Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Expect a lot of overlap between my favorite episodes and my favorite shows of the year. Even if a show that wasn't on my list scored a surprise hit, it's unlikely that episode would have beaten the best episodes of my ranked favorites. So if you missed that list, read the one you want to be more surprised about first.
My honorable mentions are the runners up, so I'll list them at the end in order to keep some semblance of surprise. Also, I limited my selection to one episode per show, because otherwise I would just post The Wire: Season 5 as my top 10 and be done with it. That said, these top episodes are all-time greats. I am thrilled with how much greatness came on my television this year, particularly compared to how little I've yet seen on the big screen this year.
I woke up having finally succumbed to the winter plague, so I'll be brief. I may add comments later, but I've raved about these episodes plenty by now.
Top 10 TV Episodes of 2008:
10. "A No Rough-Stuff Type Deal" - Breaking Bad
9. "The Palindrome Reversal Palindrome" - The Middleman
8. "Tina Fey/Carrie Underwood" - Saturday Night Live
7. "Cooter" - 30 Rock
6. "Dinner Party" - The Office
5. "The Hub" - Battlestar Galactica
4. "The Constant" - Lost
3. "Family Meeting" - The Shield
2. "A Night to Remember" - Mad Men
1. "-30-" - The Wire
30 Rock - "Succession," "Believe in the Stars"
Battlestar Galactica - "Revelations"
Breaking Bad - "Crazy Handful of Nothin'"
How I Met Your Mother - "Ten Sessions," "The Naked Man"
Lost - "The Economist"
Mad Men - "The Benefactor," "The New Girl," "Meditations in an Emergency"
The Office - "Goodbye, Toby," "Weight Loss"
Pushing Daisies - "Comfort Food"
Saturday Night Live - "Jon Hamm/Coldplay"
The Shield - "Parricide," "Possible Kill Screen"
The Wire - "Late Editions"
Now I just have one entry left (and prepare yourselves, because it is lengthy), but I probably won't finish it until I'm well again. So if I don't see you again until January, Happy 2008!
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The conclusion of my music in television series: My top 10 favorite TV music sequences. This time, there are no repeat shows.
10. Battlestar Galactica, "Crossroads Part 2" (Season 3, Episode 20)
Brendan McCreary - "All Along the Watchtower" - Frustratingly, a clip of the Season 3 finale montage is nowhere to be found. I officially despise all youtube video-makers. That said, the montage is fascinating, as the Final Four discover they're cylons, Lee discovers Kara, Roslin discovers her hybrid-induced pain, and we zoom out and then in on Earth.
9. Rescue Me, "Happy" (Season 2, Episode 12)
Ray Lamontagne - "All the Wild Horses" - One of the saddest scenes I've seen on television (now accompanied by parts of The Wire and The Shield). And it comes ironically in the episode "Happy," where Tommy and Janet trick themselves into buying into their empty happiness brought on by pills and a passive marriage.
8. The Shield, "Of Mice and Lem" (Season 5, Episode 10)
The Smashing Pumpkins - "Disarm" - This thrilling climax (maddeningly unavailable online) had me dying to see the season finale. To the haunting sounds of the Smashing Pumpkins, all the players arrange themselves for the finale, Kavanaugh forcing Corinne to let him in, Claudette surveying her kingdom, Dutch flirting with Tina, Danni in labor and Julien driving her to the hospital, and Vic hatching a plan to save Lem. Little did we know, thanks to the long-range implications of their actions, they were all arranging themselves for the finale of the series too.
7. Freaks and Geeks, "Pilot" (Season 1, Episode 1)
Styx - "Come Sail Away" - What builds to a potentially uncomfortable and embarrassing dance scene just as Sam gets the girl becomes a heart-warming example of the originality Freaks and Geeks.
6. Veronica Mars, "Leave it to Beaver" (Season 1, Episode 22)
Cotton Mather - "Lily Dreams On" - Ridiculously, this scene is not online anywhere either. The final sequence of Season 1 begins in a dream, with Veronica and Lilly serenely celebrating the solved murder case. But now that it's over, Lilly has to leave Veronica, capping the costly (for Veronica) season with a bittersweet victory. Veronica Mars has plenty of wonderful music moments, but this one, for me, is the most powerful.
