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A Few Words on Blair Witch

Blair Witch, the unexpected sequel to 1999’s love-it or hate-it horror phenomenon is as unnecessary, occasionally enjoyable and largely mediocre as 99% of horror follow-ups. That it was made in secret by pair of, so-far, quite talented fellas (Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett of You’re Next and The Guest) is more an interesting note than a sign of quality.

The woods of Burkitsville, Maryland once again have twenty-something wannabe documentarians enter its unending sprawl. This time, however, the legend still hangs in the air. Where in The Blair Witch Project the locals of a middle of nowhere town talked about the mysterious happenings of the surrounding wilderness as if it was a story from the area’s founding fathers, here the peculiar disappearance of those from the original movie uncomfortably lingers. The – far – younger brother of Heather, she of the runny nose who led the trio of Project, still ponders if big-sis is out there. He is James (James Allen McCune), and he’s recently come across some new footage that appears to be filmed in the same don’t-go-in-that-fucking-house where Heather was last seen howling in terror. Thus, James, three buddies and the pair that found this new tape go back into the depths of Burkitsville to find the truth.

The truth is entirely what you’d expect. Noises in the night. Walking in circles. Those awesome wooden stick-figures. There is new stuff too. Wingard and Barrett double-down on weirdness, coming up with an inventive manner for our protagonists to struggles in their never-ending attempt to find where the damn car is parked. Yet, what’s there remains familiar to the point of tedious. Sure there’s fresh tech, allowing a larger variety of camera angles. A drone too. That drone goes up, looks at lots of trees, and then goes down, before being a part of one of the all-time dumb character decisions I can recall.

Like the parade of Halloween movies, Paranormal Activity pics or the like, Blair Witch 2016 is thoroughly alright. As something to watch on AMC in four years while carving pumpkins, it will do. Beyond that, this is a letdown that will be remembered by few, if any.

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Seattle Cinema Survey : One-Hit Wonder Directors

Welcome to another round of the Seattle Cinema Survey, where I give local critics and writers the opportunity to look like fools by giving terrible, terrible replies to the various movie-themed questions I ask them.
This week, the inspiration is one Antoine Fuqua, whose remake of The Magnificent Seven arrives Friday. With a steady career, Fuqua is still often cited for directing Training Day, the sole project to his name that’s generally beloved. Which got me wondering; What’s the best cinematic one-hit wonder?

I offered no limits to our contributors, though I’m putting some on my own reply. For one, it can’t be the sole great work due to early retirement/death/etc. Secondly, it had to be made a person whose filmography is relatively deep, be it a journeyman or a hack like, say, Brett Ratner.

As an elitist prick, I had to go with someone Dutch who began his career as a notable cinematographer, before making one amazing piece of cinema and then having a career spiral into a cobweb of bad sequels and remakes. Yes, I’m going with Mr. Jan de Bont and a little slice of heaven that is assuredly playing on TNT right now; Speed.

The middle chapter of Keanu’s 90s action masterpiece set (bookended by Point Break and The Matrix), Speed had de Bont going full Die Hard on a bus, a fitting move since his hand was a significant reason that Bruce Willis classic remains so beloved. Speed is a thrilling collection of awesome stunts, likeable characters and a pure popcorn premise of bus slow down equals bad. Followed up by the not awful Twister, de Bont then did Speed 2: Cruise Control (ludicrous woof), an update of The Haunting (awful woof) and the second Lara Croft (boring woof). Having his own playground of toys only made for excellence once with de Bont, but that’s just how it goes sometimes.

Tim Hall of The People’s Critic Blog @peoplescrtic
It has to be 1991’s Straight Out of Brooklyn by Matty Rich. Rich went on to direct 1994’s Inkwell but nothing compared to how raw and real Straight Out of Brooklyn was. SOB was such a masterpiece, everyone thought Rich was the next Spike Lee. He was on the same trajectory John Singleton was on after Boyz n The Hood.
SOB is a great story about a young man planning to rob a drug dealer. It stars The Wire’s Lawrence Gillard Jr as the film’s main character. He gives a phenomenal performance in a story that’s real and grounded. At the time, people saw crime and criminals in the inner city as people who were savages. SOB showed a young man who was desperate to change his situation and didn’t have too many options other than to rob.

Dennis’ story is as humanizing as it is doomed from the start.

SOB and Matty Rich are easily forgotten despite the film being a staple for cinema in the early 90’s. It’s well worth a watch.

Drew Powell of Queen Anne News/Drew’s Movie Blog @
Antoine Fuqua and Training Day is an obvious choice for this question but I’m going with the dreamy The Night of the Hunter, the one and only film directed by British acting legend Charles Laughton. Part film noir and part surrealistic nightmare, The Night of the Hunter is one of the weirdest, most beautiful (the movie was photographed by Orson Welles collaborator Stanley Cortez in gorgeous black and white and its visual design was heavily inspired by German Expressionism) film’s I’ve ever seen. And major props goes to Robert Mitchum–giving a truly menacing, spine-tingling performance as a charismatic but psychopathic preacher. Due to poor box office and lackluster critic reviews at the time (it has since been rightly reevaluated as a classic) Laughton didn’t direct again. It’s a shame but at the same time making one great film is a difficult task. Laughton can at least be proud (in cinema heaven) that his solo directorial effort is a bona fide masterpiece. And one that firmly sits in my personal top ten of all time.

Brent McKnight of Cinema Blend/The Last Thing I See @BrentMMcKnight
There are so many one-hit-wonder directors to choose from, this is going to be tough. Shit, if I were Charles Laughton and made The Night of the Hunter, I might never make another movie either. Tons of actors have tried their hand behind the camera once. Jack Lemmon’s Kotch wracked up a bunch of Oscar nominations, James Cagney delivered an effective film noir with Short Cut to Hell, and I can’t be the only one who saw and loved Bill Murray’s Quick Change in the theater in 1990, can I? Kinka Usher’s Mystery Men, his only feature directorial effort, is a movie I’m still surprised isn’t one of the premiere cult movies of this generation. All things considered, however, I have to go with Trent Harris’ Rubin and End.
Saying Trent Harris had a “hit” with Rubin and Ed is, admittedly, a stretch. It’s also not his only feature (The Beaver Trilogy and Plan 10 From Outer Space are his other most notable titles, though he never had much more of a career), but it’s his opus. It’s a goddamned wing-nut masterpiece that everyone should watch at least once in their life.

