Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Latest Link for the Day, With Additional Comments

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - My latest article for is mostly just a flimsy excuse to try to review two movies at once: Chantal Akerman's 1975 masterpiece Jeanne Dielman and Sam Mendes's 2008 non-masterpiece Revolutionary Road.

The former is just about to complete a weeklong revival run at the Film Forum, in a brand new 35mm. print. I saw it this past Saturday for the second time; my first time was at a screening of a 16mm. print at Rutgers. You would think a 201-minute movie that features the barest minimum of plot and drama and focuses mostly on an unremarkable Belgian housewife's daily habits over the course of three days would be duller the second time around, after the initial shock of a first viewing has faded. Believe it or not, however, it's just as hypnotic and devastating the second time around as it is on the first. Hopefully this weeklong run will signal a Criterion DVD in the future (although there is a DVD box set of this and other Akerman films available from Belgium which I keep meaning to pick up)---although I wonder if a concentrated theatrical experience isn't somewhat essential to the film having its proper effect.

As for Revolutionary Road: I probably might have found it more affecting if I hadn't read Richard Yates's 1961 novel, which pulses with psychological anguish and humanity in ways Sam Mendes's relatively sterile adaptation rarely approaches (with the exception of those shock-to-the-system scenes with Michael Shannon, deservedly nominated for an Oscar for rising above the deliberate tastefulness). This may well be the best one could have done in adapting a novel as reliant on inner psychology as Yates's book is, but the elisions---the main characters' backstories, for instance---mostly make this seem like yet another of these smug Hollywood "soulless surburbia" dramas that have become all too prominent these past few years. Seriously: what's the point of films like this one, American Beauty, Little Children and others except for middlebrow filmmakers to crack wise---while maintaining a "serious" veneer, of course---about the middle class of which they were once a part? (Not that you could actually get a sense of personal involvement from any of these movies...)

To look on the bright side, though: even though I'm not rooting for her, clearly Kate Winslet was nominated for the wrong movie.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Two Links for the Day, and Oh Yeah, Oscar

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - First: my latest article, on Jean-Luc Godard's 1966 film Made in U.S.A., which only now has gotten a proper U.S. theatrical release at Film Forum (its run is already over, however). I've seen it once before, on a copied DVD from an underground source, but I was much more impressed with the film the second time around in this new 35mm. print: it's as rich and provocative as much of his '60s work, but, in its sense of melancholy, you can already see seeds of his later style being planted.

But the second link is the one I'm really itching to share: I'm on a podcast! Talking about movies! Talking about the year in movies 2008! Granted, I am one of many voices in this one, and I only got to chime in a few times with comments, but it was still cool to be a part of it, and to meet certain film bloggers that I read frequently. Click here to check it out (and let me know how I sounded, because I certainly am not going to be listening to myself on this one).

Oh yeah, and speaking of 2008 movies: the Oscar nominations yesterday? Pffft. I don't necessarily agree that 2008 was a weak year for movies---as I was trying to come up with my top 10 of last year, I could have easily rattled off 25 or so solid-to-great titles. Overall, though, it was a fairly unexciting year for American mainstream films---yeah, despite much-discussed films like The Dark Knight and Synecdoche, New York, neither of which impressed me all that much---and its Oscar crop represents this. Any Oscar year that considers an unintentional Holocaust sex comedy like The Reader as the epitome of prestige and good taste gives one more piece of evidence of its lack of relevance.

Perhaps, between now and Feb. 22, I'll consider discussing why I pretty much have no love for any of the Best Picture nominees, especially the deeply problematic Slumdog Millionaire. (If the Academy had actually had the guts to lump WALL-E into the Best Picture category, then maybe we'd have a contest---even if, for me, it would have been a landslide victory.) Until then, I will just put in these three random comments:

1. Where the fuck is Sally Hawkins in all this?

2. What the fuck is Departures? (It's the Japanese Foreign Film nominee, yes, but I've never even heard of it until today.)

