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My name is Adam. Perhaps you've seen me kicking around the site,
reviewing the odd (sometimes very odd) DVD, interviewing filmmakers,
and generally pretending to be a credible journalist. I doubt that I
fooled any of you.
Anyway, welcome to The Bottom Shelf,
a regular column of recommendations, ramblings and reflections from
yours truly (the alliteration comes at no extra cost). Why The
Bottom Shelf? Well, I'm the first to admit that I missed
out on the golden age of movie theatres. But I was in on the ground
floor of the video revolution. I can still remember the first time I
rented a top-loading VCR roughly the size of Samsonite luggage. The
first movie I rented was The Road Warrior,
a movie I'd been dying to see when it played theatrically. I had
fairly liberal parents and could usually convince somebody somewhere
to take me to any R-rated movie I could make a case for. But for
some reason, The Road Warrior
was off limits.
After I watched that tape, things were never quite the same.
Suddenly, an entire universe of taboo cinema was at my fingertips.
And it didn't take me too many trips to the video store before I
realized that the really weird stuff, the forgotten stepchildren of
the movie industry, were unceremoniously dumped on the bottom shelf.
So that's where I spent most of my time. Close to the ground,
dusting off the movies nobody else wanted to watch. Sometimes I saw
real garbage that deserved to be forgotten. Sometimes I found a
buried treasure. But no matter what, I never regretted watching any
So what can you expect from The Bottom
Shelf here at The Bits?
Well, you probably won't see too many reviews of movies like xXx
or Signs. They seem to be
doing just fine without me giving them seals of approval or
disapproval. You will see discussions about movies that might be
falling through the cracks. Foreign films, genre flicks, independent
productions, direct-to-video fodder, that kind of thing. Sometimes
I'll talk about newer releases, sometimes I'll set the Wayback
Machine and write about discs that have been available for years.
The general rule of thumb will be if a DVD has a multi-million
dollar ad campaign behind it, you won't find it here.
Except for this week.
Seeing as how the new year is still just a-bornin', I thought I'd
kick things off with a look back at 2002. After all, you just can't
stop somebody who writes about movies from coming up with a top ten
list. Besides, I'd already done this list before Bill asked me to do
a column, so because writers are inherently lazy, this was an
obvious choice for my first column. If you like, look at this as a
list of discs you should look for in 2003. It's my way of
introducing myself, letting you know in advance what my tastes are
and what kind of moron you're dealing with here.
Godzilla, Mothra & King Ghidorah:
Giant Monsters All-Out Attack! - This earns a mention
on the strength of its title alone, which may be the greatest
movie title in history. But besides that, there were a score of
movies this year that seemed designed to make me feel like I was
nine years old again... from Star
Wars Episode II to Spider-Man
Episode I. Nothing came as close as this. For 90
minutes, I was back in the Chief Theatre in Bemidji, Minnesota,
watching Godzilla on Monster Island.
God love the Japanese.
Chicago - OK, nobody's
less happy than I am that a big, splashy musical has wound up on
my ten best list for the second year in a row. And believe you
me, I went into Chicago prepared to hate it. But director Rob
Marshall and his cast won me over. This isn't a post-modern
reinvention of the movie musical like Moulin
Rouge. It's more like a lost movie from the 1950's,
with Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones filling the spiked
heels of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell. I've got nothing
against a crowdpleaser when it's done as well as this. Chicago
is one of the few movies this year that I would have been
willing to see again almost immediately.
Punch-Drunk Love - Paul
Thomas Anderson is a filmmaker of tremendous ambition and often
that ambition manifests itself in movies of almost oppressive
length. Happily, Punch-Drunk Love
moves right along and at a mere 98 minutes, never outlives its
welcome. This is a charming, giddily romantic fable that manages
to do not one, but two things previously considered cinematic
impossibilities. First, it channels Adam Sandler's manic energy
into a touching, fully realized performance. Second, and perhaps
more impressive, it rescues the weirdly affecting Shelley Duvall
song He Needs Me from the
morass of Robert Altman's Popeye.
Combined with Jon Brion's percussive score, Punch-Drunk
Love features the most eclectic, and yet the most
effective, music of the year.
The Happiness of the Katakuris
- For the past couple of years, American fans of Asian cinema
have slowly discovered the voluminous work of Takashi Miike.
Prolific in a way that makes Steven Soderbergh's two movies a
year look downright somnambulant, Miike churns out movie after
movie and the only common thread is they couldn't be more
different. Whether it's action, horror or something completely
indescribable, Miike's movies inevitably spiral off into wild,
unpredictable directions. The
Happiness of the Katakuris is my favorite Miike movie
so far, simply because it's the most exuberantly, playfully
bizarre. A horror/musical about an inn whose guests end up
dying, punctuated by unexpected moments of claymation, The
Happiness of the Katakuris is the work of a director
in love with the endless possibilities of film. If you haven't
enjoyed a Miike movie yet, wait five minutes and he'll probably
have a new one out.