A delightfully bizarre road trip buddy comedy about two republicans wandering the desert looking for a place to bury a cat, Rubin and Ed is endlessly quotable, weirdly gorgeous, more moving than you might expect, and flat out fucking strange.

More myth than movie, in college I watched it three midnights in a row at the old UA theater downtown. They showed Harris’ personal print, which may or may not have been the only one left in existence. Pre-Ebay, I spent months tracking down an original VHS copy (still one of my prized possessions, made even more so with a Crispin Glover autograph—the only autograph I’ve ever sought out), which was no easy feat since the distributor supposedly rounded up and destroyed as many as possible.

Mike Ward of Should I See It @ShouldISeeIt

Tony Kaye and American History X, although perhaps an asterisk should be added next to his name because to this day, he disavows the final cut that made the film famous and saw Edward Norton give arguably his career-best performance.

The production was completed in mid-1997 and Kaye turned in a final cut of AHX. Although New Line Cinema was impressed with the film, they gave Kaye a long list of suggested edits and alterations. Kaye agreed and turned in a shorter, far more truncated version of the film, more than a year after the studio requested the changes! This frustrated everyone, including Norton, who Kaye was already angry about having to work with when his choice for the lead, Joaquin Phoenix, declined the project because he felt the script was distasteful and unacceptable.

Kaye also fought with his screenwriter David McKenna during the course of the production and initially warmed to the idea of Norton’s becoming so invested in the project because he liked Norton’s ideas on how to improve the script. However, Kaye’s second cut made everyone frustrated and New Line circumvented Kaye and gave all the footage to newly hired editor Jerry Greenberg and Norton, allowed to assist in crafting the final cut of the film. The film was released on October 30, 1998.

Prior to release, Kaye was outraged, claimed the film was stolen from him and applied for an Alan Smithee credit. When the DGA denied his request, he demanded he be credited as “Humpty Dumpty”. That didn’t happen either.

Ultimately, Norton earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination and the film has been viewed as a controversial, polarizing screed on racism. Elements of it are ever so pertinent to this day. Kaye, however, has largely been shunned from the industry. His second film, the 2007 documentary Lake of Fire, took him 16 years to complete and served as a graphic, unflinching look at abortion, which included footage of an actual procedure amidst its black-and-white, 152 minute running time, Kaye has all but vanished. His legacy of music videos preceded his foray into feature films, but the bridges burned are legendary and American History X stands as his one (and likely only) great film.
Matt Oakes of Silver Screen Riot @SSRdotcom

Mr. Dan O’Bannon met and collaborated with John Carpenter at film school and wrote a treatment for what would eventually become Dark Star. For a short while, he worked as an animator on the original Star Wars and later banded with Ronald Shusett to write Alien, for which he would also supervise computer effects. But O’Bannon only stepped behind the camera twice and the world is a lesser place for it. His debut, Return of the Living Dead, was a shocking strike; a horror-comedy that spawned an instant cult following and has aged immensely well since its 1985 reveal. Return of the Living Dead is a personal favorite, an absurd, irreverent addition to an absurd, irreverent genre with an instantly iconic cast of punk rockers and ill-favored company men and some of the best practical effects in any horror movie ever (Tarman FTW!). O’Bannon later returned behind the camera in 1992 for The Resurrected, an adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft novella, but was not quite able to capture that same lightning in a bottle. He would never direct again.

Sara Michelle Fetters of Seattle Gay News/MovieFreak @moviefreaksara
There are so many great answers to this question, not the least of which would be 1955’s The Night of the Hunter directed by actor Charles Laughton, shockingly the ONLY movie he ever stepped behind the camera to helm. Others that come to mind include Erik Skjoldbjærg’s Insomnia with Stellan Skarsgård, George Sluizer’s terrifying 1988 version of The Vanishing, Adam McKay’s astonishingly good The Big Short, George Clooney’s superb Good Night, and Good Luck. and Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire (although, admittedly he also made Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, so maybe Hudson had more than one, but that’s open for debate).
But I’m going to go off the beaten path a little, and while Chopping Mall is hardly a “great” movie, per se, it’s so manically entertaining, so much unadulterated B-movie fun, director Jim Wynorski’s 1986 gem leapt to mind before just about any other title. The story of a group of amorous twenty-somethings trapped in a L.A. mall after hours with a trio of malfunctioning security robots intent on hunting them down, this film epitomizes the 1980s underground horror craze to perfection, its ingenious VHS cover art beckoning a generation of intrigued viewers who have gone on to make it a cult favorite that has more that stood the test of time.

For Wynorski, a filmmaker who has spent three decades closely associated with Roger Corman, this is without a doubt the pinnacle of his long, seemingly unstoppable schlock career (he just directed Sharkansas Women’s Prison Massacre and CobraGator, I kid you not). His script for Chopping Mall, co-written with Steve Mitchell, is surprisingly nimble, playing with genre tropes and clichés in a variety of imaginative ways that are as amusing as they are effective. More than that, he presents characters who are actually worth caring for, and while none of them would ever be considered “complex” or “multidimensional” that does not make them any less worthy an emotional investment.
Throw in arguably the greatest head explosion of all-time (Scanners probably edges it out, but not be near as much as you might think), three sensationally designed robots (created by Oscar-winner Robert Short) and playful performances from Night of the Comet’s Kelli Maroney and Re-Animator’s Barbara Crampton (just to name the two most familiar names; the entire cast is pretty terrific), this movie is a total sensation that just gets better and better with each passing year. Considering its from the guy whose only other noteworthy features are Deathstalker II and a Not of This Earth remake, to call Chopping Mall Wynorski’s best is a decided understatement. Thank you…and have a nice day.

Brian Taibl of Brian the Movie Guy @MovieGuyBrian
There are a few solid, near-respectable choices in this survey category…

…but if any critic here chooses something other than The Empire Strike Back (from director Irvin Kershner) then that critic is not to be trusted.

If you need me to explain my choice then you’re not to be trusted either.

Trust me.

Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @Filmjabber
Donnie fucking Darko.

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Was I Nuts ? – The Crow: City of Angels

The Summer Revisit of 1996, with it’s original host of disappoints, comes to a close as it must; a week or so later than intended and with a film I’m pretty sure I’m going to find unbearable.

As has been previously discussed here, 1994’s The Crow was a perfect creation for a suburban white kid like myself entering his teens. It had violence, a bit of goth weirdness and a bunch of rock music. So, when The Crow: City of Angels was announced, I was basically the target audience. Having read a few of the comics, the notion of the character returning in a different persona, with revenge once more being sought for and by a person taken from life too soon, didn’t ring as merely a cash-grab.

