MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The 2nd Annual Frenzies

Since every minor and major critics group in the country has come up with their own award, I decided last year that I would start my own, The Frenzies. Last year was a rousing success and as with everything in Hollywood that is successful in its first go-round, it’s time for the sequel! I still have a few movies left to see, but these are the most worthy films I’ve seen for the ever-changing awards. As usual, if you are a winner of a Frenzy Award, please contact me to redeem a free candy bar of your choice. Who needs a stuffy dinner in some ballroom?

Without further ado, here are the Frenzies:

Best Film You Probably Haven’t Seen: There are a lot of worthy choices this year, but I think the award has to go to Lukas Moodysson’s Mammoth, which has been discussed for months in this space. It amazes me that a lesser film about a similar topic, Babel, could not only be lauded by critics and make a ton of money, but be considered in the awards race and get nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars; meanwhile, a film that takes a similar theme and grounds it in reality, making a film that tackles the large issue of globalization with grace and vigor, can’t get any traction from critics or audiences. In twenty-five years, Mammoth will be remembered fondly as a testament to the times we lived in while Babel will have been forgotten.

Most Overhyped Film: Avatar would seem to be the easy choice here because nothing could possibly live up to that hype, but it saddens me that I’m actually going to choose Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. Major critics are naming it as one of the ten best films of the year, every hipster in Brooklyn thinks it’s the greatest thing to hit the cinema ever, and I found myself profoundly underwhelmed. I think the first ten to fifteen minutes are actually powerful and real and sad, but once Max gets to the land of the wild things, the movie fell apart for me. I understand the subtext of it all, how the different wild things not only represent different family members, but also different parts of Max’s psyche.

But the problem is that what is happening literally on the screen is something we know to be a figment of Max’s imagination; in other words, we know that no real harm is going to come to Max, so there’s nothing to be fearful of. Once Max goes to this imaginary land, we’re essentially watching somebody dreaming and frankly, nobody has done “dreaming” well in the movies since Luis Bunuel. There are no stakes when Max is on the island because he’s having a fantasy. So if a wild thing threatens to eat him, why do I care? What does it matter? I know that Max isn’t really there, so if the wild thing actually does eat him then what? He wakes up? Not to mention that Max would have to be the most insanely self-aware kid to have a fantasy like this that so slyly brings to life all of his neuroses about his family.

The subtext in the film is really well-done, but the actual text is not that compelling, making the whole film crumble. It’s beautiful to look at, I was entertained at times, but once I checked out of the island sections, I couldn’t get myself to connect.

Best Last Line: “You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this might just be my masterpiece.”Inglourious Basterds. This is a line that borders on being too self-referential, but on the heels of what has come before it, it fits beautifully.

Best Ending: No ending made me gasp quite like the dénouement of Jody Hill’s Observe and Report. I wasn’t over-the-moon for the film at all, but after the crazy Taxi Driver ending, starting with Ronnie chasing the flasher all the way up until the end credits, I almost thought I watched a masterpiece. Now, I’m still not completely in love with the film – although I thinkSeth Rogen was excellent – but that ending sequence had me both laughing hysterically while feeling profoundly uncomfortable at the same time.

Most Disappointing Ending: This has to go to Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, a film that I otherwise loved. If you haven’t seen it (Spoilers!), you might want to avoid the rest of this award. Okay, so the first hour and fifteen minutes of the film, we are being told a story that we haven’t really seen before. Sure, thematically, there have been films that it resembles, but the actual mechanics were fascinating. We’re being guided by the modern-day Cary Grant(George Clooney) through a world that is unfamiliar and he has an attitude that is refreshingly honest and bracing. He lives his life without attachments. Anyway, so the scenes at the wedding were a little disappointing and I wavered a bit, but then the film becomes completely conventional out of nowhere.

I remember covering my eyes when he was finally giving his big speech at Goal Quest and saying to myself, “please, don’t run off the stage like in every other movie” and sure enough that’s exactly what he did. Then when he races to Chicago, I kept thinking, “please don’t letVera Farmiga have a family behind her when she opens the door” and sure enough, she did. Reitman might think that he made a ballsy move there by not having his leads end up together, but it was actually the most conventional move that he could have made. The unconventional ending would have been the happy ending. Either way, it didn’t quite kill all that came before it, but it definitely didn’t have the same dramatic verisimilitude and I walked out disappointed.

