Saturday, February 23, 2013

We're Moving!

I've decided to end The Line by AlexanderKhan. I will be setting up shop under my own banner at This blogger site has been great fun, but I need a space I can call my own and get more in depth about the issues that matter to me. So please, if you liked The Line by AlexanderKhan check out my new site at I've pasted the Mission Statement for FedRev below. Enjoy!

FedRev Mission Statement

The reason I'm embarking on this project is because I'm interested in the relationship between society and the mass media it produces, and I evaluate art primarily with that in mind. How does culture influence art, and how does art influence culture? I want to be a place for lively, active analysis and discussion of film, music, and television, and how it relates to the world around us.
I consider myself an advocate for a high quality mainstream, and I don't tolerate the dumbing down of society as is often encouraged by the the mainstream media industry. I submit that even the most entertaining art should stimulate your brain, because when your mind is actively engaged you will find yourself being entertained on a high level. I don't believe "turning off your brain" is a form of entertainment, and I penalize anything that encourages this behavior. When I review media I like to recommend lesser known art in order to draw attention to things that deserve a wider audience, and I'm more than willing to slam popular art that does harm to society. Politics are important to me, and I factor my political worldview into my opinions. I will try to be true to myself, my values, and my instincts, while simultaneously keeping a larger perspective in mind. It's not all about me, and so I want my views to reflect both the macro and the micro.
I love debate. Challenge me. If you don't agree with something I say, let me know, offer another perspective, and let's have a productive conversation so we can learn from each other as individuals, and help to increase media IQ of society at large. I want this project to be a valuable resource for people who like to engage with the culture around them and the art it produces. Take my perspective, mull it over, and then do what you will with it. And enjoy!

Join me at my new home:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

My TOP 10 (+10) FILMS of 2012

2012 was an extremely good year for film, especially mainstream film, which is an improvement I've been dreaming of for quite a while. Though 2012 yielded only a small handful of absolute masterpieces, the sheer number of extremely high quality films this year blew me away. So, in recognition of this, I'm trying something new with my annual Top 10 list... I'm including 10 extra films that I feel would be criminal not to mention. This was a year where I felt there were 20 films that would ordinarily be Top 10 material, and I figure if the Academy can change the number of films it nominates from year to year, why can't I? I've ranked the official Top 10 like I always do, and beneath I've also listed 10 others in alphabetical order that I highly recommend. So, without further ado, take a look at the list, and please give me your feedback. I want to hear your opinions, thoughts, comments, and gripes!

1. Cloud Atlas
A sprawling, visionary, nearly flawless epic, Cloud Atlas, though totally overlooked by all the major award shows (possibly for political reasons), was my clear-cut choice for Film of the Year. This film was so ambitious in scope that it required three directors working as a team to shoot it (Andy and Lana Wachowski along with Tom Tykwer). It takes place over several hundred years and is about human decisions rippling through time, ultimately resulting in a revolution aimed at ending class oppression. Several actors play multiples roles and the film utilizes reincarnation as a symbolic device to advance the complex narrative, based on the novel by David Mitchell. It's a nearly unclassifiable film as it incorporates elements of drama, comedy, action, sci-fi, and mystery, all combining to create an incredible epic about the human struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the master and slave, and the revolutionary spirit it takes for to overcome injustice. Perhaps the only flaw the film has is the casting of Tom Hanks, who is the only actor in the film unable to seamlessly disappear into his various roles. On the other hand, Hanks' involvement was a major factor in getting the film made in the first place, so it all comes out in the wash because the most important thing is that people seek out this film and become exposed to what it has to say about human life.

2. The Master
The Master, indeed. Paul Thomas Anderson has once again proven that he deserves to be named among the very best directors working today. In his latest masterpiece, Anderson tells the story of a troubled war veteran who returns home directionless and prone to violent outbursts. Joaquin Phoenix turns in the best acting performance of the year, fully immersing himself into the lead role and exuding a palpable sense of danger, like he could snap at any moment. He drifts aimlessly, often getting himself into trouble, until he crosses paths with a charismatic cult leader who takes him under his wing and teaches him The Cause, a fictional version of Scientology. Ultimately, it's a film about human behavior and relationships. Phoenix's Freddie Quill is broken, violent, frightening, socially awkward, and obsessed with sex, even though he might be a virgin (the film is vague on this point), and the audience experiences his attempt to become a less volatile person. It's impossible for me to fully explore the depths and implications of the interpersonal relationships explored in the film in this short space, but it has a lot to say about friendship, love, jealousy, and the human need for personal connection, both physical and emotional.