Plus you know, a soundtrack with Korn, White Zombie and Seven Mary Three; what could go wrong? I’m going to regret this me-thinks.

The Film

Released to blisteringly bad reviews on August 30th, 1996, The Crow: City of Angels opened at #1 on the box-office charts, raking in a decent $9.78 million. However, that ended up being roughly half of the entire domestic gross ($17.92 million), or roughly about one-third of what it’s predecessor managed to garner.

The film was directed by Tim Pope, he of many a music video for The Cure, which makes sense. It remains his sole feature film credit. Once more finding it’s source in the James O’Barr comic book, City of Angels stars Vincent Perez as Ashe Corven, a young man killed by a drug-lord. Ashe’s end comes violently, with his son Danny (Eric Acosta) being caught in the chaos. The horror of it all is too much, and Ashe’s soul is unable to cross until the next realm without settling the wrongs done to he and his blood. Plus, you know, he’s got to wear leather, make-up and kill people in a manner that leaves little crow-silhouettes.

While Alex Proyas made a film heralded for its melancholy and eerie aura, Pope’s movie was seen by many as an example of music video directors failing to crossover, for the Finchers/Gondrys/Jonze’s were and have always been the exception and not the rule.

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The Memory

City of Angels came at a time where it was near-impossible for me to hate a movie I was excited to see. I might be bored by the film. I might find the film annoying in huge parts. I might immediately forget the film’s details.

I wasn’t going to say – or honestly feel –  it was bad though.

Though I recall my dad taking me to this R-Rated picture at my St. Mary’s County movie theatre, the only real element of the project that sticks in my brain is the goofy Crow symbols that accidentally get made. In the original movie, Brandon Lee’s character creates these vicious calling-cards of his destruction, as the titular symbol is painted in blood on rusted walls or via an inferno on a dilapidated dock. City of Angels, if memory serves, has the same image, just miraculously appearing on the forehead of a man who’s skull was cracked open.

What hangs deeper in the recesses of the ol’ brain is the soundtrack for the movie, which I basically had on repeat for the summer along with Metallica’s “Load” and Better than Ezra’s “Friction, Baby.” The album had the right amount of droning misery that was a perfect prescription for a teenager who just moved from San Diego, California to a town where the big thing to do was go to the Wal-Mart.

The Expectations

Well, I’m zero-for-three on revisits in this project, meaning that on some level, what was once garbage remains garbage. I never watched any of the subsequent straight-to-video adaptations of The Crow and there has never been much in the way of, “You know, City of Angels is super underrated.” I’m hoping for a couple nice visual touches and for that Hole cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” to be used in a cool manner.

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The Verdict

The Crow: City of Angels can barely be labeled a film. There is less plot here than in Andy Warhol’s Empire. Director Tim Pope and – egads!!! – David S. Goyer slightly repurpose the skeleton of the original and little else. We once more have a handsome, young dead guy with black hair, a criminal kingpin who hires terrible help and hangs with a woman who knows mystical stuff, the aforementioned Crow symbols and a hero who literally laughs in the face of danger.

They do bring to the party one Thomas Jane as baddie in a terrible wig named Nemo.

Really, this whole endeavor comes across as schlocky fan-fiction given a small budget by a Hot Topic store manager. The first film took the steps to, you know, build up characters. Yes, more than the at least one that is traditional. Brandon Lee’s Eric Draven wanted to help people amidst his vengeance, as his past humanity bubbled under the scars and cold flesh that currently roamed the land. Vincent Perez gets none of that. His Ashe Corven has the unfortunate back-story of being murdered, along with his son. That’s about it for details. His dead kid gets more shading, as at least we found out the boy liked to paint. Ashe is a walking trench-coat with hair so feathery it’s meant to look like, presumably, the feathers of a crow itself. Yay.

He cackles here and there while attempting to butcher those that led to his downfall, but it never reads as unnerving like it did in the first movie. Here, the giggles read goofily, akin to when children pretend to be crazy by throwing their hands up in the air and bellow “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!”

This could still work though. Pope’s career in music videos could just skip past traditional storytelling into something arthouse and enigmatic. Sadly, that’s not the case either. We have a lot of dusty sound-stages and streets smothered in dry-ice to such an extent that the only logical conclusion is the Executive Producer’s brother-in-law must work in the dry-ice business and really needed help this year. Instead of a fresh flair for visuals, we have slow-motion and a crow flying past palm trees, which as it tends to happen, leads to said palm trees exploding into a fiery ball of what-the-fuck. The movie can’t even determine how to use its soundtrack properly, just throwing in a few of its notable covers here or there. Well, we do at least get Iggy Pop playing a villain who wanders into a club where an Iggy Pop song is playing in the background. So, there’s that. Plus, there is Eva Green 1.0 Mia Kirshner.

So at this end of this 1996 project, it’s fascinating to see that Hollywood was often so bad back then too. With 2016’s summer being quite thoroughly trashed, it’s a reminder of the ebs and flows of the studio system and that it’s always, always, always a fool’s errand to claim the death of cinema when there’s a fresh batch of films around the corner and that the goods are typically just outside the obvious purview.

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Seattle Cinema Survey : Love Triangles

Hello all and thanks for joining us once more for the Seattle Cinema Survey.

In this week’s rundown of me passing along questions about the world of movies to the area’s critics, bloggers and writers, on the eve of Bridget Jones’s Baby, I asked; What’s your favorite love triangle in film history?

For myself, the answer has to be the troubled trio of the magnificent James L. Brooks film Broadcast News. At the heart of it is Holly Hunter’s Jane; the finest brain for the world of modern (aka the 80s) journalism. A person with the highest of standards for her work, that same intensity has led to a love-life that is often abysmal. She is loved by her best friend and longtime collaborator Aaron (a never better, or sweatier, Albert Brooks). Their connection is tight and confusing. Then the handsome devil arrives in the form of William Hurt’s Tom, an aspiring reporter with innate likability and a distinct lack of polish.

The movie is funny and heartbreaking in equal measures, with the pinnacle coming after Aaron’s grandest televisual failure leads to a host of unspoken feelings rushing out with passion, sincerity and fury.

Mike Ward of Should I See It @ShouldISeeIt
Hands down the first cinematic love triangle that comes to mind is the one germinating between Luisa, Julio, and Tenoch in Alfonso Cuaron’s still incredible 2002 drama Y Tu Mamá También.

