SXSW Part 4: The Final Chapter

22) Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil
Yet another midnight film using the VS naming structure. Only here, it doesn't work. Luckily, this is the only grip I have about the movie. T&DVsE is destined to be another legendary horror/comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead. It's equal parts hilarious and gruesome. If The Pink Panther were about a serial killer, it would be like this. It also addresses one of the most common horror tropes that pisses me off: Why the hell are all the college students fucking douchebags? Here, we see a group of eight going camping in the woods. All eight are materialistic, airheads, and judgmental of the Appalachian populace around them. After a couple of misunderstanding with Tucker and Dale, a pair of woodsmen refurbishing a long-abandoned cabin, a series of accidents begin to transpire. And of course, because Tucker and Dale are the outsiders, they shoulder the entire blame. Tucker and Dale try to figure out what the hell is going on while trying to avoid any future calamities. Alan Tudyk is great as Tucker, and Tyler Labine is sure to be thrust into prominence with his portrayal of Dale. The entire film is about communication and judgments. We're quick to assumption, especially in moments of fear, and we forget that even off-looking people are still people. Except frat boys with popped callars and shell necklaces. They suck.
Final Score: 5/5
In a Word: Doozy

23) Waking Sleeping Beauty
This was the last film I saw at SXSW. I stayed an extra half a day in Austin just for this one film. As a result, I had to drive through an ice storm on the way home. I nearly crashed three times. But was it worth it? Probably not, but I enjoyed the film nonetheless. Waking Sleeping Beauty is a documentary concerning The Disney Animation Studios, particularly from 1984 to 1994. During this period, Disney animation went from an absolute low to the strongest juggernaut in Hollywood. The director stated he wanted to take a new direction in documentaries by avoiding two major pratfalls: First, no talking heads. Second, no old people reminiscing. It's probably my already biased opinion towards the subject matter, but this new technique worked. I loved every single moment, and it never left me dissatisfied. It even reinforced my personal dislike of Jefferey Katzenberg, and how he shouldn't be allowed anywhere near animation. It did stop right after The Lion King debuted, which started a slippery slope again for Disney, and it did paint Michael Eisner a little too Messianic, so it's not the absolute truth. But I still enjoyed it, regardless.
Final Score: 5/5
In a Word: Colorful

...And that's my SXSW experience. It was absolute heaven, and one of the greatest weeks of my life. Assuming things go well in the upcoming year, I will be returning. Until then, I'll spend my time detoxing and acclimating to movie theaters which do not deliver beers and hamburgers to my seat.


SXSW Part 3: The Search For Spock

15) Crying With Laughter
I toss around the words "Black Comedy" a lot, but what can I say? Filmmakers like Schadenfreude. Crying With Laughter is a Scottish film concerning memory. Our hero and villain are old school friends who reconnect after several years. Our antagonist is tortured about an incident he can't forget and manipulates our protagonist, who can't remember, into rectifying the problem. All the while, the narrative is driven by the protagonist's creepily honest stand-up routine. The tragedy and horrors of a suspense thriller, abduction, senility and child abuse are literally turned into joke fodder. Unfortunately, trying to attempt this tangent on perception and perspective drowns out the original theme of memory as a subjective force. Still, it's exciting and paced perfectly.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: Memorable

16) Barry Munday
This is a film for all the Apatow fans. Titular character Barry Munday is an unashamed womanizer, living his life vicariously through his penis. After hitting on the wrong girl, Barry finds himself castrated in a fit of rage by a jealous boyfriend and his trumpet. Yes. A trumpet. Prior to the unwilling removal of his testes, Barry inadvertently knocks up Jennifer, played by Judy Greer, who looks and acts exactly like Kitty from Arrested Development (I was expecting her to rip off her shirt in anger and reveal two askew nipples). Due to these two new events, Barry is forced to radically change his life, accepting his new role as a father and disowning his sexually deviant ways. The film is absolutely hilarious. With the exception of a few cringe-worthy awkward moments, the film is comedy genius from beginning to end. If you enjoy this type of comedy, join the grassroots movement to get this distributed.
Final Score: 5/5
In an Image: Photobucket