3. Django Unchained
I didn't think it was possible, but Quentin Tarantino has finally made a film exactly like I've always wanted him to make, reaching the height of his potential in the process. Here he's managed to set aside those "Tarantinoesque" gimmicks he's always relied so heavily on, and made a mature, intelligent film about a serious subject. Yet, amazingly, Django Unchained is undeniably recognizable as a Tarantino film, incorporating all his best talents as a film maker while discarding everything that normally make his films impossible to take seriously. Slavery is as serious a subject as can be explored, and Tarantino, as only he can, has crafted a film that exposes the brutal horror of slavery, while simultaneously providing a cathartic antidote to the institution. In reality, reconstruction was never fully completed after the Civil War, but Tarantino shows us what should have been done: the righteous obliteration of the culture that sustained slavery. The only thing that could have improved this film is an expanded role for Kerry Washington.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The tagline for Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation was "Everyone wants to be found," and it could have just as well been applied here. Perks is a coming-of-age film, following the path of an outcast high school freshman who is, to his surprise, accepted into a social circle of upperclassmen. Though slightly temporally ambiguous, it perfectly captures a certain era somewhere between the mid-'80s and mid-'90s when making a mix-tape (on an actual cassette) could perfectly represent how you felt about someone. It has an excellent script that deals with many heavy issues that kids sometimes unfortunately have to face on the path to adulthood, and it paints a portrait of friends as an alternative extended family that can be more important than actual family. To me anyway, the film is about how a group of friends who are truly committed to each other as human beings can literally save your life. There's strength in unity, and in a beautiful way Perks provides an example of how the practice of acceptance and togetherness can be used as weapons to collectively survive in this society. Oh, and it's got a great soundtrack, too.

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
The big story here is the arrival of the child actress Quvenzhane Wallis who was only 6 years old during production. And what a force of nature she is! I can't think of any child actor since Shirley Temple who has completely carried a film at such a young age. Beasts is the story of a small, poor commune of sorts cut off from the rest of the world on the other side of a levee, and that's the way they want it. The film opens with a holiday celebration and we discover a world of people better connected with the Earth and with each other. When a major flood comes, they survive together, but when Hushpuppy's (Wallis) father becomes ill she has to grow up and learn to fend for herself. What's great about this film is that it shows that children are people, too, and they can often understand and do much more than they are given credit for. The film also creates a stark contrast between our "civilized" way of life, and the lifestyle of the people of the "Bathtub." Though the people of the Bathtub are poor and their society dirty, it's also authentic and bound by a spirit of community. Beasts shows us what's really important and how to really celebrate life, as it rejects almost everything that we take for granted.

6. Looper
One of the freshest and most innovative sci-fi films in recent memory, Looper is a rare gem. Sci-fi has always been a genre that can hold a mirror up to society, and Looper is no exception. Set in the not too distant future where time-travel has been discovered and is used illegally by the mob to dispose of its enemies cleanly, "Loopers" are specialized assassins who wait for their targets to be sent from the future to be executed on sight. While some elements of the way time-travel is explained in the film are slightly problematic, to dwell on that is to miss the larger point on the film. In the end, it's about being willing to sacrifice your own future to make the world a better place overall, and that's a lesson we need to hear loud and clear right now.

7. A Royal Affair
When British princess Caroline is sent to Denmark to marry King Christian VII, she had no idea what she was getting into. Christian suffered from a mental illness which wasn't understood at the time, and which allowed his actions to be manipulated by those around him, some of whom had good intentions, and others sought only greater power and influence. It also made marriage extremely difficult. Johan Struensee was a physician hired to assist the king, and eventually he and Caroline begin an affair. As a student of the Enlightenment Struensee was able to gain the king's trust and steer him into making many progressive reforms that benefited the people of Denmark. The film itself is beautifully shot and acted extremely well, and it highlights the struggle for progressive reform against a wealthy ruling class, and also illuminates constructive methods to deal with metal illness.

8. Seven Psychopaths
Seven Psychopaths is a wild, brilliantly written film, and is a great example of a film about its own creative process, similar in form to Adaptation. For a film about murderous psychopaths, it's surprisingly complex and nuanced, and centers around a man struggling to write a screenplay about psychopaths simply because he finds the subject interesting, even though he's repulsed by violence. Not knowing where to take the narrative of his script, the film itself delves into the creative process, and the lines between reality and fiction begin to blur as the story is pieced together. The film represents a subversion of the action/thriller genre, and provides an insightful commentary on the prevalence of violence in American culture.

9. Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominick has created the perfect political allegory for today. Set during election season in '08 when the financial crisis was in full swing, Killing Them Softly is a microcosm, centered around the economy of a local mob. After a mob run poker game is held up resulting in a "recession" in which the "confidence" of the mob is shaken, a "stimulus" of sorts is needed to return life to "normal." A hit-man is dispatched to track down and murder those responsible for the theft, allowing the mob to begin sponsoring card games again. The story unfolds against the backdrop of inner-city poverty and the decay of America from within, and speeches from president Bush and candidate Obama are injected into the narrative to hammer home the metaphor. The film is very simple and direct, but extremely bold in its direct association between capitalism and murder.

10. Being Flynn
An excellent film about writing and writers, Being Flynn is a story about a father who thinks he's a great writer, but isn't, and his son, who actually is very talented but doesn't allow anyone to read his work because of a tragedy in his past. Robert De Niro turns in an excellent late-career performance as the elder Flynn, and Paul Dano turns in another quality performance as the younger. The film exposes the severe class divisions in America, as De Niro's character slips through the cracks into homelessness and ends up seeking refuge in the shelter where his son works. The film has many authentic scenes of how homeless shelters operate and the conditions the homeless live in on the streets. All the original music for the film was composed by Badly Drawn Boy which helps to establish the melancholy atmosphere in which the narrative operates. Overall, it's an excellent film that very few people saw, unfortunately, and I strongly encourage people to seek it out.