Luisa (Maribel Verdú) is a married woman, flirted with by two high school boys (Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal), just graduated, at a wedding on the eve of their summer. The boys invite her to join them on a road trip to a beach resort and she dismisses them. However, soon she gets blindsided by a series of events (some known to the audience, some not revealed initially…) and on a whim, with seemingly nothing to lose, Luisa joins the boys for a road trip to a place called “Heaven’s Mouth.”

Cuarón’s film pushes past the tropes of being just a “road trip” movie and gives us three deeply compelling characters, lost and confused with what comes next for each of them. Sex, drugs, it’s all there for the taking. But as they get to know one another, and each find out more about themselves, brilliant narration segments keep things in perspective. This is a movie pushing boundaries and comfort levels every step of the way. It is raw, honest, uncomfortable, and beautiful all at once. And at its heart are two boys, older than they want to be, and a woman, clinging to youth she never realized she still had.

Tim Hall of The People’s Critic @peoplescrtic
There are so many non Twilight movies to choose from. My pick is Nola (Scarlett Johansson) Chris (Jonathan Rys Meyers), and Chloe (Emily Mortimer) in 2005’s Match Point.

Chris stumbling into a wealthy family and falling for his brother-in-law’s ex is creepy enough. What’s even creepier is the lengths he goes to maintain his marriage during his fling.

I’ve seen Scarlett Johansson, so I totally get why Chris would gamble his entire life for a few moments with her. His ability to put that mask back on and go home was insane. One of the great things about Match Point is how they slowly turn Chris from a lovable fool into a crazed, adulterous maniac.

Matt Oakes of Silver Screen Riot @SSRdotcom
Alfonso Cuaron has been changing the cinematic landscape since the turn of the century and for all his technical achievements (OG longshot reigning champ) the Mexican director has never been steamier than in his lauded 2001 feature, Y Tu Mama Tambien. Within, two teenage boys – Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal – take a cross country road trip accompanied by a luscious older women (Maribel Verdú) who’s just recently been scorned by her husband. The film charters an exploration of sensuality and sexuality that erupts into one of the most meaningful and sexiest parables on maturation to ever grace the screens. The sex was hot but the relationships – and subsequent performances – behind the sexual debauchery felt organic and lived in.

Brent McKnight of Cinema Blend/The Last Thing I See @BrentMMcKnight
Hokey love triangles are a staple of every wannabe young adult dystopian franchise, but they don’t always have to be sappy, overwrought, and desperately melodramatic. Rick, Ilsa, and Victor in Casablanca is one of the greats of all time. Y Tu Mama Tambien and its core romantic threesome may well still be Alfonso Cuaraon’s best movie. Then there’s Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, and mighty stop-motion gorilla in King Kong. Hell, even most of Star Wars features a love triangle, at least until we learn two of them are siblings and shit gets awkward.

Casablanca is probably the greatest cinematic love triangle, and if not the most effective use of the trope, at least one of the top few. Not to mention the most famous. But as far as favorites go, I really, really enjoy the one at the center of Fight Club. Three people, one of whom is totally made up and only exists in Edward Norton’s head, it doesn’t get much more twisted than that.

Brian Taibl of Brian the Movie Guy @MovieGuyBrian

You say ‘movie love triangle’ and the first few runner-ups for me are the zany and saccharine-sweet Roxanne, the cinematically trailblazing Chasing Amy, the pugilistically puzzling Fight Club and the classically kinky The Graduate – all great films!

But nothing, for me, beats the chemistry-rich duality of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – where a battle for hearts, minds and money brews between petty Freddie Benson, suave Laurence Jameson (aka James Nedenvedden, aka Laurence Fells, etc) and the naïve soap queen, Janet Colgate.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a measured, crafty, witty, cynical, goofy and downright hilarious comedy classic – a movie that falls squarely in the arena of ‘they don’t make ‘em like this anymore’. And because everybody is playing a role, perhaps love hexagon is a more apt description…

I’ll take the cork off my fork if I’m the only one who’s tossed this comedy masterpiece in to the mix…

Jason Roestel @filmbastard

This one was easy. We could call it a love rectangle if we include the one ring, but the triangle between Frodo, Sam, and Gollum was one fraught with joy, passion, and heartbreak. Gollum ultimately loses the war for Frodo, but gains the grace of the ring for a few seconds before burning to death with it in his grubby little hands. Sam and Frodo do end up working out the kinks in their relationship after their spat on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol, but only for a few years. Sam eventually ends up in the arms of a bar Hobbit named Rosie Cotton, while Frodo moves on to commit gradual suicide on the Elven shores of The Grey Havens. Love in Middle Earth is a risky prospect no matter how you cut it.

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The Return : The Top 10 Films of 2006

I can’t recall 2006 being considered an especially dynamic or great year for movies. Quality films were cherished at the time, but if memory serves we mostly had endless chatter on the quality, or lack thereof, of Babel and people calling Martin Scorsese’s The Departed simply a make-up call Oscar winner for all of the past overlooks. In comparison to its neighboring year of 2007, which is arguably the best movie year of the 21st Century, 2006 isn’t the champion of champions. However, though 2006 may not be, as that year’s most popular character Borat called, “King in the castle,” even the faintest of hindsight reveals it to be a mighty impressive collection of cinema, both American made and abroad.

Which is part of why this personal annual tradition rolls on, with a look back at the best pictures of ten years ago right before we all delve into awards season that will surely smother us all. Movies breathe with time, and no matter how objective one tries to be, the echoes of the outside world, internal minds and surrounding film options can shape how one views in the moment. One’s own tastes evolve, and what you adored for its originality back then might read as gimmickry now, and life’s countless lessons unravel new shades of an already established portrait.

All of this is a preamble to saying, I used my old Livejournal to remember my Top 10 of 2006, of which speaks from 24 year-old me below.

10. The Science of Sleep

9. A Scanner Darkly

8. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party

7. Marie Antoinette

6. A Prairie Home Companion

5. Brick

4. The Queen

3. Borat

2. United 93

1. The Departed

Now, first things first about this. It came at a time where I wasn’t lucky enough to see releases early. That barrage of releases that trickle out at the end of December through the end of February to maximize Oscar awareness; those didn’t get seen until 2007. Children of Men, Pan’s Labyrinth, Letters from Iwo Jima and quite a few more didn’t get a release anywhere near little ol’ me in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, which doesn’t even take into account the stuff I wasn’t aware of or into yet.

The actual ten selected above definitely mirror a me of old, though the line from then to now is apparent. There’s the already established admiration of Linklater in the form of A Scanner Darkly, Altman with Companion and of course Marty for The Departed. Brick and The Science of Sleep are hosts to delighting in visuals that go beyond the normal shot, counter-shot.