5. Friday Night Lights, "State" (Season 1, Episode 22)
Tony Lucca - "Devil Town" - A clever recap of the season comes in the form of a state championship parade reuniting all the characters in ways that demonstrate their season-long growth. Lyla is now something of an outcast, Tim has gained some responsbility, Matt has lightened up a little bit, Julie has warmed to football culture, and most obviously, Street has adapted to life in a wheelchair. But even apart from that, this sequence encapsulates the first season's themes of community and hope, the whole town depending on each other and seeking triumphs where they can get them. Just ask Mama Smash or Grandma Saracen, screaming from the sidelines with pride that will not be restrained.
4. The Wire, "Final Grades" (Season 4, Episode 13)
Paul Weller - "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" - Another Wire montage, another ironic juxtaposition. While the cops smile and welcome McNulty back to the Major Cases Unit with a new case ahead of them, everyone else suffers horrible fates, from severance (in the well-deserved case of Herc) to brutal violence (in the horrible case of Randy). And above all, there's Dukie, abandoned to the street corner for reasons too simple to believe. Dukie's moment in the montage of "-30-" is more graphically painful, but it's here that he is lost to that world.
3. The O.C., "The Ties That Bind" (Season 1, Episode 27)
Jeff Buckley - "Hallelujah" - Ryan returning to Chino to deal with his and Theresa's "baby" forces Seth to embark on his own adventure, just as Marissa moves into a big, empty mansion, from which her only escape is diving into the bottle. Kirsten collapsing on Ryan's bed is the kicker though, recalling her initial reluctance to let him stay there even for a night.
2. The Sopranos, "Made in America" (Season 6, Episode 21)
Journey - "Don't Stop Believing" - You say cop-out, I say brilliance. The song (as well as the cuts to Meadow desperately attempting to park) perfectly amps up the tension during our final dinner with the Sopranos, and knowing it was the final scene had me mesmerized, savoring every final touch. Aside from the excellent shots of the other diner inhabitants, I really appreciated Carmela's reaction to the news that Carlo's a rat. It's subtle, but she's clearly imagining her gloomy future, with Tony in the slammer or worse, and she looks so disheartened, like she's giving up on being Carmela Soprano. Maybe that's why the infamous cook has nothing to do with their final meal. Say what you will about the blackout--and I'm not here to defend it, just the song and accompanying scene--but the final sequence of The Sopranos captivated me more than it had ever done before.
1. Six Feet Under, "Everyone's Waiting" (Season 5, Episode 12)
Sia - "Breathe Me" - The most appropriate ending for the show. No explanation required.
Now that the list is complete, here it is condensed in list form:
1. Six Feet Under - Sia - "Breathe Me"
2. The Sopranos - Journey - "Don't Stop Believing"
3. The O.C. - Jeff Buckley - "Hallelujah"
4. The Wire - Paul Weller - "I Walk on Gilded Splinters"
5. Friday Night Lights - Tony Lucca - "Devil Town"
6. Veronica Mars - Cotton Mather - "Lily Dreams On"
7. Freaks and Geeks - Styx - "Come Sail Away"
8. The Shield - The Smashing Pumpkins - "Disarm"
9. Rescue Me - Ray Lamontagne - "All the Wild Horses"
10. Battlestar Galactica - Brendan McCreary - "All Along the Watchtower"
11. Lost - Cass Elliot - "Make Your Own Kind of Music"
12. The Wire - The Blind Boys of Alabama - "Way Down in the Hole"
13. Scrubs - John Cale - "Hallelujah"
14. The Sopranos - Pink Floyd - "Comfortably Numb"
15. The O.C. - Patrick Park - "Something Pretty"
16. The Wire - Jesse Winchester - "Step by Step"
17. Northern Exposure - Iris Dement - "Our Town"
18. Freaks and Geeks - The Grateful Dead - "Ripple"
19. Veronica Mars - Mike Doughty - "I Hear the Bells"
20. The O.C. - Matt Pond PA - "Champagne Supernova"
21. The O.C. - Patrick Park - "Life's a Song"
22. Scrubs - Guided by Voices - "Hold on Hope"
23. The Shield - The Magnetic Fields - "All My Little Words"
24. The West Wing - Dire Straits - "Brothers in Arms"
25. Dead Like Me - Pink Martini - "Que Sera Sera"
26. The O.C. - Jem - "Maybe I'm Amazed"
27. Generation Kill - Johnny Cash - "The Man Comes Around"
28. The Shield - Kid Rock - "Bawitdaba"
29. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - James Darren - "I'll Be Seeing You"
30. Mad Men - Bob Dylan - "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"
31. Scrubs - Joshua Radin - "Winter"
32. The O.C. - Nada Surf - "If You Leave"
33. Veronica Mars - Fatboy Slim - "Right Here, Right Now"
34. Scrubs - Boston - "More Than a Feeling"
35. Battlestar Galactica - Philip Glass - "Metamorphosis One"
36. The Shield - Coldplay - "Trouble"
37. The Office - Elton John - "Tiny Dancer"
38. House - Josh Ritter - "Good Man"
39. Friday Night Lights - Ryan Adams - "Political Scientist"
40. The O.C. - Bloc Party - "Kreuzberg"
And now it's your turn to contribute. What did I leave off? You know I left off your all-time favorite and you're dying to get it out. Alternatively, what did you forget about that I included? Feel free to make youtube videos of unrepresented clips and let me know where they are.