- Deadfall
A stylistic crime thriller that could easily be considered a Western if it weren't set against a backdrop of snow in Michigan. Great film about family dynamics.

- The Deep Blue Sea
A very deliberate, minimalist film set in London following WW2 about a woman who leaves her husband for another man, but ends up finding herself in the process. It's an empowering and moving film, driven by the amazing performance of Rachel Weisz.

- Flight
A surprisingly good film about an alcoholic pilot who successfully lands a damaged passenger plane and is dubbed a hero by the media, and his attempt to cover up the fact that he was drunk during the flight. A powerful film about addiction that very easily could have been named among my top 10.

- The Grey
After surviving a plane crash a group of men attempt to survive another danger, a pack of wolves who consider them invaders in their territory. It's a bleak tale of man against the elements, but with surprising depth and complexity.

- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The first part in Peter Jackson's second adventure into Middle Earth, The Hobbit is a worthy companion to The Lord of the Rings series. Though the jury is still out on the use of 48fps, the film itself was very well paced and provides valuable back-story to the Middle Earth saga.

- Holy Motors
Perhaps the most bizarre film I saw this year, Holy Motors is the story of a sort of freelance actor who travels from job to job by limo and changes into character on the ride. When he emerges, he fully embodies his role, and we experience one full day of his work.

- The Hunger Games
One of the most politically important films of the year, along with Cloud Atlas, Django Unchained, and A Royal Affair. Set in a dystopian North America after a fascist takeover, children are forced to fight to the death in a tournament designed to intimidate and pacify the masses, but our hero Katniss attempts to resist.

- Lawless
Three brothers in the moonshine business during prohibition are forced to fight both corrupt police and a powerful organized crime syndicate after refusing to pay a bribe. A great film about the hypocrisy of the law and law enforcement.

- Life of Pi
A stunningly beautiful film that makes excellent use of 3D technology and takes us on a journey of survival after a shipwreck leaves a teenager stranded on a lifeboat alone with a tiger. A great story that examines the importance of storytelling and art as an indispensable aspect of life.

- Silver Linings Playbook
Another film that examines mental health, it's the story of a man with bi-polar disorder moving back in with his parents in an attempt to put his life back together. He wants to reconcile with his wife, but he meets another girl and they decide to enter a dancing competition.

Worst Film of the Year (out of the 42 I've seen)
- 21 Jump Street

Thursday, February 23, 2012

My TOP 10 FILMS of 2011

I said this last year, too, but it's true again this year: putting this year's list together was incredibly difficult, perhaps the most difficult yet, due to the number of great films in 2011. I noticed a big trend this year. With 2012 just around the corner, many film makers in 2011 seemed to be exploring metaphysical concepts and themes. "The End of the World" and all the nervous fear and paranoia that comes along with that, as well as meditations on what it means to be human, to be alive, started creeping into cinema in very interesting and artistic ways, and I am not surprised that many of this year's best films went in this direction. This year I saw 40 films, and here are the 10 best...

1) The Tree of Life - This is the film visionary director Terrence Malick had been dreaming of making for decades, and thankfully, he finally got around to it. There's really no way to do this brilliant work of art justice with a paragraph; it just has to be experienced. It's the story of a Texas family in the 1950s, but it's so much more than that. The main narrative is placed within the context of the origin of the universe and the evolution of life on Earth. Through a magnificent use of special effects photography we witness the cosmic birth of life, and the courses it follows as it evolves, Grace and Nature. These two themes are then woven into the 50s family, the mother representing Grace and the Father representing Nature, and the son who struggles with the two throughout his life. The Tree of Life, as with all of Malick's films, has strong themes of nature and with America's place in the world. No one can do more with minimal dialogue, he forces us to examine seemingly mundane aspects of everyday life, drawing a deeper significance, making us think about what it means to be alive. The plot isn't really what's important here, and trying to keep track of the narrative isn't the point. This is a film about life itself, and life can't be defined so easily. You just have to live it.

2) Melancholia - This is a film that seems to take place very much in the real world and yet it simultaneously seems to exist outside reality, in some sort of parallel universe. It's an isolating film, set entirely on the grounds of a mansion, and yet it's very much about what's happening in the outside world. It's a film of impending doom, as a mysterious planet called Melancholia has appeared in the sky and is set on a crash course with Earth. The first half of the film is set at the wedding of Justine, played brilliantly by Kirsten Dunst, where we meet her wealthy, dysfunctional family. There's a contrast drawn between the beauty of the high-class wedding and the inner ugliness of the people populating the rooms. By the end of the night everything has fallen apart, including the marriage. In the second half of the film, Justine returns to the mansion, this time in a catatonic state, and Melancholia is rapidly closing in. Gradually, the characters, each in their own way, must come to accept the inevitability of their deaths. It's a tragic film where everything we know at the beginning is turned on its head by the end.

