Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Great Films: 1966, 1967

It's getting to be that time of year again when I begin to compile my list of the 25 best movies of the year. As a prelude I revisit the Top 25 from past years. Click on the titles to learn more about the films.

1. A Man for All Seasons
2. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
3. The Battle of Algiers
4. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
5. Persona
6. Cul-De-Sac
7. Andrei Rublev
8. The Sand Pebbles
9. Alfie
10. The Professionals
11. Blowup
12. El Dorado
13. It Happened Here
14. Seconds
15. Georgy Girl
16. The Wrong Box
17. The Naked Prey
18. The Family Way
19. The Fortune Cookie
20. Fahrenheit 451
21. This Property Is Condemned
22. A Man and a Woman
23. Our Man Flint
24. How to Steal a Million
25. Madame X

1. The Graduate
2. Bonnie and Clyde
3. In the Heat of the Night
4. In Cold Blood
5. Le Samourai
6. Cool Hand Luke
7. The Dirty Dozen
8. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
9. David Holzman’s Diary
10. Play Time
11. Our Mother’s House
12. How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying
13. The President’s Analyst
14. Barefoot in the Park
15. Belle de Jour
16. To Sir, With Love
17. Marat/Sade
18. Accident
19. War and Peace
20. Far From the Madding Crowd
21. Quartermass and the Pit
22. Wait Until Dark
23. Bedazzled
24. The Taming of the Shrew
25. Two for the Road

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Currently available on DVD: "Smash His Camera"

There's no denying that paparazzo Ron Galella is a New York character. What's at issue in Leon Gast's entertaining documentary Smash His Camera is whether he's an artist or a creep.

Gast suggests he may be both. Having popularized stalker-style photography, Galella is best known for staking out the upper East Side in search of Jackie Onassis and her children.

But then there was the time Marlon Brando broke his jaw, and it's best not to even mention Sean Penn. So what about the artist part? Well, his photos are considered classics today, and have been seen in every venue from Rolling Stone to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.

Gast wisely lets us draw our own conclusions, but in the end, it's hard to dislike the man, even if you despise his methods.

The Great Films: 1964, 1965

It's getting to be that time of year again when I begin to compile my list of the 25 best movies of the year. As a prelude I revisit the Top 25 from past years. Click on the titles to learn more about the films.

1. Dr. Strangelove
2. Woman in the Dunes
3. Mary Poppins
4. My Fair Lady
5. Zorba the Greek
6. Seven Days in May
7. Becket
8. Kwaidan
9. Goldfinger
10. Seance on a Wet Afternoon
11. The Train
12. Zulu
13. King & Country
14. The Gospel According to St. Matthew
15. Fail-Safe
16. The Americanization of Emily
17. The Best Man
18. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
19. A Hard Day’s Night
20. Nothing But a Man
21. A Shot in the Dark
22. One Potato, Two Potato
23. The Unsinkable Molly Brown
24. Topkapi
25. The 7th Dawn

1. The Sound of Music
2. Chimes at Midnight
3. Dr. Zhivago
4. The Shop on Main Street
5. Repulsion
6. A Patch of Blue
7. The Pawnbroker
8. The Spy Who Came In From the Cold
9. The Hill
10. Ship of Fools
11. Darling
12. The Bedford Incident
13. Cat Ballou
14. Fist in His Pocket
15. The Ipcress File
16. Loves of a Blonde
17. Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte
18. Mirage
19. A Thousand Clowns
20. Von Ryan’s Express
21. The Flight of the Phoenix
22. King Rat
23. Othello
24. The Cincinnati Kid
25. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The best Texas songs

I offer up a number of lists and rankings and such on this journal. This one comes courtesy of retired political consultant par excellance Mike Lindley. It's his compilation of the 10 best songs about Texas, of which he writes: "after #1, which is iconic by itself, - the order from there becomes highly subjective, help me with better choices.."

Here's his list:

1. LaGrange -- ZZ Top
2. San Antonio Rose -- Bob Wills
3. El Paso -- Marty Robbins
4. Eyes of Texas -- UT Marching Band
5. Red River Valley -- Woody Guthrie, among others
6. Lukenbach, Texas -- Waylon Jennings (Willie, too)
7. London Homesick Blues -- Gary P. Nunn
8. Hill Country Rain -- Jerry Jeff Walker
9. (Tie) China Grove -- Doobie Bros
Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind -- George Strait

Not a bad list but I would have to include Steve Fromholtz's "Texas Trilogy" in any list of Texas songs as well as something from the incomparable Austin Lounge Lizards, specifically "Dallas Texas" that contains these two immortal lines:
1. "So I'm going back to Dallas Texas to see if anything could be worse than losing you" and
2. "Most cities have soul but Dallas must have been at the bank when they passed it around."

And then there's Jimmy Dale Gilmore's "Dallas" that asks the plaintiff question "Have you ever seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night?"

I also love Tom Russell's "Mineral Wells," David Rodriguez's "Ballad of a Snow Leopard" and Shake Russell's "Travelin' Texas," "Out on Comanche Trail," "River of Innocence" and/or "Something in the West Texas Wind."

But, I got to admit, Mike's list is a great one.

The Great Films: 1962, 1963

It's getting to be that time of year again when I begin to compile my list of the 25 best movies of the year. As a prelude I revisit the Top 25 from past years. Click on the titles to learn more about the films.

