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Friday, Nov 16, 2012
Sam Mendes’ tough, relationship-focused Bond film is really about leadership in extremis, with towering and isolated icons fighting tooth-and-nail to keep society together amidst the growing chaos of modernity.

Whatever romanticism was left in the hoary old Bond franchise, in Skyfall Judi Dench’s M does her best to put a bullet in it. The standard opening chase sequence sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a motorbike over the roofs of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul before putting him onto the top of a speeding train to do battle with an assassin who gunned down an MI6 agent and stole a datafile holding the identities of covert agents. First, M instructs Bond to leave his wounded cohort behind. Then, since agent Eve (Naomie Harris) can’t get a clear shot to take out the assassin without also risking hitting Bond, M tells her to fire away anyway. Result: one big bloody hole in Bond’s trim suit coat and one escaped assassin.


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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012
Are these the real number ones, or just excellent pretenders to an impossible throne?

So…we’ve come to the end. We’ve reach the top, the cream of the crop, the upper most of the topper most. Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed the links - both pragmatic and poetic - of the 15 films featured on the overall and director’s Best of List as compiled by the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound Magazine. We run the gamut from ten to one, debated the causal as well as the creative connections between these often divergent titles. We’ve even tried to figure out how certain works warrant their placement, while others suddenly stumble and fall. Nowhere is this more intriguing than within the two films that ended up in first place.


The displacement of Citizen Kane by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo remains an eye-opening rejection of old school Hollywood, a veiled attempt by the “new guard” to guide the critical conversation away from movies made in the earlier part of the artform to things more ‘modern’ and by assumption, meaningful. Granted, Kane came out in 1941 and Vertigo landed a mere 17 years later, but that’s several legitimate lifetimes for those making such aesthetic determinations. That Orson Welles’ masterpiece could last as long as it did at the top of the charts signals something that the James Stewart/Kim Novak vehicle has a few decades to equal.


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Wednesday, Oct 10, 2012
How did 'Citizen Kane' and '2001: A Space Odyssey' end up as the "second" best films of all time? According to Sight & Sound, it's popularity vs. prescience.

A famous football coach once said that “winning isn’t everything…it’s the only thing.” Another member of the pigskin profession argued something similar, that is, that you “play to win the game.” So what does it mean to be number two? What does it say about who you are and what you represent when there is one better than your tired and tried self? Well, some argue for comfort in defeat. After all, you’ve bypassed many significant others to get to the point where you can actually taste the ultimate triumph. You just missed by a single mark. Others settle for the moral victory, recognizing that everyone can’t be first and everything can’t be measured in placements and plaques. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world of plastic trophy ‘participants.’ We specialize in crowning the winners and lamenting the losers. It’s who we are, or at the very least, seem to be.


So it’s interesting to view the films sitting just below the top on Sight & Sounds’ 2012 Best of Film List (general and directors only). In one case, we have a long standing champion finally dethroned. In the other corner is a competitor that has slowly worked its way through a couple of different placements over the years. Granted, 2001: A Space Odyssey has only been eligible since the 1972 listing, and since then, it’s bubbled beneath the Top 10, moved from said number (1992) to number six (2002), only to stay in said position this year. It’s the directors who drove it to number two in 2012, after 20 years of basically ignoring it. As for Citizen Kane, it’s been number one since 1962 (in 1952, on the first list Bicycle Thieves held that position, with no mention of Welles’ seminal work). This year, another film finally beat it.


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Wednesday, Oct 3, 2012
(B)oth Citizen Kane and Tokyo Story symbolize the essence of years misplaced. They argue that the wistful memories of the past only propagate disappointment in the present.

Call it bigotry or some manner of predetermined prejudice, but cinema seems to steer clear of the elderly. No, old people appear in many movies, their recognition often reduced to inappropriate humor, dramatis catalyst, or handkerchief fodder. In fact, film fails the oldster so frequently that when a movie comes along which celebrates or deconstructions such maturity—Cocoon, Away from Her, Michael Haneke’s Amour—we tend to go overboard with our praise. The problem, of course, is that the current cinephile demographic, a contingency made up of online know-it-alls, wannabe journalists, and stuck-in-the-mud stalwarts, don’t support stories that center on the aged. Instead, they tend to bray with the herd, harrumphing over the constant bows to youth while championing same in reviews and mainstream retrospect.


So it’s interesting that as we move toward the top of the Sight & Sound‘s Best Films list for 2012 (both the general and the directors’ selections), we find two films at number three that focus almost exclusively on the end of life. In the perennial pick for Greatest of All Time—Citizen Kane—we watch as a dying man utters some mysterious last words. The rest of the film is a quasi-mystery remade as part character study, part epic example of the American dream in disarray. Charles Foster Kane, our William Randolph Hearst substitute, grows from a boy of privilege to a mighty newspaperman. Along the way, he learns that money doesn’t solve problems, that friendship can’t be finagled or bought, and that love comes quickly and exits just as quietly. In between, power and corruption lead to loneliness. By the finale, our elderly icon is wandering his massive mansion, depressed and defeated.


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Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012
With wealth comes privilege, and entitlement, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the films featured at number four as part of Sight & Sound's Best Films of All Time list.

With privilege comes perspective. Of course, it’s almost always self-serving and insular. F. Scott Fitzgerald argued that the rich are “different”, and for the most part, the famous writer was right. Stripped of all the everyday cares that come with most of life (money, property, class), they tend to concentrate on meaningless minutia. It’s as if they have to invent problems in order to seem more ‘normal’, more ‘real’. Now, granted, this tends to be a gross overgeneralization. One imagines a world of wealthy people who scoff at the superficial complaints of their brothers and sisters in affluence. On the other hand, the media loves to make out like greenback bandits, bashing the prosperous and the well-healed because of the perceived disconnect between those who have… and the rest of us.


Nowhere is this truer than in film, which finds seemingly divergent and energetic ways of making the affluent pay of their particular lack of selflessness. In fact, we can look at the two choices sitting at number four on Sight & Sound‘s recent Best Films of All Time list (Rules of the Game overall, the previously cited 8 & 1/2, now for the directors) to witness such a wide aesthetic swatch. As noted before, Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical statement about an artist in freefall doesn’t dwell on the mechanics of making movies as much as the spoiled man sitting at the middle of this amazing fictional career. Trying to balance things between a wife, mistress, producers and the press, our harried hero escapes, running away in hopes of finding perspective, and the reason he is having such problems.


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