3. I missed Melissa Leo in Frozen River, but even so, I pretty much think that, with the exception of Anne Hathaway, Juliette Binoche in Flight of the Red Balloon pretty much beats all of this year's Best Actresses. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

White Powder/White Heat

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I suppose it's heartening to know that even about a year and a half---well, give or take a couple of months---into my employment as a news assistant at The Wall Street Journal, I can still find some moments of surprise.

Today, I was at the heart of the latest white-powder-in-envelopes scare to hit a major newspaper. Apparently, some nut in Knoxville, Tenn., sent 12 envelopes with white powder to various top editors and executives (including Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson, whose office isn't too far away from where I sit on the ninth floor of One World Financial Center).

Some of them were opened, and so, close to 12 p.m., the alarms at our office went off and we got warned about the white powder, and that at that point we should just go about our normal business and just not open any mail. About 45 minutes later, however, we were told to evacuate the ninth floor.

I was allowed to go home early---guess the amount of required duties I have is small enough that it can be shouldered by others---but other, more important editors and such either decided to go home or go all the way down to the South Brunswick branch to try to get back online and do their thing.

Simply put: it was a crazy scene at that point; I don't think my description of the events as they transpired comes close to encapsulating the whirlwind feeling of the moment.

It was, in a perverse way, kinda exciting. Certainly, it made for some out-of-the-ordinary drama to give my daily routine a nice, hard shake.

As I wrote on my Facebook profile, "[I] can at least now boast to [my] friends that [I] was at the scene of a white-powder-in-envelopes scare."

P.S. Looks like the powder, upon initial investigation, was nothing serious after all. Back to work tomorrow (and, oh yeah, Oscar nominations...).

P.P.S. Perhaps I shouldn't really make light of all this...but I couldn't help but think back on this Chappelle's Show sketch (go 4:10 in to see what I mean):

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Short Take: Reprise

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I'm feeling a little bored right now, so I figured I might as well do a little movie mini-review before I get ready for bed (gotta work tomorrow; such is the strange schedule of a member of the journalism field). I'm not sure if I'm going to make this a regular feature, but it'd probably be nice to toss off these short takes once in a while.

I saw Joachim Trier's highly lauded debut feature Reprise earlier today on DVD, and for the most part I was quite impressed with its tricky mixture of formal/narrative playfulness and emotional directness. It's a portrait of two young budding writers and their torturous self-doubts; one, Erik, is taking his first, tentative dips into the book-publishing world, while the other, Phillip, has already experienced literary success and has allowed it to tear him up inside both emotionally and physically (the film follows the latter's attempts at trying to get back on track in his life after a major mental breakdown.)

Much has been made of the film's shout-outs to Truffaut's Jules and Jim, and its formal daring does suggest a bit of the French New Wave to it. But Trier quickly establishes his own distinctive, lovely moods and rhythms, melancholy yet alive to the characters' feelings, and inventive in the ways it portrays those feelings onscreen. Many of the characters are concerned---sometimes paralyzingly so---with the past, the future and the unknown: with trying to recreate the past; trying to decide how to shape their future; wondering, and worrying about, what may lie ahead for them. Trier takes those cues and toys with chronology throughout the film, creating a sense of temporal displacement at certain points as past and present occasionally get momentarily blurred; there are also a couple of bravura montages that explore the consequences of decisions that may or may not be made. None of this formal experimentation ever feels gratuitously show-offy; it all feels of a piece with Trier's modest but potent exploration of how his youthful characters respond to the vast amount of possibilities in their burgeoning adult lives.

Perhaps its most memorable sequence is one in which Phillip takes girlfriend Kari---who helped trigger the original psychosis---to Paris to try to methodically recreate the romantic experience they had three years ago in the same city as a newly formed couple. The attempts culminate in a powerfully sensual sex scene in which both of them try to rehash the sizzle of their first sexual encounter in Paris; suffice it to say, the spark is gone, but the scene is remarkable nevertheless for its emotional frankness and erotic immediacy.

