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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Best Films of 2007

My corneas are in danger of peeling right off my eyeballs. I've been in movie-watching overdrive for the last two weeks trying to take in all the 2007 Oscar contenders. Finally, I'm prepared to offer up the Stave It Off Official List of 2007's Best Films.

I was a little surprised at which films sank and which ones swam in this recent test. I was disappointed in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Waitress, The Host, Talk to Me and Once. And I was surprisingly impressed with Stardust, Sunshine and I'm Not There. Apologies, but I couldn't actually force myself to watch Michael Clayton, so I wasn't able to include that heavyweight in my calculations.

When I first started making the list, I wasn't sure I could come up with 10 films I even liked in 2007, but with a little research, and my last minute cinematographic marathon, I actually found 14 winners. After significant soul-searching, I've winnowed it down to ten. One thing that stands out to me is that I loved the soundtracks on 9 of the 10 picks. I guess I'm a sucker for a great score.

Without further ado, here's my first attempt at a final list:

10. Juno - Heartwarming in a sly hipster way... almost sank beneath its own pains to be cool, but redeemed with a solid second half, a great soundtrack, and charismatic performances by its two young leads. (See the Stave It Off Review Here)

9. The Savages - Tastefully subtle and human... great showcase for Stave It Off's favorite actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who has been one busy dude lately.) Mandatory viewing for social workers, especially those who work with the elderly.

8. Sunshine - Danny Boyle's take on space drama, taking hints from 2001 and Event Horizon. The "monster" feels unnecessarily inserted, but the primary conceit of the Sun as God figure, and just what happens to us as we get closer to God is marvelous.

7. Lars and the Real Girl - Offbeat feelgood movies are some of my favorites, and this one delivers. The real star of this film is a supportive community that asks (and correctly answers) the question, "What would Jesus do?" Almost enough to make me stop ranting about Christians.

6. Superbad - I can see how people would prefer Knocked Up, since it came first and introduced audiences to this comedy team's brand of foul-mouthed humor. But I saw Superbad first, and felt like the Michael Cera contrast worked better than the Seth Rogan maturation.

5. I'm Not There - The most impressionistic biography I've ever seen, and one of the films I've continued to think about since I first saw it. The film rests on an incredibly deep pastiche of homages and allusions. The soundtrack and art direction are great.

4. There Will Be Blood - More nihilistic than Soapy. Daniel Day Lewis should win best actor.

3. The Darjeeling Limited - Adrien Brody joins the Wes Anderson rat pack with surprising fluidity. Same brilliant dysfunctional family storytelling, great dialogue, brilliantly obscure soundtrack as Anderson's other films: The Life Aquatic, Royal Tennenbaums and Rushmore.

2. Margot at the Wedding - Actually succeeds at being just as dark as There Will Be Blood and our number one film. More convincing, and less cutesy, than Running with Scissors... this is a brilliant portrayal of borderline personality disorder. Nicole Kidman ought to edge out Cate Blanchett for Best Actress.

1. No Country for Old Men - I talked about this film for weeks, debating its finer points (and even its central meaning) with everyone I could find that had seen it. Coen Brothers should pick up Best Director and Best Picture honors. (See the Stave It Off Review Here)

There were lots of close calls and four films in particular that I wish could have made the list, but in the words of the Highlander, There Can Be Only 10! The others were Stardust, a Neil Gaiman penned screenplay that carries off his signature darkly romantic sensibility; Ratatouille, which everyone else liked just a little more than me; Sicko, which wasn't quite as compellingly told as the last two Michael Moore films; and The Golden Compass, which didn't do anything wrong, but just didn't excite me the way the book did.

Oh, and by the way... the Worst Film of the Year goes (easily) to Shoot Em Up.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Life in the Whirlpool

I had lunch today with Clay.
We meet now and then
to discuss life, love, mystery,
conquest and humility.

He told me to trust my instincts.
When I complained that my instincts seem so contradictory,
he told me to differentiate
between impulse and instinct.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Movie Prep

I'm furiously trying to chew my way through the critically acclaimed films of 2007 so that I can finally get my top ten list in order. Tonight, I caught There Will Be Blood with Soapy. Normally I'm not a D-Day Lewis fan, but his performance deserves a best actor nod or two. And I think Soap has a new nihilistic antihero to quote.

So I've got Waitress, Talk to Me, Sunshine, The Host and 3:10 to Yuma all queued up on Netflix. Plus I'm hoping to see Persepolis and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead at theaters this weekend. Then I have to pick and choose between those pictures, and an assortment from the following contenders: Superbad, No Country for Old Men, Sicko, Darjeeling Limited, Lars and the Real Girl, Juno, The Savages and Stardust. Should be all finished by next week.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Friday Night Massacre

After manhandling a Delux salad and seeing the subtle and touching film The Savages at The Harvard Exit, CC Rider and I dropped in on Bookstore Danny last Friday night. Apparently the best shift you can have at a hipster used bookstore on Broadway is the 6pm to 2am closing shift. Nothing much to do but chat people up, play your favorite music and get to know the intimate lives of the 18 cats that live there. We smuggled in cheap food and expensive beer, talked shit with the felines, bought a book every hour or so and listened to a cool record by Devendra Banhart. I found myself envying Dan's second job. For a literary buff like him, I reckon this is as much fun as it would be for me to moonlight as a deejay over at KEXP.

