Best Films of 1990
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Best Films of 1995
Best Films of 1996
Best Films of 1997
Best Films of 1998
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Miller's Crossing
Un Coeur en Hiver
Glengarry Glen Ross
Three Colors: Blue
Three Colors: Red

Fast Cheap and Out of Control

BEST FILMS OF 1996 - List in Progress
by Mike Lorefice

The Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day
Christopher Munch

An exceptionally beautiful mystically dreamlike black and white film about a part Asian American (Peter Alexander) who dreams of rescuing the Yosemite Valley Railroad after WWII. His vision collides with the Native American woman (Jeri Arredondo) he winds up dating, who is in charge of Yosemite Park and believes the natural beauty is spoiled by the intrusion of such technology. They are not as different as they sound though, as both place the highest value on something that most people are indifferent to and businessmen would like to do away with. This is not a heroic story, it's about fighting "progress" because you believe it's the right thing to do even though deep down you never truly believe you can succeed. As always, Munch never orders you to view things his way. Instead, he does as much to draw out the contradictions and blur the lines, to make you think about as many sides of the issues as possible. The film blends fiction and documentary footage extremely well, and does a pretty good job of making a preservationist's dream come off as fact. The primary quality of the film is certainly Rob Sweeney's passionate cinematography, which brings out how much the characters love their surroundings and never seems like something that was filmed 50 years after the fact. A gorgeous and meaningful work of art by one of the few true auteurs currently working in America. [3/12/07] ***


For Ever Mozart
Jean-Luc Godard

Godard looks at the present (Bosnian war) through his past body of work, using the excuse of a film crew working near the Bosnian border. Unfortunately, though at times quite witty, everything was sharper and made a far greater impact the first time. Granted much of what makes Godard interesting is he doesn't stick to one thing, but these early masterpieces at least dealt in good part with a certain theme. Here he briefly revisits Carabiniers, Weekend, Pierrot Le Fou, Contempt, etc., but since he's not really taking the time to develop anything at best it comes off as a small addition and at worst as a lesser version of the real thing. As always the film is extremely beautiful, with Godard being one of the only post-Technicolor filmmakers that can still make color at least as artistic as black and white. This look at art during times of war is at times too jokey, especially when applied to psuedo war crimes, but Godard's response to the folly of men has generally been to show their absurdity. When people are blowing each other to bits it seems pretty silly to attack Godard for bad taste. As always, music is impeccably used. Technically this work is certainly up to par, but intellectually, which is the far more interesting part, it's a slouch by Godard's standards. Normally a Godard film is good for at least a dozen notable quotes; here only a few things such as "Isn't an excess of evil worse than an absence of good?" truly got me thinking. [7/9/06] ***


Nenette and Boni
Claire Denis

Refreshing coming of age/brother and sister bonding film that's not overplotted and cliché ridden. That said, and you'll rarely hear this from a lover of not spelling anything out like me, but there's almost too little here for it to work. It's good when it observes their hate for their father, and the fact that with their mother dead they have no one else, which brings the siblings together. It's true when it blends Boni's teen jerkoff fantasies with his reality to the point they become indistinguishable. However, somewhere along the line it fails to hit necessary notes to fully tell a different story, and the final minutes wind up coming off as the kind of dubious cheat you'd get in the last episode of the season. Hardly Denis' best, but Agnes Godard's photography is typically exquisite, inventive, and sensual, and she is allowed to do 90% of the work so it's hard to knock the film too much. [7/9/06] ***


Waiting for Guffman
Christopher Guest

One of the best condescending comedies, which is to say a high point in a low genre. All of Christopher Guest's films are in the mockumentary mode of This Is Spinal Tap, but that film was focused on and aspired to something. There's no denying Waiting is funny, unlike Fargo where the only "joke" on the small town inhabitants was ten thousands "Ya's", but it's all comedy of the nose in the air variety. In a sense the film is very perceptive about a certain type of people and their nature, but they are more the type of people that are supposed to exist in a certain place than the ones that actually do; it's more like Guest has strip mined stereotyped Hicksville . We don't really get anything we wouldn't expect, but what makes it so funny is Guest can't take the usual cheap shortcuts because the quasi documentary forces him to maintain the air of reality. Also, he is willing to set the gags up and keep us in suspense, which gives the jokes a richness and the audience a little time to recover and gear up. The Beckett modified title refers to a self aggrandizing play put on to celebrate the sesquicentenial of fictitious Blaine, Missouri, portrayed as the yokelest of the yokelvilles. Guest plays a homosexual director exiled from NY who convinces the talentless natives to abandon their day jobs because they might have a career in acting, that a scout named Guffman is going to come and decide they are ready for Broadway. One of Blaine's claims to fame is it was visited by aliens before anyone ever heard of Roswell, which leads to a hilarious Mel Brooks style skit called "Nothing ever happens on Mars, boring." But too much of the comedy is heartless. In Guest's better work he walks the tightrope between performance and parody; here it's so obvious everyone is dumb and everything is awful. The characters don't have enough charm to get over the director's obvious hate for them, so it's basically 80 minutes of Guest giving hayseeds the high hat. Be sure to watch the credits because Corky's shop of essential movie collectibles is some of the funniest stuff the film has to offer. [12/23/06] ***

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