Excuses, excuses

Studios opt to not screen movies in advance for critics all the time, the logic being "Why spend good money to show a bad film to people who are going to turn around and tell the whole world just how wretched it is?"

I normally don't care that pictures like MacGruber or Legion are released without press screenings. If the people who made the movie think it sucks, then they're doing me a favor by saving me two hours of my life. What does irk me is when a studio tries to rationalize their decision to hide a film from persnickety critics with some psychobabble.

Paramount Pictures vice chairman Rob Moore did it last summer when he decided to hide the would-be blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra from reviewers, claiming "After the chasm we experienced with Transformers 2 between the response of audiences and critics, we chose to forgo opening-day print and broadcast reviews as a strategy to promote G.I. Joe. We want audiences to define this film."

Killers_1Sht_Trim_a  At least Moore was honest: He was essentially saying G.I. Joe was just as bad as Transformers 2. But Lionsgate is taking a different approach to its decision to not screen the Ashton Kutcher-Katherine Heigl comedy Killers, which opens Friday. In a feeble effort to combat the negative buzz surrounding themovie, the company issued the following statement:

“In today’s socially connected marketplace, we all have the ability to share feedback instantly around the world. In keeping with this spirit, Lionsgate and the filmmakers want to give the opportunity to moviegoing audiences and critics alike to see Killers simultaneously, and share their thoughts in the medium of their choosing. We felt this sense of immediacy could be a real asset in the marketing of Killers.“

I have read that statement three times and am still not sure what it means. But I think the message here is "We'd rather wait until people start tweeting about how bad Killers is, and hopefully have racked up a few million dollars in tickets sales before then, rather than have critics slaughter it from the start.

Who says critics don't matter any longer?

Meanwhile, Kutcher is promising to "pirate" the first 10 minutes of the movie tonight live from the premiere via his Twitter feed, to give audiences a taste of what they're in for. Desperation, anyone?

Lionsgate has a substantial history of not screening movies for critics that turned out to be really decent B-pictures (Crank, Hostel II, Daybreakers). I don't blame them for not screening the Saw sequels, because no one in their right mind would want to sit through those. But I do think the studio is awfully sensitive about protecting their pictures from those mean, cranky critics. Then again, Killers was directed by Robert Luketic, whose previous film was The Ugly Truth. So maybe they are doing the right thing.

Top 7 summer movies I am anticipating the most

The 2010 summer movie season offers such slim pickings, I could only come up with seven movies I'm really looking forward to instead of my usual 10. But I guess seven is better than nothing. In order of release date:



Toy Story 3: Any Pixar movie automatically makes my must-see list, but I'm particularly curious about this one, since the film is the company's first "Part 3," which means the script must be extra-special. Plus, the 3D looks wonderful, and the whole Barbie-meets-Ken subplot looks hilarious in the trailers.


Killer inside me film

The Killer Inside Me: I'm a hardcore devotee of Jim Thompson's pulpy crime novels, and although this one has been turned into a film before, I really like the inspired casting of Casey Affleck as the small-town sheriff with homicidal tendencies. The film's graphic violence scandalized audiences at Sundance in January, but everyone knows Sundance audiences are a bunch of wusses.



Inception: Not to put too many expectations on director Christopher Nolan, but I am counting on this sci-fi thriller - about a man (Leonardo DiCaprio) with the power to pluck dark secrets from people's dreams - to create a brand-new genre, the way The Matrix did. I believe in you, Nolan. Please don't let me down.



Dinner For Schmucks: Francis Veber's French-language comedy The Dinner Game was hilarious, and the casting of Paul Rudd and Steve Carell in this Hollywood remake - probably my two favorite comic actors working in movies today - inspired great confidence. Plus the presence of director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers) doesn't hurt, either.



The Expendables: If you grew up in the 1980s, the premise of an all-star throwback to the cheesy action flicks of the era starring Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham and Mickey Rourke - plus cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger - is an offer you can't refuse. If you do, you're a giant girly-man.


Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: There's been a gradual backlash building against Michael Cera, unfairly based around the criticism that he's always playing the same character - a socially awkward, hyper-intelligent guy trying to blend into the world around them. But Cera's choice of film projects has been consistently good (Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist and Youth in Revolt deserved bigger audiences) and this comedy in which Cera must do battle with his would-be girlfriend's seven jealous ex-girlfriends in order to win her hand has considerable potential. Another bonus: Director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) has yet to make a movie that didn't make me cry from laughing so hard.


Piranha 3D

Piranha 3D: I dare you to watch this trailer and tell me this movie does not look awesome.

Top 5 summer movies I am dreading the most

My annual summer movie preview is running in Friday's Weekend section, so I decided to make a few lists over the next couple of days to advance what I'm looking forward to seeing - and what I'm hoping will screen on the same day I have to be rushed to the hospital and can't make the screening.