1. Lawrence of Arabia
2. To Kill a Mockingbird
3. The Miracle Worker
4. The Manchurian Candidate
5. The Longest Day
6. Days of Wine and Roses
7. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
8. The Music Man
9. The Trial
10. The Exterminating Angel
11. Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
12. Cape Fear
13. Advise and Consent
14. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
15. Ride the High Country
16. Long Day’s Journey Into Night
17. Lolita
18. Jules and Jim
19. Birdman of Alcatraz
20. How the West Was Won
21. Mutiny on the Bounty
22. Billy Budd
23. Requiem for Heavyweight
24. Sweet Bird of Youth
25. Lonely Are the Brave

1. Tom Jones
2. Hud
4. The Great Escape
5. The Servant
6. Lilies of the Field
7. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
8. The Birds
9. The Silence
10. This Sporting Life
11. Billy Liar
12. Charade
13. America, America
14. Winter Light
15. Shock Corridor
16. The Haunting
17. The Pumpkin Eater
18. From Russia With Love
19. Contempt
20. Jason and the Argonauts
21. Irma La Douce
22. The Nuttty Professor
23. The Pink Panther
24. Love With the Proper Stranger
25. Murder at the Gallop

Monday, December 27, 2010

Currently available on DVD: "Winter's Bone"

"Don't ask for nothing that ought to be offered," says the plucky young cuss at the center of Debra Granik's superb backwoods mystery, Winter's Bone. Her name is Ree Dolly, 17 but already feeling years older.
Nobody is offering what Ree needs: information about the whereabouts of her father, Jessup, a meth cooker who jumped bail with the family homestead on the line. Ree asks anyway, of relatives and accomplices who would sooner kill than break an Ozarks code of silence hiding secrets.
Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) has nothing to lose except the roof over the heads of her clinically depressed mother and younger siblings. Money ran out before the food supplies and firewood. "Ain't you got no man to do this?" someone asks Ree, because that's what women need in these parts. "No, ma'am," she replies without hesitation or fear. Ree wants answers, not pity, as she chases a ghost that used to be her daddy.

Any discussion of the merits of Winter's Bone begins with Lawrence, a relative newcomer whose rough-hewn portrayal is the stuff of instant stardom. There's nothing showy or unsure about her. We learn much about the girl through the way Lawrence observes what Ree doesn't have, in a life hamstrung by poverty and pure meanness. Lawrence is in every scene of Winter's Bone, leaving her plenty of opportunity to make false moves. I dare you to find one, in a performance that will be remembered this awards season.

Granik and co-writer Anne Rosellini, adapting Daniel Woodrell's book, create a uniquely gripping twist on the film noir concept of a hero in over his or her head. "Hick noir" is a better label, as Ree trudges headlong through a rural underworld of ramshackle homes and even shakier lives and loyalties. Even Ree's kin can't be trusted, and nearly everyone is related. Winter's Bone perfectly captures a hardscrabble setting some of us drive past on two-lane roads, wondering how people live that way.

The milieu inspires some of the year's most vivid performances, especially John Hawkes as Ree's frightening Uncle Teardrop, and Dale Dickey — the sleazy hooker in both Breaking Bad and My Name Is Earl — as a woman who might have been like Ree 40 years before, until the gumption was beaten out of her.

Yet even in its grimmest moments, Winter's Bone isn't a downer; rather, it's a gritty survival story with a faintly feminist slant. Granik pulled off a similarly tricky feat with her feature film debut, Down to the Bone, featuring Vera Farmiga as a cocaine addict considering adultery. Granik's women have one thing in common besides tall odds against them: their determination to beat those odds.

The Great Films: 1960, 1961

It's getting to be that time of year again when I begin to compile my list of the 25 best movies of the year. As a prelude I revisit the Top 25 from past years. Click on the titles to learn more about the films.

1. Psycho
2. The Apartment
3. Elmer Gantry
4. Spartacus
5. Rocco and His Brothers
6. Inherit the Wind
7. Sons and Lovers
8. La Dolce Vita
9. The Magnificent Seven
10. The Virgin Spring
11. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
12. Tunes of Glory
13. Breathless
14. The Entertainer
15. Concrete Jungle
16. L’Avventura
17. The Sundowners
18. Sink the Bismark!
19. Two Women
20. Pollyanna
21. The Time Machine
22. Village of the Damned
23. Swiss Family Robinson
24. Wild River
25. Purple Noon

1. Yojimbo
2. West Side Story
3. Judgment at Nuremberg
4. The Hustler
5. Divorce — Italian Style
6. A Raisin in the Sun
7. Viridiana
8. A Taste of Honey
9. El Cid
10. The Innocents
11. The Guns of Navarone
12. Through a Glass Darkly
13. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
14. Splendor in the Grass
15. Last Year at Marienbad
16. Victim
17. King of Kings
18. One, Two, Three
19. Whistle Down the Wind
20. Fanny
21. The Misfits
22. Murder, She Said
23. Summer and Smoke
24. Lover Come Back
25. Flower Drum Song

Sunday, December 26, 2010

News' Taylor blows it much worse than Buehler did

You'd think Dallas Morning News sports columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor would know better than to put the entire blame of the Dallas Cowboys' Christmas Day loss to the Arizona Cardinals on kicker David Buehler.