Best Double-Dipping Director: If Steven Soderbergh keeps up going at this clip, he’s going to be the next Fassbinder. He’s been releasing at least one film a year for a while now and it’s amazing to think that he’s had three such disparate movies hit the cinema in the space of a year (Che from last year, then The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant!this year). The fluid way in which Soderbergh jumps from genre to genre is really impressive; I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a director that was so confident directing in any genre or budget-level. This year, he subtly broke my heart with The Girlfriend Experience and then made me cackle with The Informant! while directing two of the best performances of the year from a porn actress and a former Oscar nominee. The man can do anything.

Best Film to Watch Twenty Times on Cable: This award has to go to Tony Gilroy’sDuplicity. I really enjoyed watching this movie the first time and like Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, I feel like it’s the perfect film to jump in and out of when it comes on late at night. I can just picture myself scrolling through all the movie channels, trying to find something to throw on before I go to bed and then being thankful that Duplicity is on so that I could watchClive Owen and Julia Roberts sass each other all over the globe.

Funniest Film: This one wasn’t even particularly close. No film made me laugh harder thanArmando Iannucci’s In the Loop and I’ve been quoting the film ever since. Peter Capaldiand James Gandolfini really deserve some consideration from the other awards shows and critics groups; I can’t believe that I’m the only one who can recognize the genius performances given by those two actors. If I had a Frenzy for Best Supporting Actor, the two of them might have to share it.

Best Tunes: Lou Reed, David Bowie, The Cure, Velvet Underground, and New York Dolls. It’s hard to beat the music in Adventureland. It’s also a damn good movie.

Best Animated Film: Two years ago, I thought Wes Anderson made the best film of the year with The Darjeeling Limited and I decided that he was the best living example of an “auteur.” Literally, everything Anderson touches is so “Wes” that he has basically invented a genre unto himself. Lots of folks try to make “Wes Anderson” films (hello Brothers Bloom) only to fail miserably at it because it’s not something that Anderson actively tries to do, he just does what comes naturally to him.

When I first heard that Anderson would be devoting a couple of years to making a claymation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was little disappointed. After he made what I think is his best film – Darjeeling – I really wanted to see him make his rightful follow-up to that film instead of some silly animated side project. But Fantastic Mr. Fox, it turns out, is no side-project, but the actual next film in his oeuvre. Make no mistake, this is a Wes Andersonfilm through and through, except instead of people, he’s using clay animals. They still speak the same way, act in the same ways, there are still bizarre yet true moments but he’s managed to put it all into a world that is made of clay

Most Suspenseful Film: When I walked out of The Hurt Locker, I remember immediately calling up a friend and saying, “that was the most suspenseful film I’ve seen since Wages of Fear.” And I still feel that way. No film has had my heart beating so rapidly for the majority of its running time like Kathryn Bigelow’s film about bomb-defusing.

Worst New Trend: Long titles. Do I really have to call it Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire every time I refer to it? Is that how they’re going to announce it at the Oscars? I just wish it was up against Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Men Who Stare at Goats, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men,and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Film That Made Me Reconsider the Filmmaker: Richard Kelly, I had such high hopes for you. When I first saw Donnie Darko, I was convinced that we had a talented filmmaker that would be making difficult and strange films that would blow my mind for the next fifty years. I suppose with The Box, he’s done precisely that, but not in the way that I would have hoped. I’ve forgiven Kelly for Southland Tales, which made no sense and was unbelievably silly without being nearly as profound or “smart” as he had hoped, but it was an ambitious effort and everyone is entitled to a mistake. But The Box is so unbelievably awful that I’m wondering if Kelly is really as good as I originally thought. For that matter, was Donnie Darko as good as I originally thought? I still think it’s good, but if you’ve ever seen the “Director’s Cut” or listened to Kelly’s audio commentary, he’ll change your mind.