3) Take Shelter - Continuing the theme of impending apocalypse, Take Shelter is the story of Curtis, a man who seems to have his life all put together. He lives in his Ohio home with his loving, beautiful wife and their daughter, and he has a stable construction job which allows his wife the opportunity to work on crafts at home and sell them at local markets and yard sales. But suddenly, Curtis begins to have visions of a terrible apocalyptic storm. His perfectly balanced life is thrown off its axis, and his behavior becomes erratic. In preparation for the coming disaster he starts to renovate the tornado shelter in the back yard, at great cost, both financially and personally. Take Shelter is a flawless blend of intimate, indie character drama, and special effects mystery thriller. Michael Shannon plays Curtis with depth and likability, and we really believe his descent into madness. Jessica Chastaine, my actress of the year, really drives home the love story embedded within this slow burning drama.

4) Warrior - The easy way to think of Warrior is as the Rocky of this generation, but that description barely scratches the surface. It's the story of two brothers, estranged both from each other and their recovering alcoholic father. One brother, Tommy, is a former soldier AWOL from the war, and the other, Brendan, is a school teacher. Both begin training for a mixed martial arts tournament, and we witness their rise through the ranks of the fighting world as they head toward their inevitable collision course, a fight in the octagon against each other. For a film about a brutally violent sport, it's filled with emotion and poignant moments as the dysfunctional family resolves its problems in the only way they know how.

5) Another Earth - This beautiful film is the brainchild of newcomer Brit Marling, the co-writer, co-producer, and star of the movie. Another Earth, like Melancholia, is about another planet appearing in the sky, except this time, as the title suggests, it's an exact clone of Earth. When Rhoda (Marling), first hears about the appearance of the second Earth she looks up into the sky while driving and crashes into another vehicle, killing two of the three people inside. After serving a prison sentence she struggles with her direction in life, until she runs into the man who survived the accident she caused. Concealing her real motive for getting to know him, they gradually become romantically involved. While under normal circumstances, this story might come across as bland and mundane, the presence of the second Earth casts a different perspective on every event in the film, and it explores many questions about the choices we make in life and the possibility of second chances.

6) Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - This is a Cold War spy thriller unlike any other, drained of glamorized action as well as most of its color to the point that it's almost shot in sepia tones. This is the dark, dirty, and confusing world of espionage, a life and death game of cat and mouse, or rather cat and mole. Gary Oldman plays George, a recently retired British spy who is brought back into the fold to figure out which agent within MI6 is secretly working for the Soviets. It's a complicated tale of murder and deceit, and while it is incredibly difficult to follow, that's part of what makes it great. Even at the end you're not exactly sure what you've seen, and that's the way it really would be.

7) Beginners - My favorite genre of film is the Melancholy/Quirky/Drama-Comedy, which includes Lost in Translation, Adventureland, Everything is Illuminated, and Garden State, among many others. Beginners is a new classic that fits in perfectly among their ranks. It's about a cartoonist named Oliver who must deal with his father's dual announcement that he's gay and has cancer. The film cuts between the process of Oliver rekindling his relationship with his dying father and his relationship with a French actress after his father's death. Ewan McGregor is Oliver, and his monotone narration weaves together a historical context for the film, including references to the gay rights movement. It's a delicate, subtle film, and yet it's fearless in many ways. It unapologetically breaks the mold of conventional movie storytelling techniques, including subtitled dialogue for the pet dog. Not many people have seen this movie, but it's worth seeking out.

8) Midnight in Paris - Owen Wilson plays Gil in this magical film of literary time travel. Gil, a writer, and his fiancee are on vacation in Paris, and while on the surface they appear to be happily engaged, once Gil is mysteriously transported back in time to Paris in the '20s and encounters several classic writers and artists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Picasso, the distance between the two lovers is uncovered. Gil is a romantic who wants to take life as it comes, savoring every moment, while Inez wants security and consistency. Gil idolizes the past populated by his literary heroes, but in time he has to learn to find happiness in his own time and place, even though that means making some tough choices. Midnight in Paris is a fantasy, but it's grounded in real life questions about how to live the lives we want to live.

9) Drive - This sleek thriller is the story of a nameless Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for hire. He's a quite, solitary man whose only great skill is driving. He doesn't have much to live for, until he meets his beautiful neighbor, Irene, and her child. Irene's husband is released from prison, and trouble comes with him, and soon the Driver finds himself caught up in a battle with a crime syndicate in an effort to keep Irene safe. Drive is a highly stylized and ultra-violent film filled with otherworldly music. It's the kind of movie Tarantino would make if he could resist inserting gimmicks and jokes into otherwise serious stories. Thankfully, Nicolas Winding Refn was able to pull it off the right way.

10) Margin Call - Considering the severe recession that's been going on for four years now, this is the perfect film for the times. Margin Call takes us back to 2008 into the corridors of a nameless, fictional (yet all too real) financial firm on Wall Street and shows us the first hours of the great financial crisis from the inside. It's a unique film, approaching this subject as a thriller. We get to know the various players inside "the Firm" through a series of intense conversations in dark hallways. No one is safe from the coming flood, everyone braces for impact in their own way, and in the end some people drown while others swim. We never see the innocent victims, the "regular people" as they're called by the bankers, who compare their salaries and bonuses in the midst of the crisis, almost as a coping mechanism. But while one might think this is a film that could take cheap shots at the financial sector, it doesn't. In fact, it doesn't really judge the people who work for the banks, it doesn't paint them as evil, even while it shows how the work they do can drastically impact the lives of millions.


11) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
12) Hanna
13) 50/50
14) The Ledge
15) Super 8


This year's award for the worst film (that I bothered to see) goes to... Battle Los Angeles.


As always, it's impossible for me to see all the films I want to see before making this list. This year, I was unable to see: A Separation, The Guard, Sleeping Beauty, Hesher, I Melt with You, Answers to Nothing, Young Adult, Shame, Hugo, My Week with Marilyn, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and War Horse.

However, I WAS able to see J. Edgar, The Descendants, The Artist, The Help, Moneyball, The Ides of March, Contagion, Bridesmaids, One Day, No Strings Attached, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Source Code, Water for Elephants, and The Beaver. And while many of these films were very good, they couldn't quite crack the top 15 due to the number of great films made this year.

Friday, February 25, 2011

My TOP 10 FILMS of 2010

This is approximately my 5th Annual Top 10 Films of the Year List, and this, the 2010 Edition, was easily the most difficult so far. 2010 was a tale of two years. The first half of the year was unbearably AWFUL. The second half was EXCELLENT! From January through June I had almost no motivation to get to the theater because everything looked so bad. But the second half of the year has been so crowded with great movies that putting together this Top 10 became incredibly difficult. When it’s all said and done I think 2010 will go down as a great year in film history. Let’s take a look at the list.

1. Brest Fortress [Brestskaya krepost] – This Russian film hasn’t seen the light of day in America, and most of the world for that matter (I had to watch it on Youtube). It’s the tale of the beginning of the conflict between the Soviets and Nazi Germany during WWII, and it’s an absolute masterpiece. Life is going well in the Fortress, but everyone knows war is coming soon. They just don’t know how severe the impact will be and the price they will have to pay. Soldiers and their families fight to defend their ground in the face of certain death. It’s at once inspiring and shattering. The acting is authentic, and the cinematography is top notch, capturing both beauty and utter devastation. The action is unrelenting, but character is never forgotten. After I saw Black Swan I didn’t think there was any way it could be knocked off the top spot… but then Brest Fortress came along. (If you're interested in watching this film, the only way I know how right now is to click this link.

2. Black Swan – This is exactly the type of film that is all too rare in today’s Hollywood. Black Swan is bold; a true artistic statement, yet it doesn’t fail to entertain. This film proves you can break the mold, take dark, edgy subject matter, and still produce a hit. Sadly, Hollywood these days tends to chalk up the success of this type of movie as an anomaly, and then continues to churn out remakes, reboots, sequels, and formula driven comedies. Black Swan is nothing of the sort. It’s the story of a ballet dancer played by Natalie Portman who lands the lead in her company’s production of Swan Lake. It’s a stressful role, demanding perfection in two different styles of dance, and she must go beyond her natural limits to live up to expectations. It’s beautifully shot, acted perfectly, and the tension mounts with every passing moment. It’ll also make you afraid of mirrors for the rest of your life.

3. The Social Network – By now we’ve all become hooked on Facebook, the social networking website that allows you to “connect” with “friends” virtually. This is the story of how (and why) it was created, as well as the subsequent lawsuits that came as a result of its massive success. Much like Black Swan, it takes a subject that very easily could have been done by the numbers; boring and mundane. But it wasn’t. It used a fractured narrative, cross cutting between the linear story of Facebook’s evolution as told from the perspective the two lawsuits. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails did the original score, and the result is an undertone which adds a sinister depth of meaning to every frame. If you think this is just “some movie about a website” you’ve got another thing coming. It’s a near perfect tale of trying to earn respect, but going about it in all the wrong ways.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1) – The seventh installment of the massively successful Harry Potter franchise is one of the best yet. Personally, I’ll always love The Prisoner of Azkaban the most, but Deathly Hallows Part 1 is perhaps the most “real film” of the series. By that I mean that it takes itself the most seriously, presenting the story not as if it’s part of a children’s fantasy series, but rather as if it’s any other drama. Sure, there’s magic, but it’s presented in such a way that it’s just an assumed part of the story. The film makers assume we’re caught up and don’t bother trying to wow us with overt magical spectacle. Instead they focus on story and character, and let the action unfold naturally.

5. The American – This film hit #1 in its first week, but not very many people liked it. Why? Deceptive marketing. The trailers made The American look like an action spy thriller. In actuality, it was nothing of the sort. It was a slow character study. Not much dialogue. Emphasis on non-verbal storytelling. Long, still shots. When you’re expecting a non-stop thrill ride and instead you get a “boring” art film, most people will be disappointed. I, however, was pleasantly surprised. This film is so much more than we were led to believe. It’s beautiful, and by the end you can cut the tension with a knife. I hope that in time the reputation of this great film comes to reflect its true nature, rather than the one people were hoping for.

6. Biutiful – This is a sprawling film. It’s a Spanish film, the story of a man dying from cancer, trying to set his complicated affairs in order before he runs out of time. He also has the gift of being able to communicate with the recently deceased, and this ability plays an interesting role in the story. Biutiful gives an interesting glimpse into the Spanish underworld of human trafficking, and also of lower class family life. It’s a very difficult film to do justice with a blurb. All I can say is that it’s one of those films that it worth watching even though it’s heavy and challenging.

7. Winter’s Bone – This is the story of a teenage girl who is running her household after the disappearance of her father. She’s going to school and trying to feed her siblings at the same time. It turns out her father is due in court and he’s put up the family home as collateral. If he doesn’t show up for his hearing they’ll lose the house, so she has to go find him. In the process she uncovers an underground drug network and faces increasing danger while she tries to save the family. Like The American, it’s a film that takes its time with each shot, never rushing to get through the story. We have to peal the onion at the same pace as the protagonist.

8. 127 Hours – Quite frankly, this is a film that just shouldn’t work. It’s the true story of Aron Ralston, a young outdoorsman who gets his arm stuck under a boulder while backpacking through a canyon in Utah. The vast majority of the film is Aron pinned under the rock, talking to himself and trying to survive as long as possible. But through clever use of flashbacks and voice over it’s a thrilling tale of the power of the human spirit.

9. The Town – Ben Affleck’s second film as a director proves that his solid debut, Gone Baby Gone, was no fluke. It’s the story of a crew of bank robbers in Boston. They hit a bank and take a hostage as cover during their escape. After they let her go they have to make sure she can’t identify them, so Affleck’s character tales her, approaches her, and eventually starts a relationship with her. In the meantime, the FBI is busy trying to take down the crew while the local crime boss is pressuring them to take even more daring scores. Of the many films over the years that have compared themselves to the masterpiece Heat, this is the first one that can legitimately do so.

10. Remember Me – Of all the films I’ve seen from this year, none had the emotional impact on me that Remember Me did. Objectively speaking, it probably doesn’t really deserve to be on the list, but I’m giving it extra points for making me feel something. It’s a, throwback. It reminds me of films of another era, like A Streetcar Named Desire or Rebel Without a Cause. There’s something raw and dangerous about this film. Robert Pattinson, known most for the Twilight films, seems like the second coming of James Dean and Marlon Brando all rolled up together in this movie. It’s the story of a young man trying to make his way through life on his own terms, frequently in trouble, until he meets the girl of his dreams. Trust me, it’s a lot less corny than it sounds, and the ending will leave you shaken to the core.

Special Mention. Catfish – This is a documentary, and I’ve never known how to rate documentaries against traditional films, so I just don’t. But you should make an effort to see Catfish. The Social Network may be known as “The Facebook Movie” but Catfish is actually the real deal, defining this generation in ways that the former doesn’t. It’s scary because it’s real. It’s almost impossible to talk about the specifics of the film without spoiling it, so just do yourself a favor and rent it from your local Red Box.

The rest of the films I’ve seen from 2010, ranked & rated...

11. Inception - 9/10
12. Greenberg
13. Edge of Darkness
14. Blue Valentine
15. The Fighter
16. Green Zone

17. The Kids Are All Right – 8/10
18. The King’s Speech
19. Toy Story 3
20. Shutter Island
21. Kick-Ass
22. True Grit
23. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

24. Robin Hood – 7/10
25. Unstoppable
26. Clash of the Titans
27. Despicable Me
28. The Book of Eli

29. Alice in Wonderland – 6/10
30. Date Night
31. Leap Year
32. The Other Guys

33. Valentine’s Day – 5/10

There are actually quite a few films that I wanted to see that I haven't been able to get to yet. However, I always try to put my Top 10 list out around Oscar time, so I had to go with what I've seen so far. Here's a list of films from 2010 that I still need to see. Once I get to these I might do an updated version of the list.

How to Train Your Dragon, Flight [Udaan], Mission London, Another Year, Rabbit Hole, Tron: Legacy, Secretariat; LSD: Love, Sex, and Deceit; Never Let Me Go, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, The Ghost Writer, Buried, Easy A, I'm Still Here, Cemetary Junction, Four Lions, Somewhere, I Saw the Devil, Incendies

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


The following list is my Top 100 Films of All-Time. I started this list when I was about 12 and I've kept updating it for the past 14 years or so. It's meaning has changed a bit with each incarnation. Right now, it's an interesting blend of films that I feel are the greatest, in a more objective way, and films that are personal favorites of mine, more subjectively. Enjoy!

AlexanderKhan's TOP 100 FILMS

1. Apocalypse Now (1979, F. Coppola)
2. Lawrence of Arabia (1962, D. Lean)
3. The Thin Red Line (1998, T. Malick)
4. 8 ½ (1963, F. Fellini)
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, S. Kubrick)
6. Mulholland Dr. (2001, D. Lynch)
7. Raging Bull (1980, M. Scorsese)
8. The Godfather Part II (1974, F. Coppola)
9. Heat (1995, M. Mann)
10. Alien (1979, R. Scott)

11. Lost in Translation (2003, S. Coppola)
12. Amadeus (1984, M. Forman)
13. The Empire Strikes Back (1980, I. Kershner)
14. The Insider (1999, M. Mann)
15. Goodfellas (1990, M. Scorsese)
16. Blade Runner [Final Cut] (1982, R. Scott)
17. Once Upon A Time in the West (1968, S. Leone)
18. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, A. Dominik)
19. Seven Samurai (1954, A. Kurosawa)
20. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003, P. Jackson)

21. Malcolm X (1992, S. Lee)
22. The Shawshank Redemption (1994, F. Darabont)
23. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, A. Lee)
24. Magnolia (1999, P.T. Anderson)
25. There Will Be Blood (2007, P.T. Anderson)
26. The Silence of the Lambs (1991, J. Demme)
27. City of God (2002, F. Meirelles)
28. The Godfather (1972, F. Coppola)
29. Network (1976, S. Lumet)
30. The New World (2005, T. Malick)

31. Dances With Wolves (1990, K. Costner)
32. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, H. Selick)
33. Vertigo (1958, A. Hitchcock)
34. Aliens (1986, J. Cameron)
35. La Dolce Vita (1960, F. Fellini)
36. Ali (2001, M. Mann)
37. Field of Dreams (1989, P.A. Robinson)
38. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001, P. Jackson)
39. Das Boot (1981, W. Petersen)
40. Fargo (1996, J. Coen)

41. The Aviator (2004, M. Scorsese)
42. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, A. Cuaron)
43. The Big Lebowski (1998, J. Coen)
44. Persona (1966, I. Bergman)
45. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, F. Capra)
46. Kingdom of Heaven [Director’s Cut] (2005, R. Scott)
47. In The Bedroom (2001, T. Field)
48. The Graduate (1967, M. Nichols)
49. Schindler’s List (1993, S. Spielberg)
50. Star Wars (1977, G. Lucas)

51. Bringing Up Baby (1938, H. Hawks)
52. Pulp Fiction (1994, Q. Tarantino)
53. Apollo 13 (1995, R. Howard)
54. Taxi Driver (1976, M. Scorsese)
55. The Lives of Others (2006, F.H. von Donnersmark)
56. 25th Hour (2002, S. Lee)
57. The Constant Gardener (2005, F. Meirelles)
58. Shaun of the Dead (2004, E. Wright)
59. Stranger Than Fiction (2006, M. Forster)
60. Blue Velvet (1986, D. Lynch)

61. Adventureland (2009, G. Mattola)
62. Cache (2005, M. Haneke)
63. Wild Strawberries (1957, I. Bergman)
64. Donnie Darko (2001, R. Kelly)
65. (500) Days of Summer (2009, M. Webb)
66. Synecdoche, New York (2008, C. Kaufman)
67. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, G. del Toro)
68. Sling Blade (1996, B. Thornton)
69. The Prestige (2006, C. Nolan)
70. Days of Heaven (1978, T. Malick)

71. The Road (2009, J. Hillcoat)
72. Requiem For A Dream (2000, D. Aronofsky)
73. Gattaca (1997, A. Niccol)
74. WALL-E (2008, A. Stanton)
75. I’m Not There. (2007, T. Haynes)
76. Inland Empire (2006, D. Lynch)
77. 21 Grams (2003, A.G. Inarritu)
78. In Bruges (2008, M. McDonagh)
79. Lenny (1974, B. Fosse)
80. Moon (2009, D. Jones)

81. Coraline (2009, H. Selick)
82. The Fountain (2006, D. Aronofsky)
83. The Reader (2008, S. Daldry)
84. Brokeback Mountain (2005, A. Lee)
85. Traffic (2000, S. Soderbergh)
86. Moulin Rouge! (2001, B. Luhrmann)
87. Die Hard (1988, J. McTiernan)
88. Dazed and Confused (1993, R. Linklater)
89. Trainspotting (1996, D. Boyle)
90. Rear Window (1954, A. Hitchcock)

91. The Virgin Suicides (1999, S. Coppola)
92. Dogville (2003, L. von Trier)
93. The Matrix (1999, A. Wachowski/L. Wachowski)
94. Twelve Monkeys (1995, T. Gilliam)
95. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007, J. Schnabel)
96. On The Waterfront (1954, E. Kazan)
97. Fight Club (1999, D. Fincher)
98. Chinatown (1974, R. Polanski)
99. American Beauty (1999, S. Mendes)
100. The 400 Blows (1959, F. Truffaut)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Busted Block: The End of an Era

On September 23rd, Blockbuster Inc., the video rental company, filed for bankruptcy, ending one era and beginning another. Blockbuster is saddled with over $900 million in debt and has been in decline for the last few years due to the rise of mail-based rental companies like Neflix, On-Demand services from cable and satellite TV companies, and cheap rental kiosks. Blockbuster has been closing locations by the hundreds and old-fashioned brick and mortar based movie renting is on its way to the grave.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when people would venture out to the video store, browse the shelves, read the plot summaries on the back of the boxes, and select a movie or two to take home for the next few days. It was a family affair, parents often taking their kids out to find something to watch together in the living room. But times have changed. It’s an “on-demand” age now.

While Blockbuster is working out a deal with creditors to allow its doors to stay open (for now), the days of being able to go to a mainstream video rental house are numbered. They will operate with only a few physical locations and focus on a digital business going into the future. Digital is the new videotape.

Now it’s more common to simply click through your cable menu screens to select a movie to watch instantly on one of your three flat screen HDTVs, or to scroll through your Netflix queue to see what to bump up to the top so all you have to do is walk to your mailbox to grab the latest release. Netflix also has an Instant View option which allows you to stream movies and television episodes on your computer. This feature also works through some videogame systems like Nintendo’s Wii or through Blu-ray players hooked up to the internet. There’s also an increasing number of automated kiosk rental stations, such as Redbox. For about a dollar you can drive to the nearest Redbox machine and select a title from a list of new releases to be returned the next day.

For the consumer, these are all positive developments. Advances in technology allow viewers to have access to a greater number of titles with dramatically improved quality from the days of VHS tapes on 4:3 SDTVs, often for a lower price. You get to see exactly what you want, exactly when you want it. But could there be any downsides to this new digital, on-demand marketplace?

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t all that long ago when there were only three major television networks and the only movies you could watch at home were the ones the networks decided to run. It wasn’t until the 80s when VHS broke into the market, and up until then consumers had no real choices if they felt like watching a film at home. But it was this lack of choice that fostered a shared national culture. The entire country watched the same shows and saw the same movies, including older classics. Perhaps it’s easy to see the rise of on-demand media as purely beneficial, giving people real control over something in an otherwise stressful, modern life. But these benefits do come at a cost.

The fibers that bind Americans together are tearing. Politics are becoming more extreme at both ends of the spectrum, and part of the reason for this is because people are increasingly exposed to only the media they choose, directly. Instantly. While we have much easier access to media we immediately desire, it’s becoming much more difficult to be exposed to ideas we don’t already agree with, or to randomly discover a great film just because it’s the only thing playing on TV that night or because you stumbled upon the box at the video store. It might not be much, but think about that the next time you’re ordering a movie on-demand, instead of taking a trip to your local Blockbuster.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Busted: The Failure of the 2010 Summer Blockbuster

Thirty-five years ago, a film was released that ushered in a new era in Hollywood and forever changed the way movies were marketed to the public. The film, directed by newcomer Steven Spielberg, was called Jaws and it invented the “Summer Blockbuster”. It wasn’t long before George Lucas followed in his friend’s footsteps and released Star Wars, proving the concept was here to stay.

In the subsequent years Hollywood perfected the idea, often advertising the big summer releases 6 months in advance during the Super Bowl. Summer Blockbusters have the actors with household names, they have the biggest production budgets, the best special effects, and they’re adapted from the most popular books. At this point, 35 years into the game, it’s a tried and true formula that almost never fails to turn big profits for the industry. That is… until this year.

Sex and the City 2 took in $26 million less than its predecessor during its opening week. Comedies like Killers and Get Him to the Greek debuted with only $16 million and $18 million respectively, far less than similar films in recent summer seasons. Shrek Forever After, the forth film in the incredibly successful Shrek series, is pulling in the worst numbers of its franchise. Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood just barely cracked $100 million domestically, though it did much better overseas. It’s the same story with Prince of Persia. So far only Iron Man 2 has proven to be really successful, making more than the first installment did in 2008.

The 2010 summer season has studios scratching their heads as film after film expected to make a big splash has disappointed at the box office. But the explanation should actually be quite obvious. Hollywood’s own past success has crippled its creativity, and the lack of ideas is becoming all too noticeable. Exhibit A, The Sequels: Iron Man 2, Sex and the City 2, Nanny McPhee 2, Twilight 3, Toy Story 3, Step Up 3, and Shrek 4. Exhibit B, The Adaptations, Remakes, and Spin-offs: Prince of Persia, MacGruber, The A-Team, Jonah Hex, The Karate Kid, The Last Airbender, Robin Hood, and Get Him to the Greek. Starting to get the picture? The vast majority of the big films being pushed this season are either rehashed ideas or sequels made in an attempt to cash in a second (or fourth) time on the strength of previous success. It’s lazy, and it seems as though the public has finally caught on.

The thing that’s easy to forget about the original Summer Blockbusters like Jaws and Star Wars is that they were simply really good stories that focused on character development and had well written scripts. They just so happened to be told in a big, flashy way and marketed on lunch boxes, but the core values of quality film making were never left out at the expense of a cool special effect. Jaws, Star Wars, along with many other big summer films that followed, were successful because they connected with people on a human level. Story first, spectacle second. Ultimately, whether they know it or not, audiences crave this type of personal connection, and this summer Hollywood isn’t providing it; instead insulting the audience by assuming that any old sequel will sell.

However, even after the darkest night, the sun will eventually rise. Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, fresh from The Dark Knight, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is due out July 16, and it looks to be just the kind of interesting, thought provoking, personal film that could salvage the summer movie season. Hopefully audiences go see it in droves, sending a message to Hollywood that it takes more than slapping a “2” at the end of a title to guarantee a hit.