First up: The top five summer movies I am dreading the most (in order of release date). The good thing about such low expectations is that the films won't have to do much to impress me. A brief running time will also be a big plus.

MAY 21


 Shrek Forever After: I'm a big fan of animation, but the Shrek movies have irritated me from the first installment - lazy, unimaginative pictures that pass off pop culture references and dance numbers to Ricky Martin songs as entertainment. I'm clearly in the minority, since the series has grossed more than $2 billion world wide. I'm also a big fan of Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots, who is fortunately back for what DreamWorks Animation is promising will be the last entry in the series. For the love of God, please don't break that promise.

MAY 27


Sex and the City 2: In the eternal words of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, this movie looks really, really good - FOR ME TO POOP ON! God bless the brave and intrepid Connie Ogle.



The Karate Kid: I get it, I get it: There's a whole new generation of youngsters who never saw the original, so why not do it again and rake in a fresh new audience? Here's a better idea: Why not just rent the original on DVD and save yourself a trip to the theater? Also, there's something a little sad about the great Jackie Chan taking over for Pat Morita.



The Twilight Saga: Eclipse: The talented filmmaker Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Kinsey, Dreamgirls) has signed on to direct the final installment in the series, Breaking Dawn, which will be split up into two films. The novel is reported to take some pretty nutty plot twists, so I must confess to being curious about that one. This one, though, looks even cheesier and more insufferable than New Moon. But like the Transformers series, the rabid fan base will turn out in droves, regardless of whether or not the movie is any good.


Step Up 3DThe 3D craze hits a new low with this third installment in the Step Up series offers more acrobatic New York City street dancing and romance, only this time it's in your face. God bless the brave and intrepid Connie Ogle.

Tomorrow: The summer movies I am anticipating the most (yes, there are a few of them).

The horror! The horror!


The only things Hollywood likes as much as sequels are remakes -- and no genre is better suited to constant reincarnation than the horror film. Hey, if it scared them once, it'll scare them again! Right?

Well, yes. And no. I am not one of those hardliners automatically outraged by the news of a horror classic's being rehashed for a new generation. As a concept, remakes have great potential, especially when you're dealing with a movie that has not aged well (and many horror films are products of their times and don't weather the years).

In honor of today's arrival of a new take on A Nightmare on Elm Street, I compared a few recent horror remakes and their originals in today's Weekend cover story. This is only a partial list - a comprehensive one would fill a book - so I tried to include several remakes that improved on the films that inspired them. Check out the story here.



How to travel when you have an Oscar in your luggage

My interview with Juan Jose Campanella, the director of the Oscar-winning The Secret in Their Eyes, ran in Sunday's paper (you can read it here). I had hoped he'd have the statue with him so I could hold it, but he had locked away in the hotel safe, so I asked him how he travels with it.

Photo_1268084323096-1-0  "I carry it in a Club Monaco bag, wrapped in bubble wrap," he said, adding that he carries it on the plane with him and never lets it out of his sight. When he put the bag through the X-ray machine, the airport security officer told him "Sir, we're going to have to inspect your Oscar" with a perfectly straight face.

Campanella also told me the Academy never ships Oscars to recipients by mail or FedEx or any other means, to prevent thievery. Winners must pick up their statues in person, which meant that the Spanish producers of the film, who received an Oscar of their own, had to fly to Los Angeles to get it.

Oscar winners are also required to sign a contract giving the Academy the right to buy back an Oscar, if a former winner has fallen on hard times and wants to sell it, for the princely sum of one dollar. That prevents Oscar statues from popping up on eBay or being sold on the collectors' market. So if you want an Oscar, you're just going to get it the old-fashioned way: Earn it. 

Some critics really, really hate ''Kick-Ass''

Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass, a cheerfully gory comedy about comic-book obsessed teens who decide to become superheroes, won't open in the U.S. until next Friday. But the movie is already playing in Australia, where several family groups and at least one critic has taken mortal offense to the R-rated film's sense of humor.

Richard Wilkins, the entertainment editor for the Aussie TV channel Nine Network News, has gone ballistic on the film. "I can't possibly encourage you to go and see this overhyped, inappropriate sensationalism that glamourises kids with guns," Wilkins said. "I just think it is wrong ... so wrong."


"The film is inappropriate — it's excessively violent and there's nothing particularly clever about it," Wilkins said, adding there was no way he'd let his 14 year-old son watch it. "I don't want him seeing kids with guns and knives, killing people randomly and hearing young children say the sort of language they use in the movie."

I've written a big story on Kick-Ass running in Sunday's paper that addresses the inevitable controversy that will greet the film (I will post it onto the blog over the weekend). But the short version is: The movie is rated R for good reason. And compared to the violence in other R-rated films such as Repo Men, Kick-Ass is as offensive as Toy Story.

