MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The Frenzies

It seems everywhere you look these days, there’s some different group of folks that are handing out awards to films and actors that they feel are the ‘best’ in a particular category. I figured that I might as well start giving out some awards of my own in different sorts of categories that you might not see elsewhere. So without any further ado, here’s the first Frenzies!

Best Film You Probably Didn’t See: Australian Elissa Downs’ The Black Balloon, which is about how one family deals with one teenager’s autism in a suburb of Sydney. Luke Ford is excellent as the afflicted kid, but it’s Rhys Wakefield as his defeated brother who really shines, showing us the realities of dealing with someone with that disease. The film doesn’t shy away from showing us the difficulties of someone who might bolt at a moment’s notice or defecate himself and rub it everywhere. The film allows us to be angry with this autistic child instead of seeing him as perfect simply because of his disease. Because of this, the tears that occur towards the end of the film feel earned rather than sentimental or sappy.

Most Overhyped Film: Even if it was as good as Casablanca, the answer would have to beThe Dark Knight — and unfortunately it’s no Casablanca. The way people were ranting and raving about how great this film was made me feel like they had never seen a film before. Sure, there’s some great, pulpy stuff here, but it is a film that is full of plot holes and is designed to appeal to people who like to see stuff blow up. Yes, it’s smarter than the average superhero film, but if telling the best, most dramatically compelling story was really the main interest, then there would not have been an entire half-hour dedicated to Batman going to Hong Kong.That whole section could have been wrapped up in two minutes.

The one thing that couldn’t get hyped enough was Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, which was truly the best thing about the film. Unfortunately, the filmmakers spend too much time on other villains rather than focusing the bulk of their time on the most interesting one. The rise and fall of Harvey Dent is interesting, but when the Joker is around, why not dedicate the whole film to Batman’s struggles with him alone? Especially now that Mr. Ledger is no longer with us, it feels even more like a missed opportunity, so we savor those moments when the Joker is on screen and I truly think there could have been more.

Most Heartbreaking Ending: John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt ends with a goosebump-inducing moment, and it doesn’t take more than Meryl Streep talking to Amy Adams on a bench. The writing, the acting, the music, everything is pitch-perfect in a scene that brings everything back full-circle. It won’t make you cry, but it’ll send a chill through your spine.

Best Double-Dipping Director: With filmmakers like Clint Eastwood (Changeling, Gran Torino), David Gordon Green (Snow Angels, Pineapple Express) and Woody Allen(Cassandra’s Dream, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) all releasing two films in the same calendar year, it was Gus Van Sant who gave us two of the best motion pictures of the year:Milk and Paranoid Park. While Paranoid Park is a more experimental film, I also found it to be the more involving one, and many of the same techniques can be seen in Milk, albeit with a more mainstream bent. Milk falls somewhere between Gerry and Good Will Hunting on the Van Sant scale, settling in as less indie than My Own Private Idaho but less mainstream than Finding Forrester. I’d say it’s about in line with To Die For, also an offbeat film with a mainstream cast.

Milk had the tough task of following up a terrific documentary on the same subject (Rob Epstein’s The Times of Harvey Milk), but unlike Lords of Dogtown (which followed the documentary Dogtown and Z Boys) Van Sant was a smart enough filmmaker to realize that he now had the ability to delve deeper into the stories that weren’t caught on film rather than recreating Milk’s greatest hits.

Ultimately I prefer Paranoid Park because it doesn’t have to fit with the conventions of a biopic or any other genre; it is simply it’s own thing, something beautiful, mysterious, containing both everything and nothing. The fact that Van Sant is able to make both an abstract and mainstream masterpiece in the same year makes him this year’s best double-dipper.

Best Costume Drama: Saul Dibb’s fascinating The Duchess was a film that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did, but the story of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was one that had so many incredible twists and turns that help to make this classic story something soapier, something that a modern audience can relate to. It’s about what it really meant to be a woman in the 18th century, stuck in a corset and not allowed to make her own decisions. This is a film that doesn’t just look at the pretty surface like many costume dramas do, instead investigating how much it can hurt to be trapped and abused. Keira Knightleydoes a remarkable job in the lead role and Ralph Fiennes is terrific as her deeply conflicted — and deeply cowardly — husband.

Best Tunes: Nothing made me tap my feet more than the drums from Thomas McCarthy’s The Visitor. The rest of the film is darn good too, with excellent performances all around. While the premise sounds a bit contrived, the film goes to remarkably different places than you might expect.

Funniest Film: Hands down, has to be M. Night Shyamalan’s comedic masterpiece The Happening. There are so many lines that I’ve been repeating ever since I saw the film, including: “You should be more interested in science, Jake. You know why? Because your face is perfect” or “We’re packing hot dogs for the road. You know, hot dogs get a bad rep. They gotta cool shape, they got protein,” or the incomparable “Why are you eyeing my lemon drink?” It’s an absolute classic of a film that will be treasured by loads of film fans for years to come.