Reprise ends on one of those montages of a possible future, concluding Trier's vibrant little portrait with neither obvious hope nor despairing pain---though it does come after a particularly painful moment for one of its main characters---but with either possibility up in the air. The lack of a clear resolution, of course, is deliberate; as the film eloquently suggests, who ever knows what will come next for anyone?

Friday, January 16, 2009

A New Outlet!

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - In the what-the-hell spirit that I'm trying to foster for myself (with varying degrees of success so far; impulsiveness doesn't always come easily to me), I recently decided to try my hand at some freelance writing on the side for a site entitled, a site that covers a wide variety of subjects and carries a wide variety of writers. I basically put in an online application, submitted two short clips of mine, and bam! A few days later, I got an email saying that they had hired me to basically contribute 10 articles in three months on whatever I felt like writing about.

Thus my first contribution, and probably the only one I'll be putting up for this week: this piece on the latest season of 24.

At the very least, this will hopefully force me to keep those writing juices flowing...juices I allowed to run perilously dry towards the tail end of last year (as evidenced by my paltry amount of blog posts). I'm not sure whether this will lead to anything for my future...but at this point, I'm mostly just interested in keeping myself active and engaged.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Link for the Day

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - This is the link for the day, and below I'll just reprint what I typed about the link in Facebook:

This is an important piece from Matt Zoller Seitz, the editor emeritus of The House Next Door, the blog I have contributed to in the past on occasion. It touches on issues of fair use as they apply to the YouTube age, and it demands to be read, contemplated and argued over by anyone who has even a passing interest in intellectual property rights as they apply to new media.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

My Year in Movies 2008

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - I keep hearing that 2008 was a mediocre year for movies---hey, real life provided enough compelling drama last year anyway. But for this ordinary-Joe cinephile without easy access to press screenings and film festivals---but with an increased access to New York art houses thanks to my job transfer to lower Manhattan in July---the year didn't strike me as significantly better or worse than most other years. Sure, 2008 wasn't chock full of equivalents to films like No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, I'm Not There, the Jesse James/Robert Ford movie, or even, earlier in the year, Zodiac---aesthetically and thematically ambitious films that provided much to talk about week in and week out, whatever you thought about the movies themselves. Outside of this year's middling crop of Hollywood prestige pics, however, there were still a lot of great films to celebrate; perhaps the reason this year felt so weak compared to 2007 was simply that most of the year's best films were more intimate in scale compared to, say, the Coen Brothers' grim contemplation of chance, fate and the passing of generations in No Country, Paul Thomas Anderson's insect-under-glass examination of a greedy capitalist's gradual desiccation at the turn of the 20th century in There Will Be Blood, or Todd Haynes's deconstruction of a musical icon's various public images in I'm Not There. Even the most ambitious of this year's crop, Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York, grounded its visual and literal fantasias on the life, possible death and deep---and, like it or not, universal---fears of one human-sized main character.

I guess one could say this was a year of contemplation---of oneself, of others, of where we've been and where we're headed. Doesn't that kinda sound like the state of the world that we live in right now, especially here in America?

But enough of broad statements. In time for the kick-off of awards season 2008 tonight with the Golden Globes, here are 10 films I really liked from 2008:

1. Flight of the Red Balloon. Using Albert Lamorisse's classic 1956 short The Red Balloon as merely a starting piont, the Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien visits France and locates a small environment filled with child-like wonder mixed in with adult responsibilities and disappointments. Whether through a child's imagination, a nanny's film-school project, or a mother's puppet shows, Hou, with characteristic patience and sensitivity to the flow of life in enclosed spaces, shows ordinary people trying to achieve their own moments of ecstasy and repose amid the sometimes wearying daily grind. Absolutely sublime.

2. Still Life. A younger Asian talent, Jia Zhang-ke, tackles the disintegrating effects of the Chinese government's Three Gorges Dam project on land, culture and human interactions, but does so with a painterly eye, an occasional penchant for whimsy and a roving openness to the many people wandering around in this wilderness. Subversive and critical yet somehow oddly hopeful and rejuvenating.