LayerCakeBluray  At the end of my interview with director Vaughn, I told him how much I appreciated his 2004 debut Layer Cake, a fantastic action picture starring a pre-007 Daniel Craig as a cocaine dealer trying to retire. Layer Cake is one of those movies that never found the audience it deserved, but Vaughn told me he's already mulling a follow-up.

"I've had an idea of doing a sequel set in Miami. I always thought it would be amazing if Daniel Craig showed up there to take on the Miami drug underworld."

Cast Al Pacino as the baddie and you've got yourself a smash hit.




Kevin Smith declares war on movie critics

I've interviewed filmmaker Kevin Smith numerous times, in person and via telephone, and he's always been terrific - disarmingly funny, uncommonly forthcoming, self-deprecating and highly intelligent. But I'm not entirely surprised that Smith is claiming that after the critical reception his last movie, Cop Out, received, he's considering not screening his films in advance for critics anymore and making them buy a ticket like everyone else.


I first interviewed Smith for Dogma when it played the Toronto Film Festival in 1999. I wrote a feature story about the movie and the controversy that surrounded its release. Then, a week later, I wrote a two-and-a-half star review. I next spoke to Smith for a feature story about Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, then gave the movie two stars. Smith called me out on his message board when that review ran, accusing me of pretending to have liked his movie when we spoke in person, then turning around and stabbing him in the back.

This is the thing: I learned very early in my career (when I was very young and green and interviewed Michael J. Fox about For Love or Money, and asked him point-blank if he was disappointed in the finished film) that you simply don't tell actors and filmmakers you didn't blindly love their movie. It's rude, it puts them in an impossible position, and what are they supposed to say?

After Smith publicly stated he felt I had betrayed him (I've searched but I can't find his post online anymore), I decided I would never again write a feature story about a movie I didn't genuinely like. Since then, my mantra to publicists who pitch me interviews has been "I need to see the movie first." If I don't like the film, I turn down the interview. I did this a couple of weeks ago, when I was offered an interview with John Cusack for Hot Tub Time Machine. I've never spoken to him and was very interested. Then I saw the movie and politely declined.


The next time I interviewed Smith - for Jersey Girl, a movie I really enjoy and think was unfairly trampled by the Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck affair - the first thing we spoke about was his reaction to my negative review of Jay and Silent Bob. In my defense, I explained that I had wanted to interview him, even though I hadn't loved his movie, and dwelled on the positive during our chat out of respect. He argued that he came away from the interview believing I thought Jay and Silent Bob was funny, and he felt like a chump when he read my review. I can understand that.

The difference between Smith and, say, Michael Bay or Martin Scorsese, is that Smith still reads his reviews and cares about them, even though he's at a point in his career when you'd think he would be beyond that. He is, at heart, very much the ordinary guy he puts forward on his website and on his podcasts. That's what makes him such a great interview subject, and that's why he takes negative reviews so personally.

Smith is blaming critics for not taking Cop Out on its own terms - a silly buddy comedy - but he's not acknowledging the reality: The movie just wasn't funny. Despite all the drug references in his films, Smith always claimed to never partake of narcotics, until he started habitually smoking weed during the making of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, which was a perfect marriage of his vulgar humor and his romantic sensibility. Maybe all the pot-smoking has made him paranoid, but I'm disappointed in Smith's newfound attitude toward critics. I'm also baffled as to why he's taking the reviews of his most impersonal film to date so personally, I really want to see Red State, his next film (a horror picture!) and I'd love to talk to him about it, too - if it's good. Put down the pipe and nut up, Kevin. Sheesh.

Movies that grow on you

Poster  I saw Romance and Cigarettes for the first time at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. The screening I attended was on a stormy weekday afternoon at the tail end of the festival. I was cranky, tired and running late - the theater was so packed by the time I arrived, I had to sit in the third row - and I came away thinking writer-director John Turturro had made a noble attempt, but failed.

The movie never opened in Miami theaters, so I didn't have to review it. But I've watched Romance and Cigarettes several times on DVD since then, and I like it more with every viewing. Why is it that some movies get better the more times you see them? This is not a matter of learning to appreciate a film for its camp value or unintentional humor. I wouldn't qualify Romance and Cigarettes as a guilty pleasure or anything like that. I think some movies - and they are rare - are so peculiar and specific, they require a certain mindset in the viewer before you can appreciate what they are trying to do. You have to learn how to watch them before you can really savor them (Barton Fink is another film I would place in that category).

I would never defend Romance and Cigarettes as a masterpiece, but I realize now my initial reaction to it was completely off. Check out this clip from the film in which Tony Soprano James Gandolfini sings an Engelbert Humperdinck tune and tell me this is not awesome (the musical numbers by Christopher Walken and Kate Winslet in the film are standouts too):

"If this movie gets too gross, we're leaving."

Repo_men That's what I overheard a woman tell her son, who looked to be about 12 or 13, just before the start of a screening of Repo Men tonight.