17) Barbershop Punk
A film with a name like "Barbershop Punk" could be about any number of great things. In this case, 'Punk' refers to dissidence and rule breaking while 'Barbershop' refers to the A Capella musical genre. This is a documentary, following Robb Topolski, a software engineer who blew the whistle on Comcast's violation of internet autonomy. Certain individuals (read: Big Business) were given priority concerning connection speeds while other individuals (read: People standing up to the man) were routinely denied service. Robb was uploading barbershop quartet music to the internet. He, like other pirates, were frequently denied reliable internet service because of their actions. By doing so, Comcast was called out by the government for fraud, violation of privacy, accepting bribes, and attempting to hide the entire ordeal from the public. This is a film about rights to privacy and the privatization of the internet. Piracy is only a small portion of the film. Yet the piracy issue never fades away. The film knows where it wants to go, but never actually gets there. It's interesting to watch, especially to fellow pirates and computer geeks, but it's more explanatory than informative. Basically, net neutrality is good. That's the movie. Plus Robb owns a minimum of three pairs of Crocs, which makes him an asshole, no matter how noble his endeavors.
Final Score: 3/5
In a Word: Neutral

18) This Movie is Broken
Very rarely does a movie come along with a title as applicable here. This Movie is Broken is supposed to be a concert video of the Canadian band Broken Social Scene (who are awesome, by the way). Instead, the movie is a puree of a Broken Social Scene concert vid, and a lame plotline poorly ripping off Before Sunrise and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. Just when I think the movie is going somewhere important, they interrupt with the band playing a song. And just when I'm getting into the band playing, they interrupt with the plot. The plot, by the way, is terrible. Boy loves girl, boy is too chickenshit to tell girl, girl finds out anyway and tells boy off for not being honest, boy has completely inexplicable and unexplained gay experience, boy gets girl anyway despite girl finding other boy in bed with first boy. It's stupid and it ruins what was supposed to be a great concert film. This Movie is Broken most certainly is.
Final Score: 2/5
In a Word: Portmanteau

19) The Runaways
First, let me dispel all fears: They did not ruin the Runaways story. Second, let me just say this was a very good half of a movie. The biopic of Cherie Currie and Joan Jett's game-changing rock band, The Runaways, is a semi-honest portrayal of punk rock that follows all the stepping stones of the musical-drama genre. Kristen Stewart is, for all intents and purposes, Joan Jett. She completely becomes her character and it almost makes me forgive Twilight... Okay, it doesn't even come close, but she's terrific nonetheless. Dakota Fanning is less impressive. She plays her part with disinterest, hamming up the film halfway with overly-dramatic deliveries and halfway with blank stares. Michael Shannon, however, steals the show with his performance as manager Kim Fowley. Whenever he is onscreen, magic happens. As far as I'm concerned, this film gets punk rock dead-on. Wearing a black t-shirt does not make you punk. Getting blitzed, having random sexual encounters, erupting in spontaneous violence and ending the night covered with a minimum of four bodily fluids makes you punk. For that, I love it. It's no-holds-bar punk rock goodness, and the cast delivers on all accounts... for the first half. As I said, it's a great half-movie. Near the midpoint, the film slags as it follows Cherie's descent into drug abuse. It's the standard musical-drama formula. Again, we have to endure a long, long exposition of "Oh, I'm a genius, but I'm destroying myself." The movie becomes less about entertaining and more about wrapping up the loose ends to coincide with history. For example, when Joan gets the idea to form The Blackhearts, you can all but hear the metaphorical light bulb go "ding." The Runaways is a great idea and a great execution, but it's nothing new.
Final Score: 3/5
In a Word (more or less): Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb

20) The Parking Lot Movie
Following in the style of TV shows 'Ace of Cakes' and 'American Gun,' The Parking Lot Movie is a cinema-verite documentary about the employees of a workplace and the unassuming events they encounter. While the escapades of parking lot attendants doesn't sound like great cinema, you'd be surprised at the entertainment value present. This film is a nugget of 1990's era Slacker-dom temporally dislocated by fifteen years. It combines cultural apathy with consumer rage, and produces one of my favorite films from the entire festival. It touches on subjects including cars, license plates, class struggles, capitalism, anger, justice, drunkenness, and existence. It also holds the distinction of being one of the few films I wish was longer. If you have ever worked a menial McJob, this film is a must see.
Final Score: 5/5
In a Word: Enterprising