3. Profit motive and the whispering wind. John Gianvito's hour-long experimental documentary recounts American history---or at least a progressive reading of American history influenced by Howard Zinn's seminal People's History of the United States---without words, relying entirely on the tombstones and markers that pepper the American landscape to tell the story. By focusing not only on the markers themselves but the milieus surrounding each marker, one's appreciation for the history within our grasp is revitalized. This ran for a mere week at Anthology Film Archives in New York; if this ever finds its way to a proper DVD release, by all means, snap it up.

4. In the City of Sylvia. José Luis Guerín's film spends minutes on end observing its male protagonist as he scans and considers the women that grace his field of vision. He's looking for a lost love; we in the audience, on the other hand, are put in a position to consider the implications of what it means to be an uninvolved spectator. One man's voyeuristic gaze implicates all of our collective movie-watching gazes. Here's another film that was unfortunately relegated to a complimentary run at Anthology.

5. Rachel Getting Married. Standing as a welcome riposte to Arnaud Desplechin's wildly overpraised A Christmas Tale, Jonathan Demme's richly compassionate and idiosyncratic examination of family dysfunction paints familial bonds as a tightrope-walking negotiation of raw nerves and simmering resentments amid moments of celebratory joy and empathetic acceptance.

6. Diary of the Dead. If last January's indomitably hyped Cloverfield used the first-person-recorder aesthetic merely as a gimmicky pretext for some facile 9/11 exploitation, George A. Romero, for his fifth Dead feature, used the aesthetic for a more thoughtful, excoriating inquiry into the way technology is sometimes used to evade, rather than engage, viewer (or filmmaker) responsibility for what's in front of their eyes.

7. Waltz With Bashir. In this animated documentary, Ari Folman is certainly engaged, all right---by frightening dreams, by feelings of guilt and responsibility in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres, by disturbing notions of the unreliability of memory. His story, and real-life interviews with fellow soldiers and with psychologists and reporters, are all rendered in vivid animation that weaves fluidly between reality, fantasy and memory, while Folman himself digs into the question of just how far such memories and dreams can bring us to some kind of truth. Of course, even our own memories can't help but be dwarfed by grim, tragic reality, as its final, devastating moments of live-action footage bluntly but soberingly demonstrates.

8. Encounters at the End of the World. Werner Herzog, one of cinema's great madmen and most intrepid adventurers, goes to Antarctica with a National Science Foundation grant to make the "anti-March of the Penguins"; what he finds is not only endless beauty in nature, but also fellow seekers---some as crazy as Herzog is---who have gone to extraordinary lengths in order to grasp how all of this works---in essence, to solve the mysteries behind all this beauty. Minor or not, it's a fascinating and eye-opening journey.

9. Boarding Gate. Appearances, as ever, are deceiving in Olivier Assayas's cinematic worlds, and that applies to the film itself as well. A standard, tawdry B-movie genre exercise on the surface, its psychological depths and moral vision sneak up on you even as that surface---first low-key and sterile, then chaotic and frazzled---entertains in the moment. Whatever you may think of star Asia Argento as an actress, here playing a former prostitute who gets roped into a series of reversals and double-crosses in Hong Kong after killing a previous amour (Michael Madsen) for his money, she remains an endlessly fascinating creature, ruthless and sexually provocative while also being emotionally vulnerable and even moral in her own way, even as the world around her keeps such morals under wraps.

10. Happy-Go-Lucky. Yes, Mike Leigh's latest is rather schematic in its design and conception, but I'm not sure I care all that much, in the end. I haven't stopped thinking about Poppy, Scott and the rest of 'em since seeing the film a few months ago, and there are times when I think Poppy's approach to living---optimistic, sometimes exhaustingly so, but not exempt from empathy and understanding for those in less happier circumstances than she---is exactly the standard to which I should work---to which everyone should work, really. Besides, in a way, I probably owe Poppy---and, by extension, the wonderful Sally Hawkins---the feelings of rejuvenation that I've felt this past week, ever since that missed Playtime-in-70-mm screening. Thanks, Poppy!

