MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The List

It’s always difficult to put a year-end list together and it always makes me a bit saddened by the fact that some films have inevitably fallen through the cracks and will go unseen by me. As usual, I plowed through over two hundred films this year, but I still haven’t seen all the ones I wanted to see (so this might explain why you won’t see The Wrestler or The Reader on this list) before the year is over. I’ll get to them eventually and correct my top ten list accordingly, but as 2008 comes to a close, what follows is my top ten list at this moment. And that’s an especially important phrase – this moment – because films change as I change and what is my top ten right now might not necessarily be my top ten a year from now and almost assuredly won’t be in a decade. I’m constantly revising and revisiting the lists I make — and I keep a log of every single film I see.

A quick word on top ten lists before I begin: I’ve had enough of people complaining about the need to put things in lists or why there needs to be ten. Nobody is forced to write a list of their top ten films and nobody is forced to read them. It’s a nice way of seeing how your tastes line up with that of your favorite critic — or least favorite critic. It’s a way to engage in discussions with fellow film fans and it’s something that I have done since I was thirteen years old, not only a top ten list but a list in descending order of every film I saw in that particular year. I love reading top ten lists because I like to see the explanation of why that particular critic placed that particular film in that particular spot. I think it’s a great barroom discussion, and I encourage readers to please tell me why I’m a moron for my placement of certain films or why I’m brilliant. That’s why this is really one of my favorite columns to write; because those arguments, those discussions are so important to my enjoyment of film, I get to be — hopefully — awed by what I see on screen and then I have to find the words to express that feeling. It’s a beautiful thing.

Okay, enough, let’s go to the list!

Just Missed the Cut

Sorry, I lied. Before we get to the list, I have to give due to some of the films that just missed out on being in the top ten — and might actually wind up there one day when I do the inevitable revisions. And of course, by doing the runners-up, I’m completely cheating and adding more films to the “top ten” list, but I think it’ll be okay.

Firstly, I must give mention to the best documentary I saw all year and that is Kurt Kuenne’s remarkably touching and devastating Dear Zachary. A true labor of love for Kuenne, it hints at a documentarian who not only had a great story to tell, but figured out a cinematic way to tell it. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you not to read too much about it and just go see it as soon as you can. It was one of the most heartrending experiences I had with a film all year.

I also have to give mention to Tarsem’s The Fall, a film that might wind up at the top of the list one day since I think it might be the film I watch more than any other out of this year’s crop. It is just jaw-droppingly beautiful, to the point where I want to have it on a constant loop on a screen in my house. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a moving painting. The story gets you too, especially the lead performance by young Catinca Untaru as a little girl in a hospital in the early 1900s, wanting to be told an adventure story. Make sure you see it on the largest screen possible.

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire deserves acclaim for many of the same reasons: a terrific lead performance be a young actor, beautiful cinematography in an exotic locale and a story that resembles a fairytale. This is apparently the film to beat for Best Picture this year and I think it’s a pick I would be pleased with because it is edgy enough for film fans and light enough for the amateurs. Don’t let anyone fool you that this is a “feel-good” film, though; yeah, it’s got a happy ending, but you’ve got to watch the main character suffer an awful lot to get there.

Special mention must be given to Edward Zwick’s Defiance, which is just a really great entertainment. Don’t go looking for something especially cutting with this film about the Bielski brothers, a Jewish clan that rescues and helps build a community in the Belarusian forest during WWII. Zwick, as usual, has fashioned a real movie-movie, but it’s one that does what it is supposed to do: it makes you laugh, cry, has you on the edge of your seat and rooting for love against all odds. There is nothing particularly original, but it does its job with expert precision and is riveting from start to finish.

And the eleventh place award goes to In Bruges, Martin McDonagh’s hilariously dark picture about two hitmen hiding out in the titular European city, bored out of their minds. Colin Farrell has never been better, and Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes provide excellent support in this British Grosse Pointe Blank.

Okay, for real this time, here’s the top ten:

10. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Dir. Woody Allen)

This movie is like taking a vacation to Spain. Woody has never gotten adequate credit for how beautiful many of his films look. There’s usually never too much fancy camerawork or epic, swooping shots, but the lightning in his films has always been impeccable and with the help of Director of Photography Javier Aguirresarobe this might be his most beautifully lit film — in terms of mood — since Shadows and Fog. Additionally, this is also one of his more vibrant and well, young films, one that feels like it was made by a much younger filmmaker, but one with a wealth of experience behind him.

