2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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McBain Recommends
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Top 20 List
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The Blog:
Sunday, July 11, 2004

Short Takes

Coffee and Cigarettes (d. Jim Jarmusch, 2004) - As usual, I’m a little late to the party so if you are interested in a more detailed look at the film, check out Phyrephox’s earlier review. I enjoyed the film overall, though the individual vignettes vary in quality. I did notice that the best vignettes in the film concern a comic power imbalance/struggle between the characters: the passive-agressive Tom Waits’s hostility towards a star struck Iggy Pop; Cate Blanchett in an uncomfortable conversation with her identical, less successful cousin; the back and forth machinations of Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan (easily the best of the lot); and even (despite the stilted acting) Meg White showing up a once arrogant Jack White over his malfunctioning Tesla coil. Those four vignettes, along with the absurdist meeting between RZA, GZA, and Bill Murray, as well as the poetic final film featuring the janitors, made the film. The other shorts were hit or miss, in particular the one featuring Steve Buscemi and Spike Lee’s siblings.

Strayed (d. André Téchiné, 2003) - What I liked most about this film was the way it confounded my expectations. OK, OK, there was that and Emmanuelle Béart, who plays a thirtyish war-widow, a Parisian schoolteacher fleeing the advancing German army with her two children, a 13-year old boy and 7-year old girl, in the Spring of 1940 . When their refugee convoy is strafed by German planes, the family is saved by Gaspard Ulliel’s Yvan, a 17-year old boy, who of course, has a secret past. Together, they find a deserted country house, and hide out from the war, creating a fragile family in the process. Yvan early on declares his love for Odile, Béart’s character, but it is not until two retreating French soldiers happen upon the country house does she give into her passion. In particular, the treatment of the soldiers is very interesting; it disrupts the rural idyll, but they turn out not to be a threat, despite Yvan’s paranoia. One of them gets drunk and passes out, while the other desires to just get cleaned up and have a conversation with an adult (about his kids of all things). No sooner do they leave, and Yvan and Odile consummate their relationship, does the real threat show up. The gendarmes are back (with their new Wehrmacht pals, whose only actual appearance is on a brand new propaganda poster), which leads to the film’s quietly tragic conclusion.

The Office - I’ve heard many great things about this BBC comedy series. Guess what, they are all true. The Office is a brilliant, two season, 12-episode satire of the modern workplace, captured in the form of a mock cinema verite documentary (well, it’s not cinema verite since it involves actual interviews), replete with a Frederick Wiseman-like institutional title. While co-writer/director Ricky Gervais’s depiction of the boorish Regional Manager David Brent, a self-styled “entertainer” who would rather be a popular boss than an effective one, gets most of the media attention, the most hilarious aspect of the series were Tim’s (Martin Freeman’s) frequently shocked and amused reaction shots to all the shenanigans occurring around him (I loved it when he looked right into the camera lens with an expression like “are you getting this?”). Season one focuses on the absurd situations that can occur in a workplace environment, while Season 2 virtually defines “comedy of embarrassment”, as the self-deluded Brent becomes more and more pathetic, concluding with a very, very sad, almost tragic, plea from a broken man. The Office is full of details and rich characterization which made the characters, even the minor ones come alive (I loved how the relationship between Dawn and Tim ended). I just can’t imagine the American remake, assuming it actually gets on the air.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (d. Adam Mckay, 2004) - There is a new comedy troupe hitting the American screen and I seem to go to all of their movies. Of course, when this troupe includes Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and the Wilson brothers, it’s easy to pony up the dough to go to the theater for a matinee. Anchorman shares all the characteristics of this troupe’s films: a loose gag-a-minute plotting based on sketch comedy; a film populated by lovable losers; a sense of humor that is rarely “smart” but which is often downright absurd, if not out and out surreal, and frequently hilarious (i.e. the throwdown between the news teams that devolves into gladiatorial combat, the jazz flute solo). Not exactly a must see, but a good way to pass the time.

Springtime in a Small Town (d. Tian Zhuangzhuang, 2002) - OK, after seeing this film, and reading Jonathan Rosenbaum’s review of the remake, I’m dying to see Fei Mu’s 1948 original. For now, I’m content with Tian Zhuangzhuang’s new version, a welcome return to directing from one of my favorite Chinese directors (Tian was banned from directing by the authorities for a decade after the release of his last film, The Blue Kite). Tian’s command of the nuanced mise-en-scene shows that he has not lost a step. Though a written description makes the film seem like a simple melodrama, Springtime in a Small Town is a quiet and affecting, five character chamber piece about lost love, repressed emotions, and bittersweet compromise. Working with ace cinematographer Mark Lee Pin-bing (the film has a visual quality similar to that of Hou Hsaio-hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai, though the print I saw of Springtime in a Small Town was fairly battered, so it is hard to compare directly), Tian uses the camera to masterfully elucidate character relationships and the subtle shifts caused by the events of the story. The scenes surrounding Dai Xiu’s sixteenth birthday party stand out in particular, when Linyan realizes the extent of the relationship between his best friend Zhichen and his wife Yuwen, with the information parsed out by the way Tian frames and reframes the characters as they sit around the dinner table.