Ten others that I liked (I'll just list them, in rough order of preference):

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Steven Spielberg
Burn After Reading, Joel & Ethan Coen
Mary, Abel Ferrara
Shotgun Stories, Jeff Nichols
The Romance of Astréa and Celadon, Eric Rohmer
The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Cristian Mungiu
WALL-E, Andrew Stanton
The Witnesses, André Téchiné
Married Life, Ira Sachs

Special honorable mentions:

1. Kent Mackenzie's 1961 film The Exiles, a poetically low-key look at displaced Native Americans trying to adjust to big-city life, restored and given a proper theatrical release by Milestone Films, though one seemingly less heralded, though no less worthy, than its Killer of Sheep restoration last year.

2. The stunning restoration of Max Ophüls's 1955 masterpiece Lola Montès, which, in its examination of the thin line between the worlds of theatrical spectacle and harsh reality, at least in the main character's own life, remains as startlingly relevant as it is visually ravishing.

3. Ashes of Time Redux, Wong Kar-Wai's reworking of his famously impenetrable 1994 wuxia epic, and as intoxicating and emotionally scintillating as ever.

And, of course, there is my lengthy list of blind spots, although I think this entry and my "sneak preview" entry covered most of the significant ones. (I haven't really seen any new movies this past week---too busy living, I guess.)

I was going to end this with my picks for a category I call "What's the big deal?", but I'll take to heart Beethoven's declaration in the finale of his Ninth Symphony to "...sing more cheerful songs, / And more joyful." Still, I just wanted to quickly add these tidbits: The Dark Knight and Iron Man, despite the hype and box office for both, were hardly the best the superhero genre had to offer this past summer (I would pick Hellboy II: The Golden Army, though a notch below Guillermo del Toro's 2004 original, as a livelier, lovelier and more imaginative alternative to those two); Jeff Nichols's aforementioned directorial debut Shotgun Stories trumped Lance Hammer's more celebrated, wannabe-Malickian debut film Ballast; and Gus Van Sant's unwillingness in Milk to imagine its admittedly magnetic central figure as something other than a martyr-to-be actually makes me thankful that Steven Soderbergh at least made a valiant intellectual attempt to cut through the usual biopic bullshit in his two-part Che (ultimately a failure, I think, but a fascinating and often surprisingly engrossing one).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Last Chance Kenji?

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Sometimes personal life lessons come in situations you never expect. And boy, did I not expect this one.

This one has something to do with the danger of missing golden opportunities, because I realized today that I totally missed a gleaming one, and this one fucking pains me...hard.


For those of you who aren't aware, the still above is from Jacques Tati's 1967 film Playtime. Playtime is one of the grand follies of the cinema, a film of staggering visual and thematic scope that encompasses no less than the modern world in all its faults and glories. It's a film that took three long, hard years for Tati to complete, and its box-office failure just about ruined the filmmaker. But it is, without a doubt in my mind, one of cinema's great masterpieces: visually innovative, full of insights into the world we all live in, and (despite Wall Street Journal film critic Joe Morgenstern's protest to the contrary) overflowing with emotion, humor and humanity. And I'm not just saying this because that's the consensus among the film elites: every time I walk around in New York City or scan my eyes around an office, I find myself fondly remembering equivalent images from Playtime, and then I can't help but marvel at Tati's vision, it's visionary-ness---how acutely Tati understands modernity, and how he's able to translate it into sheer visual splendor.

