Cinematic Listology

Stories We Tell

All creations are, in some way, autobiographical. As the merging of imagination and experience, at least a little bit of the creator’s self is infused in their creation. At times, it’s little more than a thematic hint, like Ethan Hawke’s discussion of his failing marriage in Before Sunset, as the actor himself went through a public break-up. It can also be the combination of memory and fantasy, like Guy Maddin’s eccentric documentary about his hometown and childhood memories, My Winnipeg. And other times, cinema becomes the therapist investigating familial turmoil, like Sarah Polley’s excellent Stories We Tell. On occasion, the film itself becomes a revealing cinematic journal, one that makes its audience witting (or unwitting) voyeurs snooping through private lives with a depth tabloids can only dream of. These films allow the filmmaker moments of introspection, revenge, and confusion that make for compelling narratives, but even more fascinating autobiographies when you know what inspired them.

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Alanis Morissette in Dogma

Once, in the 90s, it was told unto us that God was one of us, just a slob like one of us, trying to make his way home. The all knowing, all seeing, all feeling creator of everything and anything in the universe could take on many forms, and he typically has throughout the many channels of pop culture. But it’s hard to find a good version of God in movies – for good reason. It’s a part that many might not want to take; God is, after all, the ultimate role. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. How do you embody a deity, the most important figure in a vast amount of people’s lives, and a part they’ve already casted in their minds while daydreaming in church pews from an early age? You get around it, and you get creative. Sometimes, you don’t even have to be on screen. Just pray for the best. 

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IMAX Blue Planet DVD Crop

Earth Day was set up in conjunction with the growing environmental movement, and after 44 years that remains the main purpose of the occasion. But we can also think of this day as a time to celebrate the planet like it’s her birthday. Happy 4.54 billionth, Earth! Again! Therefore I’d like to not just devote the day to listing environmental issue films. Instead, I’ve compiled the best documentaries about Earth, as in the planet is the subject and these are portraits of her, both negative and positive. It’s a fairly brief list, because there aren’t a whole lot of nonfiction films qualified as being about or of the whole world. And I don’t want to just include them all just to fill the space, even though most of them are pretty good. I highly recommend all seven of the following nonfiction films to everyone living on Earth, which should be all of you (if not, hello extraterrestrial readers!), because it’s a good idea to know your home. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Joe-Berlinger-Crude

With Earth Day coming up next week, it’s the time of year to highlight documentaries dealing with our planet and its well-being. In other words, we’ve got environmentalism films to recommend. For our first list devoted to this theme, I’m interested specifically in the low points, the damage that’s been done to the earth, some of it ongoing and some of it remedied. These docs look at disasters like pollution, oil spills, changes to eco-systems and more. And they aren’t all necessarily issue films devoted to making a difference. Most are simply a look at what’s been done. All are necessary works to remind us, maybe affect us, but also to stimulate us in other ways, too. Below are 12 nonfiction features — a few of them Oscar nominees and a couple of them outright masterpieces — from Werner Herzog, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Noriaka Tsuchimoto, Joe Berlinger, Ken Burns and other great filmmakers who know how to create a feeling in us, whether or not they’re also communicating direct information about these disasters. Where known and available, I’ve noted how you can watch each one. Before the Mountain Was Moved Robert K. Sharpe‘s Oscar-nominated 1970 feature is about the effects of strip mining in West Virginia. The primary focus is on the people living in an area where private homes are being damaged by the mountain top removal process and their attempt to either sue the coal company or at least get them to stop being “bad strippers.” It’s […]

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Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

This is a week of cinematic imagination. Tuesday brought the arrival of Ben Stiller’s journeying remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and this Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since Joel and Clementine raced through his mind trying to hide in memories and avoid permanent erasure. While that film strove to take something from the memory, there are countless films that strive to add to it, relishing in the many ways the imagination manifests, from a little girl’s fantastical journey into strength, to one man’s struggle to break out of a dream. Sadly, Figment isn’t taking us on this journey, but the imaginative movies that follow show the possibilities of the mind – as a childish pursuit, an adult coping mechanism, and a wonderfully idiosyncratic way of life.