Woody has always been at his best when he is melding romance and comedy — but he has never made a romantic comedy because his romantic films don’t follow the conventions of that genre. Instead, his films delve into the seriousness of romance, but he’s never shy about injecting a little bit of levity into the situation. In this, his latest film, his view of love seems to be: you have to be crazy to fall in love. Rebecca Hall’s Vicky character isn’t completely sure she wants to be that crazy, while her friend Cristina (Scarlett Johansson in one of her best performances) definitely wants to be crazy enough to fall in love but isn’t sure if she is.

And then there’s Maria Elena (played by the assured Oscar nominee Penelope Cruz) and Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) who are definitely crazy enough to be in love, but too crazy to be with one another. Ultimately, the film becomes about whether a person would rather live a life of insanity or a life of security. There are of course several Woodyisms throughout, but he really seems to have taken to Barcelona, allowing the city to become a character in the proceedings as well.

The wonderful thing about this film is that this is one of Woody’s more profound pictures, one that has a lot to say, with a lot of fires roasting underneath the surface of things. Together withCassandra’s Dream, Woody has had a terrific year, proving to be equally adept at crime films as he is at romance. As if we ever had any doubt about the man’s genius.

9. Miracle at St. Anna (Dir. Spike Lee)

This is actually a film that slowly faded for me, but I’m still left with the overall impression that this was a great picture. As the weeks and months have passed since I’ve seen it, my views have softened a little bit and I’m not quite able to put it in the same class as Spike’s other masterpieces like Do the Right Thing, Jungle Fever or 25th Hour, but I do think thatMiracle at St. Anna would be in that next tier of Spike’s films like Malcolm X or Clockers. But it comes down to that classic test of: what am I feeling while I watch the film and what am I feeling the next hour, day or week. I don’t think there is a person alive whose views of a film — especially one by a master filmmaker — aren’t altered a little bit by the passage of time.

There is no question, however, that while watching this difficult and operatic film that I was absolutely riveted from start to finish. The big knock against this film is that it was too over-the-top and it’s not one that is easy to refute, but I’ll try: the film opens with one of the main characters, now an old man, watching the classic John Wayne war film The Longest Day, and that film seems to be an influence on Spike, as well as films like Rossellini’s Open City. And what Spike is trying to make is a throwback film, one that would fit in with those war films, with similar cadences in the speech and even similar acting styles as well as a film in which the good guys and the bad guys were clearly marked; just like a John Wayne film. I bet the people who thought Miracle at St. Anna was too broad have no problem with the broadness of a John Wayne movie and if you can accept one then why not the other?

But I’ve come to praise Miracle at St. Anna, not defend it. And truthfully, there’s almost too much to praise, from Matthew Libatique’s gorgeous photography to the brief appearance byAlexandra Maria Lara as Axis Sally to the performance by young Matteo Sciabordi to the flashback scene at an army base to the scene at the titular town, which will break your heart.

Spike Lee and screenwriter James McBride chose to tell a story that had not been told before and they gave us two main characters that represent the struggle in the African-American community between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., which is a long-standing theme in Spike’s work: the difficulty in choosing between change with words or change with fists, patience versus immediacy. Regardless, both are fighting for their country. In the film, as in real life, those two figures don’t get to see the beautiful future that they helped create.

8. Milk (Dir. Gus Van Sant)

Biopics are a tough genre because it’s extraordinarily difficult to tell the whole story of one real person’s life. So inevitably, there will be some editing of that life, the combining of characters and other little tweaks that usually wind up making the film fit into a genre rather than accurately telling the story of someone’s life. The difficulty in telling the story of Harvey Milk’s life was compounded by the fact that Rob Epstein had already made a brilliant documentary in 1984 called The Times of Harvey Milk, which chronicled much of Milk’s political career and eventual murder.

All of this makes Gus Van Sant’s achievement that much greater. Milk tells the story ofHarvey Milk from his 40th birthday onward, and while it is not his birth in the traditional sense, it is indeed his birth as a man who has become comfortable with his sexuality with the help of his boyfriend Scott Smith. So in that sense, Van Sant actually has told the whole story of Harvey Milk’s life … as an out homosexual trying to break into politics.