Of course, the odd one, to some extent, is, to give the film it’s proper and full title, Borat: Cultural Learning of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. A phenomenon in it time that quickly spoiled into bad impressions and almost immediate escape from the comedic mindset, the likes of which only the Austin Powers series can rival in the past 20 years, Borat had one thing going for it that no other 2006 production could lay claim to; it made me fear for my life. In the opening of Borat, during the “Running of the Jew,” I, and I’m sure a few others in the theatre from the sound of things, was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. This was to such an extreme that I panicked, not helped by the increased cackling and confusion as “Mrs. Jew” squats and lays “a Jew egg.” Insight, absurdity and shrewd offensiveness have rarely been so perfectly orchestrated as one. Or maybe not.

As for now, that’s a point of a months long series of return viewings. Any film I haven’t recently seen lately had a fresh spin, along with ensuring many of the critical darlings I missed had finally been given a go as well. In ten years, this will evolve again, as goes film taste, both personal and beyond. For now, these are my selections for then ten best of 2006.

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  1. Volver

There are those rare directors whose middle of the filmography efforts are of almost embarrassingly impressive quality. Pedro Almodovar is one of those filmmakers. His Volver, in which a never better Penelope Cruz deals with murder, hiding bodies, the ghost of her mom and other not-so-fun things, is a classic melodrama, with that pinch of neo-realism that Almodovar throws into his personal blend. Volver confronts the pain of life with a laugh and by leaning on loved ones to get through the day. If it’s not Almodovar’s best, that only speaks to the man himself.

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  1. The Descent

There are horror films that specialize in claustrophobia. Those that revel in gore. Ones that titter with shock/boo scares. All of these can work when done properly. Neil Marshall’s The Descent does all of them flawlessly at once, as six women head into an uncharted labyrinth of caves, only to meet with monsters, both of the big-pointy-teeth variety and those self-made. Bloody and marvelous.

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  1. Marie Antoinette

Welcomed with mixed reactions from the word go, Sofia Coppola’s telling of the life of the infamous Queen of France was never meant to be a history lesson. It was, and remains, a keen observation of how the elite can be so absurd, the ways women are expected to behave by society and the nature of celebrity. With a resplendent production design and frankly delicious visual palette, Marie Antoinette is a capital A art film, as in it’s a piece of art.

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  1. The Prestige

The last Christopher Nolan to be great from beginning to end, and also his, hopefully not final, film with a moderate budget, The Prestige remains a pristine pseudo-thriller, where the sympathies felt for two rivaling illusionists (Christian Bale and ugh Jackman) keep you guessing from one second to the next. With a menacing, yet lovely hum of a score underneath it by David Julyan (who also did the amazing music for The Descent), Nolan’s adaptation of the Christopher Priest novel ticks by like a finely tuned watch to its eerie reveal.

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  1. The Lives of Others

When Germany was still a neighbor to itself, those on the East side of The Wall had reason to be paranoid about what they did, let alone said. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s rendition of this truth follows one man, seemingly the most capable of them all, who documents the days and nights of those suspected of working against the nation. Of course, listening leads to knowledge, which triggers a host of fresh feelings and a waterfall of complications in this deserved Oscar winner.

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  1. Clean

A cliché of a narrative has honest life breathed into it in this Olivier Assayas film, where a drug-addicted mother (Maggie Cheung in one of her final roles before kind-of-retiring) must fix herself in order to once more be a part of her child’s life. With the great tenderness one would expect of an Assayas drama, along with a fantastic turn by Nick Nolte as the boy’s grandfather and current guardian, Clean does nothing new. It does manage to execute a tale of emotional redemption impeccably.

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  1. Children of Men

Ahead of its time to be popular, as it was too politically charged and only cinephiles knew who Alfonso Cuaron was, Children of Men is as troubling, terrifying and true as it was upon release. Set in an uncomfortably close future where mankind hasn’t produced a child in well over a decade, possible hope peeks through the windows amidst the chaos. With a killer cast led by Clive Owen and also including Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Caine, Cuaron constructed a handful of unforgettable scenes; that ambush, that escape, that ending. In the end, it was and still is a frank look in the mirror.

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  1. United 93

You may never see this movie. That’s understandable. You may think there’s no use for a dramatic retelling of the events of United Flight 93. That’s understandable. All I can say is that the film by Paul Greengrass is heart-wrenching, deliberate and, as much as it can be, non-judgmental. There really are no sides be taken other than what we bring to the film, as Greengrass presents the horrific events as matter-of-factly. You may think that’s offensive. That’s understandable. I find it to be a masterpiece.

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  1. The Departed

For a certain segment, The Departed is still remembered as the Marty getting a “Sorry we didn’t give you one earlier” Academy Award movie. Scorsese has a number of films that dig into the psyches of American life with richer depth and more daring storytelling. The Departed is Marty, basically, having fun with his skills. He knows how to churn tension, get actors to do their best and let dialogue rat-tat-tat a scene. The Departed is all of that in a Boston-esque bow, with William Monahan’s script expertly re-tailoring a Hong-Kong crime pic into something distinctly 21st Century.

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  1. L’enfant

We all make the right decisions in our minds. We might fret about bad scenarios, but imagine that in the worst of worst times, we’d never do that thing. That one thing that is unforgivable. Brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne make films about those forced to question their own morals, just in order to better the most basic of needs. L’enfant stars Jeremie Renier, a regular for the Dardennes and a supremely underrated talent, as Bruno, a young man who sees a way to improve he and his love’s life by selling their recently born child. One can always have another after all. What proceeds, like the aforementioned United 93, is shown from afar. The camera may hover behind Bruno, but never in a sententious manner. This method allows for the beats to land harder; the viewer always fastened closely to the moment and footsteps of our protagonist. The music never signifies the barrage of tears around the corner either. What’s there is life, in all of its messiness, and our choice on whether or not to forgive, condemn or feel for a man who, unlike our dream versions, fails to make the right decision.

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Seattle Cinema Survey -Most Anticipated 2016

Welcome to another round of the Seattle Cinema Survey, host to me tossing a variety of questions at local critics, writers and the like.

After last week’s – rather intense – poll of the best films the 21st Century has offered, a calmer, casual inquiry; What are you most excited to see in 2016?

With new films by the Dardennes and Olivier Assayas getting the maaaaaaybe 2016 release dates, my eyes look to Mr. Almodovar, who for my money is one of the best directors of the past thirty years. His Julieta is about women, their loves and relationships to their daughters; so the usual mine of which he’s produced a bevy of gold.