What followed was, quite possibly, the most violent R-rated film I've ever seen - this thing makes Scarface seem like The Little Mermaid - and yet the mother and son remained in their seats, munching happily on their popcorn, bonding over a fun night out at the movies.

This, to me, proves two things:

1) Kids today have an infinitely higher tolerance for gore than I did (I was 13 when I went to see David Cronenberg's Shivers, for example, and my friends and I literally bolted out of the theater, wigged out of our minds, the first time the parasite throbbed within the dude's torso).

2) The Motion Picture Association of America's ratings board has become just as desensitized to violence as audiences.

I don't mean this as criticism: After a sluggish start, Repo Men finds its footing and becomes a rollicking, outrageous B-movie ride with all the gloss and sheen big-budget Hollywood can provide. I'm glad the members of the ratings board, whoever they are, appreciated the film's subtle tongue-in-cheek approach to violence and let it slide by.

I was just struck by how much the film gets away with, while Brian De Palma had to trim the motel room/chainsaw sequence in Scarface repeatedly in order to avoid an X rating. In Repo Men, that scene would qualify as boring character exposition.


I've never thought of myself as squeamish - quite the opposite - but eavesdropping on that mother-son conversation tonight, and then watching the movie that followed, made me feel like a bit of a wuss. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

Variety sacks its chief film critic

I started reading weekly Variety around the age of 12, when I craved to read more film criticism and movie reporting than The Miami Herald and the late Bill Cosford could provide. The news stand brought some great discoveries: Pauline Kael, Film Comment, American Film, Cinefantastique and Fangoria.


There was also this magical, oversized, glorious newspaper called Variety, which was like an entire Herald devoted to Hollywood and the entertainment business. I could not believe this thing existed. A lot of the stories in it went over my little head, but there was lots of reporting about which movies directors were thinking about making, casting deals, a chart that let you see all the films that were currently in production (including who was going to be starring in them). Variety was also the first place in which I saw lists of weekly box office grosses, which today are inescapable, but back then were not really available anywhere else.

Today, of course, you can get all that stuff for free online with just a couple of clicks. The main reason why I've remained a faithful reader of Variety was Todd McCarthy, whose film reviews quickly became the thing I read first in the paper, and whose work I had continued to follow steadily all these years later.

Toddmccarthy  McCarthy's reviews - he's usually the first to weigh in on every major film - followed the Variety template of accentuating a movie's box office potential and discussing its marketability (this is, after all, a trade publication). But McCarthy also wrote with an educated voice that brought his vast film knowledge to bear on whichever movie he was writing about, which made reading him such a treat. Like all of my favorite film critics, McCarthy accentuated the emotional impact of a film and the way in which the movie tried to engage the viewer. His reviews were industry-savvy yet also spoke to film lovers. His reviews were unique.

McCarthy has also written several books (including an excellent biography of Howard Hawks) and directed some movies of his own, including 1992's Visions of Light, an ode to cinematographers that is like candy for film buffs. I interview famous people all the time but I tend to get shy and tongue-tied around other film critics whose work I admire, so I've never met McCarthy, even though I quietly sat next to him at a Toronto festival screening of The Notorious Bettie Page

Yesterday, Variety announced the staff positions of McCarthy and David Rooney, the paper's chief theater critic, were being terminated, because "it doesn't make economic sense to have full-time reviewers." If it doesn't make sense for Variety to have a full-time film reviewer on staff, especially one of McCarthy's status, then there really is no hope for the art of newspaper film criticism. Variety says they will continue to review movies with the same frequency they do know, using staff writers (including my pal Peter Debruge, who used to freelance for us until he got a full-time gig there) and freelancers. The paper also says they hope McCarthy will continue to write for them on a freelance basis.

I hope, for Variety's sake, that he does. Otherwise, they will have lost another longtime reader. The Hurt Locker made Oscar history last night partly due to efforts by film critics to remind Hollywood - and the world - about a box office flop nobody saw. Serious film criticism still matters, although maybe not at Variety.

Oscars postmortem

Oscaraward In no particular order, here are some random thoughts and observations on tonight's Oscar telecast (you can check out the list of winners here):

- I am really happy The Hurt Locker won - not only because I wasn't a huge fan of Avatar, but also because the war movie really was the most deserving nominee of the bunch by a wide margin. OK, mostly because I just wasn't a huge fan of Avatar.

- This was the first Oscar telecast I can remember seeing - like, ever - in which Jack Nicholson was not seated in the front row, leering at everybody.


- Without question, Precious star Gabourey Sidibe was the happiest and most excited celebrity to be there. She made me believe in the whole "It's an honor just to be nominated" thing.


- Sandra Bullock's acceptance speech for the Best Actress Oscar was the best of the night. Everyone expected her to win - even she probably did - and it still felt like a surprise.