It’s impossible to talk about this film at all without giving effusive praise to Sean Penn for delivering one of his finest performances. If it weren’t for Academy misguidedly delivering him his Oscar for his silly Mystic River performance, he would assuredly be given his Oscar justly for this one. The incredible thing about Penn in this film is that he doesn’t merely imitate the mannerisms or the speech of Harvey Milk, but truly injects him with a pathos and compassion and humanity. Sean Penn never struck me as a particularly warm person, but his Harvey Milk is downright cuddly. Playing someone that is so damn likeable is not an easy task and actors usually prefer to play the more edgy roles, characters that have a dark secret or one that gives them space to chew scenery. But Penn embraces the challenge of playing such a good person and does a great job of hinting the ways in which Milk wasn’t perfect. In other words, Penn makes him a real person with flaws and everything; and those flaws make him human and therefore warmer.

The supporting performers are also excellent with Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin leading the way, bringing depth to characters that were written a little thin. And Alison Pill is especially good as Anne Kronenberg and her character and performance seems to have gotten lost in the effusive praise for everyone else.

But this is not just a well-acted film, it’s one that has been brought beautifully to life by Van Sant and his right-hand man, Harris Savides. Clearly, I never lived in San Francisco in the 70s, but this film made me feel like I was there. It wasn’t simply the music or the costumes, but the way in which it was shot, the font that Van Sant chose for the title cards, the dim naturalistic lighting in the night scenes. All of it combines to not only bring Harvey Milk to life, but to also bring his message back to the forefront.

7. Doubt (Dir. John Patrick Shanley)

From one superbly acted film to another: Doubt doesn’t have a weak link in its main cast of four fantastic players. This is a film that has continued to deepen and grow as time goes along, all of the subtext brimming to the surface of my mind as I think back. I walked out of the film absolutely, completely convinced of one thing and now, two months later, I’m completely convinced of the opposite without having had a second viewing. It’s a powerful and profound film that can linger in one’s mind and continue to evolve to the point where your convictions about what you saw can change.

Basically it comes down to the simplest of questions: did he or didn’t he? And ultimately, that’s something that up to the viewer to decide. But unlike most films that leave their central conflicts open and ambiguous, there is enough evidence supplied in the film that many people won’t think what happened was so ambiguous. And then to top it all off, Doubt has the most heartbreaking, devastating ending that works on about five different levels. Spoilers ahead.

For Meryl Streep’s character of Sister Aloysius to admit that she has doubts gave me goosebumps, especially when I considered that there might be a few things that she is referring to: namely, was she feeling doubts about whether or not she did the right thing regarding Father Flynn or was she feeling doubts about her faith because of what she believes Father Flynn did? It’s hard to say exactly, but I think it’s both, which brings up an even more interesting question: when Father Flynn gives his sermon about doubt, doesn’t that fly in the face of the whole idea of having “faith”? To have faith is to have no doubts, so which does Father Flynn have?

There are about a million more questions I could continue to ask because asking one just leads me down the rabbit hole to the point where I would ultimately sound like a toddler, asking question after question when there are no easy answers. And I love any film that makes me ask questions rather than just give me answers. John Patrick Shanley has constructed a wonderful film based on his own play and I hope we don’t have to wait another eighteen years for him to give us such wonderful, crackling dialogue, such dark and deep subtext, such wonderful directing of his actors and such a splendid film.

6. Let the Right One In (Dir. Tomas Alfredson)

This year, I kind of went on a Swedish film bender, watching lots of Bergman, the oeuvre ofLukas Moodysson and a few other Scandinavian films (Mikael Hafstrom’s Evil being one). Something about the tone, the pacing and the sense of humor is different in Sweden and it appealed to immensely. For the longest time I’ve been a Francophile, but I’ve found that Swedish films have the same power over me; something about the foreignness is familiar. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but Swedish films are my new crack.

So it was certainly with great enthusiasm that I greeted this little Swedish gem about a twelve year old boy named Oskar who falls in love with the new ‘girl’ (more on that later) next door, Eli. Oskar is often bullied at school and is kind of a weird kid in general and he feels like he’s found a kindred spirit in Eli, who to him is just another weird kid. Their friendship evolves like it would in a romantic comedy, but the pace is much slower, the tone is much darker and Eli happens to be a vampire.

There is more at work in this film than the simple logline would suggest, combining elements from different genres; horror, comedy, coming-of-age story, romance, all blended together into a cohesive and original whole. If you wanted to tell your friends why they should see this film, it would be hard to keep it to just a few sentences if you wanted to give an accurate portrayal of what this film is. Because apart from the genres involved, there are large social issues at work here including gender identity, pedophilia, and the morality of murder.