You'd think Taylor would be perceptive enough to see that the Cowboys were playing a team that had lost eight of its last nine games and was quarterbacked by someone with even less experience than the Cowboys' Stephen McGee. You'd think Taylor would have noticed the Cowboys' defense made this rookie, John Skelton, whom I'm betting is not starting on anyone's fantasy team and probably won't anytime soon, look like Tom Brady on that last drive that led to Arizona's winning field goal.

Taylor compounds the error of his ways by writing:

"Missing the extra point rendered the 53-yard kick meaningless. The same goes for the 42-yarder he made in the second quarter."
Meaningless??? Meaningless??? How can six points in a game the Cowboys lose by one be meaningless? Take away those field goals and Dallas is, at best, still three points behind Arizona after Miles Austin's final touchdown catch and what would have to have been a successful two-point conversion.

Taylor needs to display some intelligence by not insulting ours. Sure, Buehler is an easy target, possibly the obvious one. But we look to the sports columnist worthy of working for a major metropolitan daily to show more insight than that, especially when the easy, obvious target is easily and obviously the wrong one.

My Top 25 College Basketball teams

(Last week's rank in parenthesis)
1.  Kansas (4)
2.  Duke (1)
3.  Ohio State (3)
4.  San Diego State (5)
5.  Syracuse (7)
6.  Connecticut (6)
7.  Central Florida (8)
8.  Cincinnati (UR)
9.  Georgetown (10)
10. BYU (2)
11. Pittsburgh (13)
12. Notre Dame (15)
13. Louisville (UR)
14. Purdue (12)
15. Texas A&M (16)
16. Missouri (UR)
17. Villanova (UR)
18. Cleveland State (9)
19. Kentucky (18)
20. West Virginia (19)
21. Arizona (25)
22. Vanderbilt (20)
23. UNLV (UR)
24. Wisconsin (21)
25. Texas (UR)

My Top 10 NBA, NFL Teams

(Last week's rank in parenthesis)
1.  San Antonio Spurs (1)
2.  Boston Celtics (2)
3.  Dallas Mavericks (3)
4.  Miami Heat (5)
5.  Utah Jazz (7)
6.  Los Angeles Lakers (4)
7.  Chicago Bulls (8)
8.  Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
9.  Orlando Magic (UR)
10. New Orleans Hornets (9)

1.  New England Patriots (1)
2.  Atlanta Falcons (2)
3.  Pittsburgh Steelers (3)
4.  Baltimore Ravens (5)
5.  Philadelphia Eagles (6)
6.  New York Jets (7)
7.  Chicago Bears (9)
8.  New Orleans Saints (4)
9.  New York Giants (8)
10. Kansas City Chiefs (UR)

Currently available on DVD: "Please Give"

"Your guilt is warping you," sighs one character to another in Nicole Holofcener's Please Give. In fact, it's guilt that gives life, shape and depth to this uncommonly perceptive film.

Holofcener was born in New York, and many of her characters feel tied to that city's streets. That's certainly true of Catherine Keener's Kate, who embodies the movie's complex contradictions.

A successful furniture dealer in Chelsea, Kate obsessively frets over whether she's cheating her suppliers or customers. She'll freely empty her wallet for anyone who asks. And though she's excited to expand into the apartment next door when her elderly neighbor Andra (Ann Guilbert) dies, she cringes at discussing her plans with Andra's granddaughters, Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and Mary (Amanda Peet).

Meanwhile, Kate's husband (Oliver Platt) adores her but is having an affair with Mary. And their teenage daughter (Sarah Steele) is both comfortably dependent on her parents and perpetually irritated by them.

Holofcener's New Yorkers live within a uniquely localized cocoon of anxiety, dissatisfaction and desire, and it's no surprise that she once worked for Woody Allen. But she also brings an unusually empathetic insight into female insecurities. Every worry, from a fear of aging to the search for a decent pair of jeans, is given respectful attention without becoming a full-blown neurosis.

Such fine-tuned observation requires the ideal interpreter. Keener has always been Holofcener's muse, and once again offers the sort of fully crafted ­portrait that reminds us how shallow most movies really are.

Flaws, of course, always stand out in an otherwise smooth facade. While most of the cast is spot-on, Platt is distractingly miscast as an aging stud. And Holofcener's scalpel can be too sharp: When someone is more unkind, or self-indulgent, than necessary, the film briefly loses its essential compassion.

In those moments, we wonder if we're being encouraged to judge, rather than observe. But then Keener brings us back, with an unexpected grace note that rebukes anyone too quick to criticize. These characters have their failings, yes, but they are balanced by a humanity that is both lovely and amazing.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Currently available on DVD: "Wild Grass"

As the camera glides and loop-de-loops through the 88-year-old Alain Resnais’s surreal romantic comedy Wild Grass, primary colors take on a luminescent glow. Objects — a yellow car, a red dress, a blue doorway, even traffic lights — assume the heightened visual intensity of symbols in a waking dream.

Characters go about their days, as we all do, imagining what if? Their fantasies pop up in hazy live-action cartoon balloons that materialize alongside them. Eric Gautier’s voluptuous cinematography is synchronized with Mark Snow’s lush jazz-inflected music to evoke a tantalizing sense of mystery reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock cat-and-mouse game.

The movie’s opening image, one of several visual leitmotivs, is a shot of grass growing in the crevices between slabs of concrete. It is a wonderfully apt metaphor for how the anarchic imagination asserts itself in the humdrum of daily life.