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We're entering the top half, some of my favorite music sequences on television.
20. The O.C., "The Rainy Day Women" (Season 2, Episode 14)
Matt Pond PA - "Champagne Supernova" - Sandy reunites with Kirsten after dispatching that harlot Rebecca, Marissa comforts Ryan in the rain after the departure of the least interesting character since Ann Veal, and of course, Summer dumps Zach for Seth.
19. Veronica Mars, "Look Who's Stalking" (Season 2, Episode 20)
Mike Doughty - "I Hear the Bells" - My favorite part of this sequence is a back-and-forth where neither Logan nor Veronica are speaking, but just listening to the music and thinking about each other. Four whole shots pass without a word spoken, excepting Mike Doughty, which is practically unheard of on network television.
18. Freaks and Geeks, "Discos and Dragons" (Season 1, Episode 18)
The Grateful Dead - "Ripple" - The ending of Freaks and Geeks is the perfect finale, with Lindsay and Kim preparing for a summer on the road.
17. Northern Exposure, "Tranquility Base (Our Town)" (Season 6, Episode 23)
Iris Dement - "Our Town" - I've seen the occasional Northern Exposure episode, but I really don't know too much about it. However, I know and love the song, and when I heard it was included in the final montage, I sought it out. And, as you can see, I was quite impressed with the final sequence of Northern Exposure.
16. The Wire, "Sentencing" (Season 1, Episode 13)
Jesse Winchester - "Step by Step" - After all that, a season's worth of investigation and drug trade, the characters of The Wire are not much better off, if they are at all. Kima's alone in the hospital, Carver's about to face Burrell's wrath, Stringer's relocating to the church, Bubbles is still scavenging for a living, and McNulty has been relegated to the boat. Daniels and company have scored a hollow and transient victory that cost them more than they gained.
15. The O.C., "The Telenovela" (Season 1, Episode 20)
Patrick Park - "Something Pretty" - Great scene, phenomenal song. Seth and Summer stole The O.C. from Ryan and Marissa, and this was the climax of their courtship.
14. The Sopranos, "Kennedy and Heidi" (Season 6, Episode 18)
Pink Floyd - "Comfortably Numb" - Sorry about the video. It's getting ridiculous that such famous sequences are not available online, even by their parent networks. I understand HBO not offering free content, but having seen the prices of their DVDs, I think they could spare a few free online clips. But back to the sequence, Christopher's death was shocking and powerful, beautifully led to by "Comfortably Numb." I love the way Tony interprets Christopher's comment about the sound system having no balls, and the way he bores into his nephew, almost praying for his death so he wouldn't have to deal with the possible liability in his organization. And then the choice is made for him.
13. Scrubs, "My Old Lady" (Season 1, Episode 4)
John Cale - "Hallelujah" - Not the best version of the song, but sufficient for Scrubs' first moment of brilliance. This sequence made me realize I was watching something special.
