A Movie Blog by Craig Koban

 

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CrAiGeR's Cinema Corner Turns 10!

AND I'M GETTING BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS AS WE DISCUSS OUR FAVORITE FILMS OF THE LAST TEN YEARS

 

Guest contributors: Shannon Hollander, Achara Kirk, Mike Falkow, and Al White

 

July 19, 2014

 

 

Yay!

I never had any preclusions whatsoever that I would be writing film reviews for ten years.  Not.  At.  All.  Nope.  What kind of delusional fantasy is that?

When I began this rather modest site back in July of 2004 I thought that I'd be lucky if my then silly and insignificant "hobby" would make it through that year intact.  I was planning on quitting after, say, 50 reviews.  Alas, it went from an idle, time-wasting endeavor to something more fully fledged and persistently maintained.  With over 1200 film reviews under my belt and over 2500 hours spent in darkened cinemas (dear Lord!), it is with great pleasure that I celebrate CrAiGeRís Cinema Corner.comís 10th AnniversaryÖand Iím ever so grateful and humble to be doing so with some of my dearest and most supportive of industry friends. 

I struggled with coming up with a suitable way of blogging about my film writing exploits over the last decade.  Iím really not about arrogant self-aggrandizing about accomplishments, but rather love commemorating a meaningful milestone with those that have helped contribute to this website in the recent past.  It really dawned on me as of late that Iíve never really spoken about my favorite films during this site's existence.  Yes, Iíve compiled many a yearly Top 10 Films list in that span, but rarely Ė if ever Ė have had the opportunity to really geek out and speak towards the films that I can, without hesitation, watch over and over again and, in the process, feel like Iím watching a new film for the very first time while doing so.  Thatís the transformative power of great cinema: the truly memorable films that we regard so dearly sort of endearingly linger within us...and never really leave.  They stay indefinitely trapped within our subconscious.  We don't want to let them go.  It's the best type of obsessive love.

So, in honor of my site turning ten, Iíve decided to reveal my single favorite film from the last ten years (that was released between 2004 and the present), and have asked a group of wonderfully talented actors, actresses, and filmmakers Ė that Iím honored to call my friends Ė to also relay their individual picks for their own favorite films from that same period.  I shall go first with mineÖand then Iíll let Achara Kirk, Shannon Hollander, Mike Falkow, and Al White do all the talking! 

For the record, I cheated a bit as my pick is actually three films, but is nonetheless part of a trilogyÖ.which is kind of akin to a 6 or 7-hour-plus filmÖat least thatís what Iím telling myself to make it seem legitimate for the purposes of inclusion here.

 

Iíve been a Batman fan all of my life, so one of my truly fondest filmgoing memories of the last ten years was seeing 2005ís BATMAN BEGINS, which, for the time, was written and directed by the then surprising choice of Christopher Nolan, whom previously had never directed a large studio blockbuster film property before.  Yet, a novel and inspired choice of director at the creative helm was precisely what this cinematic reboot of the Caped Crusader desperately needed, especially considering the unsavory taste that the mediocre-to-wretched past films in the franchise left in our collective mouths.  

What Nolan and company achieved was no easy feat.  They revamped and completely retooled Bob Kaneís 1939 comic book creation for a modern day audience while, at the same time, remaining relatively faithful to his 75-year-old mythology.  BATMAN BEGINS Ė and its even better follow-up entry THE DARK KNIGHT and its climatic, trilogy ending chapter THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Ė were not really super hero genre efforts, per se, as much as they were grounded and gritty films, set in environments that were palpable and relatable and had an immediate veracity about them.  They were crime action/thrillers that just happened to have comic book characters populate them.  Driven home to its fullest in THE DARK KNIGHT, Nolan spun a tale of Batmanís rise as a nocturnal vigilante that echoed the general malaise and anxieties of post-9/11 America, a time during which heroes were not so easily defined in the public eye and villains had motives that also could not be simplistically explained.  There are virtually no comic book genre films, at least that I can recall, that captured the fantastical aspects of a heroís dual personality while, at the same time, engaged in a contemplative analysis of our socio-political milieu as well as Nolan's films did. 