Wild Grass uses a portentous narrator and includes ambiguous interior monologues. Its protagonist, Georges Palet (André Dussollier), is a suave, 60-ish Frenchman who, with his younger wife, Suzanne (Anne Consigny), has two grown children. Uncomfortably aware of the passage of time, Georges is of an age when it is tempting for a man with signs of memory loss to reconfigure bland reality by pursuing reckless passion and high drama.

As in Resnais’s other films, going back to Last Year at Marienbad, you are continually aware that Wild Grass is enchanted by the ability of cinema to seduce and play mind games that confuse the past and present. The opportunity to get lost in fantasy, of course, is a prime attraction of the movies. Resnais, instead of following market-tested formulas, makes films that defy expectations and deconstruct the moviegoing experience itself.

Wild Grass makes much of The Bridges at Toko-Ri, the 1954 Korean War movie starring William Holden and Grace Kelly to which Georges is drawn in the middle of the night like a sleepwalker. Later in the scene, in which the redheaded woman who obsesses Georges observes him leaving the theater, he is shown walking backward toward the marquee with his eyes closed. Wild Grass later uses Franz Waxman’s grandiose 20th Century Fox theme music to set up a false ending that feels more final than the real one, which arrives not long after in a weird little coda.

Did Georges commit murder many years earlier as he implies early in Wild Grass? Thoughts of murder plague him on and off, along with a lurking paranoia that his crimes are about to be found out. At the same time Wild Grass might be described as anti-Freudian. While Resnais plays with the concept of repression, his films reject the facile notion of prying into the secrets of the past to achieve catharsis.

That’s why Wild Grass is bound to frustrate viewers who demand stories that tie up neatly in ribbons and bows or that convey unambiguous messages. Although emotions swirl through this movie, which is based on Christian Gailly’s novel L’Incident, and adapted for the screen by Alex Réval and Laurent Herbiet, they don’t lead anywhere in particular.

Only if you take Georges’s behavior literally — he goes so far as to slash the tires of the car belonging to the object of his mad infatuation, leaving a note on the windshield confessing his vandalism — will he seem to be out of his mind. Wild Grass makes sense once you realize it is skipping around the levels of his unconscious. To put it baldly, it is a dialogue between the ego and the rampaging id, without the attachment of moral or psychoanalytic baggage.

The apparent triviality of the story, which begins when the purse of Marguerite (Sabine Azéma), a frizzy-haired redhead in a shopping mall, is snatched, will also frustrate some viewers. For a while Marguerite is seen only from behind. Once she is fully revealed, she is every bit as eccentric as Georges, who becomes enchanted after finding her discarded wallet in an underground garage, going through its contents and learning she has an aviator’s license.

The fiery Marguerite, a dentist, shown working in the office she shares with her best friend and professional partner, Josépha (Emmanuelle Devos), is so distracted by her thoughts that she blithely inflicts pain on her patients. She recently bought an antique Spitfire, a World War II aircraft for which she harbors an almost fetishistic adoration. In a scene so antic it threatens to burst into a dance sequence, a group of airplane mechanics serve her breakfast the morning after she spends a blissful night alone in the cockpit.

The heart of the film is Georges’s mad pursuit of Marguerite by telephone and letter. His stalkerlike tactics become so threatening that she consults the same Keystone Cops-like policemen to whom Georges returned the wallet, which is red, of course, like her hair. The moment he gives up his pursuit, the tables are turned, and Marguerite becomes the stalker.

Like its would-be lovers, Wild Grass chases itself in circles as it scrambles genres, examining seeing, thinking, remembering and imagining with a zany awareness. In Georges’s words: “After the cinema nothing surprises you. Everything is possible.”

Why I love this day

After today, I can live peacefully for another 11 months without being subjected to Christmas music.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Benching Kitna would be in the Cowboys' best interests

Dallas Cowboys fans should love John Kitna. If anyone told you at the beginning of the season that Kitna would have to start eight games for the Cowboys, I'm betting even the most optimistic would not have believed Kitna would be .500 in those games and 4-2 since a coaching change. To say he has exceeded all expectations is a gross understatement. He has outperformed starter and overrated Tony Romo.

If all the above is true, then why bench him for the final two games of the season? The reason is that as good as Kitna has been, he is definitely not the future of the Dallas Cowboys. And, in the best interests of the Cowboys, Romo shouldn't be either. That's why starting Stephen McGee these last two games makes sense. Let's face it, the Cowboys aren't going to be playing any more games this season after their next two games. The worst thing that could happen is that McGee is a total bust and Dallas gets blown out against Arizona and Philadelphia. The other side of that coin is that McGee could have a pair of 300-yard passing games and lead the Boys to a pair of wins. You never know and you'll never going to know unless you stick the kid in a real game situation.

I am a big proponent of the Cowboys drafting Arkansas' Ryan Mallett. As things stand now, the Cowboys have the eighth pick in the draft and worse case scenario could make that pick higher. I'm convinced Mallett is going to make a superb NFL quarterback and he should be available when it comes time for the Cowboys could pick. (Even Cam Newton -- the next Michael Vick -- could be available since most of the teams drafting ahead of the Cowboys have their franchise-QB-of-the-future in place already.) There's a possibility, however, that the Cowboys might not even need a signal-caller when they draft, but they will never know unless they give McGee a meaningful opportunity to display what talents he has right now. That presents the possibility that the Cowboys could already have their quarterback of the future and they could use that first round pick to fill a real need at offensive line or safety.

