"Palindromes" could top a year's best list for many reasons, but also for chutzpah alone. Those who come to writer-director Solondz for his abrasive wit and frank depictions of family life ("Happiness," "Welcome to the Dollhouse") are well served by this tale of an adolescent trying her darnedest to become the next teen-pregnancy statistic, despite instructions in contraception and the frowns of society. But don't worry more than one cultural taboo is stepped on here. Yes, Solondz makes fun of handicapped Christians. We guess somebody had to.
While Steve Martin busies himself with the next corny kiddie romp, SNL alum Bill Murray continues to go for challenging roles that bring out sides of the aging comic we didn't know existed. Actually, it's one particular side that keeps surfacing in such movies as "Broken Flowers" and "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou," a passive, almost blank stare that now entertains and enlightens with the barest nuance a lift of the eyebrow here, a crinkle of the mouth there, perhaps a slight misting of the eyes. We are blessed this season to have Murray and his sly sarcasm.
Who? Well, let me tell you this guy is big in Japan, and this time that means something. Miyazaki is the Japanese Walt Disney, with stores dedicated to his animation creations. Nothing to do with anime, Miyazaki films, like this year's "Howl's Moving Castle," are wonderful blends of handcrafted drawing with stories that do not offend adult senses with childish morals. "Howl's" a great anti-war film and highly recommended family viewing.
While some filmmakers follow up the groundbreaking work that got them into the business with one cheap payday after another, others, like director and screenwriter Gus Van Sant, follow up paydays such as "Good Will Hunting" with a return to their indie roots. Van Sant's "The Last Days," his first film after the Columbine ode "Elephant," may disappoint Nirvana fans looking for a Kurt bio. But it's a touching meditation on loneliness, a film both smaller than people might have wanted and larger in scope than they might have expected. Look for Steven Spielberg's "Munich," opening soon, for another example.
The New Home Movies
This one could almost be on the worst list, because it means that just like everyone became a recording artist with the advent of digital music, everyone's going to become a documentary filmmaker because of the PowerBook. Then there is Jonathan Caouette's "Tarnation," which proves that the cream really does rise to the top. If anything should have been called an independent film last year, it was his sprawling, indulgent and moving memory of a messed-up childhood. Pop some Xanax and trip out to this depression piece and its gorgeous soundtrack.
It's a real shame when you have to live through decades like the '70s and '80s twice. Note to Hollywood: The entertainment back then sucked. We only watched it because there was nothing else. This falls on deaf ears, I know. Here are a few of the movies slated for '06: "Superman Returns"; "I Dream of Jeannie"; "Alien vs. Predator 2"; "The Bad Seed." There is even talk of "CHiPs" in 2007. Hollywood may see the problem with box-office returns, but the big studios obviously don't see that remakes may not be the answer.
Directors With Something to Prove
If you look at the credits of most of the big-time movie directors in the business today, you'll find they tend to follow a predictable arc. Most begin with a cheap but good horror or sci-fi movie and proceed with some good and some not-so-good movies, all the way to the end game, which is an overblown epic. This year we got Oliver Stone's ancient Greece with "Alexander" and Ridley Scott's "Kingdom of Heaven." Of the two, Scott is guiltier because this is the second time remember "Gladiator" that he's helped craft an ancient scenario you couldn't believe even if you were paid.
There is a creature in Hollywood called the director of photography. He graduates from Sprite commercials and hip-hop music videos to a cheap horror movie. If that goes well, he is given a fleet of helicopters and a script involving giant wind fans and lots of explosions. God help you if he is allowed to team up with Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The DP often uses the helicopter shot. The thinking is that any scene is made more dramatic when filmed by a camera that is flying through the air. Maybe 20 years ago. It's time to cut the Fabio hair, sell the Porsche and forget this dated trick.
Middle Eastern Chanting
There are other ways to set a mood. When faceless, wordless wailing is used in a movie like "The Island" to build a suspenseful opening, you know its time has come to an end. Let it go.
Crouching Hyperbole and Flying Textiles
It's getting a little ridiculous, these Hong Kong martial-arts movies being masqueraded as high art. After all the hype surrounding "House of Flying Daggers" (its bold use of color! its lyrical cinematography!) it all boils down to comic-book action sequences strung together with dialogue from a bad episode of "Days of Our Lives." It's a kung fu movie get over it. S
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