Despite THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY's veneer as a glossy summer tentpole/super hero film series, Nolan delivered a dense and multi-layered storyline Ė spanning three films that, yes, was even bold enough to conclude and end the narrative with reasonable finality Ė that managed to say something about the world we occupy.  In an age when far too many comic book films are about obtrusive and eye-gasmic visual effects and mindless, repetitive mayhem, it still remains ultimately refreshing to revisit Nolanís Batman trilogy Ė still the greatest of all super hero films, past and present Ė over and over again.  It catered to and fulfilled my needs for a monumental and unforgettable Batman film saga while simultaneously placating the more agnostic super hero fans that have perhaps not picked up a comic book in decades.  The three entries that comprise THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY are, without question, my favorite films of the last ten years.

Achara Kirk is a Bangkok, Thailand-born model and actress.  She studied acting at Second City Los Angeles, the UK's prestigious Oxford School of Drama and the Royal University of London.  She's appeared on TV shows in her native home country and North America, the latter including appearances on FRINGE.  She will next appear in writer/director Al White's upcoming GEEKS feature film.

Picking my favorite movie of the past 10 years...how do I even begin?  So many movies stand out for either touching my heart in a profound way (like THE KING'S SPEECH, HOTEL RWANDA, and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER) or for deeply tickling my funny bone (like BRIDESMAIDS and KNOCKED UP).  For the purposes of this blog, and since I can only choose one, I have decided to pick one of the movies that I loved from the first moment I saw it and still continue to enjoy time and time again. 

That movie is SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD   

Everything about this movie comes together in a sweet little package that makes my heart happy every time I watch it.  What more could you really want from a movie?  All the wonderful and quirky characters and scenarios make me giggle every time I watch it.  Although I haven't read the comics (yet), I think Edgar Wright managed to capture the comic book essence in every frame and sound effect in the movie.  But my favorite thing about this movie is all the light-hearted nostalgia.  I am not really a gamer now, nor was I big into video games as a youngster, but many happy hours were spent with my friends at the video arcade at the mall or playing video games at friends' houses (my parents refused to buy me my own console).  The tongue-in-cheek references to arcade and video games in the movie make me smile.  And admit it, wouldn't it be kind of fun to have to thrash your significant other's evil exes...video game style?  Pair that with a kick-ass soundtrack and you've got a roaring good time.

 

 

 

 

 

Shannon Hollander has an academic career that speaks volumes for itself.  She studied at Chicago's Loyola University and the School at Stephenwolf.  The Missouri-born actress has a stellar resume on screen and on stage and will next be appearing in a series of feature films: #HACKED, GEEKS, and CERTAIN OR SURE.  

SHAUN OF THE DEAD.  For so many reasons.  To me, it is perfect.  Elements of comedy, drama, and horror all wrapped in an allegory that has an important message for the world!  Plus, it has a meticulously choreographed fight scene to my favorite song, Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now."  Amazing!

There are very few movies that are worthy of repetitive watching.  The really dramatic and critically acclaimed movies I really can't watch over and over; they take too much time out of me,  Now, I could watch mindless comedies or silly action movies anytime they happen to be on, but I always feel a little dumber afterwards, like I just wasted an hour and a half of my life.  Yet, SHAUN OF THE DEAD I can watch over and over and over again without guilt or stimulation.  

It has this great high school nostalgia factor for me too.  I remember going with my friends to the Tivoli Theatre in the loop and freaking out over it the whole way home.  And it was the first ďscaryĒ movie I ever chose to see.  I know, I know...Iím a wimp.  But it took me a really long time to not cover my eyes when David gets eaten.  Itís funny, itís heartfelt, and keeps you in suspense.  I just love it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Falkow is a South African-born pro surfer, model, actor, writer, producer, and director.  He's made numerous appearances on TV shows like LAW AND ORDER: L.A. and has performed on the silver screen in films like SMOKIN' ACES for director Joe Carnahan and THE HOUSE BUNNY and SAFE HOUSE.  He recently produced the short film GEEKS and wrapped the feature film DECEIVED, which he co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in.