The Great Films: 1958,1959

It's getting to be that time of year again when I begin to compile my list of the 25 best movies of the year. As a prelude I revisit the Top 25 from past years. Click on the titles to learn more about the films.

1. Touch of Evil
2. Vertigo
3. Big Deal on Madonna Street
4. The Hidden Fortress
5. Gigi
6. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
7. Elevator to the Gallows
8. A Night To Remember
9. The Defiant Ones
10. Ashes and Diamonds
11. Auntie Mame
12. Horror of Dracula
13. Look Back in Anger
14. Mon Oncle
15. No Time for Sergeants
16. Desert Attack
17. I Want To Live
18. Separate Tables
19. The Big Country
20. Curse of the Demon
21. The Horse’s Mouth
22. Carve Her Name With Pride
23. South Pacific
24. The Long, Hot Summer
25. The Brothers Karamazov

1. Ben-Hur
2. Some Like It Hot
3. North By Northwest
4. The Diary of Anne Frank
5. Room at the Top
6. The 400 Blows
7. Imitation of Life
8. The Nun’s Story
9. Suddenly, Last Summer
10. Porgy and Bess
11. Rio Bravo
12. Anatomy of a Murder
13. Hiroshima Mon Amour
14. Flame Over India
15. Pillow Talk
16. The Hound of the Baskervilles
17. Floating Weeds
18. Compulsion
19. The World of Apu
20. Tiger Bay
21. The Mating Game
22. Pork Chop Hill
23. Sapphire
24. I’m All Right, Jack
25. Odds Against Tomorrow

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Now available on DVD: "Kisses"

Kisses shows how much you can do with very little. Only 75 minutes long and made in Ireland for what had to be a micro budget, this sweet, savvy and heartfelt film will impact you more and stay around longer than many more elephantine productions.

The story of a Christmas Eve a pair of 11-year-old runaways spend in downtown Dublin, Kisses can sound familiar, but it really isn't. Written and directed with deftness, wit and restraint by Lance Daly, it makes magic happen on-screen when you least expect it.

Kisses is best thought of as a kind of urban fairy tale, and like all fairy tales, menace and trouble are part of the equation. Focusing on children but not for them, the film delivers a great deal by not promising too much.

Though Kisses starts on the afternoon before Christmas Eve, there is definitely no peace on Earth for the youthful protagonists and best pals who live next door to each other in a dreary housing tract on the outskirts of Dublin.

Because he has to put up with a rage machine of a father and an understandably resentful mother, Dylan (Shane Curry) has cultivated a fascination with electronic games as well as emotional distance as ways to retreat when things get too hot around him.

Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) doesn't have a father on the premises, but she has five obstreperous siblings and a weary mother. Her best defense is a good offense, an ability to be practical, assertive and somehow optimistic.

Though these kids are teased, tormented and even tortured on a regular basis, a particular combination of bad events so terrifies them about potential consequences that they make a spur-of-the-moment decision to make a break for downtown Dublin, where Dylan's older brother has been living for a couple of years.

Hitching a ride on a convenient dredger, the runaways hear for the first time about Bob Dylan, Dylan's presumed namesake — "a musical god," the dredger's captain says, though his language is a bit more colorful — and the singer-songwriter's music unexpectedly becomes one of the film's recurring motifs.

Also on that brief boat journey, what up to that point has been a film shot in delicate black and white slowly and with an almost imperceptible charm begins to change until it becomes full color once Dylan and Kylie land in downtown Dublin, all to the accompaniment of melodic music from the group Go Blimps Go.

At first, downtown seems like a bit of a wonderland to the pals as they wander through malls, do some shopping and in general seem to be having fun for the first time in their lives. Writer-director Daly and his cast are particularly expert at capturing small improvisational moments of pleasure that are especially winning.

However, given that downtown Dublin isn't exactly Disneyland, Kisses makes a few brief visits to the dark end of the street, but these end up giving the film more texture and substance without ruining the magic.

For what is lovely about this gentle fable of childhood is that it takes its cues not only from the songs of Dylan but also from the William Blake title Songs of Innocence and Experience. In a tough world, friends like Dylan and Kylie have to look out for each other. Small though it is, Kisses evokes all kinds of feelings, and that is no small thing from a film of any size.

From Leo's lip to your eyes

I had always believed former Dodgers/Giants manager Leo Durocher (pictured here in his usual pose -- arguing with an umpire) said "Nice guys finish last." Turns out that's not true. While reading James S. Hirsch's excellent biography Willie Mays, what really happened, according to Hirsch, was this: In 1951, the day after the Giants, then managed by Mel Ott, hit five home runs off Durocher's Dodgers, legendary broadcaster Red Barber approached Durocher and said "Those were real nice home runs."

"Oh, come on!" Durocher yelled (Durocher usually yelled). "They were pop flies!"

"Now, Leo, be a nice guy," Barber replied. "Be a nice guy and admit they were real nice home runs."

"Nice guy!" Durocher sneered. "Who wants to be a nice guy? Look over there at the Giants bench. Where would you find a nicer guy than Mel Ott? And where is he? In eighth place."