 - The Paranomal Activity skit, which aired about two hours into the show, was the first time co-hosts Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin got a real laugh out of me. That was followed by a way-cool tribute to horror movies, which rarely get much Oscar love. Who'd ever think you'd see Leatherface, Friday the 13th and Night of the Living Dead on the Academy Awards? Too many clips from The Shining, though - and that's coming from me.


- You know how nice and modest and humble Kathryn Bigelow came off in her acceptance speech for the Best Director Oscar? She really is like that - the mirror opposite of her ex-husband, Avatar director James Cameron.Seriously, this could not have happened to a sweeter, more gracious person. And she makes such tough films! I wonder what movie she will direct next.

- I really dug the idea of having five presenters, each of them a former co-star, introduce each of the nominees in the Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars. By the time Michelle Pfeiffer was done giving props to Jeff Bridges, she had the actor in tears, and he hadn't even received the award yet.


- Wasn't it awesome watching The Dude get an Oscar, man?


- The oddball pairing of Pedro Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino to present the Foreign Language Film Oscar was inspired. Forget different countries: These two hail from different universes.

- The surprise win in that category by Argentina's The Secret in Their Eyes guarantees the closing night festivities at the Miami Film Festival next weekend will sell out.


- James Cameron may be a very, very rich man. But you know the lack of Oscar love for Avatar has to be eating away at him. Sorry, Jim. You'll have to settle for being the guy who directed the two highest-grossing films of all time, back to back. Also, Aliens.

- Every time the cameras cut away to The Hurt Locker team, they still seemed so grateful just to be there - even after the movie had started racking up Oscars.

- Meanwhile, George Clooney looked annoyed or impatient every time the cameras looked his way.


- That exuberant red-haired woman in the purple dress who interrupted Music By Prudence director Roger Ross Williams while he was accepting the Best Documentary Short Oscar (video clip here) was former Herald features writer Elinor Burkett. She was a producer on the movie and used to behave exactly the same way in the newsroom. Congrats, Elinor! (Update: The incident is already known as the Oscars' Kanye moment. Read Williams' and Burkett's accounts of the bizarre moment here.)


- Both of the screenwriting Oscar winners - Precious' Geoffrey Fletcher (Best Adapted) and The Hurt Locker's Mark Boal (Best Original) - appeared to have been caught off-guard by their wins. I interviewed each of them last year for stories about their respective films, and both seemed surprised by the attention their movies were getting at the time. Now they're Oscar winners.


- The Ben Stiller as a Na'Vi bit could have easily bombed, but the actor kept it alive much more than it deserved.

- The cynic in me knows the John Hughes tribute was a bit much and went on a bit long - a sop to the Generation Xers watching the show. But I, too, grew up in the 1980s watching Hughes' films, so I got a little lump in the throat anyway when that informal Breakfast Club reunion took place onstage (Emilio Estevez, where were you?) 


- This was the first year I can remember in which I actually enjoyed the presentation of the five nominees for Best Original Score - proof that everything in life goes better with a little interpretive dance.

- Robert Downey, Jr. continues to get weirdly cooler, even when he's just handing out the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. On actors and writers working together: "A collaboration between handsome, gifted people and sickly, little mole people.''


 - I know that Christoph Waltz has been winning awards for his portrayal of a cunning Nazi colonel in Inglourious Basterds since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May. But I wish Waltz had tried to be a tiny bit genuine when he won, or come up with a better acceptance speech other than just kissing up to Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Weinstein. Up director Pete Docter probably knew he was going to win too, but he seemed honestly excited when he got his hands on his statuette. Even Mo'Nique managed to seem a little overwhelmed, and she was the safest bet of the night.


- Opening the show by having the Best Actor and Actress nominees standing awkwardly onstage as they basked in the applause of the crowd got the night started on a way-too reverential note. Fortunately, Neil Patrick Harris showed up a few moments later to deflate some of the pretension out of the show. And then co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin did their best to try to get everyone to shut off their TV sets.

- I went 16 for 21 in my predictions. Not my best showing, but not my worst.

The most racist movies of all time

Complex.com has compiled an entertaining but ultimately useless list of the 50 most racist movies you didn't think were racist. That modifier allows them to ignore obvious contenders such as Birth of a Nation and King Kong, but then the writers go ahead and include easy targets such as Soul Man and Planet of the Apes.


Number 14 on the list is Brian De Palma's 1983 remake of Scarface, which once again gets blasted for Al Pacino's "ridiculously over-the-top" accent. Just another reminder that people who don't live in Miami should never write about Scarface, period.

This movie, though, really is racist. I remember being shocked when I watched it on cable one night. And then, of course, there is this Best Picture Oscar winner, which always struck me as a movie that might have been celebrated in the 1950s, say, but felt weirdly anachronistic the same year Spike Lee made Do the Right Thing.

