On Facebook, there are multitudes of 30 day movie challenges (which consist of one probing movie question a day for...well, you know). I wanted to participate, but most of them bored me. It wasn't until I encountered the 30 Day Cinephile Challenge, with its vastly more inventive queries, that I opted to take part in one. My cohorts on this challenge, by the way, are extra worldly and so, by participating in this business, I'm learning much more about the global film scene than I ever expected. Anyway, just in case you're not one of my FB friends, and on the outside chance you perhaps wanted to know more about me, I thought I'd relay these questions and my answers to them here on filmicability. So here we go...
Day 1: My favorite opening scene
The Music Man (Morton DeCosta, 62). The original (white) rap, written by Meredith Willson and, amazingly, our hero Harold Hill doesn't even appear on-screen until the scene's tail end! An incredible rant about the values and pitfalls of the free market, and it still moves and rocks me years after I learned every line while listening to a homemade recording of the film on cassette tape. A powerful first scene.
Day 2: My favorite closing scene
The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 59). An escape to freedom, but with nowhere to go. It still gives me goosebumps!
Day 3: My most underrated filmmaker of all time
Peter Watkins. Every one of his films displays a fresh, chilling, immediately recognizable worldview, iced with an utter mastery of film craft. Even my least favorite film by him, Privilege, is something unique. But The Gladiators, Culloden, Edvard Munch, The War Game (for which he won an Best Documentary Oscar in 1965), La Commune (Paris 1871) and especially the radically scary Punishment Park are each uniformly magnificent, even if most people haven't seen them.
Day 4: Most overrated filmmaker of all time
James Cameron. Though I like The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss well enough (the director's cut of the latter is his best film), the heaps of praise, awards, and cash dumped on to this guy for his other travesties literally makes me sick to my stomach. Avatar was so bad that it made me question the sanity of a world that would flip its shit for it. Cameron is quite an inventor, though--he should just stick to that and leave the moviemaking to others.
Day 5: The best movie from my favorite filmmaker
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Whether you think it boring or not, it's the greatest movie that has been made or will be made. It is completely successful in dramatizing the history of man from ape until superhuman. No other movie will ever even attempt to do such a thing without being compared to this progenitor. And no movie could ever do it, anyway.
Day 6: The biggest disappointment from one of my favorite filmmakers
Gangs of New York (Martin Scorsese, 2002). I knew it was a project that he and Jay Cocks had been contemplating for over 20 years. When it arrived, with that awful U2 score over its opening scene, I was mortified. Daniel Day Lewis does his very best (and it is almost enough), but even he cannot save this misfire. The casting of DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz is laughable, and this faux-operatic movie just plods on and on. I'm sorry, but this much lauded battle sequence was ridiculously phony to me.
Day 7: A film I would love to share with everyone
A Little Romance (George Roy Hill, 79). The finest film ever made about the possession of a deep intelligence and the encountering of a soulmate. It never ceases to amaze me how deeply it affects me each time I watch it; I'm a weeping mess at its end. It says so much about me--as a romantically-minded film fan--and about humanity. But still it remains a minor cult movie at best. It should be required viewing in every film school class, I believe.
Day 8: My favorite experimental film
Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, 63). Brakhage had no film stock available, but he didn't let that stop him. He took strips of 16mm editing tape and embedded in them pieces of moth wings and grass. I heard about this film in my 20s, but didn't get to see it until YouTube arrived. It was worth the wait. It's dazzling.
Day 9: My favorite North American filmmaker of all time (includes U.S.A. and Canada)
Barring the American Kubrick, who did his best work in Britain, I'll pick Orson Welles. No explanation necessary.
Day 10: My favorite Latin American filmmaker of all time
Mexico's Alfonso Cuarón. Like many others, I discovered him with the gorgeous A Little Princess. As a longtime love of the David Lean original, I avoided Great Expectations for a long time, but admired Cuarón's cheekiness greatly it when I finally saw it. Y Tu Mama Tambien is absolutely beyond reproach. He made the best Harry Potter series entry with The Prisoner of Azkaban. And Children of Men is a stone-cold masterpiece of the first order. I look forward to whatever he does in the future.