21) Saturday Night
Saturday Night is a documentary helmed by James Franco, following the creation of a single episode of Saturday Night Live from start to finish. From 2000-2005, Saturday Night Live was my favorite TV show (I lost interest in college when I made friends and finally had something to do on Saturday nights besides watch TV.) I read a book on the production of the show, and had a pretty solid understanding of the process. That being said, the process brought to life was still an incredible revelation. The level of dedication going into one episode of a TV show often maligned for its low quality is astounding. While my admiration of SNL is still in the highest regards, seeing the inner workings raises my respect to astronomical heights. My only grievance was the final composition of the film. To me, it seemed less like a documentary and more like a DVD extra feature. At any rate, the film was captivating, entertaining, and assured me that the unsettling terrors gleaned from the Empire Carpets jingle are totally normal.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: J'Accusi


SXSW Part 2: SXSW Harder

8) American: The Bill Hicks Story
This documentary about one of the most underrated stand-up comedians was one of the few must-sees for me. I was expecting it to be a by-the-numbers documentary about Hicks' private life, his struggle with alcohol, and his battle with media. But it was actually engaging and informative. While it did play the Walk The Line "Oh, I'm a genius, but I'm destroying myself" route, it portrayed Hicks' entire career from his teenage origins to his rise to (if you can call it that) prominence. As is the nature with documentaries in which the subject is deceased, an overwhelming portion is comprised of stories and laments from close friends and family. But breaking up the tired monotony is animation consisting of hundreds of photographs of Hicks throughout to life, bringing the monologues to life. Overall, very informative and entertaining for any fan of Bill Hicks and his game-changing comedy.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: Vitriolic

9) MacGruber
The second-most hyped film at the festival, MacGruber is the first film based on a SNL sketch since the string of laughably unfunny travesties from the early '00s (Night at the Roxbury, Superstar, The Ladies Man). Will Forte brings the MacGyver not-quite-a-parody parody to excellent heights. The film is funny, paced just right, and is sure to be quoted incessantly by high-schoolers for the next several years. My only qualm about the film is nothing really astounded me. This is a big problem for comedies. The jokes get me in the door, but unless there's something else, I don't want to hear the exact same jokes again later. It's funny, but not legendary funny. At the very least, people will stop telling me how much they love lamp.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: Celery

10) Erasing David
A documentary about the pervasiveness of surveillance and the subtle Big Brother nature of the modern world. Filmmaker David Bond decides to drop off the face of the world for one month, and hires two private investigators to try and find him. Tracking him using credit cards, mobile phone records and other technology, the chase is on for David to escape the watchdogs. While he does hide out in a grass hut in the countryside for two days, this isn't an experiment about disappearing, this is an experiment about privacy. Throughout the chase, David interviews experts on privacy, surveillance, safety and bureaucracy about why information about us perpetuates eternally, why it's collected, and who has the ability to find it. It's terrifying how little things we take for granted are being compiled and waiting to be used against us. It's a real wake up call for everyone in the digital age, whether you're tech-savvy or not. It's half 1984, half The Fugitive, and it's all non-fiction. I highly recommend.
Final Score: 5/5
In a Word: Startling

11) Harry Brown
Michael Caine is awesome. He looks like my grandfather, he's smoother than Rupolph Valentino, could outcharm Hugh Hefner, and now he proves he could kick Jet Li's ass. Harry Brown uses the blueprints of Gran Torino, but makes a unique prefecture. An old man sullied by the decrepit nature of his environment decides he has had enough. Using his military training and forty years of pent-up frustration, Harry Brown sets out to rid the streets of gangs, teenage asshats and drug runners. Travis Bickle couldn't do it better himself.
Final Score: 4/5
In a Word: Stabby

12) Trash Humpers
I... I have no clue what this is. The press billed this as a horror film, but... I don't know what the hell this is. It's insanity captured on a VHS tape. Four elderly people go about stomping radios, eating pancakes, lighting fire crackers, reading bad poetry, shrieking like banshees, hitting things with hammers, and humping trash cans. It's absolute insanity. It's experimental, I guess. Think of it as Tim and Eric making a film without jokes. I laughed at times, I cringed at times, and when I wasn't looking at my watch wishing it to be over, I guess I was entertained. It's hard to say. Entertained the same way someone is entertained by a snuff film. Again, I really have no fucking idea what the hell this was. It's trying to emulate Found Art via a video cassette of grotesque imagery. Think of it as Rubber Johnny stretched out to 78 minutes. I can't accurately score this because of the confusion, so I'll give it a score of:
Final Score: Banana/5
In a word: ....?