Drew Powell of Queen Anne News/Drew’s Movie Blog
This is a tough question because there are a lot of movies coming out that I don’t know much about (and I like to keep it that way) and therefore I’m not “excited to see.” Denis Villenuve’s Arrival, Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge and the new Blair Witch come to mind but I guess at this point I’ll go with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I was skeptical at first; the idea of a spinoff Star Wars set between Episode 3 and Episode 4 sounded uninteresting to me. Spoiler alert: we know that the rebellion crushes the empire and Darth Vader dies. But after seeing those two theatrical trailers and that star studded cast I’m firmly on board. This could be a truly great standalone Star Wars film. Fingers crossed.

Tim Hall of The People’s Critic @peoplescrtic
My indie pick is Moonlight. I love what A24 puts out. The film I’m most excited to see is Doctor Strange. At this point Marvel Studios is playing with house money. They turned B level characters into billion dollar franchises. They even made Guardians of the Galaxy a hit. The next big test is Doctor Strange. I’d Marvel can show his story and mythology on screen the right way, the sky is the limit for what they can do.

I also love how diverse the cast is.

Michael Ward of Should I See It @ShouldISeeIt
It will be interesting to see if Gavin O’Connor can return to form with The Accountant. Though saddled with a cumbersome title, Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk boasts a curious cast, a timely story, and the potential, on paper, to be one of the year’s best.

Then, toss in the only film from 2016 to make the recent 100 greatest movies of all time list from the BBC Critics poll, German import Toni Erdmann, the Amy Adams sci-fi epic Arrival, Tom Ford’s follow up to A Single Man, the suspense/thriller Nocturnal Animals with Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. Plus, we have our first actual cinematic Star Wars spinoff arriving just before Christmas, with Rogue One, which is a bit of a wild card for the fall.

And what to make of Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, which looked to be an Oscar frontrunner until Parker’s past rape case from his college days seems to have derailed plans for an Oscar push, but nonetheless leaves a compelling film on the way.

Really, two projects bubble to the surface as films I am most intrigued to see this fall.

Damien Chazelle’s musical follow-up to his 3-time Oscar winning Whiplash, is the Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone-led musical La La Land, which has won over virtually every single person who has seen it thus far. With the precision that Chazelle showed us with his incredible Whiplash, his take on the “movie musical” could be dynamic and memorable.

And then, I can’t seem to ignore A24’s Moonlight. A story that feels bold, brave, and audacious. Not only does it shine a spotlight on growing up as an African-American male in America across three generations, the film also looks at what it means to be black and gay, a subject largely ignored by the motion picture industry.

So Moonlight and La La Land with a dozen or so others right behind it.

Brian Taibl of Brian the Movie Guy @MovieGuyBrian
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the easy answer here…

So, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

If you need a bloated answer in the arena of ‘why’, then I don’t (with all due respect) care to know you…

Matt Oakes of Silver Screen Riot @SSRdotcom
Looking down the barrel of the gun, we have a cannibal horror romp from groundbreaking director Ana Lily Amirpour with The Bad Batch, Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to Whiplash in the Ryan Gosling-Emma Stone-starring La La Land, Denis Villeneuve’s foray into heady sci-fi with Arrival, Telluride Film Fest breakout smash Moonlight which marks distributor A24’s first film they’ve built from the floor, Martin Scorsese’s sweeping religious epic (currently weighing in at 3 hours, 15 minutes) Silence and, of course, the first ever Star Wars Anthology film in Rogue One all staring us smack in the rest. I’m looking forward to all for completely different reasons. Were I forced to choose one, I would probably make the wrong decision so call it a big ol’ tie.

Brent McKnight of Cinema Blend/The Last Thing I See @BrentMMcKnight
Despite some giant misses over the summer, I’m still pumped to see a ton of movies in 2016. My list includes big blockbuster-y things like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (even with the unwieldy title) and Doctor Strange, both of which look like they could bring a welcome new wrinkle to their respective cinematic universes. Then we have award bait-y things like Hacksaw Ridge and La La Land—I’m fairly certain that was made just for me.

I’m starting to lose count of the movies debuting on the fall festival circuit that I don’t know when we’ll actually get to see. Nacho Vigalondo’s giant monster flick Colossal premieres soon, the Mo Brothers’ Headshot is on the way, and Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire is making the rounds. Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch just debuted at Venice—an artsy, indie, post-apocalyptic joint, I’m also fairly certain this movie was also made with me in mind. Kim Ji-woon’s Age of Shadows opens in South Korea this month, but who knows when the rest of the world will get a crack at it?

So many of my most anticipated titles probably won’t get to us until 2017, so the one I’m most excited about that I know definitely opens before the end of the year, is Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden.

One of my favorite filmmakers, anything the Oldboy director does immediately jumps to the top of my must see list. It doesn’t hurt that The Handmaiden looks tense and ominous and strange and sexy and absolutely gorgeous in every regard. A period piece about a con artist who places a maid to spy on a wealthy heiress isn’t Park’s usual territory, but it can’t get here soon enough.

Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @Filmjabber
I’m certainly looking forward to Birth of a Nation, controversies aside. The Accountant looks intriguing. The Girl on the Train should be good pulp. Hacksaw Ridge has my attention because Mel Gibson. Fantastic Beasts has some big shoes to fill, but who can resist more Harry Potter? Office Christmas Party looks like a lot of fun.

But, I’m going to have go with my heart and say Boo! A Madea Halloween is my most anticipated movie of 2016. Halloween + Tyler Perry is a combo made in heaven–or hell–and it surely will be among the year’s top films.

But seriously, come on. All those movies I listed above (minus one) could be great, but there’s only one that stands among the rest in terms of pure excitement factor. And that movie is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The trailers have been fantastic, and the standalone plot may mean we’ll get a less generic Star Wars adventure this time out.

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The Blair Witch Project aka I’m Still Terrified

The Blair Witch Project is easily – easily – the scariest film I’ve ever seen. That opinion  either makes sense or is laughable to you, likely depending on how old you are or what year you’re reading this (Hi people from the future!!!).