Herald Movie Yearbook 2009 edition

I'm taking a few days off and will return to work on January 11. I leave you with this year's edition of the Herald Movie Yearbook, which ran in today's paper. Here's a taste. Check out the whole thing here.


Best opening sequence: A French farmer, a Nazi colonel and two delicious glasses of milk in Inglourious Basterds.

Best explosion: The climactic bang in Angels and Demons.


Best special-effects demo reel: The implosion of Los Angeles in Roland Emmerich's 2012.

Best kiss: Ellen Page and Landon Pigg's underwater makeout session in Whip It; hold your breath.

Worst kiss: Paul Rudd and Thomas Lennon in I Love You, Man; the perils of man-dates. (``He got up in there. A whole bunch of tongue, deep in my mouth.'')

Best closing shot: Stormy weather approaches in A Serious Man.

Best closing line (tie): ``This may well be my masterpiece.'' -- Inglourious Basterds / ``Nice to meet you; I'm Autumn.'' -- (500) Days of Summer.


Best portrayal of a woman under the influence: Tilda Swinton as the titular heroine in Julia, who hatches the worst kidnapping plot in history. It always seems like a good idea after eight cocktails. 

Best opening credits: Watchmen. Four decades of (revised) American history squeezed into five minutes, set to Bob Dylan's The Times They Are A-Changin'.

Best closing credits: The Hangover. Did I really just see what I think I saw?

Best offscreen death: In A Serious Man, a curve in the road, a left-hand turn signal and a blinking taillight.


Best use of split-screen: The ``Expectations'' vs. ``Reality'' sequence in (500) Days of Summer.

Best rationalization: ``Before you know it, you'll be on to new opportunities,'' corporate cleaner George Clooney, hired by companies to inform people they're being laid off, in Up in the Air.


Best fight: A bank loan officer (Alison Lohman) and an old gypsy (Lorna Raver) get it on inside a car in Sam Raimi's delirious Drag Me To Hell. Bring it!

Best shoot-out: Clive Owen fends off wave after wave of bad guys inside the Guggenheim Museum, until the walls look like they're made of cheese, in The International.

Best example of getting to the point: The one-word title of Fighting.

Best proof all he ever wanted to do was animate: Director Wes Anderson's endearing Fantastic Mr. Fox, the stop-motion cartoon he always had in him.


Most educational film: The British political satire In the Loop, which taught us 8 million new ways to curse, taunt and insult.

Biggest box office underperformer: Kathryn Bigelow's searing war drama The Hurt Locker.

Biggest box office overperformer: Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Most discomfiting use of nudity: A streaker runs amok in a shopping mall in Observe and Report.


Most discomfiting sex scene: In An Education, an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) preparing to deflower his 16-year-old girlfriend (Carey Mulligan) offers her a banana, thinking it might help. Uh, no.

Best career comeback: After fading somewhat from the public eye, Sandra Bullock returned big time with three movies (The Proposal, All About Steve and The Blind Side), two of them box office smashes.

Worst movie: The Ugly Truth.


Longest stretch of sustained suspense: A British film critic, a German movie star and two Basterds play a drinking game with Nazis for 25 nail-biting minutes in Inglourious Basterds.

Most unfairly maligned movie: The widely panned flop Jennifer's Body. There's more than meets the eye here.


Best cinematography: The impossibly luminous black-and-white images by cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. in Francis Ford Coppola's Tetro; or, Rumble Fish Redux.

Best use of a hackneyed plot twist: The hunter becomes the hunted in District 9. What's wrong with his hand?


Best silent sequence : The depiction of a lifelong romance, from beginning to end, in Pixar Animation's Up.

Most rousing use of sports-movie cliches: Drew Barrymore's roller derby comedy Whip It (sports as slumber party).

Dullest use of sports-movie cliches: Clint Eastwood's snooze-inducing Invictus (sports as politics).

Best proof all that numerology nonsense in Knowing may not have been so crazy: 9, Nine and District 9 were all released in -- gulp -- 2009.


Best Miami homeboy made good: Phil Lord (pictured above, left), co-writer and director (with Chris Miller, on the right) of the trippy $120 million hit Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

Most phoned-in performance: Dennis Quaid in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Because celebrities need to pay their mortgages, too.


Best justification to go through the trouble of seeing James Cameron's Avatar in IMAX 3D: The brief but seriously awesome shots of mano-a-mano combat between the 10-foot-tall Na'vi aliens and human marines (reportedly the most expensive and difficult shots in the entire movie). More, please.

Best remake: Star Trek.

Worst remake: Fame.

Most redundant remake: All the unnecessary horror film remakes no one went to see (The Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, The Stepfather, Halloween II).


Best sequel: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Bring on those deathly hallows!

Worst sequel (tie): Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and The Pink Panther 2.

Most bloated sequel: Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.

Most superfluous sequel: Terminator Salvation.