Day 11: My favorite African filmmaker of all time
Ousmane Sembene, from Senegal. Mandabi is a brilliant but sad comedy, Xala is vibrantly terrific, and Moolade is a complete shocker. I sure would like to see more films by him, but they're hard to find. And I'd like to see MORE African films, in general.
Day 12: My favorite Asian filmmaker of all time
Akira Kurosawa, of course. Why say anything else? Although I must say that Apitachapong Weerasethakul, from Thailand, is impressing me more and more these days.
Day 13: My favorite European filmmaker of all time
Ingmar Bergman, naturally. No one else even comes close.
Day 14: My favorite filmmaker of all time from Oceania
I could easily go with Peter Weir, and perhaps should, but few filmmakers make me more excited now than Andrew Dominick. With both Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he's a shining voice in 21st Century world cinema. With his next movie, due in 2012, being about Marilyn Monroe, it's clear he's fascinated with the trappings of fame, and how it affects the famous and everyone surrounding them. This is a perfect subject for our media-driven age, and thus makes Dominick a supremely relevant director.
Day 15: Two directors I would like to see working together on a film
Shane Meadows (Somers Town, This is England) and Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy). One is uniquely British, the other uniquely American, but both are similarly understated and humanistic in their approach to character-driven storytelling. I envision a film about two British brothers (12 and 14) being transplanted to New England, circa 1982.
Day 16: My favorite female filmmaker
Joan Micklin Silver, the vastly underrated director of Bernice Bobs Her Hair, Between The Lines, Hester Street, Chilly Scenes of Winter, Crossing Delancey and Loverboy. No one writes better dialogue and has such a winning way with actors. And she really knows how to build a complex story without dropping the many pins she's juggling.
Day 17: My second favorite female filmmaker
Kelly Reichardt, director of River of Grass, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, and Meek's Cutoff. To me, she is now one of our primary filmmaking talents. She has a loving view of people with differing opinions on how their world is progressing, and what their place is in such a world, and I adore that about her. Plus, she has an unassailable vision of American life, and a smart cinematic prowess.
Day 18: My third favorite female filmmaker
I originally went with Lina Wertmuller, only for her exquisite, profound and hilarious Seven Beauties. But now I am rethinking this and am deciding upon Diane Kurys, whose three autobiographical movies Peppermint Soda, Entre Nous, and C'est La Vie, are remarkably frank chronicles of her rocky childhood as the daughter of divorced parents. I haven't seen any of her other works, but these three are enough for me, though I'd love to see more.
Day 19: My favorite British filmmaker
Leaving out Hitchcock, who did his best work in America, I have to go with Mike Leigh, whose detailed examinations of London life, across all strata of time and class, continue to astound me. None of his 19 feature-length films (many of them produced for UK television) are anything less than resolute genius, but I must confess a special love for Life is Sweet, Topsy-Turvy, All or Nothing, Vera Drake, High Hopes, Naked, and Abigail's Party. Leigh is currently my favorite filmmaker working right now. I believe he can do no wrong. This is a devastating scene from his 2002 film All or Nothing, with Timothy Spall as a despondent husband and Leslie Manville as his in-denial wife. In its simplicity, it is a wrecking ball.
Day 20: Best quote from a filmmaker
"Always make the audience suffer as much as possible" -- Alfred Hitchcock
Day 21: An actor you love who became a filmmaker
I could easily go with Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, Sidney Lumet, Robert Redford or Orson Welles. But I side with Bob Fosse, an actor/choreographer in Kiss Me Kate and Damn Yankees who's remarkable genius blossomed into a sadly short filmmaking career that gifted us with four unique, dark show-biz-related masterpieces: Cabaret, Lenny, All That Jazz and Star 80. Here he is, more than a decade before his 1969 directorial debut with Sweet Charity, doing the "Who's Got The Pain" number from Damn Yankees with his one-time wife and lifelong collaborator Gwen Verdon.
