Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Village Voice Critics' Poll

So the Village Voice Movie Poll is out, and I've got to say, it's a bit of a surprise, perhaps because I've been following film criticism less closely this year than the last five or so years. First, demonlover (a review of which will be out before Miramax releases Hero, I promise!) at #3? I missed the love for that troubling, incoherent and brilliant picture. And even Lost in Translation at #1 was a little strange, considering the terrain the Voice critics generally chart. The participants selected by Voice film editor Dennis Lim run to the high-end of the brow-meter. These are guys that go for the oblique and rigorous -- Beau Travail and Werckmeister Harmonies , and this year, The Son and Unknown Pleasures . I know Sofia's gotten plenty of love from the mainstream crits, but I thought the highbrows met her moving but facile exercise in hipster cool with polite applause, not a thunderous ovation. Lost in Translation is really quite good, but it still stuns me that so many would select that well-crafted if flawed chamber mood piece over the similar but magnificent Friday Night. It's like seeing the Pazz & Jop go for "Pieces of You" instead of "Exile in Guyville." But I digress.

Great to see Maddin's Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary and Kaurismaki's The Man Without A Past , two relatively unsung but awesome films, get acknowledged. Also, deserved props to Murray and Skarsgaard and Turning Gate and Brown Bunny in the Undistributed Poll.

Lastly, how many attempted bon mots did Jim Ridley and Steve "The Unit" Erickson send in to land that many published blurbs? Good job, though, guys.

/Au hasard, Balthazar/ (Bresson, 1966): A

This movie stars a donkey. In the beginning, the donkey would frolic with the nymphet Marie, and all is joyful. Then shit starts happening to Marie's dad. The donkey gets sold and is treated badly. Marie is also treated badly, especially by a prick named Gerard. Gerard loves to torture the donkey. Also, he steals. Also, he is a punk who wears uncomfortably tight jeans. The donkey gets taken in by a drunk then a miserable miser. Through it all, the donkey remains implacable. His eyes are clear but sad. When Marie caresses him near the end of this donkey picture you feel just like when Kate and Leo reunited in the afterlife. Very bittersweet. Then the donkey eats it. The end.

This donkey picture is considered one of the greatest pictures ever made. I agree with this. Manohla Dargis and J. Hoberman also agree (I think both esteemed critics have this movie on their all-time top ten). First of all, it is true I have never seen a better donkey picture. I especially like the close-up shots of the donkey's eyes, and the shots of Marie's hands. And also the last shot. The movie feels so pure, like nothing has been wasted. The director, the "transcendental" master Robert Bresson, does not lard his movies with a hundred cutaways of ticking clocks or dress up everybody in red. His filmmaking is simple but concise. That is why it is awesome that this frog Bresson has become the fashionable Artiste of the Serious Cinema rather than the dour overrated Swede Bergman and the Russian Tarkovsky, though the Ruskie is making a comeback. (Solaris is awesome, by the way.) If anyone wants to check out more of this frog Bresson, I highly recommend A Man Escapes and Pickpocket, though I also like most of the others too. Still, this donkey movie is Bresson's masterpiece, and it should be seen in this beautiful print rather than a Nth generation PAL dub, which is how I first saw it.

Also, notice how this donkey film is not about the donkey per se but about the cruelty of man's utter indifference (and intentional cruelty) to other beings. Bresson's focus on the donkey speaks to a greater theme, the effect of callous human actions. In that way, this donkey movie is utterly unlike the awful robot movie about the robot kid programmed to love.

Top 5 Karaoke Hits

Okay, I've been in Asia for the last two weeks and haven't had time to blog. In the meantime, some random, 5-minute posts.

The trick in picking out a karaoke repertoire is to sing cheesy, fun songs that aren't also ultra-grating (for that, most of you will be glad that you were never within a five mile radius of my rendition of "Sweet Child O' Mine." For those with awful vocal range, songs preferably with a rich low timbre and low range works best. Also, shtick is good.

Currently, this is my repertoire, with room for random Carpenters or popular alternative rock songs (read: "Wonderwall" and "Creep"). Keep in mind most karaoke joints are not gonna be stocking Neutral Milk Hotel or anything.

1. "Paint It Black", Rolling Stones. The droning verse is so awesome.
2. "Kissing a Fool", George Michael. Should I be copping to this in a public forum?
3. "I've Got You Under My Skin", Frank Sinatra. Or "Fly Me to the Moon", but that's a hard one.
4. "Your Song", Elton John. Cheese city.
5. "Suspicious Minds", Elvis. Though I think "Now or Never" might be the better Elvis choice.

New fave: "Perfect Day", Lou Reed. You can chainsmoke Camel nonfilters and still dust off some Papa Reed no prob.
Clear the room: "Zombie", The Cranberries.

5 Songs I wished those damn K-town noraebahns would stock:

1. "Sexy Sadie", The Beatles. Keeping with the White Album, "Happiness is a Warm Gun" would also be awesome.
2. "Tame", The Pixies. Or "Debaser" or "Here Comes Your Man".
3. "Low", R.E.M. I just want to sing this ridiculous song just once.
4. "Bring the Noise", Public Enemy. Bass, how low can you go?
5. "When I'm with You", Sheriff. Okay, they probably have this insanely awesome Eighties power ballad somewhere, I've just never bothered to look for it.

Also: "New Slang", The Shins; "Stephanie Says"/"Caroline Says"/"Who Loves the Sun", The Velvets; "Dirty Boots", Sonic Youth; "Spanish Bombs", The Clash; "The Blowers Daughter", Damien Rice; "It's a Man's Man's Man's World", James Brown; "Sour Times", Portishead.

I'm sure I'm missing a bunch.