When we left at 2am, we encountered a drunken lot of hooligans who had just set fire to their obsolete Christmas Tree on the side of the street. I got caught up in the Bacchanalia and started chanting "Burn the Tree, Burn the Tree!" which is a joke only regular posters on Lookout Landing would have gotten. Moments later fire engines arrived, ironically creating far more disturbance to the sleeping denizens of that block than a burning tree ever could. CC was on the spot with her camera phone:

The perfect end to the evening!


Sunday Night Lyrics

Put out the lions and close the door
I need you more
Than I did before
Old Jack's been killed and buried away
Let's hang alone
Outside the gate
Flames scare the lions as do their dreams
That's the way it'll always be
Better close the door
That's the way it'll always be
Better close the door
Some fools forever don't ask for much
With frozen hand, calm Judas touch
Some towers of fire can be redeemed
Just let me burn

High worlds away


Monday, January 07, 2008

First Great Debate of 2008

Stave It Off watched the debates live from Walaka's crib with a rowdy crowd of card-carrying liberals. They mostly booed and hissed during the Republican portion... occasionally cheering for Ron Paul when he'd make one of his "kooky" comments about how we should get the hell out of the middle-east and how we'd be pissed off too if some foreign superpower (like China) came over here, occupied our land, set up military bases and occasionally took it upon themselves to "police" us. It was hilarious to watch all the other Republicans laugh condescendingly whenever Paul got a little air time. What a marvelous collection of ass wipes. Not sure who is more loathsome though... Mitt Romney and his "I'm a corporate tool" aesthetic, or Rudy G. and his "I'm sleazier than a Chicago mob-boss" vibe.

The interesting part was watching the three-headed beast of Clinton, Obama and Edwards. Bill Richardson? Thanks for playing. Take your 5% of the vote and go home. At least Dennis "the Menace" Kucinich voiced some opinions that stretched the field. Richardson's presence is pointless.

The Big Three wasted some time with a warm-up pissing match about flip-flopping... a completely inane issue best left to the chest-thumping Republicans. But then Clinton almost crapped herself when Obama and Edwards started tag-team blasting her as a force for status quo. It was clear at that point that Barak and John are both more determined to strike at Hillary than at each other. And it was clear that she will fight back when pressed.

As the debate evolved, all three major Democratic candidates showed their strengths. Edwards is a passionate defender of the middle-class who has shown surprising ethics in refusing lobbyist money and standing up to unethical corporations. He actually used his pulpit to name names... blasting Exxon and praising Costco for their respective corporate ethics. Let's call him The Paladin.

Obama made it clear that he believes in the concept of leadership. He believes that statesmanship can make a difference in inspiring Americans to the greater good. He attempts to be articulate and to listen closely to what others are saying. He seems to genuinely believe that instilling hope back to Americans is vitally needed. This likely comes from his background as a community organizer. Let's call him The Shepherd.

And Clinton is the insider. She's the one with the most experience (though much of it came as a first lady, both in Washington and Arkansas.) She's the one saying "leadership and ethics are great... but you've still got to get the job done if you want real change." Getting the job done means she'll cross party lines. It means she'll make concessions. She looks like someone I'd want working for me in a tough negotiation, where results meant more than grandstanding. Let's call her The Kingpin.

So... who would you want for President? All three are strong, capable politicians. All three blow away the Republican nominees. All three have their strengths and weaknesses in terms of electability. All three will wind up with significant roles in the next Democratic White House... either in the cabinet, or as Vice President. Personally, I came into the event expecting to affirm my support for Obama, but I was surprised at how well Clinton performed. Even so, my best case scenario is this: Put Obama, the Shepherd, up for President. He's best at leading, speechifying and will be a fantastic figurehead for the nation. He won't just shoot from the hip or sink into the "politics of fear" that have ruled this nation for the last 7 years. Put Edwards, the Paladin, up for VP. Let him be a moral compass, the way Al Gore was. Give him a supporting role and a strong voice in the administration. And install Clinton, the Kingpin, as Secretary of State, or some similar role where her powers of persuasion and ability to get things done will make this an effective administration. That's how I'd get the hydra to stop biting its own heads off and turn it into an ass-kicking political machine.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Happy New Year Stave It Offers. I rang in the new year with a ringing headache. Discovering that champagne and scotch taste great together (at 2am) was probably unfortuitous. The bold few who stayed up late with me stayed over in an improvised slumber party, so no one tried to drive home drunk.

My resolution (not that I ever take them seriously) is to try to be friendlier to people... not just my friends and family, but to strangers on the street, store clerks, policemen, bicyclers, bloggers, and Hollywood directors. My main strategies will be: smiling more; giving people credit for their ideas, work, good intentions; and asking for help when I need it instead of being so religiously self-sufficient. Someone recently told me that I tend to hold people at arm's length. I'd rather not be thought of that way, so I expect a modicum of change is in order.

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