Day 22: A filmmaker who is also a good actor that you love
There is, of course, John Huston. And Francois Truffaut is superb in both Day for Night and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But I'm going with actor-turned-director-turned-actor-again Sydney Pollack, who impressed me in Tootsie, Eyes Wide Shut and especially in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives. Here he directs himself, playing Michael Dorsey's humorously harried agent in 1982's Tootsie.
Day 23: A film, short or clip of your own making; if you don't have one, your favorite film or short clip from someone close to you
Here I am on an early episode of The Latest Show on Earth, with Joe Hendel, talking about the 2008 Oscars and some great midnight movies to rent. I've made films, but I'm not a filmmaker.
Day 24: A pretentious film
UK Filmmaker Peter Greenaway is unfailingly gassy, and I thought of including his stilted stink bomb Prospero's Books as my entry. But then I remembered one of his UK contemporaries, Derek Jarman, and his silly movie Blue, which consists of a blue screen for 90+ minutes, with a yawning audio background. It makes Andy Warhol's Empire look like Die Hard. This is where film experimentation goes too far, friends.
Day 25: An actor/actress whom you feel is wasting his/her talent on crappy films
Many people dismiss her talents, but let's not forget than Jennifer Aniston has been sublime in Brad Bird's The Iron Giant, Miguel Arteta's The Good Girl, Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money, and Peyton Reed's The Break-Up. Somehow, despite her glamor, she's landed at the start of the 21st Century as American cinema's premier everywoman (though Kristen Wiig deserves a shot at that prize). But Aniston keeps taking below-par assignments in sad shit like The Bounty Hunter, The Switch, He's Just Not That Into You, Management, Just Go With It, and the terribly overrated Horrible Bosses (although at least with the last film she was trying something different). Her career desperately needs to meet another turn in the road.
Day 26: A lousy actor/actress who keeps appearing in good films
Every time I see Tom Sizemore, I wince. Such a small bag of tricks he has--he's always either a scummy cop, a scummy criminal or a steadfast but doomed soldier. Luckily, his stock has gone way down in the past decade, after appearing in such 1990s classics as Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, Heat, and Natural Born Killers. Still, when he pops up in movies like the Brian Cox starrer Red, I roll my eyes.
Day 27: A filmmaker you would like to work with
I wouldn't deign to work with any filmmaker I respected--I'm just not worthy. But I'd be content to be a mere fly on the wall on any set that Terrence Malick was in control of. I just wanna see what this guy is like.
Day 28: A film you wish you had made
Noah Baumbach's Greenberg. No other movie out there seems to be portraying ME quite as much as this film seems to be. While watching it, I felt like I had been spied on. It's the one and only time in which I felt the filmmaker was speaking DIRECTLY to me. It says so much about how I view the world, it makes me cry and, also, shudder.
Day 29: A filmmaker you would like to make love to
I'm speaking only from a purely physical standpoint here (although I think she's terrifically smart and talented): Kathryn Bigelow. ROWRR!
Day 30: A country from which you would like to see more films
Ingmar Bergman's movies made me fall in absolute love with the cadence and poetry of the Swedish language. But now that he's gone, we here in the USA can only hear the language in the films of Lukas Moodysson, reliably (Let the Right One In's Tomas Alfredson seems to have been seduced by Hollywood). I'd like to see more films from Sweden, thank you very much. This scene (not included in the theatrical version of the film) is from Bergman's Fanny and Alexander; please notice, primarily, the lilting beauty of the language itself.
The 30 Day Cinephile Challenge now extends to another month, effectively becoming a 60 Day Cinephile Challenge. I now embark on answering 30 more questions, much to my delight. I will post my answers to these as well and, when I am done with them, will try to provide a link for them here.