13) World's Largest
This documentary focuses on roadside marvels, particularly of the gigantic variety. Towns facing bankruptcy give one final financial hailmary by constructing the "World's Largest _____" in an attempt to get passing motorists to stop and visit. Amidst all the examinations of tourist traps is the tragic tale of Soap Lake, Washington. One of the poorest towns in the state, Soap Lake is at a crossroads whether to hunker down and hope for the best, or go nutso and create the World's Largest Lava Lamp. We see all sides of the issue; do we put all our money into a silly adventure? Will people actually stop and see this thing? Is this lava lamp going to cheapen the image of our township? Is this even a feasible idea? Quite honestly, the film never takes a stand. It presents all ideas, but the rhetoric is absent. It's an objective, unbiased documentary, and that's its weakest point. It doesn't have anything else to say beyond the standard "America's Small Towns are in trouble" lament, which frankly has been done to death. It criticizes big box stores, but in an unnoticed irony, Target donates the resources to construct the Lava Lamp. If nothing else, it is a great composition of the artistic oddities which could only originate in America. An interesting film, but with nothing to say.
Final Score: 3/5
In a Word: Shantytown

14) Music Videos
I'm fudging a bit calling this a movie, as it's just a collection of music videos. But what is a music video but a short film completely choreographed to a one-song soundtrack? Plus, it brings me back to my high school days when I would watch FuseTV for hours on end because nothing else was on. No review here, just a list of the videos shown. I'm sure you can find them on YouTube or Vimeo. My five favorite are noted.
- Heypenny, 'Copcar' (Director: Joey Ciccoline & Paul Padgett) (My Second Favorite)
- Grizzly Bear, 'Forest' (Director: Allison Schulnik)
- Writer, 'Four Letters' (Director: Brad Kester)
- Hunter Cross and the Strays, 'Twisty Ties' (Director: Paul Ahern)
- P.O.S, 'Drumroll' (Director: Todd Cobery & Scott Wenner)
- Chris Garneau, 'Fireflies' (Director: Daniel Stessen)
- The Diagonals, 'Clones' (Director: Nick Smith)
- N.A.S.A., 'Spacious Thoughts' (Director: Fluorescent Hill)
- Man Branch, 'The Gym Is All She Has' (Director: Matt Leach)
- Truckers of Husk, 'Person for the Person' (Director: Casey Raymond & Ewan Jones Morris)
- Passion Pit, 'To Kingdom Come' (Director: Mixtape Club) (My Fourth Favorite)
- Kevin Devine, 'I could be with Anyone' (Director: Ray Machuca & Sherng-Lee Huang) (My Favorite)
- These United States, 'Everything Touches Everything' (Director: Maxwell Sorensen)
- Fatback Circus, 'Brain Damage' (Director: Rodney Brunet)
- Socalled, '(Rock the) Belz' (Director: Kaveh Nabatian)
- Fires of Rome, 'Set in Stone (M83 Remix)' (Director: Matthew Lessner)
- BRONTOSORUS, 'Amy' (Director: Pete Scalzitti) (My Third Favorite)
- Cinnamon Chasers, 'Luv Deluxe' (Director: Saman Keshavarz) (Winner: Best Music Video)
- WHY?, 'These Hands/ January Twenty Something' (Director: Ben Barnes)
- Height, 'Mike Stone' (Director: Justin Barnes)
- Apes and Androids, 'Golden Prize' (Director: That Go - Noel Paul & Stefan Moore) (My Fifth Favorite)


SXSW Part 1

Greetings from Austin, Texas, a slice of Hipster Nation in the center of Bush Country. I'm attending the South By Southwest (SXSW) 2010 film festival. I get to see an onslaught of independent films before their distribution, and all for the low, low price of 375 dollars! My goal is to see a minimum of twenty films to somewhat offset this steep, steep, steep admission price. Here's what I've seen so far:

1) Skeletons
An English film, but I don't hold that against it. A black comedy about a private corporation who expose the metaphorical skeletons in their clients' closets. It's marginally sci-fi, but deals mostly with intrapersoanl and interpersonal relations. While this film has some fine moments and some good chuckles, it's all over the place. At some points, it's trying to be Ghostbusters, at others it's Little Miss Sunshine, at others its Persona. There are three independent subplots throughout the film, and while they all originate from a single starting point, there's no real cohesiveness between them at the end. It's like someone tied a braid, then got bored and walked away. The effects were nice and the pacing was fine, but the largest achievements here were camerawork and sound. All in all, it was okay, but would have benefited from another once-over during the screenwriting process.
Final score: 3/5
In a word: Disjointed

2) The Thorn in the Heart
This documentary by Michel Gondry chronicles the life of his aunt, a schoolteacher from small-town France. The film is a personal project for Gondry, so don't expect it to be a wild spectacle such as Eternal Sunshine or The Science of Sleep. It's uplifting, but also sad, and utilizes the stereotypical filmmaking credo: "It's a story that needs to be told." There are some moments purely Gondry, though. Animations and scene constructions occur occasionally through the nonfiction narrative. Bloopers and behind the scenes footage are integrated into the film for entertainment value. The shattering of the fourth wall reminds us that his aunt's life is a celebration, and is being heralded by the film, not mourned. The only downside is, as is the case with all films of this nature, no matter how well-constructed the film, the subjective feelings concerning the subject can never be fully amplified and shared with a mass audience. No matter how we feel about Gondry's aunt, we will never feel the way he feels.
Final Score: 4/5
In a word: Heartstrings

3) Cannibal Girls
This lost classic from Ivan Reitman has resurfaced thanks to the efforts of his son, Jason Reitman. Jason claimed he was attending SXSW not as a director, but as a film fan this year. In his words, "it's the perfect way to relax after going 0/3 at the Oscars." Cannibal Girls is just as the title suggests. A young couple traveling in the country stop in a small town and are at the mercy of three sisters who like to eat flesh. Also, the entire town abides by this quirk, with many meat-related incidents injected throughout the seemingly ordinary town. Andrea Martin and Eugene Levy of SCTV star. Eugene Levy spends the entire movie looking like Gene Shalit, which to me is hilarious. Unfortunately, the film has all the pratfalls of typical B-movie schlock. It's gory, and has rampant black humor, but also plot holes, storytelling faults, bad acting and contrived narrative gimmicks. It has a certain entertainment value, but in the end, it's really stupid.
Final Score: 2/5
In a word: Jewfro

4) Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission
You may know Richard Garriott as the man who created the Ultima video game franchise. But this film shows him as the eccentric video game mogul who spent 30 million dollars on a space voyage. As a suburban white boy and a fan of all things outer-spatial, any film combining space adventure and video games is okay by me. Garriott spends the entirety of the film dealing with the psychological and physical demands of becoming an astronaut, working with the Russian space program, and spending two weeks aboard the ISS. Garriott is a real character, the kind you don't mind following around. He apes for the camera, but always has something wise, relevant or important to say. Most important, he shows that space travel and other such technological adventures are slowly becoming a reality. If you can afford it.
Final Score: 5/5
In a word: Rat-tail

5) FutureStates
FutureStates is a collection of six short films, each created by different filmmakers with the intention to show a possible future. Not science fiction per se, but as it possibly would happen. Three of these films concern conservation, one details illegal aliens, one biogenetics, and one the housing crisis. Needless to say, the six films are depressing. During the Q&A I asked one of the directors whether they were personally pessimistic about the future or if dystopian futures just make for good drama (the question got some laughs, which surprised me because I thought it was a completely serious question). Long story short, it's just more fun to see the future in shambles. That way, when the totally middle-ground future arrives, our preservation efforts paint ourselves as saviors rather than imbeciles fucking everything up. All in all, the films were enjoyable. Mister Green was the worst of the bunch, but still really good. Tent City was the best.
Final Score: 4/5
In a word: Guilt

6) Elektra Luxx
This was a sequel to a film that debuted last year, which surprised the fuck outta me, because I never heard about it. The film stars Carla Gugino as Elektra Luxx, a retired porn star forced into the public sector after discovering she's pregnant and some other vague events covered in the first movie. Going in with no knowledge of the original wasn't completely jarring, but I felt there were certain elements left unexplained. I can't complain about that; it's my own damn fault. According to the director, the film was created to give female actors strong, smart, powerful characters, and that's exactly what it delivers. The women are objectified, but in all the right ways. The film is hilarious and weirdly personal. My only grumble is the pacing seems more akin to a television show than a movie. We follow a couple of supporting characters completely independent of the main story, for no other reason than jokes. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but an odd choice for a film.
Final Score: 4/5
In a word: *Porn soundtrack wah-wahs*