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Justin Timberlake Omeletteville

We’ve all probably contemplated a career change at some points in our lives. But at the same time, we also probably didn’t (most of us, I don’t know about you) start out as multi-award winning pop stars beloved by millions for our singing and dancing. Proving that even the richest and most famous get bored or at least hear from an agent or two that they’re something special, many a pop sensation get the itch sometime down the road to give acting a shot. Whether or not they’re successful, well, that’s up for us to sit through and ultimately decide. For every On The Line, there’s an Oscar-winning performance in Moonstruck that somehow happens. Some people just have all the luck.

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Twin Peaks

April 8th marked the 24th anniversary of Twin Peaks’ premiere. But as any good fan knows, this means it’s also been 25 years since Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) first visited the Black Lodge on March 26, 1989, when Sheryl Lee’s Laura Palmer whispered in his ear: “I’ll see you again in 25 years.” For fans, it’s been a whirlwind of cherry pies and snapping fingers, but the anniversary is also a reminder of just how far David Lynch and Mark Frost’s influential show stretched. This wasn’t a little cult affair seen and quoted by few. Glimpses of the show can be seen far and wide in homages, parodies, and vague references from stage to screen, from adult comedy to children’s programming. By this point, just about everyone has seen at least a little Twin Peaks through one of media’s many references, and here are some of the best.

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Videodrome

Canada is a scary place. I know that may be hard to believe given its reputation south of the border, but it’s true. At least since the mid-1970s something about the Great White North has inspired its citizens to go forth and make horror films. Good ones at that. Derek Lee and Cliff Prowse’s Afflicted, one of our 13 Best Horror Films of 2013, is only the most recent to hit American theaters. It won’t be alone, either, as Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy continues to unsettle and confuse audiences in its third week. The glut of terrifying entertainment from Canada begs some sort of explanation. Obviously there’s more to the nation than the stereotype of the apologetic, self-effacing peacenik but the Maple Terror phenomenon is now large enough to merit some light-hearted analysis. Let’s start with Margaret Atwood. Back in 1972 she published a book of literary theory called “Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature.” Her idea was that the principle theme of Canadian culture is the battle with the wilderness, the fight to survive the snow and the cold. The protagonists in Canadian fiction are often in “victim positions,” a representation of a communally held fear of nature. Canadian literary criticism has mostly moved on from Atwood’s book, as has the writer herself, but there’s something very useful about this idea. No one is more victimized than the hero of a horror film. Is there something inherently Canadian about the genre, something that has inspired generations of filmmakers to terrorize their characters? Maybe! […]

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Sucker Punch Movie

After years of development hell, news broke in December that Gal Gadot would become cinema’s first Wonder Woman in Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman. The story is under wraps, and only time will tell what sort of role Diana will play in the superhero battle. Will she kick ass? Will her appearance Sucker Punch us with badness like David E. Kelley’s quickly killed series and Snyder’s shitty femme film? Could she end up on the editing room floor like Shailene Woodley in Spider-Man 2? These questions feel all the more pressing since Marvel head Kevin Feige recently expressed pride in how the company has chosen to show its female characters. Black Widow has been relegated to supporting player, and Captain Marvel is still floating around the rumor mill like so much lip service, rather than becoming an official part of one of Marvel’s carefully planned release phases. If Marvel isn’t going to step up to the plate and commit, that means everything rests on DC’s Wonder Woman, the superhero who’s “tricky” … except that she’s not. Recent film history gives DC all it needs to know to make Wonder Woman a powerful warrior and not a Babydoll or Sweet Pea. If only they’ll look, and stop obsessing over how “difficult” Diana is.

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The Change-Up

Many people don’t realize this because The Change-Up was something of a flop upon its release in 2011, but the Ryan Reynolds/Jason Bateman body swap movie has actually developed an intense cult following since it was released for home viewers. There’s something about the idea of a parent switching lives — even only for a few days — with a single, good looking childless guy that really struck a nerve in the parenting community. The movie added another $20M in home market sales and those DVDs and Blu Rays have been circulating from one family to another for nearly three years. It is, after all, one of the rare R-rated body swap movies, and it is at times filthy in the purest Apatowian sense. Capitalizing on the success of the movie in the home market, Universal finally released a Special Edition Blu Ray complete with director’s commentary last month, so for the first time, we’re finally learning about some of the behind-the-scenes drama on the film. Here’s the 25 coolest things we found out from the commentary track, which featured stars Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Ryan Reynolds, and director David Dobkin.