Okay.  I canít really choose my favorite film in the last ten years. Thatís like asking me to compare my favorite apple with my favorite orange. Thereís too many to choose from, and all for very valid and different reasons. 

So, what Iíll do instead is list out the films that I was a fan of...and then pick one at random to discuss for this blog entry. 

Here we go.  Ready?  GO!!! 

ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004)

- CASINO ROYALE (2006)

- THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

- INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

- THE DEPARTED (2006)

- MUNICH (2005)

- THE HURT LOCKER (2008)

- NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)

- INCEPTION (2010)

- THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)

- THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010)

- SOURCE CODE (2011) 

I could go on, but I think thatís enough for now.  Twelve is a nice pantheon of films for me to admire. 

And since it was first on the list - ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND.

So many reasons to love this film.  From the subtle, yet unbelievably rich and detailed performance by Jim Carrey, to the sensational turns by Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson and Kate Winslet.  The Charlie Kaufman script, which solidified my fanboy status of his writing.  The direction of Michel Gondry, whom previous to this film had really only done music videos for Daft Punk, the Chemical Brothers and a couple others including Massive Attack.  And besides that, heíd done some short films and only one feature, which sort of went under the radar, called HUMAN NATURE - also penned by Charlie Kaufman, incidentally.  

But the story is what got me.  It always does.  Maybe itís the writer in me.  But the story: well executed, laced with a sense of the strange, and a portrait of an awkward, insecure, self-doubting, yet somehow charming and madly in love man who desperately wants to forget the pain that heís experiencing.  Beautiful.  

The sad beauty of melancholy is a funny thing.  It draws us in every time.  Even the hardest of hearts can melt in the face of it.  

So there you have it.  ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND wins for me.  The others on my list all deserve "Honorable Mention."  

Happy Anniversary, Craig.  Wishing you more years of film appreciation..   

 

 

Al White is a multi-talented and multi-award winning British artist, musician, critic, writer, and film director.  His superlative short films have played festivals around the world, to much critical and artistic acclaim.  He just recently wrapped his newest short film GEEKS and is following that up with his feature film directorial debut with the upcoming CERTAIN OR SURE and will follow that up with a GEEKS feature film.  

When Craig first asked me to contribute to his 10th Anniversary Blog, I will admit to being little stumped.  Being an obsessive list-maker, the idea of writing about one of my favorite movies from the past decade was both compelling and exciting to me and I was honored that he would want to include my ramblings.  But when it came to actually picking a film...I struggled.  You see, I quickly realized that the majority of my top twenty or so movies came from 2003 and prior, so all the titles banked in my brain for this piece ended up being a frustrating handful of months shy of the necessary time bracket.

Eventually, I rifled through a number of top lists online to help jog my memory and generate some ideas of what has really resonated with me over the past 10 years.  Thereís been dozens of incredible films that I would happily talk for hours about.  From mainstream thrillers like ZODIAC, to hidden anime gems like 5CM PER SECOND, completely unique and purposefully oblique character studies like IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA and sizzlingly scripted dramas such as BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE MIDNIGHT all the way through to masterfully ambitious and powerful sleepers akin to THE FOUNTAIN.

But eventually I settled on something thatís a little controversial.  Not because itís my favorite film of the decade, but because itís one I feel passionately about and donít believe Iíve ever been given the platform to discuss in an article (only rant to my poor, bewildered friends about and occasional heated podcast debate as well).

I want to talk about Zack Snyderís WATCHMAN.  In particular, the ULTIMATE CUT with all the extra scenes and the animated sections inserted.