7) Jimmy Tupper Vs The Goatman of Bowie
After a night of heavy drinking and pot smoking, Jimmy Tupper is driven into the woods and abandoned by his friends as a prank. When Jimmy goes missing, his friends go out searching for him. Deep in the woods of Bowie, Maryland, they find Jimmy: scathed, shaken and disturbed. Jimmy claimed he was attacked by a creature in the night; the infamous goatman. Now a laughingstock of his social group, Jimmy heads out into the woods again ready to find the Goatman, prove it wasn't a drunken hallucination, and clear his name. Eleven years after The Blair Witch Project, JT Vs TGM utilizes the same "found footage" format. Unlike its predecessors, JT Vs TGM has a certain level of randomness and pacing that suggests this may actually be non-fiction. The first third of the movie is a completely asinine log of drunken partying, Jackass-type stunts and mugging for the camera; the kind of shit you'd expect to find on an amateur's tapes. But that's part of the charm. It creates the reality, and once we begin the second and third acts, it all seems worth it. This film is intense, and entertaining. We know there's no Goatman, but seeing Jimmy Tupper's pride degrading into slow, drunken insanity makes for damn fine cinema.
Final Score: 5/5
In a word: Paced


Ten Films From AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies List Most Likely To Be Bumped

What signifies a film as great? It's a rhetorical question easy enough to answer, but surprisingly complex to do so thoroughly. Obviously, the film must be well made. It also has to entertain and inspire people, move them emotionally, influence other filmmakers, make a mark on society, and above all else commit to the ages. Beyond that, the decisions are purely subjective.

For me, the benchmark for Great Film Lists is the American Film Institute's. Just the name seems to encapsulate cinematic excellence. Just say it aloud: American, Film, Institute. These are experts whose opinions I can trust.

In 1997, right when my film obsession began percolating, the AFI aired a three hour special on CBS, counting down their selection of the 100 greatest (American) films of all time. Partnered with professional filmies and clips from the prestigious winners, the countdown was just gravy for me.

In 2007, ten years later, AFI updated the list, wanting to see what difference ten years made on the cultural scale. Some classics were bumped, some new classics were added. With a film school education now at my disposal, it was fun seeing the format in an entirely new light. Since then, these AFI lists have ceased, with the implied exception of further updates to the Top 100 List repeating every ten years.

All in all, the project succeeded by portraying exactly what they claimed: Film is an ever-growing art form. Times change, tastes change, but the true greats are great forever.

As said before, the list will most likely be updated again in 2017. New films from the past decade will be included among the greats, and older classics will be seen in new lights. But in order to make room, some films will have to be bumped. It's not easy to predict which (if any) will get the axe.

Ten Films From AFI's 100 Years, 100 Movies List Most Likely To Be Bumped

10) Spartacus (1960)
dir. Stanley Kubrick
The Reason: Great, Not Top 100 Great

The title "100 Greatest Movies" is a very selective list. This isn't just a list of great movies, it's the list of the greatest. Of all time. Each film is squaring off against each other; any flaw is magnified a thousand times. Spartacus is a great film. It's directed by one of the all-time greatest directors, it's epic in scale, majestic in execution and is the quintessential gladiator movie (suck it, Russell Crowe).

Unfortunately, when stacked up against the rest of the list, it's cracks start to show. Around the middle of the 198 minute runtime, it slows down and the intense sword-and-shield action is replaced by dialogue drama. It's artistic, but it's long, slow, and while those are not necessarily bad things, it's such a sudden shift in what we've been promised. Stick with Ben-Hur, and give Spartacus' slot to something else.

9) The Sixth Sense (1999)
dir. M. Night Shyamalan
The Reason: Too Strong a Genre Film.

I'm not one of the people who jumped on the 'I Hate Shymalan' bandwagon. I think the man is still a strong director with a signature style, and still has the potential to resurrect his career (as long as he stops writing his own scripts). The Sixth Sense remains his seminal work. It's dark, chilling, suspenseful, eerie, and it's surprise ending is quite possibly the most famous in movie history. It is one of the greatest horror films of all time, no exceptions.