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My Sharona Scene in Reality Bites

Thirty years ago, Ren McCormack fought for his right in Footloose. “This is our time to dance,” he argued. “It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.” As Kevin Bacon put on his old sweats and threw an old cassette on the stereo for Jimmy Fallon last week, we were reminded in the resonating power of dance scenes… Only, we often remember the most polished dance sequences and forget that “from the oldest of times, people danced for a number of reasons.” Though lists like to remind us over and over of the usual suspects – the films boasting carefully rehearsed choreography ((500) Days of Summer), musical numbers (Singin’ in the Rain), practiced moves (Dirty Dancing), and audacious comedy (Little Miss Sunshine) – there are many memorable dance sequences that break the barriers. Most are raw and unpolished as they push dance out of its narrowly choreographed confines and use it as a method of exploring everything from idiosyncratic inner tension to the charm of goofy exuberance – and they are a pleasure to behold.

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joan rivers a piece of work

March is Women’s History Month in the U.S., and while we’ve already honored the occasion with a feature on women’s personal films, it’s about time for a list of great documentaries offering stories of significant women and events. Sadly, it’s not as easy to find a lot of worthy films as it was for our Black History Month equivalent in February. There aren’t as many exceptional docs on the women’s movement as there are on the African American Civil Rights movement. The crop is sure to grow, however, not just on efforts to present the history of feminism but also to showcase important women in history, such as Alice Guy-Blache, an early filmmaking pioneer whose life is the subject of an upcoming doc from executive producer Robert Redford. Another expected to be out this year is on computer language heroine Grace Hopper. And the work that Women Make Movies is doing to support films about women is always increasing and improving. It’s not that there is lack of great docs focused on women. In fact, there are tons with women subjects, but not of a historical nature. The following films are about women who’ve made strides toward gender equality or who’ve made some sort of momentous achievement independently of any movement. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds

Near the end of The Incredibles, Syndrome — who’s been hyperaware of the ruinous trope — is caught monologuing. It’s not his downfall, but he’s also not one of the smartest movie villains. He simply knows the usual hamartia. You might call it pride, you may laugh at it, but the monologue is an important part of understanding where a villain is coming from and revealing all the gory details of a complex plan. At the least, it’s almost a narrative necessity for a movie that focuses solely on the hero. The thing is, intelligence is not a pre-requisite for being a movie villain. It actually doesn’t even seem to be that important when you dig through all the  mustache-twirlers out there. Even menacing baddies like Voldemort aren’t particularly smart, just evil and nose-less. Is also isn’t all about getting away with it. That’s definitely a nice touch, but the key to an intelligent villain is creating a deeply involved plan that works (or would work) despite an impressive counter-force. Simply put, a smart villain demands a smart hero.

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Jason Reitman in Ghostbusters II

It doesn’t come as a surprise that in the wake of Harold Ramis‘s death that Ivan Reitman has dropped out of directing Ghostbusters 3. The silver lining is that he will still be involved as a producer, but that is one more original player that won’t be back in his regular spot. Reitman told Deadline of his decision as well as details about the road the sequel has taken up to this point, including how the current draft from Etan Cohen with Dan Aykroyd has the main characters of the first two movies taking a back seat, as long rumored. “Harold got sick about three years ago, and we kept hoping he would get better,” Reitman says of the latest plan. “I kept pushing forward on the Etan Cohen and we now have a draft that is very good, that the studio is very excited about.” Along with the news that Reitman is vacating the director’s chair is a further update that Sony is still moving the production forward and aims to start filming no later than early 2015. That’s plenty of time for Reitman and the studio to find a replacement to helm the movie, but they don’t really need very long at all because I’ve got a shortlist right here of the five best men (and woman) for the job. 

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Four Rooms

The release of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel has me ready for a vacation. Preferably one where I don’t have to sleep with Ralph Fiennes. Fortuantely, a century of movies has offered a reasonable amount of alternatives by way of postcard porn. On the lam, on the case or on holiday, there are a lot of films that take us away from our normal lives and into the sweet embrace of resort living — in places real and fictitious. Since it’s the weekend, let’s all grab some sunglasses and an animal mask for a little virtual getaway.

