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christopher funderburg

The Advantages of Obscurity

A Wayward Cloud.

The problem with all of these people doing post-modern riffs on musicals is that they try to make every number the show-stopper. Of course, real musicals have variations of style and tone in the choices of musical numbers and then within the songs themselves. This is the kind post-modern mélange whose musical numbers only have two modes: Busby-Berkley style extravaganza or the emotional blow-out ballad. Admittedly, its collision of styles (subtle realism and musical ha-cha, comedy and pornography, long-take and slapstick, human drama and alternate reality surrealism) isn't a complete disaster - but it's also not nearly as clever or interesting as it needs to be. This is the type of film that sounds way more ambitious that it actually is. Insider-y types are prone to scratching their heads and wondering why Ming Tsai-Ling's films don't get international distribution - after all, don't they sound great? It's Roxy Music with new Cantonese lyrics! If you saw this film, you wouldn't be confused as to why no one took a risk on it: it's not actually that good.

Drawing Restraint 9.

Exclusively for people who find tanker ships mysterious and calculated gibberish to be thought-provoking. Matthew Barney is exactly the type of filmmaker whose reputation is predicated upon the fact that only 9 or so people see his installation at the Whitney Biennial. And 3 of them are influential critics. 1 guy is that dude that you just hate because he always criticizes how you pronounce foreign words. Don't get me wrong I'm an elitist and love obscure artsy non-sense, but those guys are undermining my mission of snobbery. The type of film that causes serious art to be the butt of jokes on sitcoms. Also, I can't remember - is this one a film or a sculpture?

Tropical Malady.

Maybe there should be a special sub-award here for the annual Cannes standout and major prizewinner which stands no chance of finding an audience despite certain critics falling all over themselves to praise it. Ultimately, it was picked up a niche distributor who thought they could exploit its gay elements, but they should've realized niche audiences just want niche versions of crappy Hollywood films (it's a gay slasher film! a black romantic comedy! a Passover version of Home for the Holidays!). They don't want two-part fables of lost love rendered via evasive Thailand-flavored mysticism. Like Drawing Restraint #9 and The Wayward Cloud, this actually isn't a bad film, but it's not actually within sniffing distance of its inflated reputation. Are these unique films? They're certainly on the unique side, all things considered. I wouldn't put it past any of these filmmakers to someday make great films, but it seems like the only reason they'd get a chance is because of the inaccurate claims that they are already currently doing so.


For the museum of AmerIndie style: Thumbsucker


Best Re-Releases:

Samurai Rebellion

The Passenger

The River

Los Olvidados

Saw a special screening of a 35mm print and it deserves a re-release (or some kind of higher profile): Sidney Lumet's The Hill. Never heard of it? Neither had I.


Arguments against the doc craze

March of the Penguins.

Were you aware that over three hundred penguins died to get the footage for this film; and not from natural Spider-Monkey related causes, but from the filmmakers working them to death (take after take after take) to get the 'perfect' shot? Also, they would periodically shoot one or two in the head with a rifle "just to show the other penguins 'who's boss,' so they don't get any funny ideas." True story.

Mad Hot Ballroom.

Adorable! You see, there's a group of underprivileged brown kids that have learned to dance, ball-room style! But wait, there's a championship at stake! Did we mention they're up against a group of over-privileged white kids (grrr!) in this quirky competition? I smell a showdown to the death (the death of their respective self-esteems) and it smells like box office ca-ching! The only thing more adorable and inspiring would be if they were penguins!


Whoa, these dudes are crazy! Did you know that some handicapped people get tattoos and have sex? That's intense! Hey, dudes, check this out: the film is based around a quirky competition full of zany characters with crazy 'tudes! Marketed with that special MTV-meets-Mountain Dew flair, this film is in actuality about as unorthodox as a bag of Extreme Cheddar! Doritos. Goes to show that even independently produced docs about unpalatable subject matter can feel like they were created by some dude's dad in a boardroom with a beady eye on the profit line. I think it's the first official bit of pandering to the "youth market" in the new commercial doc craze.