Movie That We Will Forget Ever Happened: The embarrassment known as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I really don’t even know what to say about it that hasn’t already been said; although it must be mentioned that George Lucas has officially been stripped of his “genius” label after this mess and The Clone Wars animated film. He’s simply the head of a corporation who wants to make money instead of an auteur with a vision.

Most Infuriating, Self-Serving Documentary: Morgan Spurlock’s despicable Where in the World is Osama bin Laden? which purports to be about finding the whereabouts of the famed Al-Qaeda leader, but is really about Spurlock showing how much he cares. But if he cares so deeply about humanity and what kind of world his unborn child will be encountering, then why doesn’t he spend that time with the mother of that child instead of allowing her to fend for herself during the entirety of her pregnancy? Especially since he spends much of the movie complaining about how he can’t be with his wife; well, there’s nothing really stopping him from shutting down the production for a few months. Especially since (spoiler alert) he doesn’t find Osama bin Laden and doesn’t really try all that hard to.

While the Ben Stein anti-Darwin documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed surely has an idiotic premise that is anti-intellectual, Spurlock’s film is even more infuriating in its ideology. Much of the film is spent asking softball questions of professors and religious leaders about why people don’t like one another. There is nothing new to be gleaned from this film and it uses a controversial subject matter and title to bring importance to a sophomoric attempt at understanding terrorism. Spurlock should stick to films about Big Macs.

Most Unfairly Maligned Flick: Spike Lee’s WWII film Miracle at St. Anna, which is one of the best films I’ve seen all year. And it really seems like I saw a different film than most critics who bashed it and called it hammy or indulgent or overlong. Sure, I could see how someone might feel that way, but I think if you’re a Spike Lee fan and you can get on the same wavelength as him, you’ll love this film. It’s very reminiscent of Rosselini’s work, right down to the emoting done by the actors or the everyday magic. The same folks who bash this film are the ones who love John Wayne war flicks, which are equally over-the-top, so why do those flicks get a pass? It’s because of the era in which they came out; we are more forgiving to older films and this one is a reasonable approximation of the same kind of acting and storyline. It’s an excellent film, in any era.

Best Film About Transgendered Pedophilic Vampires: It was a close one, but I think I’ll have to give it to Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson’s terrific and original coming-of-age drama that is funny, scary, and riveting from start to finish. The remarkable thing about the film is that while it has many different genres at work, it sticks to one somnambulant pace throughout, but it is never boring for a second because each scene matters. It’s the type of film that will make you smile, even though your brain is telling you that what you’re watching is incredibly creepy and odd.

Good Idea, Bad Execution: Nanette Burstein’s American Teen could have been something special, but instead it feels staged and forced. There are animated interludes and storylines that seemed fashioned in the editing room rather than just allowing the kids to live their lives. It’s really not as good as MTV’s “True Life” series when it comes to documenting the trials and tribulations of young people in America.

Filmmaker Who Needs to Stop: I don’t know how Christophe Honore got such a wonderful cast for his new atrocity Love Songs, but it surely can’t be on the basis of his past films. Ma Mere and Dans Paris are both terrible, pretentious films about a misanthropic young sociopath – played in all of his films by the sullen, boring Louis Garrel. And his new film is no different, except that there’s awful music too! Honore tries to pay homage to everything from Godard to Demy, but winds up just ripping them off because he’s not nearly the filmmaker they were. Yet somehow he managed to snag Chiara Mastroianni and Ludivine Sagnier, two extremely beautiful and talented young actresses. The plot is ridiculous and unmoving and it tries so hard to be “real” and “gritty,” but it’s really a bunch of navel-gazing signifying nothing at all. The only plus I can say is that it’s better than his previous two films, but not by much.

The Ridley Scott Award: Ridley Scott, for Body of Lies. Once again, Sir Ridley manages to prove my theory that he is only as good as the material he is given. Here he is given a mediocre script and despite having Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe in his cast, he still manages to make a mediocre film. A truly great filmmaker should be able to take the script he is given and not just bring it to life, but elevate it in the process. With Ridley Scott, you can be sure that you will get exactly what you ask for: nothing more, nothing less than competent filmmaking.

Best Film to Catch Twenty Minutes of on Cable: I can’t wait until the movie channels start showing David Mamet’s Redbelt so I can catch a few minutes of snappy dialogue. The best thing about seeing a Mamet film is that you know the story front-to-back and can just tune in and out for a little Mamet flavor. Redbelt is a good film — not his best one, but it’s one that will be a blast to catch a few scenes from before going to bed in the middle of the night.