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2014 Academy Award Best Picture Nominees Cartoon

After all the handwringing and concern, this year’s Oscars were reasonably even-handed. After all, the directors for Adaptation, Shame and Children of Men all got to make acceptance speeches — and they got to give them while representing incredibly strong pieces of cinema, standing alongside some stridently beloved performers. The next morning, there was a general perception that the whole program had been “fair” after a few years where the politicking (and its results) were too overt, where decent had replaced outstanding, where ossification had set in. The Academy had finally gotten it right. Whatever that means. The thing is, to think of any given stack of Oscar ballots as being wrong is both faulty and perfectly natural. We do it every year with gusto even knowing that — for all the pomp and ceremony — the Academy Awards aren’t a final or definitive word on quality. They’re one group’s opinions, but they feel like something more. Something that has the power to solidify cultural merit or spark an artistic legacy. It’s why the digital pitchforks come out for “snubs.” With that in mind, Scott Beggs, Rob Hunter and Landon Palmer got together to argue what movies should have had their names etched in Oscar history, to do a calculation on Academy accuracy — admittedly with the benefit of clear-eyed hindsight and correct opinions. That didn’t make some years easier or anything. Some bad picks were obvious, but most years led to a lot of verbal fisticuffs. Still, we managed to come out with […]

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Andy

Movies and TV shows are fun to think about and discuss. Clearly. But as much as this is the case, there’s still a point past which we’re not talking about the movie or show in any meaningful way. One thing that becomes clear after doing any kind of serious critical work for any significant period of time is that, just because something’s there doesn’t necessarily give it meaning. True Detective is a great example: the best part about all those great McConaughey four-bong-hit college philosophy student monologues about nihilism is that they don’t mean anything with regards to the big picture. (Even with two episodes remaining, consider that an ironclad guarantee.) And sometimes people apply the same four-bong-hit college philosophy student mindsets to the movies and TV shows themselves. They lead Andy’s Mom to have a deeper identity, or for entire stories to shuffle off their context, so it’s always nice to have a reminder of what these theories really are. Here are some of the most beside-the-point “mind-blowing” theories about films and TV.

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Liam Neeson Taken 2

The new act in Liam Neeson’s career that began with 2008′s Taken has made it hard to remember that he was in stuff like Kinsey just a couple years before that. It turns out, Liam Neeson killing lots of people is exactly what the movie-going public needs this time of year, after a long winter and irritating award-season political sniping. Now Kevin Costner is getting in on the act, with 3 Days To Kill, from EuropaCorp, the company behind Taken and such other notable titles as the Transporter series. It remains to be seen whether Costner’s effort will meet with Neeson-like glorious success or falter like EuropaCorp’s John Travolta (From Paris With Love) and Zoe Saldana (Colombiana) vehicles. Until then, let’s consider 11 actors we’d like to see go the Neeson route:

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Bathing Beauty 1944

Every four years, the Olympics happen in the summer, and the greatest athletes in the world gather and compete for glory, and sometimes they let Zhang Yimou or Danny Boyle do weird things with lots of money. They used to also have Olympics in the winter the same year, but because fewer people took notice, they moved those Olympics to the second year between every four for the real Olympics. Now, even though alpine skiers are doing insane lactic acid-filled feats, and snowboarders show up higher than balls and still do things normal people can barely even describe when they’re that stoned, the Winter Olympics can’t catch a break. So, since the Winter version gets the raw end of the deal, it’s not surprising that when researching for this listology concept, Summer Olympians were easier to find then their frozen counterparts. However, the sheer variety of films made by Olympians is fascinating.

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Casino Royale

You’d think it would be self-evident that there’s no way to tell whether a movie is good or bad until actually seeing it, but it’s not always the case. Although it’s increasing in fervor lately, the anticipatory intensity leading up to a movie’s release has always swayed movie fans’ perception one way or the other. Sometimes the pre-conceived notions of a movie’s quality are accurate, sometimes things thought to be sure-thing masterpieces are anything but. Sometimes, things everyone spends months dreading turn out to be terrific; the stellar reviews for The LEGO Movie indicate that it may very well be one of them, and even the Robocop remake, getting some positive early notices, might be one as well. Here are five more movies we all covered our heads for before seeing the light.

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