12. The Wire, "-30-" (Season 5, Episode 10)
The Blind Boys of Alabama - "Way Down in the Hole" - The final montage of The Wire is a work of art in itself. The institutions roar on, having spit out the rebellious reformers and rearranged certain cogs like Daniels and Pearlman. Meanwhile, Freamon retires to a happy life with Shardene, Templeton cynically wins the Pulitzer, and everyone else gets promoted so they don't have to care about fixing the problems in local government.
11. Lost, "Man of Science, Man of Faith" (Season 2, Episode 1)
Cass Elliot - "Make Your Own Kind of Music" - Remember how exhilarating seeing this for the first time was? How you tried to figure out who that guy was--maybe a younger version of Jack? How you immediately discerned it was a flashback based on the record player and sink and exercise equipment? And how thrilling it was to find out what was really going on?
Next up: Top 40 finale! The top 10 musical sequences on television--I can't wait.
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As you can see, we're on to the second quarter of my Top 40 TV music sequences, and I won't bore you with further introduction:
30. Mad Men, "The Wheel" (Season 1, Episode 13)
Bob Dylan - "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" - It's a simple, brief scene, but the Dylan really enhances the final moment of Season 1, where Don comes home eager to be with his family only to find them already gone (with his apparent blessing). It's unfortunate that I can't find a clip online.
29. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "The Siege of AR-558" (Season 7, Episode 8)
James Darren - "I'll Be Seeing You" - This is the last entry this post without a clip. As Sisko and Ezri await the Jem'Hadar, Bashir plays Vic Fontaine's cover of "I'll Be Seeing You" over the intercom. The effect is to provide a wrenching contrast between the warm, nostalgic song and the cold harrowing action. What's more, Nog lies dying on a hospital bed, and Quark looks on helpless.
28. The Shield, "Pilot" (Season 1, Episode 1)
Kid Rock - "Bawitdaba" - The final montage of the pilot earns our love as we get to see what everyone's up to after hours. Aceveda nurses a child, Claudette greets her dog, Danni takes a gun, and . But these scenes are mere punctuation for the Strike Team, embarking on one of their infamous raids. I love the small touches, like Lem getting pumped up by music before his big outing, but the ending cements Vic Mackey as a bad guy and The Shield as a show to watch.
27. Generation Kill, "Bomb in the Garden" (Episode 7)
Johnny Cash - "The Man Comes Around" - The soldiers of Generation Kill gather 'round to watch Lilley's video, but seeing such climactic moments in a string gradually puts them all off, until Trombley's the only one watching.
26. The O.C., "The Ties That Bind" (Season 1, Episode 27)
Jem - "Maybe I'm Amazed" - The clip cuts off, but the song plays through Summer and Seth's mysterious chat in the garden. But the wedding reception is an excellent reminder of the season's arc, as the adults pair off and Ryan and Marissa say their goodbyes.
25. Dead Like Me, "Pilot" (Season 1, Episode 1)
Pink Martini - "Que Sera Sera" - George's first soul belongs to a little boy, much to her dismay. But the amusement park version of heaven is a beautiful conclusion to the soul-stealing affair, and the song complements the nostalgia and longing perfectly.
24. The West Wing, "Two Cathedrals" (Season 2, Episode 22)
Dire Straits - "Brothers in Arms" - The final scene of Season 2, where President Bartlett decides whether or not to run for reelection in the wake of Mrs. Landingham's death (upon which he cursed God in Latin--which Aaron Sorkin probably thinks is cool but which I find dumb) hypnotically draws out the tension.
23. The Shield, "Cupid & Psycho" (Season 1, Episode 8)
The Magnetic Fields - "All My Little Words" - Here's another personal choice, because I love the song despite the sequence not being all that integral to the show. Still, the autism scene, where Cassidy shows Matthew how to eat pizza is touching.
22. Scrubs, "My Occurrence" (Season 1, Episode 20)
Guided by Voices - "Hold on Hope" - My favorite episode of Scrubs owes it all to this sequence. The song, the flashbacks, and the Polaroids contribute to an unexpectedly powerful climax.
21. The O.C., "The End's Not Near, It's Here" (Season 4, Episode 16)
Patrick Park - "Life's a Song" - The final montage of The O.C. shows us glimpses into the futures of the characters. Julie Cooper finally achieving her goal is obviously my favorite part, but the whole thing is wonderful.
Next up: Part 4 - #20-11
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The first ten music sequences on my Top 40. Let's get right to it, shall we?