Now this was during the days when there were only eight teams in each league and I'm guessing as the story was retold Durocher became known for saying "Nice guys finish last." The next thing you know, someone will tell me Ingrid Bergman never said "Play it again, Sam."

The Great Films: 1956, 1957

It's getting to be that time of year again when I begin to compile my list of the 25 best movies of the year. As a prelude I revisit the Top 25 from past years. Click on the titles to learn more about the films.

1. The Searchers
2. The Burmese Harp
3. The Ten Commandments
4. Lust for Life
5. All That Heaven Allows
6. Bob Le Flambeur
7. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
8. The King and I
9. Giant
10. Aparajito
11. Written on the Wind
12. Friendly Persuasion
13. The Court Jester
14. Anastasia
15. The Killing
16. Forbidden Planet
17. The Man Who Knew Too Much
18. Around the World in 80 Days
19. Moby Dick
20. Somebody Up There Likes Me
21. Baby Doll
22. Carousel
23. Attack!
24. Godzilla
25. Bus Stop

1. The Bridge on the River Kwai
2. Twelve Angry Men
3. Paths of Glory
4. Witness for the Prosecution
5. Sweet Smell of Success
6. The Seventh Seal
7. Wild Strawberries
8. Nights of Cabiria
9. A Face in the Crowd
10. Throne of Blood
11. The Cranes Are Flying
12. Peyton Place
13. Kanal
14. Sayonara
15. The Three Faces of Eve
16. An Affair to Remember
17. 3:10 to Yuma
18. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
19. Old Yeller
20. The Pajama Game
21. Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
22. A Hatful of Rain
23. The Tall T
24. The Incredible Shrinking Man
25. The Enemy Below

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Currently available on DVD: "I am Love"

It is fitting that the dish that finally shatters things in the savory Italian drama of manners and mercantilism, I Am Love, is a fish stew flavored by secret ingredients and family tradition. For those are the themes that waft through filmmaker Luca Guadagnino's untamed, and at times uncontrolled, melodrama with a delectable performance from Tilda Swinton as its centerpiece.

Swinton is one of the finest actresses working in contemporary cinema, but Guadagnino, who developed the project with her in mind, has created a film that literally luxuriates in her talents. This is their third collaboration, which began with 1999's The Protagonist, the filmmaker's first feature. It was there that they also began a conversation on the nature of love. His 2002 short interview- documentary, Tilda Swinton: The Love Factory, kept that dialogue going, with something of a final thesis coming in I Am Love.

Guadagnino, who wrote the film with a collective of screenwriters he drew on at different stages including Barbara Alberti, Ivan Cotroneo and Walter Fasano, sets the table very quickly, piling a lot of detail into the film's opening moments.

The story begins in Milan on the eve of the 21st century with a Christmas feast at the Recchi family mansion. The textile business has created their wealth, with the failing patriarch using the occasion to hand the reins over to his son Tancredi (Pippo Delbono) and, in an unsettling slight, to one of his grandchildren, Edo Jr. (Flavio Parenti), as well. Swinton's Emma is wife and mother to the heirs apparent, a Russian beauty whom Tancredi married years ago and the steady hand that holds the generations together.

While issues of family hierarchy, class and the new world order of industry are whipped up in short order, the story's essence is Emma facing an empty nest and realizing how suffocating her life has become. Enter the tantalizing young chef Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini). He first reawakens her taste for life with his exquisite culinary creations, and then her passion. That he is opening a restaurant with her son adds another layer of complications.

But then there are many webs that entangle the members of this family: Beyond Emma's growing appetites, there are the business' desperate finances and daughter Elisabetta's own journey of discovery, a fine turn by Alba Rohrwacher. The film, though, belongs to the unlikely lovers, Swinton and Gabbriellini, who proves a strong match for the actress.

The filmmaker has given a cool museum gallery quality to Emma's aristocratic life that sits in contrast to the vibrant colors and summer heat of her world with Antonio. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux lingers equally on both major and minor chords — a bee buzzing above a flower getting as much attention as Antonio and Emma's entwined limbs. Sometimes these effects are sumptuous, other times self-indulgent.

Something close to unconditional love for the talents of his star is visible in Guadagnino's work. He is never in a hurry, giving Swinton time to move through the many emotional notes she's been given. From despair to love to loss, she uses everything — from ice-blue eyes to those impossibly long limbs — to color each moment, restrained with Tancredi, gentle with her children, unbound with Antonio. These are shades we've seen through the years, from her nuanced gender-bending performance in 1993's Orlando to her fierce compromised attorney in 2007's Michael Clayton, the role that earned her an Oscar. Here they are all thrown into the pot, including the remarkable feat of a British actress speaking flawless Italian with just the right hint of a Russian accent.

Of course, there is a danger in loving too much. In the film, Emma pays dearly for her passion. For I Am Love there is a cost, albeit a far smaller one. Let's just say a little restraint in the cooking would have made for an even more satisfying meal.

The Great Films: 1954, 1955

It's getting to be that time of year again when I begin to compile my list of the 25 best movies of the year. As a prelude I revisit the Top 25 from past years. Click on the titles to learn more about the films.