Reel Paradise.

Does this even count as a vanity project? It's certainly the product of narcissism. Goes to show that films without a beady eye on the profit line can feel motivated by dubious intentions. You'll feel dirty as the camera leers over the daughter's hickies and dad swears at the locals. See mom come across as an asshole and get humiliated simply by acting like a regular mom! Surely, the filmmaker can't be rooting for this petty domestic drama to intensify? Like reality tv, but by and for people who think they love film.


Poor kids + holocaust = opportunism. What does gathering paperclips have to do with teaching people about the genocide that occurred in Europe in the 1930's and 40's? Apparently, it gives kids the perspective that 6 million is really a lot of paperclips and, by extension, Jews. Isn't that really teaching a lesson about the number 6 million and not history? This film is a cult hit on the educational film circuit and always gets a big turnout at my theater. Another cruddy-looking film full of supposed good intentions that's actually just tapping a market, cashing in on the craze and counting its money. There's not an idea in its head and it wears a fake smile while repeating, over and over like a robot or a salesman, "the Holocaust was bad, education of poor Southern kids is good." If only they had made the gathering of the paperclips into some kind of a quirky competition, then they might've been able to get a bigger theatrical push.


Best Documentary pamphlet film: The Power of Nightmares.

Basically, this is just another biased political history with an ax to grind - but, man, is it a good movie. It's full of the type of interesting ideas and troubling connections that the legions of "filmmakers" following in Michael Moore's wake just wish they were dredging up. It's not really journalism, but it's also not a straight essay - it's just a conduit for partisan conjecture and troop-rallying. It preaches to the choir and, like the seemingly endless sea of these films, would probably be better suited to a pamphlet. The difference is the music, editing, and overall style; it has (stunning) wit and intelligence and maybe even gracefulness? Goes to show what talent brings to the table - nothing you weren't expecting to hear, but Adam Curtis makes you willing to hear it all over again.


Stars for whom it most easy to root for their failure: Sco-Jo (The Island, In Good Company, Match Point) and Vince Vaughn (Be Cool, Thumbsucker, Wedding Crashers, Mr. and Mrs. Smith)

After years of being human debris, now making it hard for me to root for his failure by working with good directors. (Undoubtedly, these will be the films that flop and kill their directors' career, while he somehow scurries away from harm like a cockroach out of a collapsing building): Colin Farrell (The New World, Miami Vice). He's good-looking guy though. Swarthy, but good-looking.

Also, I thought I liked Ryan Reynolds. It turns out I don't: Just Friends, The Amityville Horror, Waiting.

The "Jeremy Irons in Dungeons and Dragons Award" for giving it your best shot, even though you probably shouldn't have: Matt Dillon in Herbie: Fully Loaded


Most Unexpectedly Charming performances:

Katherine Keener in 40 Year-Old Virgin

Val Kilmer in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Brendan Gleason in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan and Hope Davis in The Matador

Jamie Bell in Dear Wendy


Best Performance by a Pair of Lips: Q'Orianka Kilcher  in The New World

Quietly becoming a reliable scene-stealer: Chris Marquette (Just Friends, 2004's The Girl Next Door).

Oh, I can't stay mad at you: Bill Murray in Broken Flowers (after Life Aquatic, Garfield, and Lost in Translation)

Acting comeback no one asked for: Shirley MacLaine (Bewitched, In Her Shoes, Rumor Has It)

Sorry, that I don't give a shit about your biographical Oscar-turn, hotshot. We're all sooo impressed with your acting, you acting superstar. Jerk. This extremely hostile award goes to: Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, Charlize Theron in North Country, Phoenix and Witherspoon in Walk the Line.


Sequels no one asked for:

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous

Be Cool

Son of Mask

The Legend of Zorro


Sequels I asked for that didn't get made:

Gremlins 3

Harold and Kumar Go to Amsterdam

Still Cruising

Fletch Lives. Again!