But, unfortunately, it excels so well at being a horror film, it does little else. The Sixth Sense draws inspiration from many films preceding it, but it has not directly inspired any films itself. The Sixth Sense is not a bad movie, but on the 100 Greatest Films list, genres are given a royal screw job. On a list majorly composed of dramas, a few genre films sneak in, but can only do so by completely and perfectly encapsulating their specific field. And maybe, for the moment, The Sixth Sense does just that with the horror genre. But that's it. On film as a whole, The Sixth Sense has done very little. Even on the AFI telecast, the only thing film experts had to talk about was the twist ending, and how it shocked America, and how the internet makes such a spoiler impossible in today's world (Because there was no internet in 1999, apparently).

Ten years from now, something else will fill the 'Reserved-For-Horror' slot. Maybe its a horror film from years gone by (Night of the Living Dead, Dracula), maybe its something more recent (Jurassic Park, The Shining), or even something which hasn't been made yet. The only thing I'm certain is the film which will replace The Sixth Sense will exemplify less the horror genre, and more of film as a whole.

8) Modern Times (1936)
dir. Charles Chaplin
The Reason: The Department of Redundancy Department

Of the ten films on this list, this is the one I sincerely hope I'm wrong about. Modern Times is a terrific and hilarious film. It dissects 1930's society, shining a light on the guilty pleasures and ignored shames of urban life in a manner that freakishly remains applicable today. It's fun, it's insightful, and now that I've defended it, I hope I'm wrong about what I'm about to say in the next paragraphs.

Charlie Chaplin has three films on the AFI list: City Lights, The Gold Rush, and Modern Times. Each of these films features Chaplin as his trademark Little Tramp character, and each one is a great quality film. It's near impossible to pick the worst among the three. Unfortunately, the ranking system of the 100 Greatest Film list can, placing Modern Times below its brothers. It's not that Modern Times is worse, its simply because something has to be last. Statistically, it's clear the voters prefer City Lights and Gold Rush slightly more.

Thus, when push comes to shove, three Chaplin films may seem like excess to the voters. One, he definitely deserves. Two, he certainly deserves. Hell, Chaplin deserves all three, but as more and more landmark films fight for a mere 100 slots, Chaplin's bountiful excess will be trimmed. Chaplin supporters will be forced to make cuts, and since Modern Times trails behind The Gold Rush and City Lights, it will eventually disappear. Modern Times is a great film, but Chaplin can only hold three positions for so long.

7) Platoon (1986)
dir. Oliver Stone
The Reason: The Vietnam War Isn't So Great Anymore

As my brother pointed out while watching the AFI telecast, there are a lot of movies about the Vietnam War. I can understand it; the Cold War, and by exstension the Vietnam War, were a tumultuous era for America that affected a wide array of people. It makes for good drama. It makes for a good war movie, too.

But my brother's right. There are too many movies about Vietnam on AFI's list. As Baby Boomers slowly fade out, passing the torch to a generation reared in a time when Germany was always one country and the USSR was always referred to in the past tense, certain elements deemed culturally significant are less vivid and vibrant. The Vietnam War ranks right alongside WWII (which also has too many films on the list).

Of the Vietnam War movies on the list, Platoon ranks the lowest, so it has to go. Nothing's wrong with it, nothing's bad about it, and nothing diminishes its impact. Simply, society doesn't focus on Vietnam with heated intensity it did ten, twenty and thirty years ago. Times change, and the list changes as well.

6) Swing Time (1936)
dir. George Stevens
The Reason: It's People Dancing For 103 Minutes.

In the first half of the 20th century, cinema was in an odd place. People craved variety, and variety they got. When attending theaters, ticket-buyers got two movies, newsreels, PSAs, short films, serials, cartoons, and a bunch of other goodies. They could go in whenever, watch the loop of features, and leave when they started to repeat. This variety was trying to compete with Vaudeville.

Vaudeville was the premiere form of entertainment from the late 19th century until the mid-30's. It featured showmen, comedians, acrobats, actors, etc. all touring and performing together. Cinema tried its hardest to mimic the variety and scale promised by Vaudeville, touting convenience as its number one selling point. If you can't come to the show, the show will come to you. Swing Time is the embodiment of this promise.