In 1999, thinking The Blair Witch Project is horror genius still got you some odd looks, but the pulsating popularity of this cinematic phenomenon deafened those that were already in the non-fan club. As the years rolled on and the found-footage genre the movie popularized swelled to its own varying degrees of success, it became commonplace to refer to Blair Witch as a “That Movie,” often declared with the kind of disdain typically held for embarrassing flash-in-the-pans or Lycos. As quickly and suddenly as the story of three young-adults getting lost in the thick Maryland woods arrived, it jolted in the haters direction in a matter of months. A lot of that had to due with home-video and the burgeoning DVD format. Though the movie is by no means a visual juggernaut screaming for IMAX levels of presentation, cramming it onto small screens, and yes circa 2000 screens were about half the size of most modern televisions, and letting Heather, Josh and Mike hang about with sunny windows blaring in only diminished the spell the filmmakers had cast.

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Halloween 1999 springs immediately to mind. A friend’s house, nicely remote as those in St. Mary’s County can tend to be, was the host to a fresh and, to many, first showing of Blair Witch. The spooks began quickly, as we decorated the steep, entirely dirt driveway with stick-men inspired by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s movie. Crisp air, endless trees that hid slivers of sunshine and a buzz from those entirely new to the tale brought excitement. Then the tv turned on, all twenty-some-inches of it, in a room full of more than two-dozen teenagers in costumes, cramped onto one couch and strewn through out the floor. It was less than ideal viewing and was responded with a shrug from the newbies.

It’s a shame for those folks, for the hoopla of seeing it in theatres remains an unmatched moment of my life. The initial endeavor to get into it didn’t even work, as a long-line also came with a sign stating that the movie was sold out until Saturday night. With it being about noon on a Friday, this seemed especially unusual. Adding to that feeling was the exiting crown from the initial rounds, as people staggered out into the sunny, sweaty Maryland humidity as if they’d either witnessed a ghost or been punched in the back of the head. One patron stormed over to our line, where we remained to purchase those 24-hour plus early tickets, and lectured us all on why it would be dumb to waste our money on The Blair Witch Project. This tactic only had the opposite effect.

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When the time finally came, the showing was, as expected, packed. What number of people believed the movie to be the legit final days of a trio of students and what portion just wanted a jolt, I have no idea. As for myself, I wanted the latter but could feel the tingle of allure from the former. I got more than a jolt though. Terror latched onto my veins, the movie clutching me tighter with each second. The Blair Witch Project has a rhythm to it that is kind of genius, as night has to come. Our protagonists only have so many hours in the day to try and escape the maze that is the dense forest. The sun will fall beyond the horizon and each passing dusk only grows in its horrors. At its simplest core, Myrick and Sanchez made a movie that is about the basest fear all kids have; be afraid of the dark.

That’s what clung to my brain for literally years after my first go-around. I don’t know what’s beyond the light. I don’t know what sits in the pitch black. Living in, well, not bumfuck nowhere, but adjacent to it, didn’t help matters. After the wave of EEEEEEEEEEEEEEP ended, my friend and I left the good old Waldorf, Maryland theatre to our cars. The parking lot had plenty of streetlamps to guide the way, but boy it felt like we needed several dozen more for that one-minute walk to the car. Agreement was had; that movie was unnerving. We made our 45-minute trek back home to, yes this is real, California, Maryland. Living in an area literally called Wildewood, my buddy dropped me off in the driveway aka the driveway surrounded by endless trees. Agreement was had, he would come inside. Living only a two-minute drive away, he was too scared to drive home alone. Said man was past high-school, I was 17. The guest room it would be then. Until noises. Some fucking noises outside in countless branches and, probably not actually, howling win. Agreement was had, he’d use a sleeping bag and slumber in the same room I did.

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In the morning he left. Sunlight was required.

The third film in The Blair Witch Project series is out soon. It might reignite the fire of fandom for the average moviegoer. For me, that ember has never been below a bountiful, crackling flame. There are out-and-out better horror films, with richer plots or themes. None. None will ever hit me like 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Ever.

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Seattle Cinema Survey – The Top 25 Films of the 21st Century

Recently, BBC polled a huge swathe of critics for the best films of the 21st Century. Every week, I survey local critics and writers some random thing, also often about the 21st Century film scene. So…why not ask said locals what their personal picks are for the greatest pictures to hit since Y2K.

Last week, I posted my personal top ten. For this round, I selected a deeper 25, while additionally gathering the same number from Michael Ward (Should I See It), Sara Michelle Fetters (MovieFreak/The SGN), Jason Roestel (formerly of Examiner), Tim Hall (The People’s Critic), Brian Taibl (Brian the Movie Guy) Matt Oakes (Silver Screen Riot), Brent McKnight (CinemaBlend/The Last Thing I See), Erik Samdahl (FilmJabber), Drew Powell (Drew’s Movie Blog/Queen Anne News) and Nick Tiffany (the originally titled…Nick Tiffany.com). What I received was quite a few surprising picks, including a few that cracked the top 25 of the masses multiple times), some personal head-scratchers and proof that we’re living in a time of sensational cinema.

The results were ranked with #1 selections garnering a max of 25 points, #2 getting 24 and so on until the last selection. Not a single movie cracked the Seattle 25 while only being voted on by one person, which is nice and fitting. All ties were broken by which had a higher top selection. So, without further ado, let’s count them down.

2408_5_screenshot25. Unbreakable

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24. A Separation

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23. There Will Be Blood

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22. Midnight in Paris

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21. The Dark Knight

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20. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

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19. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

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18. Spirited Away

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17. Zero Dark Thirty

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16. Drive

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15. Ex Machina

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14. Toy Story 3

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13 Inside Llewyn Davis

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12. Children of Men

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11. In the Mood for Love

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10. The Prestige

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9. Zodiac

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8. The Royal Tenenbaums

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7. No Country for Old Men

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6. The Social Network

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5. Inglourious Basterds

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4. Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World

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3. Before Sunset

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2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

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1. Mad Max: Fury Road

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The 10 Best Films of the Century

The BBC has come out with a list of the greatest films of the 21st Century, compiled from top tens collected from numerous critics worldwide. Analyzing the modern movies that will sooner or later be called masterpieces is a subject matter I admit to finding highly intriguing.

More so, such documents are teaching tools, working as a map for budding cinephiles and those interested in something outside the usual Hollywood mediocrity. Top tens/hundreds/thousands are where I first read about Ozu and Kiarostami, amongst countless others. With BBC having no clue who I am, which I can handle, I promise, it remained a point of personal interest to collect my own brigade of the ten best films of the 21st Century.

And yes, for you loyal readers, the ten will actually be ranked as they were done in the BBC polls. So, here comes…

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10. The Royal Tenenbaums : Not the first Wes Anderson release to make me say wow and not the last, this feature has, for my money, Anderson’s finest blend of comedy and heart, with a mesmerizing Gene Hackman as the prickly, happy-to-lie lead that finally learns the damage he’s done to those that love him.

