Thirteen, in which we learn about all the terrible things young people are doing while we're not watching. I admit to a soft spot for these sorts of sleazy/lurid films, but this one doesn't work. I explain why over at Screen International.

'frozen' review

Frozen opens February 5, but it played as part of the midnight section at Sundance. My review is here.

"say you miss me"

I don't know if anyone else experiences this, but sometimes when I wake up I have a random song inexplicably stuck in my head. So, I've decided to start an infrequent column about this phenomenon called The Song in My Head, in which I'll write about that song. Maybe it'll be a critique. Maybe it'll be an association I have with the song. We'll see how it goes.

Wilco's "Say You Miss Me" is off their Being There album, which came out during the time period when I was rooting against them and pulling for Son Volt. In retrospect, the reasons are pretty stupid, so it's not worth dwelling on them.

I have a memory of hearing this song at some point in my 20s late at night when I was single and very lonely and very unhappy. The song has a drunken-phone-call quality to it, which is why I'm sure I responded to it at the time.

Checking my iTunes, I see that it popped up on Monday, so that's partly to explain why it was stuck in my head this morning. But it was also in a dream I had last night in which my wife and I were living in the same house as friends of ours. In the dream, I remember thinking, "This is a pretty good Wilco song."

Of course, I also think it's in my head because I haven't seen my wife in about a week and miss her terribly. I mean, just look at these lyrics:
I've been sleepin' alone, out on my own...

Do you miss me too?
Baby say I'll miss you
Just say you'll miss me too
Do you miss me too?
Baby say I'll miss you
Just say you'll miss me too
Granted, "Say You Miss Me" is a post-breakup/please-take-me-back song, but the sentiment hits home regardless.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

'southern district' review

People I've talked to at Sundance don't just dislike Southern District, they flat out hate it. Oh well: I still think it's the best thing I've seen here. I explain why at Screen International.

'buried' review

Buried got scooped up pretty quickly by Lionsgate, and it's easy to see why: The damn thing just seems like a Lionsgate movie. My review of the Ryan Reynolds thriller is here.

'the kids are all right' review

Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right is a real treat. Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo are all great in it. I go into more detail about the film here.

'holy rollers' review

The crime drama Holy Rollers stars Jesse Eisenberg as an Hasidic Jew who turns to a life of crime. My review is up at Screen International.

'waste land' review

If my screening was any indication, Waste Land is a documentary that will work well with audiences. I just wished I liked the movie better.

Monday, January 25, 2010

'blue valentine' review

One of the best things I've seen at this year's Sundance film festival has been the romantic drama Blue Valentine, which stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. My review is up at Screen International.

'sympathy for delicious' review

There's no getting around it: Mark Ruffalo's directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious, is a complete train wreck. I survey the damage at Screen International.

'cyrus' review

The Puffy Chair remains the Duplass brothers' best film, but Cyrus is a fun (and funny) mixture of mumblecore and mainstream sensibilities. Plus, it boasts a great performance from Marisa Tomei.

'jack goes boating' review

Philip Seymour Hoffman goes behind the camera for the first time with Jack Goes Boating, a melancholy romantic drama that's too muted for its own good. I explain why over at Screen International.

'hesher' review

Hesher is a very odd beast -- part black comedy, part coming-of-age story, part grieving-family drama. Some people here at Sundance have dismissed it as a mess, which I think is part of its appeal. My review is here.

'happythankyoumoreplease' review

How do you know you're no longer in your 20s? When a zeitgeist-y romantic comedy like happythankyoumoreplease comes along and you think, "Good god are these people annoying." My review of Josh Radnor's feature directorial debut is up at Screen International.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

'the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford'

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford will be screening at the Billy Wilder Theater on January 31. I say a few words in honor of the film, particularly Brad Pitt's performance, at L.A. Weekly.

'please give' review

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener's Please Give is a real treat. Catherine Keener and the whole cast are just great. You can read my review from Sundance here.

'the company men' review

The feature debut of TV producer John Wells, The Company Men, tackles the current economic crisis from the perspective of three white-collar employees in danger of getting downsized. It's not nearly as penetrating as it should be. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, January 22, 2010

jay-z - "on to the next one"

Jay-Z's "99 Problems" might have been my favorite song of the '00s. Welcome to the '10s.

fringe: what lies below

Killer viruses were the big story of last night's Fringe. Blegh, I say: I'm more interested in talking about the evolving friendship between Walter and Astrid. My recap is up at Vulture.