As is the entire repertoire of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the movie features a low-key plot completely overshadowed by dramatic dance numbers. It wasn't a movie, it was an excuse to get dancers and dance fans away from Vaudeville and into cinemas. Swing Time isn't so much a movie but a marketing relic from a bygone era. It's culturally significant to be sure, but not a great film.

5) Shane (1953)
dir. George Stevens
The Reason: America Doesn't Appreciate Westerns Anymore

Westerns are an offshoot of the Epic genre; a film set in a bygone place and era, grand in scale and highly detailed. Setting a film in the wild west or frontier prairie was so popular, a whole new genre was created for it. Cowboys were the most popular aspect, but desert towns, bank robberies, cattle herding, covered wagons, sheriffs and outlaws, Indians and westward expansion are all signifiers of the genre.

But times change. We don't cast aside the great westerns of the past, we just focus exclusively on what we know and like. America loves John Wayne. We love Lee Marvin, Sam Peckinpah, and Clint Eastwood. We want ten-gallon hats, six-shooters and triple-x whiskey. We want a black-and-white dichotomy regarding good and evil. We don't want a literary analysis of morals. Yes, there is gunplay in Shane, but not gunplay as modern America expects from a classic western.

Shane reminds me of the episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Homer rent Paint Your Wagon; it's not what we want, and not what we expect. There are lots of other westerns, all more in line with modern America's love of the genre; Shane may not be coming back.

4) Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
dir. Michael Curitz
The Reason: It's Time For Something Else

With the exception of the AFI telecast, I have never heard about Yankee Doodle Dandy. I've never heard anyone talk about it, I've never heard anything reference it, and I know nothing about it. From what I've gleaned from IMDB, it's a biopic about American patriotism and Vaudeville. And that's it. Not even IMDB can tell me more than that.

I'm hesitant to call this film completely alien; after some research, it's apparently favored heavily among those who have seen it. That said, there's no specific reason for it to be eliminated, but I equally can't think of any reason for it to stay. There are plenty of other films, including other significant musicals to take its place.

3&2) The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
dir. David Lean
The Reason: They're Not American

Both The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia are excellent films. But they don't belong on The American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American films. Not because there's anything wrong with them, it's just a technicality: they're British. British production companies, British director, British screenwriters, British actors, even British characters. How did AFI make such a glaring oversight? Even more comically, The British Film Institute included both films on their 100 Greatest British Films list. Sure, films can have more than one nation of origin (like A Clockwork Orange), but these two don't even come close. They're more British than Elton John eating Figgy Pudding at Windsor Castle.

On the 1997 AFI list, The Third Man was included, but was mysteriously absent from the 2007 incarnation, presumably for this reason. At least The Third Man had American actors, giving credence to its initial inclusion. I may be splitting hairs arguing about this rule, but it's a rule for a reason. If we're ignoring it, let's go whole hog and include Seven Samurai and The Grand Illusion on the next list. Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia: great films, but not great American films.

1) Tootsie (1982)
dir. Sydney Pollack
The Reason: It's a Bad Movie

Of all the movies on the AFI list, Tootsie is the most baffling inclusion. My best argument for its iconic of the modern, hard comedy genre. But why this film? Why not Caddyshack, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Ghostbusters, Young Frankenstein, or anything else even remotely popular?

In addition to Some Like It Hot, Tootsie is one of two comedies from the AFI list featuring men in drag. There cannot possibly be that many drag enthusiasts on the voting committee. At least Some Like It Hot is enjoyable. I don't even like saying the name "Tootsie." It's a very unpleasant word.

When I think of all the films that didn't make the cut, then I think of Dustin Hoffman's Peggy Hill impression, I spiral into a state of confusion. Tootsie is boring, not nearly funny enough to be considered a comedy classic, and nowhere near noteworthy enough to be anywhere near the Top 100 list. It has to go, and the 1997 and 2007 lists must be retconned.

I'm Back, Baby

I'm trying blogging again. My fatal flaw last time was forgetting two very important things aspects of my character: 1) repetition bores me 2) commitments suck the fun out of everything.

So gone are the daily posts honoring cinema's greatest characters. I'm starting anew. Fresh ideas. Fresh updates. I'll update whenever I have something important to say. And I've got important stuff to say, believe me.