40. The O.C., "The Night Moves" (Season 4, Episode 15)
Bloc Party - "Kreuzberg" - Basically, the finale of the series proper, as the actual final episode takes us a little ways into the future. So this is our last look at the Cohens and company, everyone happily surviving the earthquake and walking out of the hospital as one, big, happy family.
39. Friday Night Lights, "I Think We Should Have Sex" (Season 1, Episode 17)
Ryan Adams - "Political Scientist" - On top of the splendid A-plot, Tim Riggins deals with his deadbeat dad stealing a video camera, which of course sparks his self-destructive button. And remember when everyone knew each other on this show (because it's a small town), and some waitress could call Tyra and get her to rescue Tim? It's beautifully shot, but Ryan Adams propels this scene into greatness.
38. House, "Human Error" (Season 3, Episode 24)
Josh Ritter - "Good Man" - Since no clips exist online--and how is that even possible any more?--I'll just have to describe it. If you'll recall, the Season 3 finale is the episode where House's original team walks out on him (well Chase is fired, as shown above). In the end, we're waiting to see how he gets them back, as Josh Ritter croons in the background. But House doesn't get his old team back--he's got a guitar and a motorcycle instead. And then we waited for three months.
37. The Office, "The Dundies" (Season 2, Episode 1)
Elton John - "Tiny Dancer" - I also couldn't find a clip of this (although I didn't watch any of the fanvids to see if it was included in their montages), but at the very end of "The Dundies," Jim and Pam say goodbye, and he stands outside his car watching her get driven home as "Tiny Dancer" plays.
36. The Shield, "Circles" (Season 1, Episode 13)
Coldplay - "Trouble" - The last one without a video, I promise. Really, youtubers, this is a disappointing average. Anyway, this is the season-ending montage, as Vic arrives home to find Corinne gone, the house still ransacked from the Strike Team's desperate search for Gilroy's gun.
35. Battlestar Galactica, "Valley of Darkness" (Season 2, Episode 1)
Philip Glass - "Metamorphosis One" - The link takes you to a youtube video of the scene that can't be embedded. The song is sad and nostalgic, perfect for Starbuck's return to her apartment on Caprica. But what I love most is that the producers kept playing the song during the scenes on Galactica, as Adama lies in a coma and Tigh second-guesses his dubious command decisions. I could be wrong, but I think the song plays later during a scene in Tigh's quarters, as Ellen tries to raise his confidence.
34. Scrubs, "My Half-Acre" (Season 5, Episode 9)
Boston - "More Than a Feeling" - Janitor is perfectly cool in the background, but Donald Faison rocks this number.
33. Veronica Mars, "Spit and Eggs" (Season 3, Episode 9)
Fatboy Slim - "Right Here, Right Now" - The later scene with the song played from the beginning is also great, but this teaser is pulse-pounding.
32. The O.C., "The Goodbye Girl" (Season 1, Episode 21)
Nada Surf - "If You Leave" - Anna's farewell scene! I would have a problem with the cliched airport scene if this weren't The O.C. and if it didn't feature the perfection of Anna and Seth's friendship.
31. Scrubs, "My Screw Up" (Season 3, Episode 14)
Joshua Radin - "Winter" - For me, the song is better than the scene, which features almost no action as Ben's funeral takes place. Nevertheless, it's one of my favorite Scrubs scenes thanks to both Joshua Radin and Brendan Fraser.
Next up: Top 40 Part 3 - #30-21
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Thursday, December 18, 2008
At last, the final part of my Music in Television series. My favorite musical sequences featuring pre-existing songs. There are so many candidates that it's been fun coming up with the best, but I'm sure I've overlooked some. And as always, my list skews modern thanks to the limited scope of my research.
I'd get right into it, but I'm feeling generous. So first, here are two clips that were not in the running for my Top 40.
1. A great Previously On montage:
Supernatural Season 1 finale - Kansas - "Carry On My Wayward Son"
I don't even watch Supernatural or know much about it, but fans rave about that sequence, and rightfully so.
2. My favorite promo:
Battlestar Galactica Season 3 promo
Gross song, but wonderful promo. This was our first glimpse of where everyone ended up after the Cylons landed on New Caprica, our first glimpse of one-eyed Colonel Tigh, our first "This is Kara, your mother," our first scene of Baltar begging to be killed for his sins. I know promos are regularly objects of rage for spoilerphobes, but in this case, it was a desperately needed appetizer.