9. Spirited Away : The master may have retired in this century, though not before Miyazaki gave fans a few more great pieces of art. Spirited Away has boundless creativity and a sympathetic heart bundled up in this Alice in Wonderland-esque classic.

8. Inside Llewyn Davis : How to pick a favorite Coen film for a decade is tough, let alone closer to two. No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man and a few others could make anyone’s top ten and I wouldn’t bat an eye. Why Llewyn Davis? It’s just so damn earnest with how much of a fuck-up and asshole our oh-so-talented protagonist stands as, with Oscar Isaac in a performance that turned so many heads people are still counting them up to this day. 

7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind : A lot of films can be called high concept. What makes Eternal so special is how it digs into every nook and cranny to explore the motivations and outcomes of erasing the memories of true love gone wrong.

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6. Mad Max: Fury Road : Thematically rich. Symphonically infectious. Visually beyond words. George Miller’s return to a character we never thought we’d actually see again defied all reasonable expectations and stands, even after a few dozens viewings, as exciting as the first time.

5. Carol : In this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s groundbreaking, daring work, director Todd Haynes paints a romance between two women as passionate, invigorating, hopeful, and due to the times then and now, dangerous. 

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4. Moulin Rouge! : As boisterous, joyous and heartbreaking as they come, Baz Luhrmann’s masterpiece of a musical is gaudy done great. From the editing to the cinematography to those beautiful songs, be they original or via Elton John/The Police/etc, Moulin Rouge! remains either too hyper in tone for you or the magical dream one never imagined would actual hit theatres

3. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days : Cristian Mungui’s film may still be known to some as “That Romanian Abortion Movie,” as if that’s a bad thing. Not all pictures need to be rosy, nor should they be. What’s here is a frank, frightening and unforgettable look at the choices that were necessary in the recent past, and hopefully ones that will remain that way.

2. The Son : The Dardenne Brothers know how to bring raw emotion out of a viewer with the skill few have ever achieved. Their yarn of a quiet, simple man confronting the person that, unknowingly, changed his life forever is a picture of pure grace, preaching comfort and forgiveness, while wrestling with the complications of those same feelings at every turn.

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1. Before Sunset : Linklater has made more daring films. More devastating. More amusing. He hasn’t and may never make one more note perfect as his tale of two lovers who reconnect after spending years wondering what if and now, finally, coming face to face with what next.

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Seattle Cinema Survey -Historical Epics

Another week and another remake is upon us at the Seattle Cinema Survey. It is as it ever was.

So on this edition of that regular bothering of local writers and critics, with Ben-Hur hitting theatres in a new slab of paint and effects, I asked; What’s your favorite historical epic?

The details beyond that were kept broad. The reply merely had to be based in actual world history or settings aka there are no such things as Hobbits.That said, to narrow my own reply down a smidge, I kept it to pictures that are, by cinematic standards, based on real events. Thus, a little classic called Lawrence of Arabia takes my epic cake. The Oscar winning David Lean work is genuinely breathtaking, with vistas for days hanging on the horizon and of a story detailing the trouble with civil wars, alongside the arrogant nations that believe such issues can be solved with their assistance. Peter O’Toole gives a performance I’d be cool with anyone calling the greatest of all-time, celebrating on the bones of toppled-trains here and suffering utter humility there.

Tim Hall of The People’s Critic @peoplescrtic
I’d have to go with Glory. I never heard of the 54th and what they did. It was the first movie that was truly a history lesson for me. The cast was amazing – Denzel was just getting his groove, Freeman was fantastic and Matthew Broderick was still a thing back then.

There’s the emotional scene when Trip gets flogged and the “Oh My Lord” pre battle song. The scene that gets me is when they tear up their checks.

Brent McKnight of Cinema Blend/The Last Thing I See @BrentMMcKnight
When it comes to the greatest historical epics of all-time, there’s a lot to choose from. You’ve got the biblical stuff, like The Ten Commandments and King of Kings; fictional epics, like multiple Ben-Hur adaptations and Master and Commander; as well as those (often loosely) based on actual history, like Aguirre: Wrath of God, Spartacus and Red Cliff.
Massive scale period pieces have been some of the biggest, most influential films in Hollywood history, but as far as favorites, I have to go with Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Not only is it still hugely influential (later this year we get latest remake of The Magnificent Seven, itself an adaptation of Seven Samurai)—thematically and technically— but 60 plus years later, the saga of seven wayward ronin hired to protect a farming village is as thrilling and watchable as ever.

Watching Seven Samurai on a big screen, even today, is the goddamn dictionary definition of epic. And let’s be honest, I’ll watch Toshiro Mifune do anything.

Drew Powell of  Queen Anne News/Drew’s Movie Blog
A tough question to be sure. Gladiator, Braveheart, and Spartacus come to mind. I did have the pleasure of seeing Lawrence of Arabia on the big screen, which was quite an experience. Although I can’t say it’s a movie I’m dying to see again. So I’m going with Michael Mann’s breathless, stunning French and Indian war epic The Last of the Mohicans.

Right away Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti take advantage of the big screen as the camera swoops down into a mighty North American forest where it proceeds to track Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas as they chase after an elk. It’s one of the great film openings of all time. The Last of the Mohicans is a film of high emotion, rousing battle sequences, a magnificent orchestral score from Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman, and superb performances, particularly the understated ones from Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye and Wes Studi as the villain Magua.

It does run out of steam in a few places…but then those final thirteen minutes kick in. Holy shit. Whenever I watch that final sequence, which takes place on a cliffside overlooking the forest, I always get chills and I always get choked up. It never fails. Sometimes I’ll watch the ending on YouTube; I guess when I feel like having a good cry. I remember one time in college I took a break from studying to watch it and ended up getting choked up in the middle of the library. Did I say one time? I meant like five times.

On top of all that, I grew up with The Last of the Mohicans. I remember watching it as a kid and being thrilled by the action scenes. In middle school it made me want to learn more about the real French and Indian War. I wrote a The Last of the Mohicans inspired story in 7th grade Language Arts. I bought a PBS miniseries about the war. All because of this Michael Mann film. It may not be Mann’s best film but it’s my favorite of his no doubt.

I have yet to see it on the big screen and I’m sure that when I do I’ll probably die from overexcitement but I don’t need to see it on a big screen to know it’s fucking epic.

Erik Samdahl of Film Jabber @FilmJabber

Easy. Braveheart. No explanation needed.