Best-kept plot secret: The big surprise in the evil-seed thriller Orphan. Didn't see that one coming!

Best dunce: The slack-jawed male gigolo in Mike Judge's Extract (played by Dustin Milligan) -- a mouth-breather extraordinaire.

Best jump-scare: Death by exploding cellphone in Law Abiding Citizen.

Best example of a movie trailer giving away the whole show: Judd Apatow's Funny People. You want to know why your movie flopped? Because people saw it for free the first time around, when you crammed the entire thing into three-and-a-half minutes.

Most controversial use of high-def cameras: Michael Mann's love-it or hate-it Public Enemies, recreating the past using toys from the future.

Most effective use of high-def cameras: Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience.


Best musical number: Best Morning Ever. In (500) Days of Summer, a young man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) walks to work the day after spending the night for the first time with his new girlfriend (Zooey Deschanel) while the city around him celebrates him with a Hall & Oates song.

Best use of a music video within a film: Gael Garcia Bernal's Spanish-language cover of Cheap Trick's I Want You to Want Me in Rudo y Cursi.

Strangest third act: Richard Kelly's supposedly mainstream The Box, unmooring itself from all reality in its final half-hour and wafting away on a cloud of wonderful weirdness.

Best surprise cameo: You-know-who in Zombieland.

2010 movie I am most anticipating: Christopher Nolan's Inception.

The 25 best movies of the decade 2000-2009

This was my first decade reviewing movies full-time, which means I saw a lot of films in the last 10 years (more than you, probably). That made compiling this list much harder than I anticipated. I was originally going to keep it to 10 movies, then 20, but finally had to go with 25 (+1). That was the number I was most comfortable with in terms of what got left out.

Here's the list, in descending order:


25) Talk To Her (Hable con ella) (2002): Out of all the latter-period Pedro Almodovar masterpieces, this one was the best, with Volver a close second.


24) Finding Nemo (2003): I'm a sucker for all things Pixar (except Cars; sorry, Oliver!), but Finding Nemo is the one that remains as fresh today as it did seven years ago - the textbook definition of timeless.


23) Dancer in the Dark (2000): In deciding between this and Dogville, I opted for Dancer in the Dark for the same reasons so many people hate it: Bjork's caterwauling, the discordant musical numbers, the last half-hour in which director Lars Von Trier puts you through such an emotional wringer you almost grow to hate him. Being shamelessly manipulated never felt so good.


22) Requiem For a Dream (2000): I have vivid memories of having to attend a screening of Darren Aronofsky's soul-wrenching drama about drug addiction the same night the last episode of the first season of Survivor was airing and not being happy about this at all. By the time the movie was over, missing Survivor didn't  matter quite as much. Another memory: I was sitting next to this huge (like 6'5) tough guy at the screening who was so pummelled by the film, he started groaning when Aronofsky began to turn the screws. And kept turning. And turning.


21) Zodiac (2007): The more you watch director David Fincher's recreation of the hunt for the San Francisco Zodiac killer, the more you become like the newspaper cartoonist played by Jake Gyllenhaal: Completely obsessed.


20) Almost Famous (2000): "The only true currency in this bankrupt world ... is what you share with someone else when you're uncool." Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).


19) Inglourious Basterds (2009): Quentin Tarantino's talky World War II fantasy is the most recent film on this list, and it is too early to tell how the movie will weather the years. My guess: It will become a classic.


18) In the Mood for Love (2000): The art of the mood film, amped up to delirious extremes.


17) The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005): The funniest comedy of the last 10 years gets funnier every time I watch it.


16) Match Point (2005): Woody Allen's first film in exile - on par with his best work from the 1970s - reawakened the director's spirit and creativity. Naysayers complained they liked this story better the first time he told it (in Crimes and Misdemeanors), as if filmmakers aren't allowed to revisit themes from different angles. Someone should inform Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Steven Spielberg and John Ford of this, pronto.


15) Cache (Hidden) (2005): It takes a while - or better yet, a couple of viewings - to fully appreciate the depth and complexity of director Michael Haneke's rich stew about the human instinct to repress the past in order to shun responsibility, all wrapped up in a corker of a thriller. Also: Best closing shot of the decade, which put the answer to the film's central riddle right in front of your face - literally - but many people still didn't see it.


14) Elephant (2003): Gus Van Sant's ethereal meditation on the Columbine shootings was less about the particulars of that tragedy and more about the sensation of high school - the sights, sounds, rituals, emotions.


13) Amores Perros (2000): Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu took the interlocking structure of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and used it for something far graver and more dramatic.



12) The Dark Knight (2008) / Spider-Man 2 (2004): How do you like your comic-book movies: Dark and brooding or bright and bouncy? Either way, these two superhero epics proved there is serious populist art to be had from those funny pages. (OK, so I cheated with this one. I just couldn't decide.)