Now, the honorable mentions. These are the songs that were strongly considered but ultimately cut from my Top 40 Music Sequences on TV. I'd like to reiterate that the list is limited to mostly modern shows, so keep in mind this is not even close to an All-Time Best Of list. Also, these are simply the songs and scenes that I enjoyed most, so it's possible one of your favorites won't be that high on my list. That said, I'd love to hear what I completely left off or forgot about, so feel free to chime in.
Honorable Mention Time:
1. Freaks and Geeks, "Discos and Dragons" (Season 1, Episode 18)
Heatwave - "Groove Line" - This clip is lengthy, but if you skip to the middle, you'll get the good stuff. By which I am referring to Nick's virtuoso dance moves.
2. Mad Men, "Maidenform" (Season 2, Episode 6)
The Decemberists - "The Infanta" - Probably a personal choice, but I loved this song scoring the opening of the episode. I was so excited I couldn't focus on what was going on.
3. Scrubs, "My Choosiest Choice of All" (Season 3, Episode 19)
Polyphonic Spree, "Light & Day" - I got confused on where to place scenes like this where the music is sung onscreen but also plays offscreen for montage portions (as in the Mad Men version of "Babylon"), so this and a few others got put in this category, but "Babylon" was used for my other list. Sorry.
4. Scrubs, "My Lunch" (Season 5, Episode 20)
The Fray - "How to Save a Life" - I feel like putting this song so low is controversial, but it just isn't at the top of the Scrubs charts, for me.
5. Scrubs, "My Long Goodbye" (Season 6, Episode 15)
Keane - "A Bad Dream" - Judy Reyes is the most underrated member of the Scrubs cast, but once again, she nails it.
6. The Shield, "Dominoes Falling" (Season 2, Episode 13)
Live - "Overcome" - This is at the top of many Shield fans lists, but a few other music moments stuck with me more. Relatedly, I forgot some of the best Rescue Me music scenes, so feel free to refresh my memory in the comments.
7. Six Feet Under, "Terror Starts at Home" (Season 4, Episode 6)
Death Cab for Cutie - "Transatlanticism" - I remember liking this scene a lot more when I saw the episode, but here it's not spectacular. On the other hand, high Claire is easily the highlight of Season 4.
8. Veronica Mars, "Plan B" (Season 2, Episode 17)
The Perishers - "Sway" - Well that's the second half of the song. I officially despise youtube fangirls, who have populated the site with Logan/Veronica fanvids (as the kids say) but not actual clips from the show. Anyway, the first half is the soundtrack for Mac and Beaver discussing "business time," which is heartbreaking, even though we're not sure what's going on. But the dance between Veronica and Logan is the closest they'd been the whole year, and it was glorious. Pay attention to how the lyrics of the song apply to Beaver/Mac and then Veronica/Logan for extra fun.
My final 5 Honorable Mentions go to the king of musical sequences, The O.C. So, in chronological order, here are the 5 O.C. clips that didn't make the cut:
1. "The Secret" (Season 1, Episode 12)
Jet - "Move On"
2. "The Heartbreak" (Season 1, Episode 19)
Ryan Adams - "Wonderwall"
3. "The O.Sea" (Season 2, Episode 23)
Coldplay - "Fix You"
4. "The Avengers" (Season 4, Episode 1)
Placebo - "Running Up That Hill"
5. "The Metamorphosis" (Season 4, Episode 4)
The Pogues - "Love You Till the End"
What do you think?