But, in a sense, despite my two DVD viewings of this film, in a sense I haven't really seen Playtime at all. Tati shot it in the grand 70mm. format---think something akin to IMAX---and, during its initial run in France, demanded that his film be shown only in theaters equipped to project 70mm film. The big screen absolutely matters for Playtime because of the way Tati shot this work: he uses no close-ups, relying solely on long shots, and filling his frames with multitudinous visual details. To really get the full effect Tati was going for---of being immersed in a world similar to our own, taking in everything left and right---it pretty much demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible, where it is possible one could go dizzy at the array to choices for your eye to focus on in one shot. Truly, Playtime is a democratic film both narratively---there is no main character to ground the (deliberately thin) storyline, only groups of people going in and out of the wide frame---and stylistically.

Suffice it to say, I have not seen Playtime in 70mm., so I only have hearsay to go on as far as the film's effect in its intended format goes. But this Sunday, I found a bright, shining opportunity to rectify that oversight: yesterday, the Film Society of Lincoln Center scheduled four showings of a 70mm. print of Playtime at the Walter Reade Theater in New York. I only found out about this once-in-a-blue-moon chance Sunday through a blog post written about the film itself by a House Next Door contributor, but my immediate response was: this is way too good to pass up! To see one of my favorite films---if not my all-time favorite---of all time on the largest screen imaginable? I could only imagine the euphoria that would arise after it was all over.

So...why is it that I was nowhere near Walter Reade last night---instead, I was in East Brunswick activating a new cell phone and trying to decide on new frames and lenses for my new eye prescription---and that, only now, do I find myself realizing, with agonizing frustration, what an opportunity I had just blown?

Yes, readers: I missed this one-day showing of the 70mm. version of Playtime---but worse, I did it deliberately, knowing in the back of my head that I was probably going to regret missing it if I didn't take the chance, but deciding to skip it anyway. (I certainly could have rearranged my schedule for it, so I can't even chalk it up to that.) That near-self-destructiveness if I've ever seen it.


I could probably rattle off a million reasons what came into my head to somehow convince myself that this was a screening worth missing. Mostly, I think it was this: I've been increasingly staying in NYC after work recently to catch 2008 flicks, and I guess in this case I was hit with my usual bout of self-consciousness and overriding concern for what others---principally my parents, specifically my mother---thinks of my near-rabid movie-devouring. Whenever I tell my mother that I plan to stay for an extra few hours in the city and thus miss dinner at home, I can sense the disappointment in her voice nearly every time, even if she doesn't express it explicitly---she seems to be very big on having the whole family present for dinners. Keeping that in mind: I had already stayed after work on Jan. 1 to see Waltz With Bashir at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and I did so again Sunday evening to see The Wrestler (which, by the way, I would indeed highly recommend, and not just for Mickey Rourke's excellent but slightly overhyped "comeback" performance). I guess somehow I got it into my head that to do it again for a second night in a row would be to risk making it look like I was merely getting carried away in my mother's eyes (and I remember all too well the times in the past that my mother has scolded me for being too carried away with something, in her eyes---especially over something like music or movies, because "movies aren't everything").

All my impulses were telling me to go with my gut on this, but then my head, as it sometimes does, prevailed---and now my gut is feeling more wrenched than it's felt in recent times.

This, however, is not meant to be an excoriation of my mother; Lord knows, I've done that plenty of times on this blog and others in the past, and I've come to realize that, most of the time, she knows not what she does to me. She is not to blame. It's mine...all mine. And it sucks. It really friggin' sucks.

So this is an excoriation of myself. What am I kicking myself for? This is not just about missing the chance to see one of the greatest films ever made on one of the biggest screens possible. This is about a trend that I've noticed in my life, one that I've always recognized but never really done much about: the tendency to overthink a situation and thus to leave open the possibility of missing perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunities such as this. (I mean, perhaps the Film Society of Lincoln Center will, five years down the road, decide to do something like this with Playtime again. But it is going to be a long, looooooong wait 'til then, I suspect...)

Well, no more.