Going back to the gender issue (spoilers), Eli asks Oskar a few times throughout the film if he would feel differently if Eli wasn’t a girl. At first, our impulse is to think that Eli is just saying that because she’s not a “girl” in the technical sense, since she’s really a vampire. But then there is a quick shot of Eli changing where it’s clear that there is a scar where his genitals used to be and that Eli is, in fact, a boy. And as a boy, Eli has a pervert murdered in exchange for — this is an assumption — sexual favors. Or, perhaps it’s possible that the older man is not a pervert but someone that Eli met when the man was younger, perhaps Oskar’s age and that she cycles through “protectors” until they grow too old and that Oskar’s fate is to be like that older protector. It seems that Eli identifies as a girl, however, which brings up questions of what it means to be a boy or a girl; are genitals all that are required or is it a state of mind? If Oskar believes that Eli is a girl, does that indeed make Eli a girl?

Amid all of these questions that are fit for a thesis paper is a storyline that is exciting and builds to a suspenseful and captivating conclusion. This is definitely one of the most original pieces of cinema I’ve seen in a very long time.

5. Revolutionary Road (Dir. Sam Mendes)

I don’t think people really give Sam Mendes enough credit. It seems as if after the runaway success — critical and commercial — of American Beauty, that people are just itching to take him down a peg. Well, I liked Road to Perdition and I thought Jarhead was great and I’ve yet to find a good excuse for why anyone didn’t like the latter film (please, I welcome your e-mails). So, for me, he has yet to strike out on a project yet and with Revolutionary Road, he’s made something akin to a mutant cousin of American Beauty, dealing with the resentments in a suburban marriage. But while American Beauty dealt with many other things, including teen angst and homophobia and murder and was cynical throughout,Revolutionary Road sticks to that theme of resentment in one particular marriage in the 50s and brings a cold, clinical eye to the proceedings.

Frank and April Wheeler are, unfortunately, like too many married couples: they should never have gotten married, they just aren’t right for each other. When that happens, it causes an enormous amount of friction and especially in the 1950s, there are limited options when a situation like this occurs. As the Wheelers look around them, they see a lot of other couples in similar situations and they cope as best they can; whether it’s an older man turning off his hearing aid so he doesn’t have to listen to his wife talk or another couple putting a happy face on everything. Unfortunately for the Wheelers, they can’t cope, they resent the feeling of being trapped too much and they blame one another.

When Frank and April fight in this film, it is downright vicious and it’s a credit to Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet that we can see both points of view. We can see how this marriage must have disintegrated, the conflicts in their personalities that can never be repaired. I’m sure for fan of the novel by Richard Yates, they can bring all of that information to the film and see bits and pieces of it, but since I haven’t read the novel, I just watched the actors’ faces to get a sense of what was going on since their words often belied how they felt. And sometimes their words sting because they finally tell the truth when they fight.

Michael Shannon’s character, John Givings, has gotten the actor much-deserved acclaim because his character, while being a mental patient, is the most normal in the whole film. He calls things as he sees them, doesn’t beat around the bush or BS anybody. He’s the kind of straight-talker that just doesn’t make it in 1950s suburbia and the way he tells the truth threatens both April and Frank and their ideas of themselves as bohemian.

There is a lot to chew on in this film, despite the fact that Mendes has narrowed his focus. This is an anti-romantic film, similar in spirit to something like Mike Nichols’ brilliant Closer, about the awful things people say and do despite claiming to be in love. This a film that absolutely leveled me emotionally and I wouldn’t be surprised if future viewings wind up bumping this film higher on the list.

4. WALL-E (Dir. Andrew Stanton)

I have to say, the fact that this film has been such a critical success that it’s actually being included in Oscar talk in categories other than animated film makes me smile. In fact, everything about this film makes me smile. I’ve written in the past about how animation doesn’t necessarily appeal to me in the same way that live-action does, but this is an animated film that transcends its animated nature and comes vividly to life.