Next up: Top 40 Part 2 - #40-31
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I've finally gotten around to some of 2008's higher profile releases, and I wanted to share some quick, spoiler-free reactions. I'd wait, but I'm not sure I'll get an opportunity to write about two of these decent, but underwhelming movies again. Undetailed, blurbish responses to Frost/Nixon, Milk, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona to follow:
Frost/Nixon: Good movie with great performances. A day later, I'm not sure I want to see Frost/Nixon again. It was rather Ron Howard, which is to say it was enjoyable entertainment, but not particularly complex or unique. In fact, I'm a little bothered by how conventional it played, with the underdog losing until the final game, especially since the real interviews amount to 28 hours, not the precise six obliged by the movie. Still, it's definitely worth a single viewing for the performances. Frank Langella's Nixon is a towering precursor to Philip Baker Hall in Altman's Secret Honor, already showing signs of incredible self-awareness, but Langella's Nixon is practically dying to confess. Which brings me to another problem: Richard Nixon perpetrated one of the greatest acts to undermine democracy, but he's not a cartoon villain. My impression is that Langella's Nixon is likeable, charming, brilliant, and admirably guilt-ridden despite the script, rather than because of it. The positive aspects of Nixon owe more thanks to Langella's charisma than the story, which is oversimplified into a hero vs. villain struggle. And if Oliver Stone can humanize Bush, I think Ron Howard and Peter Morgan can give Nixon a little credit where it's due.
Michael Sheen is once again going to be overlooked by the more theatrical performance (as in The Queen with Helen Mirren--see also The Last King of Scotland with James McAvoy, No Country for Old Men with Josh Brolin, The Asssassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with Casey Affleck). But Sheen was a worthy competitor for Langella, both in his flamboyant showman scenes and the subtlety of his internalized disappointment. The supporting cast is basically the lineup of the Indie Spirit Awards, with Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Toby Jones and Matthew McFadyen, but the standout was Kevin Bacon's Jack Brennan. Bacon plays a staunch Nixon loyalist, stoically defending him throughout, and his nuanced denial enhances the drama instead of screaming for awards attention.
Milk: Timely, but not timeless. Premiering in the wake of Proposition 8, Milk (the character and the movie) demands that we hold the Democratic party accountable. Its leaders, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, talk a big game about equality and gay rights but are more than happy to sacrifice us for some moderate/right votes, and just as Anita Bryant won the battle in Dade County (sidenote: at what point can America cede Dade county to, say, Cuba? Frankly, I'd rather have Puerto Rico), and the Mormon Church won in California, the war will eventually be won by (lower-case D) democrats. American history is the story of gradually expanding liberty, and Harvey Milk uniting the gay rights movement because of Anita Bryant recalls the protests nationwide after the passing of Proposition 8.
But as a movie, I was never particularly impressed, and I should have been. The story of Harvey Milk is impressive--and I was moved by the inherently moving aspects of the story, especially the civil rights victory--but biopics are notoriously overconventional, and that reliance on familiar story beats detracts from the colorful character who started a fire that's still burning. As Milk, Sean Penn was very good--I wasn't as captivated with him as I was with Langella and Sheen--but in some of the emotional scenes, I couldn't help but recall, "Is that my daughter in there?!" Which was probably not Gus Van Sant's intention. As with Frost/Nixon, the supporting cast was a solid list of mostly indie standouts (James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Joseph Cross, Diego Luna), but all were overshadowed by the wonderful turn by Josh Brolin as Dan White. Every time I see Brolin, I think he's more awesome, and for whatever reason, his reputation has yet to catch up with his brilliance.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona: That's better. Leave it to Woody Allen to give me a memorable movie, even over Gus Van Sant and Ron Howard. Vicky Cristina Barcelona immediately evokes Whit Stillman's Barcelona, as both films are about two close friends or relatives spending a summer in Barcelona, as narrators reveal intimate contrasts between their lives. The other movie I couldn't help but recall was In Bruges, in some ways a travelogue for the medieval European city. Vicky is just as much a travelogue for Barcelona, and the town's culture, through its art, architecture, and locations, fanned my yearning to visit.
The focus on art and artists also forces comparisons to Allen's hero Ingmar Bergman, and combined with the romantic entanglements, it carves a place in the Allen oeuvre right next to Interiors and Manhattan, although Vicky projects a fun, carefree persona that obscures the depth of the material. Relatedly, one drawback, minor because it's practically implied, is that nearly every character speaks in the voice of Woody Allen, stammering and psychoanalytical. The one that doesn't is the mesmerizing muse of the picture, Penelope Cruz, who plays a fiery Latin artist without an unbelievable moment. Allen's long shots entrance us, and his compositions reflect the beauty of Barcelona as the camera movements mimic a photographer finding a subject.
Since you asked, here's what's coming up for me: Happy-Go-Lucky, Gran Torino, and Let the Right One In. Happy movie-watching!
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