I almost want to give The Box credit for being so batshit insane and I would, if it made any sense whatsoever. Once it takes a left turn into crazyland, it really goes for it, which is admirable in the same way that Knowing was. But the questions I have about The Box could fill a book. And these questions aren’t out of confusion, but bewilderment; like, why doesCameron Diaz’s character have a mangled foot? What work is that doing for your story? What does it add to her character? For that matter, why is Langella missing part of his face? These two physical abnormalities don’t push the plot forward, don’t really help with characterization, so I don’t know what they are doing there. And that’s before we get into the aliens.

Most Surprisingly Effective Tearjerker: John Lee Hancock’s The Blind Side is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars, so clearly I’m not the only one, but I can’t believe how much this movie made me cry. I knew I was being manipulated the whole time, but I enjoyed being manipulated and now when I watch football on Sundays, I’m rooting for Michael Oher.

Good Idea, Bad Execution: As a child of the 90s, I’ve longed to see a film that tackled the stories of 2Pac and Biggie. I wasn’t the biggest rap fan, but it’s a fascinating story that dominated MTV and changed the music scene. Also, Tupac Shakur happens to be one of the most fascinating individuals, with a strange life story. So when Notorious came out, I was really anxious to see it and I came away disappointed at what the story was reduced to. Because of the association of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs as one of the film’s producers, there was no chance we were going to get an unbiased account of these men’s lives and I hated thatBiggie is portrayed as a martyr. The most interesting aspects of the story have been glossed over (both murders are still unsolved), which is a shame, because there’s a good movie to be made of these men’s lives.

Film That I’m Almost Embarrassed to Have Enjoyed: I have to face the facts that I’m just a sucker for Richard Curtis movies. Pirate Radio, like Love Actually before it, was a great ride for me. I enjoyed the movie and I don’t care who knows it! It might not be considered high art and I know when I’m being deliberately manipulated by the (great) music and the machinations of the plot, but I loved these characters and I fell for this story. I really just had a ball hanging out on this boat with these guys for two hours and I would gladly do it again.

Scariest Horror Film: I was surprised by how much Grace got to me. The idea of a woman giving birth to a still-born child that feeds on human blood is…well, one of the most innovative ideas I’ve heard for a horror film. And it works. Jordan Ladd, as the mother, really helps make the whole film work with her unhinged portrayal of a mother who would do anything for her child. Director Paul Solet is someone to keep an eye on.

Best Performance That is Being Overshadowed by Another Performance: Penelope Cruz is great in almost everything and she’s brilliant in Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces. She definitely gives the best performance in that film, giving the movie magic and beauty. But credit does need to be given to Lluis Homar who plays Mateo Blanco (or Harry Caine), the blind filmmaker who was not always blind. He is the lead in the film, the one who guides us through this crazy story and he does it with the assurance and ease of the master filmmaker he’s portraying.

Performance of the Year: I don’t think there’s any way that someone could embody a role better than Jeremy Renner did in The Hurt Locker. The look in his eyes, the way he walks, how he makes the other actors better with his intensity. Staff Sergeant William James is a hero who truly does not want to be one; he’s in it for his own selfish reasons, the rush that he gets from defusing a bomb and facing a near-death experience. But does that make him less of a hero? Does it make him any less noble? Renner gives him that nobility, makes him seem heroic even when most of his actions could be called questionable. He’s playing with fire, putting the lives of his men in danger, but his men make it through alive, don’t they? It’s hard for me to really describe what Renner does that is different from what another actor might have done, but I can tell you that it would only work if he were in the part; I can’t think of any other actor who could do what he did. And I think it’s a performance that just demands to be seen, no words can do it justice.

The Frenzy on the Wall Lifetime Achievement Award: Francis Ford Coppola, welcome back. Please don’t go anywhere ever again. I cannot get Tetro out of my head, the art of making art, the beautiful photography, the stunningly good performances; it’s everything you could possibly want in a film. I happened to have loved Youth Without Youth even though I don’t know that I understood it. I’m just happy that Coppola is back and making his best movies that aren’t named The Godfather (1 or 2) or Apocalypse Now. And yes, that means that I think Tetro is at least as good as The Conversation.
Noah Forrest
December 22, 2009

Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily 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