All of this is kind of odd to say about what is basically a Daft Punk song come to life: “Digital Love.” And it’s even odder to follow that up by saying that no film made me shed more tears – granted, they were tears of joy, but they were tears nonetheless and I couldn’t believe that this animated film about robots could produce such an emotional reflex in me. WALL-E and EVE don’t speak a word in the entire film, yet they are two of the most well-drawn (no pun intended) characters in the movies this year, with a love between them that, for me, was more realistic and moving than something like The Notebook. It hits at that basic human emotion of: I really love this person so much and all I want in the entire world is to just hold their hand.

Much has been made of the second half of the film, where we see that human beings have all grown so lazy that they sit in movable chairs, staring at their computer screens all day long, never having any actual interaction with anyone. Some people have seen this as some kind of grand political statement about obesity, global warming, pollution, etc. But really, this is a film about technology and how eventually, if we keep going at this same rate, our technological creations will display more human characteristics than actual human beings. The humans inWALL-E don’t even talk to one another without the shield of a computer and they don’t know how to do anything if the machines can’t help. As the film points out, technology can be a wonderful aid to our every day life, but we cannot let machines do everything for us.

But all of these issues aside, at the heart of the film is a love story. And when I think of the best romantic films this year, I count WALL-E among the best.

3. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Dir. David Fincher)

And this is film is the reason why I couldn’t call WALL-E the best romantic film of the year, because this one is. Let me begin by talking about what a goddamned genius David Fincheris. There’s one part of this film where Cate Blanchett’s Daisy character is dancing on a gazebo for Brad Pitt’s Benjamin and the gazebo is overlooking a pond, there is a mist in the background and two lamp posts on either side of her and her lithe frame is a dancing silhouette in the middle of it all. I looked up at the giant screen at this moment and thought, “I want that on my wall.” And that image is so Fincher, as are all of the rest of them.

People think of Fincher as a dark director and this film isn’t exactly bright and flowery, but there is a heart at work here. In Fincher’s best work there has been a cynical gloss to most of it, especially in Fight Club or Se7en. But in both Zodiac and now Benjamin Button, Fincher has made films that are more straightforward, almost clinical in their depictions. There are visual flourishes and tricks, but mostly, he’s comfortable to just tell the story in the best possible way.

And here, he has decided to tell a romantic, dark fable. Most filmmakers and screenwriters who would tackle this material would spend a good chunk of time explaining Benjamin’s condition and the physical ramifications. What Fincher and his brilliant screenwriter Eric Roth(who wrote the amazing The Good Shepherd) have done is focus more on the emotional ramifications of aging backwards. Benjamin, living in a nursing home for much of his youth, understands death before he really understands life and spends his time looking forward in a place where everyone else is looking back. That first hour of the film, or roughly the first ten to fifteen years of his life, helps explain who Benjamin is and who he becomes. He has spent his time listening to the stories of people much wiser than him and so he spends much of his time throughout the film listening rather than talking, hoping to learn as much as possible.

There is that famous George Bernard Shaw quote, “Youth is wasted on the young.” And this is a film where we get to see what would happen if that wasn’t the case, would it still be wasted? And the answer is (spoilerish ahead): yes, kind of. By the time he gets to be “young,” Benjamin gets to travel to exotic places but instead of being carefree, he is always thinking about what he left behind; this is something that is not really contemplated by the young.

It was a brilliant idea to have Benjamin go through all of the classic milestones at roughly the same age he would have gone through them had he aged normally: a drink with his old man at 15, a visit to a whorehouse around the same time, a midlife crisis when he’s fifty-five but looks twenty-five, etc. He never looks his age, but he always acts it.

The performance by Brad Pitt is sensational. Cate Blanchett is excellent too and she’s getting her deserved acclaim, but Pitt doesn’t seem to be getting enough credit for just how good he is in this film. Most importantly: he’s believable in this unbelievable situation, reacting how we would expect this character to react. He’s not a smart character, necessarily, but one who is wise and Pitt gives that to him, whilst also doing a pitch-perfect N’awlins accent. Taraji B. Henson is also wonderful as his adoptive mother Queenie.

This is a film that might make some cry, but it didn’t for me. Instead, I reacted to it on a more cerebral level, trying to put myself in the same place. It’s not the best film Fincher has made, but it’s shown that he’s capable of practically anything (even comedy, the scenes of the lightning strikes are genius, especially in the way they are shot). The way in which he shoots the opening prologue about the clock is incredible; it looks like a colorized silent film and it’s breathtaking. There are so many little touches like that, showing us what a smart and intuitive filmmaker Fincher is and how much he is continuing to grow.