L'Eclisse 2: The Return of the Dancing Dog



A bad year for "word of mouth campaign" films: Cinderella Man, Millions, Mrs. Henderson Presents - the distributors of all three of these films thought they had crowd-pleasin', pure gold, international superhits on their hands and relentlessly beat the "if you just see you'll love it" horse well after it was dead. I'm not willing to go so far as to say these beatings were the cause of death, but for some reason these movies just died in spite of distributor support. Cinderella Man is clearly the most infamous (and by extension, most wildly unsuccessful) example here - but Danny Boyle's vomitous puddle of treacle and Harvey Weinstein's lead off at-bat were just as doggedly pushed in their own way. Is it worse to promote a high profile flop that you're convinced should be a hit or to be constantly on the edge of breaking through to the mainstream with your test-audience approved film? I just feel bad for Stephen Frears, who clearly can't catch a break at this point.


Absolutely classic film that I saw for the first time this year that more than lived up to its reputation: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

runner-up: Le Trou


The best film I saw a print of in a movie theater: Bunuel's Diary of a Chambermaid

runner up: L'Atalante

second runner up: Ride the High Country


Best pieces of film writing I read all year: Terrence Rafferty's old essays on Do the Right Thing and Stanley Kubrick.

runner-up: Errol Morris' 'Guilty Pleasures' picks in Film Comment.


All-over-the-map, hit-and-miss semi-Auteurs that I'm glad I gave a second chance:

Jonathan Demme (good films I saw again or for the first time: Something Wild, The Agronomist, Stop Making Sense, Married to the Mob)

John Huston (again, good films, etc.: Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Fat City, Beat the Devil)

Louis Malle (Murmur of the Heart, The Lovers, The Fire Within, most of his India series)


Not there yet, but gives you hope for the director's future: Eli Roth's great near-miss Hostel.

Bloated Blockbusters on Parade, or why are these movies so goddamned long?: King Kong, The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (even the title is fucking endless), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Batman Begins.

In a similar vein, just because your art film is six hours long, doesn't mean it's not just a lame Italian soap opera: Best of Youth

A respectable year for incredibly shitty horror movies made with foreign money: Kontroll, High Tension, The Undead, Murder-Set-Pieces

Made me curse the medium of film and want to read the book: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Asylum, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Made me curse the medium of film and not want to read the book: Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain, Saw II (which I believe is by Joan Didion)

Apparently, Japanese women fucking love clothing: Kamikaze Girls, Tony Takatani

Really? Is this really a trend? Cheaper by the Dozen 2, Yours Mine and Ours

Defending the Indefensible: I thought Aeon Flux was okay. Not good or anything, but there were much worse films.

Appropriately re-titling the previous thought: Damning with Faint Praise: I thought Aeon Flux was okay. Not good or anything, but there were much worse films.

Also I was genuinely thinking about The Honeymooners remake and it just doesn't make sense. A) Was there anyone asking for an update of this particular 50-year old tv show? I've never heard anyone talk about how much they liked the show, much less how much they wanted a remake. Am I just out of the loop on this one? B) If the idea of remakes and updates is to use "pre-awareness" as marketing advantage, why choose this concept? Isn't the audience's only "pre-awareness" of The Honeymooners that it's about a bus driver who wants to beat the shit out of his wife? C) Does making the leads black somehow help? Wasn't the original show's main appeal to blue collar white folks who were, shall we say, the group least interested black culture? Shouldn't it have starred Jeff Foxworthy or something? D) Were there a bunch of financially successful updates of old tv shows that that I'm not aware of? Car 54, Where Are You?, Bewitched, My Favorite Martian, the list of utter failure goes on and on. Didn't they make a Flipper movie with Paul Hogan? Am I imagining that?