11) Spirited Away (2001): The great Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece is a work of pure unbridled imagination. One of the hardest movies I've ever had to review, because the magical spell Miyazaki weaves defies description.


10) Million Dollar Baby (2004): "Frankie, I've seen you at Mass almost every day for 23 years. The only person comes to church that much is the kind who can't forgive himself for something." - Father Horvak (Brian F. O'Byrne) to boxing trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood).


9) City of God (Cidade de Deus) (2002): Fernando Meirelles beat Martin Scorsese at his own game with this exhilarating - and terrifying - look at life in the most dangerous slums of Rio de Janeiro. The rare kind of movie that is once seen, never forgotten.


8) Brokeback Mountain (2005): I happened to be interviewing Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in a hotel suite at the Toronto Film Festival when director Ang Lee burst in, clutching the Golden Lion statuette the movie had just won a day before at the Venice Film Festival. The three men traded hugs, congratulations and somewhat relieved smiles: They had a hunch, but until that moment, they still didn't know they had made a masterpiece.


7) There Will Be Blood (2007): "I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people ... There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money [so] I can get away from everyone." - Daniel Plainview, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the performance of the decade.


6) Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) (2006): The fantasy genre came of age in this decade, demanding to be taken seriously with Peter Jackson's momentous Lord of the Rings trilogy. But Guillermo Del Toro's story of a little girl who disappears into a magical, terrible world to escape her dreary reality outdid even Jackson's phenomenal achievement in sheer imagination, adventure and drama.


5) The Departed (2006): Martin Scorsese has made weightier, more important films, but he's never made a better movie-movie - a more absorbing entertainment than this cops-and-robbers drama that dared to stomp on all the rules of the genre. Even if you had seen the Hong Kong original this film was based on, The Departed made every other crime drama of the decade seem lightweight and trivial.


4) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): "This is it, Joel. It's going to be gone soon." "I know." "What do we do?" "Enjoy it." - Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Joel (Jim Carrey) in the love story of the decade.


3) No Country For Old Men (2007): How do you make sense of a crazy, violent world that seems to have lost its bearings? The melancholy answer - according to Cormac McCarthy and Joel and Ethan Coen - is you can't.


2) Adaptation (2002): In turning Susan Orlean's seemingly unfilmable book The Orchid Thief into a film, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze built a cinematic hall of mirrors that gave me a profound, brain-tickling thrill unlike any movie I had ever seen. Adaptation got loopier and nuttier as it went along, but Kaufman and Jonze never lost control of their one-of-a-kind contraption. Here, truly, is a movie like no other.


1) Mulholland Dr. (2000): If you believe that movies, at their best, are the equivalent of dreaming with your eyes wide open, then there was no more hypnotic reverie this past decade than David Lynch's poisonous ode to Hollywood, the city of - yes - dreams. Reshaped from an unaired TV pilot into a Moebius strip of a film, Mulholland Dr. was beguiling, sensual, terrifying and elusive. Every time you watch it, it feels like a slightly different movie. In dreams, Lynch waits for you.

The Shining Part 2?


A sequel to The Shining sounds like a terrible and contrived idea to me. I don't really care what Danny Torrance is up to as a fortysomething, or how his psychic powers have developed over the years. One of the great things about the book is that Danny's clairvoyance turns out to be a kind of MacGuffin - an excuse, really, for the ghosts that haunt the Overlook Hotel to cut loose and seriously mess with the minds of the poor Torrance family.

Stephen King is a radically different writer today than he was back in 1977. Even though I enjoyed his latest novel, his books no longer have the snap and pace that made reading The Shining such a compulsive experience (I don't know anybody who didn't devour that novel when they read it). Besides, let's face it: The Shining doesn't really belong to King anymore anyway. It hasn't, for decades.

Now and forever, The Shining belongs to Stanley Kubrick, whose film adaptation left such a seminal footprint, the movie has grown to eclipse the book that spawned it. Everybody knows Danny's encounter with a rotting corpse happens in room 237 (like in the movie) and not room 217 (like in the book). Everybody knows the Overlook's garden contains a giant maze (like in the movie) and not topiary animals (like in the book).


Even a passing mention of The Shining makes me think immediately of Wendy Carlos' sinister score - music laden with all sorts of ominous things to come - and the film's opening credits, which manage to make helicopter vistas of a scenic mountain range seem scary. And I haven't even mentioned Jack Nicholson's performance as Jack Torrance, one of the most iconic pieces of acting ever committed to film.

I don't see how anything King could come up with anything striking enough to overcome our memories of Kubrick's Shining, which made some fairly radical departures from the book and has become the de facto version of the story. Even King's proposed title for the sequel, Doctor Sleep, already feels like a let-down.

During the book reading in Toronto where he discussed the sequel, King said he wasn't completely committed to the new novel. "Maybe if I keep talking about it I won’t have to write it." Keep talking, Stephen. And leave The Shining alone.


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