2. Paranoid Park (Dir. Gus Van Sant)

I feel like I’ve been writing about this film forever, devoting thousands of words in this column to it, but it’s been on my mind constantly since I’ve seen it. Paranoid Park is the summation to that particular part of Gus Van Sant’s career, showing that he’s perfected the Bela Tarr-style that he had developed and experimented with; now with Paranoid Park, he figured out a way to stay true to that style while also making it more accessible without being more conventional.

Gabe Nevins plays Alex as the prototypical Gus Van Sant character: pretty, young, and brilliant in his cluelessness. It would seem as if he’s an impetuous person that doesn’t think too much about consequences, but in the scene where he’s interrogated, we get to see just how smart he is. The way that he lies is artistic, the way in which he can remember the smallest little details and apply them to his fabrications is terrific. And that scene is great because the detective keeps trying outsmart Alex, trying to be his friend, talking about Subway sandwiches and mayonnaise but really trying to get Alex to slip up.

Unlike a lot of films about young people, Paranoid Park really seems to understand the psychology at work, about how it might seem like a brilliant idea to ride a freight train because a cool older kid is doing it or about how it might seem like a good idea to dump one girl because another one seems more interesting. The choices that Alex makes are ones that fit perfectly with that psychology, especially the way in which he shuts out his parents, a revenge of sorts for hurting him because of their separation. In fact, almost everything Alex does could be seen as a youthful rebellion against his divorcing parents. Because of this, he feels he has nobody to turn to when things go wrong and as a result, he turns to himself.

The wonderful thing about the film is that that whole last paragraph might make no sense to someone else who has seen the film. It’s all in what you bring to the film and what you want to see in it. If you want to see a hopeful message, it’s in there but if you want to see something depressing, it’s also in there. I’m tempted to say that it’s one of the most miraculous achievements in cinema because by eschewing typical Hollywood conventions, it has become something beyond film. It tells you the story of the universe if you look deeply enough or you could walk out of it thinking that nothing happened. The duality of the film and the way it can effect audiences is astounding and I can’t believe there was a better film this year.

1. A Christmas Tale (Dir. Arnaud Desplechin)

When Arnaud Desplechin makes a film, it’s really not fair to other filmmakers. He’s just too damned good, too damned smart for anybody to compete with him. The amazing thing about it is that A Christmas Tale isn’t even his best film (that would be Kings and Queen) and it’s miles beyond every other film that came out this year. I’ve seen the picture three times now and I see about a twenty different things each time because it is unbelievably dense. I alreadywrote two thousand words about it and that was just scratching the surface.

The best thing that Desplechin does in all of his films is to make characters that are alive; they have had lives before the film begins and will continue after it ends. In A Christmas Tale, the Vuillard clan has years and years of painful history that is mentioned casually in passing, hinting at further trespasses and betrayals that the ones at the forefront of this movie.

I could talk about a thousand different things in this film, but I want to focus on one particular aspect: the relationship between eldest daughter Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) and black-sheep middle child Henri (Mathieu Amalric). This is the most complicated relationship in a film awash with complicated relationships. Why does Elizabeth detest her brother so much? Sure, he’s obnoxious and he tells jokes at inappropriate moments and drinks too much. But he’s also a widower who helped produce her plays – granted he didn’t pay for the theater, but so what? – and seems to make her laugh. There are about a million ways to look at this particular relationship, especially when it seems that Henri didn’t do anything concrete to make her feel this way (although that’s clearly up for debate). Early in the film Elizabeth talks to her therapist about mourning the death of someone, but she doesn’t know who. Could it be her? Is it possible that she hates herself so much? Or is it that she sees too much of her brother and not enough of herself in her son Paul? Her motivations for Henri’s banishment are unclear, but the possibilities are endless and the more one watches the film, the clearer the picture becomes.

But as I said, this is a dense film, and it’s also full of homages to other films includingVertigo, The Ten Commandments and references to Shakespeare (specifically A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and is daring enough to have characters speak directly to the camera and it opens with a history of the family told through marionettes. There are a lot (I mean, a lot) of ideas at work here and the fact that they work together so well, so cohesively is astounding. It’s a film that should be a mess, but is actually the opposite.

This film tells the story of a family at Christmas, but it tells it without sentimentality and seared with bitter honesty. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s infuriating, it’s manic, it’s patient, it’s just plain old great cinema; the best I’ve seen this year.

– Noah Forrest
December 30, 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