Speaking of Bewitched, Will Ferrell had real bad run this year: Wedding Crashers, Kicking and Screaming, The Producers, Bewitched - was there a single laugh to be found in any one of those films? I guess Kicking and Screaming did co-star Mike Ditka, so that counts for something. Or it should if it doesn't in this crazy world we live in.

Can we bury the dead, already?: Martin Scorsese and Bob Dylan and the moribund blob of fat that is No Direction Home.

Stunning animated film nobody saw: My Beautiful Girl Mari

Stunning animated film that was somehow over-praised despite being fundamentally pretty great: Howl's Moving Castle

DVD's of the year

Mike Leigh's Naked

Akira Kurosawa's Ran (Criterion double-disk with Chris Marker's A.K.)

Errol Morris' First Person


Great moments

Gromit's underground chase in the Anti-Pesto truck after the mysterious Were-Rabbit.

Jay Hernandez has a fucked-up conversation with the psychopath as he tries to escape in Hostel.

Protocop tries to steal some beers in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

The bear fight in Grizzly Man.

Deuce finds a giant, bug-eyed baby for the huge lady to adopt. Deuce Bigelow: European Gigolo.

The Ethiopian baby joke from Jesus is Magic.

King Kong searches frantically for Ann Darrow and discards the blondes who aren't her.

Twist that I didn't see coming in an otherwise very rote film: The Rock turns out to be the bad guy in Doom.

The horribly mangled leg of the girl who unexpectedly actually gets eaten by the shark. Into the Blue. Also, the most honorable of mentions for Paul Walker's stomach and Alba's bottom.

The digital delay solo performance in Last Days. Also, watching the dude make mac and cheese.

The hilarious parody of violence, masculinity, and hollow aestheticism that is the brilliantly silly climax of Dear Wendy.

The method conviction that Brian Cox brings to the line "Since when did ''tard' become politically incorrect?" in The Ringer.

The opening watermelon fucking scene in The Wayward Cloud.

Matt Damon makes Amanda Peet cry by the fountain in Syriana.

Bill Murray's awkward conversation with the kid who may be his son at the end of Broken Flowers.

I know a lot's been made of it, but the dude eats a live octopus in Oldboy.

The musical ghost-blade showdown in Kung Fu Hustle.

"Yeah, but findin' me - that shit was racist." Eddie Griffin to Deuce in the chicken and waffles restaurant.

Robert Downey, Jr. accidentally pisses on the corpse. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

Great throwaway joke: "May contain nuts." Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Out of nowhere, Sibel slashes her wrists with a broken beer bottle in Head-On.

"How does it feel to have a man's life on your conscience?" "It doesn't feel like anything." Majid's son confronts Georges in the bathroom. Cache.

As the giant wave crashes over the lighthouse, the marble takes us to see Mari a final time and everything becomes green and new. My Beautiful Girl, Mari.

The final pilgrim, alone and silent in prayer. Wheel of Time.


Great moments, Japanese division:

Fat woman, old woman, and heavy dog racing up the stairs in Howl's Moving Castle.

"Let a cabbage be your friend." Kamikaze Girls

Azuki beans! in The Great Yokai War


Best bad moment from a terrible film: "Who was that guy?" "I don't know... and I don't wanna know." The bully and his pal have a brief run-in with the murderous duo on the run in A History of Violence.

Best bad moment from an utterly mediocre film: Ludacris bids a fond farewell to the former slave laborers enjoying their new freedom: "Dopey Chinamen." Crash.

Best bad moment from a good movie: Breaking dancing by the waterfall to cheesy Guyana-style rap. The White Diamond.


Great Moments from The White Diamond:

Graham Norrington makes a jet engine sound and pretends to fly with a jetpack.

The gorilla charges Dieter Plager.

Mark Anthony Yhap introduces us to Red and you get the feeling he's bullshitting us.

The seemingly endless procession of swifts returns to their home behind the waterfall.


Favorite scene of the year:

Last Days: Michael Pitt passes out to the soothing sounds of Boyz II Men.




- christopher funderburg, January 2006

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