10 stars

City of God (Cidade de Deus)

dir: Fernando Meirelles and Katia Lund
[img_assist|nid=1058|title=The kids are most certainly not all right|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=532]
What a fantastic, fiery, raucous flick. Brazilian cinema has come into its own and is now its own exportable genre because of City of God. I’m sure they were making films for decades before this, but this flick blew a lot of people away and made them start noticing a great kind of cinema from a previously unheard region.

Since then, the Brazilian flicks that have been appearing at my local arthouse cinema and on the shelves of my local vid store are all united by common threads: they’re based on true stories, they centre around crime and poverty, and they’re about larger than life characters living in cities so extreme as to almost seem like science fiction. But they exist. They’re real. The slum called City of God, or Cidade de Deus in their native Portuguese tongue, is a real place. They didn’t have to build sets, hire extras and dress them in costumes, or make anything up.

Of course this isn’t a documentary, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a pretty real film about a real life lived by millions in the most prosperous country in Latin America.

Rating:

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no kamikushi)

dir: Hayao Miyazaki
[img_assist|nid=1072|title=Chihiro, my hero|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=381]

The great difficulty in reviewing one of Miyazaki’s animated movies, compared to just watching them, is that the temptation to reel off superlative after superlative usually proves too great for the humble reviewer. Also, Miyazaki is revered to such a degree as the reincarnated Japanese alternate reality Walt Disney that everything he touches is tainted with greatness in the eyes of reviewers, humble or not.

The high praise makes latecomers come to his films with an insane level of expectation, which usually results in bewilderment when they see something like this, Princess Mononoke or My Neighbour Totoro which are different but simpler stories than what they could have expected.

Well, I’m neither a worshipper nor much of a reviewer, so it’s as easy for me to reel off expletives and superlatives as it is to watch one of his flicks and to sit there, thrilled out of my goddamn mind.

Rating:

Fellowship of the Ring

dir: Peter Jackson
[img_assist|nid=1071|title=...and in the darkness bind them|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=256|height=251]

I don't think that there's been a film quite like it, to be honest, realised on such a scale, and so lovingly. Such attention to detail, such awe-inspiring design and creativity, I almost cannot believe that such a film was
allowed to be made in the current culture of big budget film making, where the shoddy special effect is king, and inspiration and inventiveness are as alien as the concept of personal hygiene is amongst users of public transport.

Having not read any of the works of JRR Tolkien, I could potentially be at a disadvantage in discussing the source material and its transition to the big screen. What I am qualified to mention is that it is patently obvious that Tolkien has been ripped off by nearly every fantasy writer and filmmaker for the last sixty years. And perhaps they can be accused of interfering with his desiccated remains in a truly unwholesome manner in the pursuit of financial gain or sex with strange women. The same accusation cannot, I feel, be leveled at Peter Jackson, who has approached the characters and the story with such an obvious love for the source material, and an exhausting amount of dedication and creativity that more than justifies the entire venture, despite the staggering amount of merchandising.

Rating:

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront

When he was a young god...

dir: Elia Kazan

1954

It’s a bloody shame that possessing too much knowledge makes it impossible to just talk about a great film and call it a great film. Either that, or you can put it down to arrogance, pretentiousness, or affected hipsterism. Whichever and whatever combination thereof that I’m afflicted with, I’m too aware of the history behind this picture to be able to blithely review it like it’s just any film.

Sure, it’s a film like any other. Although, it won a bunch of Academy awards, and it contains one of the greatest performances by Marlon Brando that you’ll ever see. And it casts a mournful eye over the waterfront upon which it is set, and the cowardice, greed and cruelty that conspires to render good men either dead or useless at the hands of a corrupt union.

And it’s directed by a man who made some great films, like this, Streetcar Named Desire, A Face in the Crowd, Splendor in the Grass, and Gentleman’s Agreement; films which I’m sure all the kids of today are big fans of and love to hear quoted in the latest emo and rap songs illegally downloaded onto their iPods.

But Elia Kazan also named names during the Communist witch hunt era, lending credibility and legitimacy to a process that should never have possessed a skerrick of either, and continued to work and live a happy, productive life after condemning others to blacklisting and misery.

For a man who received plenty of awards during his life, perhaps it might strike some as strange that he required honouring at the 2003 Oscars with a lifetime achievement award, where many of the crowd refused to applaud or even stand for him. Talented director, traitorous fiend, or both?

Rating:

Nine Queens

Nueve Reinas

If they're looking down on you, then you know you're fucked

(Spanish title Nueve Reinas)

dir: Fabian Bielinsky

Of all the films about grifters, con artists, and other tricksters trying to separate honest and dishonest folk from their hard-earned cash, Nine Queens ranks as one of my favourites, my absolute favourites.

Films about scams are amongst the most enjoyable and disposable of films. They’re enjoyable because the wool being pulled over the eyes of characters onscreen is often also being pulled over our eyes as well. And it can be enjoyable or aggravating, but I usually find it interesting.

But once you know the score, what the scam is and its end result, watching them again is often fruitless. And since they tend to be about energy and momentum, there isn’t the level of characterisation or narrative depth that might bring you back a second time. Nine Queens is a bit better than that.

Coming from Argentina at the time that it did, Nine Queens put a unique spin on the grifter genre by having the machinations of the plot, the morality of its characters and the climax be dependent upon real-life situations in the country, which faced financial collapse and economic ruin at the time. All of the Argentinean films I’ve seen since then have also had the nation’s economic woes front and centre in their plots (the documentary The Take, Live-In Maid).

Rating:

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