Anyone who knows me knows that Iím a huge comic book nerd.  Iím not as well versed these days as I used to be, but Iíve been passionate about the format of storytelling since I was a kid and in particular since my teen years in the mid 90ís with Todd McFarlaneís rendition of Spidey, Neil Gaiman birthing the sublime Sandman series and Frank Millerís stunning run with Romita Jr. on Daredevil with THE MAN WITH NO FEAR.  But I will confess to never having read WATCHMEN.

It passed me by simply because Iím a visual guy and (apologies to all fans of the art style) WATCHMAN looked visually staid, cartoonish and lackluster to me.  So I missed out, because Iím an idiot.  Being a fan of Zack Snyderís DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, I was naturally excited for WATCHMAN and so I went back to read the book a few weeks before the movie hit theaters.

I went with a dear friend of mine who was also a genre fan like myself, but had never read the book.  I remember vividly exiting together and walking to the nearest pub where we sat and talked non-stop for almost two hours (about half the extended directorís cuts running time) about all the things we loved about the film.  It was a rare occasion.  Only LOST IN TRANSLATION and KILL BILL: VOLUME 1 have evoked such unanimous and immediate praise from myself and my friend in the past and the more we talked, the more excited we became.  The startling and bold opening credits sequence, thundering soundtrack, inspired casting, lavish and extravagant FX, brutally cool editing, painstakingly perfect style, and, crucially, powerfully poetic finale, all had us hooked.

I returned to the film again and again throughout the following twelve months and it immediately stormed onto my list of favorite movies of all time. 

Now I know, I know...most self-respecting comic book fans loathe the film.  But why I just canít fathom.  If Iím brutally honest I feel that only narrow-minded fanboy snobbery stops lovers of the book from embracing the epic movie, because itís so insanely faithful to its source material.  I would say, in fact, that only SIN CITY has come as close to painstakingly recreating the comic its based upon, the only difference being that for SIN CITY it was arguably too close, weighing down the film's structure and making the purposefully blunt dialogue a little disengaging.  Whereas in WATCHMAN the film practically radiates with the energy, passion and itís note-perfect recreation of panels and dialogue.  Itís dark, funny, dramatic, hilariously overblown, thought provoking, unsettling, stunning to look at, and, powerfully moving.

The pinnacle segment of the movie for me is the center section, where we take a lengthy sojourn into the origin story of Dr. Manhattan.  A montage event executed with such incredible poise and confidence that it always moves me to tears.  Thanks in no small part to the perfect voice performance of Billy Crudup.

The one issue fanboys can legitimately hurl at the film is that it changes the ending of the comic.  But (and I wonít spoil it here, donít worry), personally I think they couldnít be more wrong.  The only real issue I had with the book was itís rather unrefined and semi- purposeless finale, whereas the movie gives some of the characters (and one in particular) far more purpose and tragedy.  Sure, it may be more Ďconstructedí than the comics and I have no problem if you prefer the original's approach to its message.  But for me personally, the film's ending is far more nuanced and affecting.

Iíd love to talk for hours about this film. Iíve chosen not to really delve into it too deeply or to deconstruct it as an actual film, but rather to defend it as my choice.  This is simply because I feel most people have made their mind up about it, whether theyíve seen it or not.  And I want to champion its place as possibly the best comic book film ever made as well giving a little slack to the universally disliked Zack Snyder.  He has the ambition and the style in buckets.  Luckily, in this picture he was given the great source material and actors to back him up.

If youíre just joining Craigís wonderful site then I hope my sprawling diatribe hasnít put you off.  His reviews are far more concise and entertaining, I promise.  Go on, take a look for yourself.  Iíve only had the fortune of knowing him and his work for the past year or so, but Iím excited to be around for the next 10 years.  

Congratulations Craig, donít stop doing what youíre doing. 

 

 

 

 

Be sure to read Craig's FULL REVIEWS of the films mentioned above:

 
 

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