1. Seven Samurai
2. On the Waterfront
3. Rear Window
4. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
5. Sansho the Bailiff
6. La Strada
7. A Star Is Born
8. The Caine Mutiny
9. Touchez Pas au Grisbi
10. Voyage to Italy
11. Sabrina
12. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
13. The Country Girl
14. Magnificent Obsession
15. Hobson’s Choice
16. White Christmas
17. Dial M for Murder
18. Salt of the Earth
19. The Dam Busters
20. Carmen Jones
21. Them!
22. Creature From the Black Lagoon
23. Johnny Guitar
24. The Detective
25. The Belles of St. Trinian’s

1. Rebel Without a Cause
2. Diabolique
3. Rififi
4. Mister Roberts
5. East of Eden
6. The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz
7. Pather Panchali
8. Picnic
9. Ordet
10. Richard III
11. Marty
12. The Night of the Hunter
13. Smiles of a Summer Night
14. The Rose Tattoo
15. The Ladykillers
16. Bad Day at Black Rock
17. The Man From Laramie
18. Oklahoma!
19. The Night My Number Came Up
20. An Inspector Calls
21. Blackboard Jungle
22. I’ll Cry Tomorrow
23. The Seven Year Itch
24. Kiss Me Deadly
25. The Desperate Hours

Thanks for reminding me, "Christmas Story"

Not only is A Christmas Story, the last watchable holiday movie made, it also offers many valuable life lessons. Its marvelous final scene completely vacated my memory bank when I wrote this. But I saw it again last night and realized the world doesn't have to rely on the Morning News' for-fat-cats-only Christmas dining-out guide, because just about every Chinese restaurant in the world is open on Christmas day. Chalk up another one for the good guys.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

If you're planning on eating out on Christmas, be prepared to shell out the big bucks

Either the Dallas Morning News is once again just catering to its rich friends in Highland Park or it may be accurate that the only restaurants willing to open on Christmas day are going to make you pay through the nose for the opportunity to dine out. At first I thought the News was doing the public a favor by printing this guide to restuarants open on the holidays, until I read the individual entries. Ouch! But then this option doesn't seem that bad. In fact, I have had a Christmas meal there on more than one occasion.

Another killing kiddo

This looks interesting. Saorise Ronan reunites with her Atonement director in Hanna, which appears to be another movie about a young female killer, following in the footsteps of Natalie Portman in The Professional, Anne Parillaud and Bridget Fonda in Femme Nikita, Jennifer Garner in Alias and Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass. Plus I like the way Cate Blanchett comes across in this trailer.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Jeff Siegel at the Advocate writes that just because we voted to eliminate the need for private clubs in many parts of Dallas, that doesn't mean those private clubs will disappear. It seems it will be far more economical for them to continue to ask for that membership or Uni card than it will be to change.

The fate of Jason Garrett and other NFL coaches

I'm betting Jason Garrett will have that interim tag removed from his title at the end of this season. Garrett is 4-2 as the "interim" Dallas Cowboys coach and those four wins include two victories over division rivals (the Giants and the Redskins). Now Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can pat himself on the back and say he was right about Garrett all along.

I also have a feeling that the high-priced coaches-in-waiting -- Bill Cowher (pictured) and John Gruden -- will still be waiting next season because the teams most likely to make coaching changes -- Denver, Cincinnati, Carolina, San Francisco, Cleveland and even Tennessee -- are not likely to pay the big bucks Cowher and Gruden will demand. That means jobs for the in-demand coordinators. The one exception is the Houston Texans, a team that has underperformed this year, after winning four of their first six games. Owner Bob McNair has the deep pockets, but he also is someone with the reputation of being slow on the trigger. If I were McNair and had read that the Texans were one of the three teams Cowher would like to coach, I would roll the dice and make a change, especially since it has been the Texans defense that has let the team down this year. But McNair said just last week he thought his team was heading in the right direction and that he had heard from other NFL owners how impressed they were with his team. So McNair might just stick with coach Gary Kubiak.

“We’ll review everything at the end of the year, and, will we make some changes? I’m sure we will make some,” McNair said, according to the Texans' Web site. “But we’re very, very close to having the kind of team I think that we can all be proud of.”

The other two teams Cowher said he would coach are the Miami Dolphins and the New York Giants, both of whom have the resources to hire the Super Bowl-winning former coach.. I can't see Miami making a coaching change although the word is out that the Miami braintrust believes the Miami Heat is syphoning off fans and will need to add marquee names (read that "Cowher") to counter the Heat's star-studded lineup. There are those clamoring for Giants coach Tom Coughlin's head following Sunday's monumental collapse against Philadelphia, but I'm convinced if the Giants make the playoffs as a wild card, his job is safe,

The Great Films: 1952, 1953

It's getting to be that time of year again when I begin to compile my list of the 25 best movies of the year. As a prelude I revisit the Top 25 from past years. Click on the titles to learn more about the films.