Film That I’m Most Embarrassed to Have Enjoyed: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. I know that I am clearly not the demographic that the film is trying to appeal to, but I enjoyed the hell out of the original and now the sequel. All four girls are really well drawn out and brought to life by four talented actresses and the storylines don’t necessarily go where I expected them to. Sure, it’s manipulative and cheesy, but it’s fun and poignant as well. I would watch this film over Twilight any day.

Good Idea, Bad Execution Part II: I don’t know how they managed to suck out all the fun from 21, but sure enough they did. I mean, this is a film about a young guy who gets to go to Vegas, gamble, win a ton of money and bag the dream girl; somehow, they make the main character a whiny mope and insert a lame message. This is the kind of film that John Hugheswould have hit out of the park in the ’80s with Anthony Michael Hall in the lead role, but today with Robert Luketic and Jim Sturgess it’s just a blah film that takes an interesting subject and made it boring. Congrats on that one.

Unscariest Horror Film: Not counting The Happening or Twilight, the answer would have to be either The Eye with Jessica Alba or Prom Night. Both are remakes and both don’t really try all that hard to be scary, telegraphing the scares before they even reach the audience. Horror films are supposed to keep you up all night, not put you to sleep.

Best Performance That’s Being Overshadowed By Another: Emile Hirsch is proving to be one of our finest young actors and it is on full display in Milk. The performance that’s getting all the credit – besides Sean Penn’s lead, which is probably one of the best performances you’ll ever see – is James Franco’s as Harvey Milk’s lover Scott Smith. Hirsch plays the more vampish Cleve Jones, but he never goes too far over the top with it and he electrifies the screen whenever he is on it. In contrast, Franco glowers a bit too much and slow the film down a bit whenever he shows up. Perhaps this is all part of the plan of making Franco’s Smith character representative of stability in Milk’s life, but I found myself rooting for Hirsch to show up again and bring some vitality with him.

Saddest Dedication to Their Craft: I can’t believe Jared Leto gained all that weight for a script as terrible as Chapter 27. He’s actually pretty good in the film, which makes it that much sadder. Picture Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, only if Raging Bull was directed byBrett Ratner.

Film That I Wanted to Like More Than I Actually Did: I really, really wanted to love Che and I liked it fine, but it’s really a very messy film. For a film called Che, it really does not tell us a lot about his life as a whole, but rather two important clips. It shows Che’s dedication to being a revolutionary, and while it does gloss over some of the more heinous aspects of his life, that’s not really the point here. It’s more about what kind of man you have to be to dedicate your life to a cause or, more importantly, be a symbol of that cause. There are some fascinating sections, but I gotta tell you, I was really bored during long stretches of it. The pace is beyond languid and Steven Soderbergh is channeling Malick here, but not to great effect. There is enough material in Che Guevara’s life that there don’t need to be so many stretches of absolute silence.

But ultimately I can’t judge the film on what I wanted it to be, but rather on what it is. And for what it is, it’s a remarkable achievement, one that should be applauded. I just wish I could be more passionate in my applause.

Best Performance That’s Being Overshadowed by Another Part II: Michael Sheen is absolutely phenomenal as David Frost in Frost/Nixon, although it seems all you hear about is Frank Langella as Tricky Dick. Langella is terrific, don’t get me wrong, but he gets to play the showier role, a president who’s been imitated thousands of times. Sheen, on the other hand, has the role of a man who is unknown to most people and has to basically create that character from the ground up. Sheen also has the difficult task of being the character who actually has to change from the beginning to the end. Needless to say, he pulls it off brilliantly and manages to go toe-to-toe with Langella. The film is like a Rocky movie and we have to be able to believe that Rocky can deliver a knockout punch against all odds; and with Sheen’s excellent portrayal we believe it when Frost delivers that uppercut to Nixon.

Most Underrated Actor of the Year: John Malkovich turned in two great performances this year in Burn After Reading and Changeling, yet he doesn’t seem to be getting any consideration from other awards groups. That’s where the Frenzies comes in; we (meaning me) would like to salute Malkovich for taking what was on the page and bringing it to life in surprising ways. His character in Burn After Reading is someone we can all relate to, a man surrounded by idiocy. And his character in Changeling is someone we can look up to, a decent man surrounded by corruption. Malkovich brings equal pathos to both roles and reminds us of how great he can be.

The Frenzy on the Wall Lifetime Achievement Award: The final award goes to Woody Allen for delivering two terrific films that represent the two sides of Woody: the sweet (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and the bitter (Cassandra’s Dream). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Woody Allen will never be finished crafting films that matter. Every time he is counted out, he comes back with something else that reminds us that he’s still relevant. Some folks say he is out of touch, but he is one of the most daring filmmakers currently working today, constantly trying to evolve and better himself, expanding his interests and horizons. There is no filmmaker whose films I anticipate quite like his and I’m glad to have been able to go to the theater twice this year and say, “two for the new Woody Allen please.”

– Noah Forrest
December 16, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon