Monday, December 31, 2007

Fried Rice Favorites: 2007 Movies

EDIT (Jan. 1): After Matt pointed out an oversight on my list, I realized that I posted a draft that I'd saved before I saw Juno.  So the picks have changed (#8-10) from what was originally posted yesterday.  What I should've done is listed 15 or 20 films.  That would've made things easier.

After looking through my old posts, I realized that I didn't post a Favorite Movies list last year (but did for 2005).  How the hell did that happen?  I mean, this isn't a movie blog, per se, but I love writing about what I saw.  And this time, I won't wait until mid-January to post the list.  There are plenty of movies I want to see that haven't yet shown here in Michigan (and as I did last year, I'll also post a list of movies I wish I'd seen, but didn't), but there were so many good ones this year that I already had a hard time whittling my choices down to ten.

Here are the Best Movies I Watched in 2007.  Movies I previously wrote about are linked back to the original posts:

1. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: I'm going to be writing a lot more about this movie later in the week.  (And it won't be contained in four sentences).  This is an achievement in filmmaking.  In adapting Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir, portraying both the abstract and literal, Julian Schnabel and his cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, utilize the camera as creatively as I've ever seen it used in telling a story.  It's heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time.

2. I'm Not There: Had I not seen "Diving Bell" last week, this would've been my favorite movie of the year.  Todd Haynes probably could've told the story of Bob Dylan more coherently, and knowing something about Dylan beforehand would surely help, but it wouldn't have been nearly as fun to watch.  Musical biopics should never be told the same way again.  Haynes re-invented the genre.

3. Starting Out in the Evening: It seems like movies about writing would be boring.  The trick, I suppose, is to make the writer an interesting, compelling character.  And that's exactly what Frank Langella did with his portrayal of Leonard Schiller, an author whose work is close to being forgotten and who has watched the culture completely change around him.  Compared to movies and TV, literature is almost a fringe form of entertainment now, and those who enjoy and celebrate it increasingly find themselves doing so in secluded, almost underground environments.  So what happens to a man whose livelihood, identity, and self-worth is tied to such pursuits?  How does that affect the other people in your life (such as your children)?  And how important is it to find someone else (even if she's decades younger) who not only feels the same, but is also utterly in love with your work?  Watching that relationship develop between Langella and Lauren Ambrose is fascinating.

4. No Country For Old Men: How did I not get around to writing a Four-Sentence Movie Review for this one?  I could cause serious injury trying to kick myself.  If not for the seemingly anti-climactic (and low-key) ending (or last 1/4 of the movie, really), this might have been the best movie of the year.  For 3/4 of the story, however, the Coen brothers made one of the scariest, tensest films I've ever seen.  Javier Bardem's Anton Chigurh makes Hannibal Lecter look like a wine-and-cheese-eating dandy boy.  (Though Chigurh has the dandy boy haircut.)  It's too bad the Oscars don't have a Best Ensemble Cast award, because the entire cast (even Woody Harrelson) is outstanding.

5. Once: I wince when I see critics call this a "musical," but given the role that music plays in the story, maybe there's no better way to classify it.  And if the music wasn't really good, this probably wouldn't be an enjoyable film.  But it's an unconventional romance, which is what I liked most about it, along with a perfect ending.

6. The King of Kong: Seth Gordon might be one of the luckiest men on the face of this earth.  Or he's a living example of the maxim that says good luck is the result of hard work.  Either way, following the exploits of video game champion Billy Mitchell provided him with one of the best villains a documentary has ever had.

7. Ratatouille: Another one I wish I'd have taken the time to write about.  If there was ever any doubt as to how large of a place food and cooking holds in our culture, an animated movie devoted to foodie love should decisively answer such questions.  I thought it was amazing enough when Pixar could make water and hair move realistically.  Making food preparation, with bubbling liquids and sauteing meats and vegetables, look real (and tasty) is a whole other level of computer-generated verisimilitude.  I also wonder if Ratatouille is more appealing to adults than to children.  Themes such as finding your passion in life, the battle between criticism and artistry, and getting back in touch with your inner child provide plenty of intellectual chow for grown-ups.  But the kids get talking animals.  And they probably won't be as disturbed by the imagery of filthy rodents taking over a restaurant kitchen as their parents might be.

8. Juno: It's so refreshing when characters don't behave in ways we're accustomed to seeing in a story.  I don't know if that makes the people in Juno more real or not.  Maybe it makes them too good to be true.  (The dialogue is probably too clever at times, though it's frequently hilarious.)  Of course, I never had to tell my parents I was pregnant, so I don't know how that goes.  But several interactions between these characters felt real because people don't always say exactly the right thing and often hope the other person figures out what they really mean.  Being funny and poignant along the way helps, too.  Ellen Page is getting a lot of praise for her performance, and justifiably so, but Jennifer Garner deserves some applause, as well.  There's a scene in which her uptight exterior melts away and you see what's really important to her character, and it's a joy to watch.

9. The Host: Am I mostly recycling previous movie reviews to fill up this list?  Oh... lil' bit.  But it's always easier to write about a movie I loved, rather than hated, so that's what usually sends me over to the computer.  The Host is a good ol' monster movie, like the ones a lot of us grew up with (the Godzilla flicks, Alien, etc.).  But it doesn't follow the familiar formula, especially in regards to revealing the monster (which is a total freakshow), while also remembering that movies like this should be fun.  Sequel!  Sequel!

10. Michael Clayton: I was hoping this movie would be about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver who killed my fantasy football team three years ago.  Surely, other fantasy players made the same mistake after reading draft guides and previews that said Clayton would be a good pick.  And he had a good 2004 season.  Since then, however, he's been a bust.  But George Clooney went and made a movie about something else.  Yet I'm not sure what that was, exactly.  Shortly after seeing it, I told myself I needed a second viewing because when someone asked to explain the story, I couldn't do so.  Yet recalling all the details didn't seem that important as the story is more of a character study (which I assume is why the filmmakers chose the rather boring title they used).  Clooney isn't just a personality anymore; he can act.  The ending (and end credits) give him the chance to show that.

Ten Other Really Good Movies: Gone Baby Gone, Zodiac, Knocked Up, Breach, Waitress, Charlie Wilson's War, Away From Her, 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, and The Assassination of Jesse James.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Today's Reading - 12/27/07

The Top Player in This League? It May Be the Sports Reporter

Both the Wall Street Journal and Slate wrote articles on ESPN's hiring trends, as well, which is an interesting coincidence.  (Though the Slate piece was a response to the WSJ article.)  When the big boys come callin' (and ESPN has put a lot of reporters on TV over the years), sportswriting can be a lucrative field.

(To anyone from ESPN, Fox Sports, etc. who might be reading this, I humbly refer you to the Detroit Tigers blog, Bless You Boys.  The author is a very close, personal friend of mine.  Ahem.)

'The Wire' gets the newsroom right

Just in case the media gets too puffed up after reading that NY Times piece, consider that HBO's The Wire is coming after that profession next.  Considering David Simon's previous social commentary on law enforcement, the war on drugs, city politics, and the public school system, there could be some bruises inflicted.

23 Reasons Why A Profile of Pete Carroll Does Not Appear in this Space

One reason I hate most football movies is that they usually try to make the coach seem like a cool guy.  Football coaches aren't cool guys.  They're mostly anti-social control freaks who live, breathe, eat, and sleep football at the cost of almost everything else in their lives.  Except for USC coach Pete Carroll.  This guy is cool.  And if I were a stud high school football player ready to play in college, Carroll would be the coach I'd want to play for.

The Afterlife Is Expensive for Digital Movies

Kind of film geeky, but I thought it was noteworthy.  I was often under the impression that digital filmmaking would make movies less costly.  Maybe not so much, especially in the long-term.  Film studios should consider hiring the Be Kind Rewind guys for film preservation.

Be Kind Rewind Director Michel Gondry Forgoes Dreamy Plots for Straight-Up Comedy

Is Michel Gondry the most creative filmmaker working today?  He might be especially so when you consider that some of his "tricks" were constructed more simply than you might think.  Be Kind Rewind looks quirkily hilarious, and a movie about two guys remaking blockbuster films on cardboard budgets seems just about perfect for our current YouTube culture.  Maybe "unconventional" is a better word for Gondry's work.  (Pete, I promise I'll be watching The Science of Sleep soon.  It's in rotation on HBO.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Scorsese Does the Stones

A Martin Scorsese film about the Rolling Stones?  Yeah, I'll probably see that.  And if it's showing in IMAX, all the better.

When I first watched this trailer (which you can see a much better version of at the film's official site), I wasn't sure I liked Scorsese being part of the film.  But then again, that's part of the story that would interest me (and I'm sure many others).  If we get plenty of scenes like the one in which Scorsese and Mick Jagger disagree about whether or not a camera crane should be used, that should make for some good documentary.  (I think I have to side with Mick, though.  If you were in the Beacon Theater for this show, and your view was blocked by the camera swooping in and moving around, you were probably pissed off.  But as Mr. Spock once said, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.)

By the way, does Scorsese get enough credit for being one of the great rock music documentarians?  I just watched No Direction Home, his film about Bob Dylan, which chronicles the effect Dylan's music had on the 1960s.  (I wish it had gone later into his career, however.)  And then there's The Last Waltz, maybe the best concert film (and documentaries) ever made.  (Though Levon Helm seems to disagree.)

(via The Set List)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What I'm Really Doing on Vacation?

Uh-oh.  Looks like I've been busted.

FRT New York Bureau Chief Mis Hooz uncovered what I was led to believe was a top-secret image from a project I may or may not have been working on.  At this time, I simply cannot comment on whether or not I've joined The Hives and filling in for Howlin' Pelle Almquist is what I'm really doing on my "vacation."

Besides, I think the look on Dr. Matt Destruction's face says it all.  He doesn't look too happy about us being cheek-to-cheek.  Hey, it wasn't much fun for me, either.  But really, I was just happy to be there.  Allegedly.  Since I'm not commenting.

(Just in case you're wondering, here's what the real thing looks like.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Today's Reading - 12/17/07

MICHAEL ROSENBERG: U-M didn't make a good hire -- it made a great one

The University of Michigan's long football nightmare is over.  After missing out on at least two other candidates to take over as head football coach, Michigan finally got their guy - and Rich Rodriguez looks like the right one.  (I was hoping to get a call.  The opening line of my introductory press conference would've been "You can't spell 'Michigan' without 'Ian.'"  T-shirts and bumper stickers would've eventually followed.)

The people of West Virginia (such as Fried Rice Friend, Wabi-Sabi) are surely sick of seeing their coaches migrate to Ann Arbor (men's basketball coach John Beilein left WVU for U-M in April), but a program with the Mountaineers' kind of tradition will likely bring in a fine replacement.

I don't blog much about sports other than baseball anymore, but I love this hire.  I like that he's a young coach who could stick around for a while.  But most importantly, he represents a break from a coaching tree and mindset that was becoming increasingly fossilized, and brings some long overdue creativity to Michigan football.  Go Blue!

Changing Courses at the Food Network

Fewer people are watching and the top-rated food show on TV belongs to Bravo.  So Food Network apparently has to freshen things up.  Neither Emeril Lagasse nor Mario Batali are part of that new direction, it seems.   Hell, the food shows I watch the most are on Travel Channel, so maybe Food Network knows what it's doing.

Out of South Africa

A grateful memory from my two years at Iowa is the opportunity to have read virtually all the works of J.M. Coetzee.  If there's a better chronicle of the divisions existing in post-apartheid South Africa than Disgrace, I'd like to read it.  (Well, not right now.)  So when an author whose work seems so intertwined with a particular region moves to another country, it's bound to raise a few eyebrows in curiosity.  But his admiration for other writers who have re-invented their cultural identity may have tipped off his eventual intentions.

An Actress Who's As Great as the Sum of Her Parts

I think Laura Linney has been in a decent amount of the movies I've enjoyed in recent years.  She's kind of the female equivalent to Philip Seymour Hoffman, so isn't it interesting that they're in a new film together?  The Savages opens next week in Ann Arbor.  I'm there, man.

The No One Could Get Time Off @ X-Mas Extravaganza

This year, no one on Team Casselberry could get time off the week of Christmas, so we're celebrating a week early down south.  Dr. Lil' Sis insisted that we still visit because it's the last time we'll celebrate the Christmas holiday amongst original family, as she's getting married in April.  It didn't take long to convince me, as eating my way through Charleston is one of my favorite pastimes.  Here's a preview of what the blog will probably read like this week:

And if I wasn't already on board with hanging out down south before Christmas, the weather reports from Michigan have me even happier about that choice.  I suppose shoveling a foot of snow when I get home will be a good way to work off all that barbeque.

(Image from "Get Fuzzy" ©2007 Darby Conley/ Dist. by UFS, Inc.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

More Bats in a Theater Lobby Near You

I guess I couldn't go a whole week without posting a new Batman movie poster.  These two new ones went up some time over the last day or so.  I think the marketing for this film has been deviously clever.  In comparison, this is another reason why Superman Returns was so lame.  Just throwing up the big red "S" wasn't enough.  This is pretty similar to the way Marvel Comics movies have been promoted.

Anyway, here's the Batman poster:

Kind of a strange image to use.  From far away, would you even be able to tell this is for a Batman flick?  (Maybe the Bat insignia up top takes care of that.)  I think it also suffers in comparison to the Joker poster:

Now that's the good stuff.  The new trailer for The Dark Knight is now lurking around online, too.  (And it's a killer.)  The clip I saw is pretty murky, in terms of video quality.  (And I bet it'll be taken down soon enough.)  Surely, a higher quality, official version will be released very soon.  (EDIT: Apparently, it's coming on Monday.)

(via The Movie Blog)

Today's Reading - 12/14/07

The 53 Places to Go in 2008

Here's an ambitious list to take into the New Year.  The good news is that I have a really good chance of visiting at least one of the choice places to go, as it's only approximately 40 miles away.  I'd love to add at least one or two other destinations, though I might just have to settle for traveling (and eating) vicariously through Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern.

Busting Out

Enjoy the tales of a large-busted woman (that's an adult way of saying it, right?) trying to find a bra that properly fits (and looks good).  My curiosity was fueled solely by my appreciation of good writing.  Really.  The anecdotes from the fitting room are hilarious.

What Katherine Heigl said about 'Knocked Up'

Katherine Heigl seemed to be portrayed as ungrateful when she called Knocked Up "a little sexist" in this month's Vanity Fair.  Meghan O'Rourke of Slate is glad she said it, though, because it allows her to write about how men and women were portrayed in the movie.  But it's not an attack; it's a thoughtful critique.

Why last year's products make this year's best gifts

If you've been thinking about buying a quality single lens reflex digital camera or high-definition television, this could be a good time to do it.  The prices on last year's models are significantly cheaper.  (Note to self: You deserve could use a better camera.)

A New Shelf Life Begins

I still call Nick Hornby one of my favorite writers, though I haven't really fallen for either of his last two novels.  Though I noticed that he'd published a new book, I wasn't too interested because it was shelved in the "young adult" section.  But apparently, that was more of a publisher's decision than Hornby targeting an audience.  And that was a narrow-minded judgment from me, anyway.  If you're a fan of his, you'll probably like this profile.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Spoiler Alerts You Can Wear

I guess this is image week at FRT.  This thing - called "The Spoiler Shirt" - is hilarious.  Maybe I wouldn't feel that way if I hadn't already seen all the movies referenced.  And I think that's going to apply for most people who regularly go to theaters or hit video stores.  But if you want a bunch of people staring at your chest, this could be the way to go for you.

Maybe the next thing can be "Spoiler Jeans," where a movie spoiler is embroidered on each back pocket.

(via The Movie Blog)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Enough With the Batman Stuff?

I know, this is two straight Batman-related posts, with really not much substance to them.  The baseball gig kept me busy all day with the big trade between the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins.  But this is a clever teaser poster, and if we didn't already know what The Joker will look like in the new Batman flick, I think this would be even more spooky.

(via The Movie Blog)

Monday, December 03, 2007

If You Gotta Go, Go with a Smile!

There are plenty of pictures of Heath Ledger as The Joker to be found on the internet now, but I definitely like the look of those that popped up on Ain't It Cool News yesterday.  (Not a big fan of the new Batman suit, however.  Too much going on there.  He looks like a Star Wars character with a Batman head.)

To me, there's something delightful about the filmmakers creating a Joker that could very well scare the hell out of children.  It's difficult to imagine that face being on a Happy Meal toy next summer.  (And I can't believe that's the same guy I saw last week in I'm Not There.  Great work.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Tonight's Reading - 12/02/07

Black Sunday for Maize and Blue

I'll admit it: I wore my Michigan hooded sweatshirt with some struttin' pride yesterday when ESPN reported that LSU's Les Miles was going to take over as Michigan's head football coach, and would add Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to his staff.  The future at the corner of Stadium and Main was going to be bright.  I went out to lunch, ran some errands, caught a movie, and then came home to see Miles angrily denying the report.  Even worse, he emphatically stated that he'd be the coach at LSU.  I choose to be delusionally optimistic, trying to read between the lines of what Miles really said (and didn't say).  But right now, it appears that Michigan will have to expand its coaching search.  Plus, the basketball and hockey teams lost on Saturday, too.  Go Blurgh.

A Sinner's Tale

In anticipation of the film adaptation of his novel Atonement hitting theaters, the New York Times has 10 questions for author Ian McEwan.  Interestingly, McEwan was an executive producer on the movie.  I guess he doesn't subscribe to Ernest Hemingway's belief that authors should drive to the border of California, throw his/her book over the fence, wait for Hollywood to throw money back over the fence, and drive away.

The 10 Best Books of 2007

You know it's December when these sorts of lists are published.  Of the New York Times' 10 best, I have read... none of them.  As if I didn't already know that my literary consumption was vastly lacking this past year.  I don't suppose having the intent to buy at least two of these books at some point counts for anything, does it?  (By the way, since I never got around to it before, congratulations to fellow Hawkeye Denis Johnson for winning the National Book Award for Tree of Smoke.)

Book Vs. Film: No Country For Old Men

Adapting books into movies has always intrigued me, and I'm often fascinated by the differences between the literary and filmed versions of what's presumably the same story.  Why does something work on the page, but not on the screen, or vice versa?  And after seeing No Country For Old Men, I was very curious how closely the Coen brothers had followed Cormac McCarthy's novel.  This is a fantastic analysis of the two versions, and the differences between them.  (And just in case it needs to be said, spoiler alert.  Don't read this if you still plan on seeing the movie.)

Slaughter on Union Square

If I was in New York tomorrow night, I'd try like hell to attend Michael Ruhlman's appearance with Anthony Bourdain at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, to promote The Elements of Cooking.  (Mis Hooz is probably wiping her brow with relief, as I would've made her accompany me.)  If you're a fan of either Ruhlman or Bourdain, you probably enjoy the feudfriendship between these two.  That should be a fun event.