1. Singin’ in the Rain
2. Ikiru
3. High Noon
4. Umberto D
5. The Quiet Man
6. Forbidden Games
7. Le Plasir
8. Come Back Little Sheba
9. The Bad and the Beautiful
10. Five Fingers
11. Othello
12, The Crimson Pirate
13. The Greatest Show on Earth
14. Scaramouche
15. Monkey Business
16. Viva Zapata
17. Moulin Rouge
18. The Member of the Wedding
19. The Importance of Being Earnest
20. With a Song in My Heart
21. Pat and Mike
22. On Dangerous Ground
23. Breaking the Sound Barrier
24. Son of Paleface
25. Ivanhoe

1. The Wages of Fear
2. Tokyo Story
3. Shane
4. Ugetsu
5. I Vitelloni
6. The Earrings of Madame de…
7. From Here to Eternity
8. Stalag 17
9. Sawdust and Tinsel
10. Roman Holiday
11. Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
12. Summer With Monika
13. The Band Wagon
14. The Big Heat
15. Pickup on South Street
16. Little Fugitive
17. The War of the Worlds
18. Julius Caesar
19. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
20. Peter Pan
21. The Cruel Sea
22. The Naked Spur
23. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.
24. The Robe
25. Invaders From Mars

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The hunt is on for somebody

Just took the puppy outside and was greeted by some heavy spotlights coming from airborne helicopters. Hope they find what they're looking for.l

Love and hate in Texas

There are plenty of reasons why I love living in Texas. It's the home of My Hero, Big Bend National Park, great barbecue, the Dallas Mavericks, Shake Russell, Comanche Trail, kick-ass high school football, the Hill Country between Leakey and Vanderpool, Marcia Ball, The University of Texas, the Houston Opera, North Park Mall, the Kerrville Folk Festival, Cadillac Ranch.

And there are things that make me ashamed I live here, such as the fact we are represented in the U.S. Senate by two bigots, both of whom, in just the space of a few hours, voted against the Dream Act and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Someone better remind them it's time they sent their sheets to the laundry.

Holiday greetings from The Boss

Bruce Springsteen recently performed an intimate concert in front of about 60 fans at the Carousel House in Asbury Park, N.J. The show only lasted 30 minutes and was comprised of four songs from Bruce's The Promise, the recently released outtakes from his Darkness on the Edge of Town sessions, plus something for the holidays. He was joined by such E-Street stalwarts as Steve Van Zandt, Clarence Clemons, Max Weinberg, Garry W. Tallent and Roy Bittan as well as Jackson Browne's erstwhile playing companion David Lindley, a hot horn section and Charles Giordano, who has replaced the late, great Danny Federici on organ.  The setlist is:
“Racing in the Street (’78)”
“Gotta Get That Feeling”
“Ain’t Good Enough for You”
“The Promise”
“Blue Christmas”

Enjoy and consider it an early Christmas present to other Bruce fans.

My Top 10 NBA, NFL Teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis

1.  San Antonio Spurs (1)
2.  Boston Celtics (2)
3.  Dallas Mavericks (3)
4.  Los Angeles Lakers (6)
5.  Miami Heat (9)
6.  Oklahoma City Thunder (UR)
7.  Utah Jazz (4)
8.  Chicago Bulls (10)
9.  New Orleans Hornets (7)
10. Denver Nuggets (8)

1.  New England Patriots (1)
2.  Atlanta Falcons (2)
3.  Pittsburgh Steelers (3)
4.  New Orleans Saints (6)
5.  Baltimore Ravens (8)
6.  Philadelphia Eagles (9)
7.  New York Jets (4)
8.  New York Giants (10)
9. Chicago Bears (5)
10. Green Bay Packers (7)

My Top 25 College Basketball teams

Last week's rank in parenthesis

1.  Duke (1)
2.  BYU (9)
3.  Ohio State (2)
4.  Kansas (7)
5.  San Diego State (6)
6.  Connecticut (8)
7.  Syracuse (15)
8.  Central Florida (12)
9.  Cleveland State (14)
10. Georgetown (5)
11. Illinois (16)
12. Purdue (20)
13. Pittsburgh (3)
14. Kansas State (19)
15. Notre Dame (11)
16. Texas A&M (UR)
17. Drexel (UR)
18. Kentucky (23)
19. West Virginia (UR)
20. Vanderbilt (18)
21. Wisconsin (23)
22. Temple (UR)
23. Florida (UR)
24. Richmond (UR)
25. Arizona (UR)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The films of 2010 in four minutes

The Best Films: 1946, 1947

It's getting to be that time of year again when I begin to compile my list of the 25 best movies of the year. As a prelude I revisit the Top 25 from past years. Click on the titles to learn more about the films.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life
2. The Best Years of Our Lives
3. Great Expectations
4. Stairway to Heaven
5. Beauty and the Beast
6. Shoeshine
7. The Seventh Veil
8. The Big Sleep
9. The Postman Always Rings Twice
10. My Darling Clementine
11. Green for Danger
12. Notorious
13. The Killers
14. Gilda
14. Paison
15. Humoresque
16. The Spiral Staircase
17. The Yearling
18. Song of the South
19. To Each His Own
20. Anna and the King of Siam
21. Duel in the Sun
22. The Blue Dahlia
23. Cluny Brown
24. The Razor’s Edge
25 The Stranger

1. Miracle on 34th Street
2. Black Narcissus
3. Out of the Past
4. Odd Man Out
5. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
6. Gentleman’s Agreement
7. Nightmare Alley
8. Brighton Rock
9. Body and Soul
10. Kiss of Death
11. Life With Father
12. Monsieur Verdoux
13. A Double Life
14. The Fugitive
15. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
16. Boomerang
17. Brute Force
18. Crossfire
19. The Bishop’s Wife
20. The Farmer’s Daughter
21. The Exile
22. Ride the Pink Horse
23. They Made Me a Fugitive
24. The Voice of the Turtle
25. T-Men