Sunshine State - Forget
Scorsese, Spielberg, Coppola, and the rest of the usual
suspects. John Sayles is the Great American Filmmaker. Following
his portraits of West Virginia (Matewan),
Texas (Lone Star) and
Alaska (Limbo), Sayles
sets his sights on Florida. The result is another of Sayles'
richly textured, novelistic ensemble pieces. Despite the fact
that she delivers an award-worthy performance on a weekly basis
on The Sopranos, Edie
Falco is a strangely neglected actress. If there were any
justice in the world, her turn in Sunshine
State would change that. But if there really were
justice in the world, John Sayles would be allowed to make a
movie like this for every one of the 50 states.
Heaven - When I first
heard that Tom Tykwer was going to direct Heaven,
a screenplay co-written by the late, great Krysztof Kieslowski,
I was cautiously optimistic. Tykwer shares Kieslowski's interest
in lives shaped by coincidence and random acts of fate but is a
much, much different filmmaker. Just compare Kieslowski's Blind
Chance with Tykwer's Run
Lola Run and you'll see what I mean. And Heaven
isn't quite a home run. It isn't the seamless blend of story,
image and music that you'll find in Kieslowski's Three
Colors trilogy, nor is it as weirdly compelling as
Tykwer's The Princess and the Warrior.
But in its own way, Heaven
is a quietly powerful film with moments of brilliance and
amazing performances by both the always-great Cate Blanchett and
the rarely-great Giovanni Ribisi. Unceremoniously abandoned by
Miramax, Heaven may be the
most underrated film of the year.
Adaptation - While I'd
enjoyed and admired Being John
Malkovich, I also felt that the first collaboration
between screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze
was a bit overrated. So I was extremely surprised by how much I
enjoyed their follow-up. As bizarre a movie as I've ever seen
get something like a mainstream release, Adaptation
twists in and out of itself and reality so much, it's pointless
to try to guess where one starts and the other stops. But the
real pleasure of Adaptation
is Nicolas Cage, delivering two of his best performances since
dropping out of acting to become the world's unlikeliest action
hero. If Cage decides to go back to high-octane action flicks
after this, I hope his next project is Donald Kaufman's The
About Schmidt - This year,
Jack Nicholson won his zillionth, much-deserved Golden Globe
award for Best Actor in a Drama in this film. Accepting the
trophy, Jack said, "I don't know whether to be honored or
ashamed, 'cause I thought we were making a comedy." Indeed,
this is either one of the funniest dramas or one of the most
moving comedies of all time. But I'm with Jack on this one. In
the space of just three movies, director/co-writer Alexander
Payne has become a first-class satirist. All of his films are
heartfelt, expertly observed reflections of Midwestern life.
About Schmidt is his best
so far. And as for Nicholson, just when you're ready to write
him off as Hollywood's best self-parody, he once again shows
just what he's capable of. Warren Schmidt might be the best,
most fully realized character he's ever crafted. Within minutes,
you forget the decades worth of baggage Nicholson carries with
him into every film. You're no longer watching Jack Nicholson.
You're watching Warren Schmidt. For most movie stars, that would
be a major achievement. For a walking caricature like Nicholson,
it's a minor miracle.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
- It seems pretty clear by now that in the fullness of time,
Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy will be
seen as one of the crowning achievements of epic cinema. For
now, just marvel at the individual parts before they become
subsumed into a larger picture. And there is much to admire
here, from the breathtaking battle of Helm's Deep to the
astonishing Gollum, the most perfectly realized
computer-generated character in film to date. But perhaps the
greatest achievement of The Two
Towers is its pace. I can't think of a more episodic
film but Jackson mixes the pot so perfectly, you never regret
cutting away from one story to another. To screw this up,
Jackson would have to do something like conclude The
Return of the King with the fellowship grinning and
slapping backs around a big bonfire while anthropomorphic teddy
bears caper and sing. But who'd be dumb enough to end a much
beloved trilogy with something that stupid?
The Pianist - For the past
twenty years or so, Roman Polanski has been playing to an
increasingly tiny audience of die-hard devotees such as myself.
Odds are probably pretty good that you missed out on the twisted
delights of Bitter Moon or
the considerably more modest pleasures of The
Ninth Gate (and I don't care what anybody says, The
Ninth Gate is a perfectly entertaining little horror
movie). But if, for whatever reason, you choose to pass on The
Pianist, you are skipping one of the very best movies
of this new decade and the single finest movie on the Holocaust
ever. Anchored by a mesmerizing performance by Adrien Brody,
The Pianist is the only
film I've ever seen that stirs the same feelings as reading
literature by Holocaust survivors. Quite simply, this is one of
the best movies ever made by one of the medium's unsung masters.
Bowling for Columbine - It
isn't often that the funniest movie of the year is also the most
important. But that's exactly the case with Michael Moore's
biting, brilliant non-fiction film. The animated history of
America is hands-down the funniest sequence in movies this year.
But at the same time, Moore is posing a question that needed to
be asked. Don't mistake this for a documentary. This is a purely
subjective filmed essay that raises its points by any means
necessary. Bowling for Columbine
may outrage you. It may confirm your worst suspicions about
America and Americans. As the saying goes, you'll laugh, you'll
cry. But above all else, Bowling for
Columbine will force you to think about issues that
you might previously have thought were cut and dried.
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