Here's a pre-emptive blurb about one of my top 10 favorite films of 2008, Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky: if the film, through its main character Poppy, tells us anything about ourselves, it's that happiness is more or less what you make of it. You can internalize all your frustrations and anger and become someone like the out-of-this-world driving instructor Scott, seemingly unable to enjoy even a hint of joy in his life. Or you can be somewhat more like a Poppy: not to try to deny reality, and perhaps not so hellbent on trying to bring joy into people's lives like Poppy sometimes is, but to find a measure of hopefulness and understanding in even the least appealing of people and circumstances.

Well, I consider this blown opportunity a pretty damn unappealing circumstance...but, after spending about an hour this evening wallowing in my despair over missing it (the stunning realization occasioned by a film blogger's ecstatic Twitter note), I decided that I would not let this depress me, and instead decided to try to find some optimism amid the personal gloom.

Here's what I've come up with: basically, I have resolved that no more will I ever---ever---knowingly let opportunities like that slip through my fingers if I can help it. Carpe diem, right? No regrets. I don't need any more regrets; I've already experienced my fair share in 23 years.

And to expand this even further: obviously, to be able to seize opportunities, in some cases you have to know what opportunities are out there in order to take 'em, because sometimes they won't present themselves to you in plain view. Logically, then, if I want to be in the sight-line for golden opportunities, I will have to be constantly on the look out, constantly active, surveying a particular scene with a roving eye. That kind of activeness doesn't always come easily to me, however: I think I've always been kind of a passive person---not simply letting things come to me, mind you, but always hesitant to take certain bold steps. (Even at work, I sometimes might let a certain small error pass by just because I'm a bit too nervous to go to an editor and bring it up, for various reasons. That just isn't the way to go in the journalism business, and yet it's something that I sometimes can't help but struggle with.) In the past, I've ruminated, here online and/or elsewhere, about the reasons for my sometimes passive nature...but I guess I've come to realize, what's the point of all that navel-gazing? It'll just leave you even more depressed. Better to just try to improve that certain problem area and move along. And, of course, if you experience a setback, there's no point in wallowing in what could have been. You can't turn back time and make things better; I don't have a DeLorean time machine to try to go back to the past and smooth things out in the present.

I think I'm rambling now, so I'll just end here: I think you all get the point. Resolved: never, ever again will I let something like this happen, at least if I can help it. Take whatever opportunities you see, especially if you think they're too good to pass up.

And to think, all of this was inspired by a movie screening that I didn't even see.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sneak Preview: My 10 Favorite Films of 2008

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Readers---the ones who are still here, anyway---after a year in which I frankly started to feel lost in a thicket of indecision and anxiety about my future, I am resolved to start 2009 off on in the right direction.

Thus, here below is a list of the 10 best films I saw in 2008 (and, in one instance, on the first day of 2009).

Keep in mind, of course, that there are still a handful of films released in December that I haven't yet seen---Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road, Gran Torino, the French film The Secret of the Grain, among others---and others that I simply missed on both the big screen and/or DVD in 2008---Woman on the Beach, The Silence Before Bach, Alexandra, My Winnipeg, Reprise, Let the Right One In and a slew of others I can't think of right now. I'm also hoping to catch one of my picks again sometime this week just to make sure it holds up on a second viewing. (And then there's Charlie Kaufman's problem child Synecdoche, New York, which I keep wanting to see a second time even though I honestly found it a pretty endless slog the first time around.) Lots of blind spots then...but I don't care. I'm pretty darn satisfied with my picks as they are right now, and I feel like sharing it with the rest of the world. Sharing things with the world is something I simply didn't do much of down the stretch of last year, and I want to start rectifying that as soon as possible.

I'll just list the titles for now; I'll annotate it later on in the week---hopefully before the Golden Globes on the 11th. Who knows? This list may well change slightly before then...

In rough order of preference:

1. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
2. Still Life (Jia Zhangke)
3. Profit motive and the whispering wind (John Gianvito)
4. In the City of Sylvia (José Luis Guerín)
5. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)
6. Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero)
7. Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman)
8. Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog)
9. Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas)
10. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)

More to come, in due time...