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— Errata Movie Podcast —

A list of favorite movies seems to strew mediocre debris in its wake, second-rates, wanna-bes, flawed, failed attempts to claw into the Great Top Ten of Perfection. Only it doesn't, that's the thing. Each year offers movies that scratch my brain in ways that I don't exactly enjoy but can't exactly ignore, either. How about a List Of Seething Troublemakers That Snicker When The Top Ten Tries To Turn Off The Lights On Its Way Out The Door?

Such as:

  • Dog Days — Ulrich Seidl's slice of suburbia is disturbing, ugly, and embarrassing, but it's also beautifully shot, oddly compelling, and has something to say, most of the time.
  • Divine Intervention — I'm not sure I've ever seen the Middle East conflict portrayed as weird, comedic/romantic vignettes. Maybe it goes awry, and maybe it meanders, but because of this movie I now think of neighbors dumping garbage into each other's yard when I read the newspaper.
  • Dracula: Pages From a Virgin's Diary — Guy Maddin retells Bram Stoker's vampire story as a silent, black-and-white, color-tinted ballet. Just because it's ballet doesn't mean no one gets impaled.
  • Runaway Jury — When's the last time you enjoyed a courtroom drama? When's the last time a movie based on a John Grisham novel kept you guessing? This guilty pleasure is surprisingly cynical about our justice system — in a good way — despite the preachy anti-gun ending.
  • Intolerable Cruelty — Maybe it's not the best movie the Coens have ever made, but each of those rapid-fire conversations between George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones is worth replaying on video one day.
  • Shattered Glass — This movie doesn't analyze the problem of plagiarism enough, but movies about liars are fascinating, anyway, and movies that accurately portray the mechanics behind the news — in a riveting way, no less — are worth our time.
  • Bad Santa — I can't figure out why a foul, surly, drunken man in a Santa suit cursing at kids is funny, but I laughed all the way through this movie. I don't know if it says something about me, or my inability to understand my own sense of humor... whatever, man. Elf is funny for 45 minutes or so, but Bad Santa is good to the very end. But don't take the kids. Or grandma.
  • In My Skin — Gruesome and cerebral, Marina de Van's debut isn't easy to sit through, and it's even harder if you try to take it as anything resembling realism, but as a metaphor for identity, art, and social interaction, it's a real brain teaser. De Van also cowrote François Ozon's Under the Sand a few years ago, which I enjoyed a lot more than his Swimming Pool this year, despite the presence of Ludivine Sagnier.

How about a list of movies of which a single viewing was insufficient for me to understand them:

  • Demonlover — Olivier Assayas is a troublemaker. The way he blends his characters' interior and exterior lives in Demonlover, and the way he repeats portions of his narrative after scrambling some of its elements, reminds me of the tricks he pulled in Irma Vep. In both movies, he breaks the narrative down to the point that it's hard to say what the story actually is, even though you can see actors doing things on the screen. In Irma Vep, Maggie Cheung is a cat-like thief. You could say that's the story. But it's repeated several times: she's an actor remaking Les Vampires, she's a woman sneaking into a hotel room, she's a figure in the dailies from the movie, she's the woman giving interviews, she's the figure in an avant-garde version of the remake. Bizarre. I can't begin to say anything about what he's doing in Demonlover after only a single viewing.
  • Millennium Mambo — I was thrilled to learn that this movie had a brief theatrical run at the end of the year in New York and that it may go elsewhere, too. Hou Hsiao-Hsien's movies always require repeat viewings for me, and Millennium Mambo is no different. I've seen it once, but all I can tell you is that he makes effective use of music, associating styles with locales and temperaments; that I love the image of the faces pressed into the snow beneath a row of movie posters, faces that are sure to melt; and that everything about the movie is gorgeous, from the slow-mo opening to the color palette and compositions. On the other hand, the characters seem a little one-note and I'm not sure what I think of the way he describes an episode, then shows it to us, and then drops this pattern part way through. Of course, I'll see it again. The Hou events of the year for me, though, were 1) the release of a beautiful box set of his early-80s movies on DVD and 2) the news about his homage to Ozu, a feature called Coffee Time, completed in 2003 and due out in 2004, fingers crossed.
  • Pistol Opera — I caught this one on DVD after reading Rosenbaum's praise. Suzuki's movie should be viewed as a double feature with Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1. I suppose seeing it again might help me understand the plot, but I'm not sure understanding the plot is all that necessary. Colorful set pieces and highly stylized killings are plenty for occupying the mind, although Suzuki seems less interested in pacing than Tarantino, whose movie is more exciting.

I know there's room for one more short list. How about a list of movies that use heaps and heaps of technical mastery for a story so violent, exploitative, and pointless that the net result is worse than worthless, it's maddening:

  • Irreversible — I read somewhere that Gaspar Noé has called this his Eyes Wide Shut. Even if he was kidding, I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that.
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