'howl' review

Sundance 2010 kicked off last night with HOWL, an unconventional, I'm Not There-style biopic of Allen Ginsberg and his controversial, acclaimed poem "Howl." My review is up at Screen International.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'tooth fairy' review

I really think Dwayne Johnson could be a movie star. But if he keeps starring in crap like Tooth Fairy, well .... oh, just read my review.

mariah carey - 'memoirs of an imperfect angel'

I find Mariah Carey fascinating, and I don't mean that in a snarky way. Anybody who's been as successful for as long as she has must be doing something right -- you'd have to be to constantly stay in the good graces of the general public. So I gave a listen to her most recent album, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, and wrote up my thoughts for the Metro Times.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2009 pazz & jop

I didn't say it out loud, so you'll just have to take my word for it, but I correctly predicted that Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion would win this year's Pazz & Jop music poll. I don't love the record as much as my colleagues do, clearly, but looking back on my review of the album from almost a year ago, I see that even I could tell that it was a step up for a band I think is generally overrated but admirable in its ambitions.

As for the singles chart, I never bothered making a prediction. But I still say that "Empire State of Mind" is a great Alicia Keys chorus weighed down by a so-so Jay-Z rap. (His "On to the Next One" off the same album is a far superior single.)

And what about my ballot? You can see it here. It follows my usual pattern of being more closely aligned with the consensus on the albums side. My favorite songs tend not to be a lot of other people's favorite songs -- I suspect that may be somewhat intentional. I love songs that feel personal rather than shared. In fact, three of my singles picks didn't show up on a single other critic's ballot: an Eels tune, a dance remix of Christian Bale's Terminator Salvation on-set freak out, and (to my mind) the standout track on Neko Case's acclaimed album. I think anybody with an open mind would enjoy the hell out of all three. But it don't worry me if you disagree.

Friday, January 15, 2010

raphael saadiq - 100 yard dash

Among all the other things old-school R&B did so well, it could make you positively happy, even if the song was about despairing subject matter. Raphael Saadiq's "100 Yard Dash" is a good recent example of the old Motown template.

fringe: johari window

Yes, last night's Fringe wasn't a mythology episode -- even worse, it was yet another standalone, freak-of-the-week installment. Still, I liked it quite a lot. My recap is up at Vulture.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

los angeles film critics pick films of the decade

In preparation for our annual awards banquet, which is being held this Saturday, LAFCA members voted for their films of the decade. You can see the full results, including individual ballots, here. It's been more than eight years since I saw our winner -- it may be time for a fresh viewing.

fringe: unearthed

Last night, Fringe without warning pulled out an old, never-before-aired episode and tried to pawn it off as a new one. Boo, says me, but that wasn't the only reason it was a terrible episode. My Vulture recap is here.

Monday, January 11, 2010

'amadeus: the director's cut' at the new beverly

Amadeus won a ton of Oscars in its time, and 25 years later the film still holds up quite well, thank you very much. I sing its praises in L.A. Weekly on the occasion of the New Beverly's screening of the film's director's cut.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

megadeth's 'endgame' and revolver's top 20 albums of 2009

Revolver polled its writers for their picks for the best hard rock/metal albums of 2009. My No. 1 also was the consensus pick: Alice in Chains' Black Gives Way to Blue. (My review is here.) In the issue, which is on newsstands now and looks like this, I say a few words about another album that made the Top 20, Megadeth's Endgame.

Friday, January 08, 2010

mountain goats - this year

My favorite Mountain Goats album remains Tallahassee, but I know everyone else would pick The Sunset Tree. We can agree to disagree about that, but does anyone question that this is their most beloved song? Kinda appropriate for a new year, too, don't you think?

"hey, that's no way to say goodbye"

I don't know if anyone else experiences this, but sometimes when I wake up I have a random song inexplicably stuck in my head. So, I've decided to start an infrequent column about this phenomenon called The Song in My Head, in which I'll write about that song. Maybe it'll be a critique. Maybe it'll be an association I have with the song. We'll see how it goes.

Leonard Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye" was in my head this morning when I woke up. My only explanation was last night I went to my friends' comedy show called The Drinking Game, and during the event it came out that one of the game's contestants actually received a popsicle from Mr. Cohen. The guy worked in computers, and one of his clients turned out to be the singer-songwriter, and apparently Cohen was very appreciative and offered him a popsicle.

Checking my iTunes, I see I have two versions of the song -- the original studio recording and the live version from last year's Live in London. I know a lot of people adore the live album, and while I definitely enjoy it, the original version was in my head when I woke up. I've always liked the song's acknowledgment that love usually doesn't end with a bang but rather a whimper. It falls apart piece by piece, little by little, until one day you realize that something that once was so strong and so present is just ... gone. Part of what makes the song so sad is that Cohen doesn't oversell the sadness -- as always, he plays the dignified gentleman, which makes the tune all the more heartbreaking.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

'leap year' review

I like Amy Adams. I like Matthew Goode. And I like director Anand Tucker's Shopgirl. So why isn't Leap Year any better than it is? I try to explain in my review here.

Friday, January 01, 2010

youth group - two sides

Their name is Youth Group. They're from Australia. They've barely made a dent on U.S. radio. But I really dig this song. As for the video, low-budget awesomeness.

Happy 2010, people.