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Nerdflix I Love Thee: From The Barren Antarctic To Richard Gere Biopic Tedium

I've finally come off my high of doing 2008 catch-up. This will be the last edition of this feature for 2009 that largely spotlights my attempts at revising my personal Top Ten list for the previous year. Now that I officially have found ten films from 2008 that I truly love, I feel like I can be at peace with my journey. Imagine me at the top of a blizzardy mountainous peak, a path marked by film reel and a pack of pistachios (my 2008 sustenance of choice) slung over my shoulder. Other film freaks, critics, and people with lives either never embarked on the arduous quest or they have long since descended and started chowing down their 2009 offerings long before I had even known the greatness of Melissa Leo. It's sad up here at the top, especially when you're the lame kid in gym class that just figured out how to play bombardment. Here be the latest entry in my Nerdflix DVD/Watch Now diary, written to you from atop the precipice...

Encounters At The End Of The World: Yeah so brilliant documentarian Werner Herzog inspired my forced Everest metaphor, so what? I can't help it. He's probably the only consistently cutting edge filmmaker of his medium, so naturally I feel the need to rip him off in more oblique and obvious fashions. When he brings you a documentary about a man who's crazy in love with grizzly bears, he brings it hard and weird. With adorable foxes and crap. And when he brings you a wide array of non-fiction factoids about everything at the extreme end of our Earth's southern hemisphere, you know he's going to go all schizo with it, cutting between an interview with a guy who works at an ice cream shoppe in the middle of an industrial village and shots of bottom-dwelling crustaceans that might contain genes tracing back to the beginning of time. Atop all of this is of course narration that is truthful as a textbook but as abstract as a Lynchian nightmare, delivered with Herzog's discomforting and intriguing snarl. It's mesmerizing and sure as eff should have beat out Jackass On Wire. Nerdflix Instructions: Move To Top Of Queue.

Towelhead: Alan Ball, is there no controversial topic you're afraid to tackle? Rather, I should ask, did you feel American Beauty didn't cram enough deadpan suburban depression down the audience's throat for your tastes? You just had to tell the same story, but add a half-Arab protagonist with a black boyfriend into the white upper-middle class neighborhood. The rest is still there: a soldier that stirs up a political subtext, pedophilia, possible homosexuality, and female sexual awakening. Throw in Toni Colette as an uber-liberal neighbor, place it all during Desert Storm and just call the president by his last name, and you've got one big mess of shock and awe. What's most infuriating? It's all actually pretty interesting and engaging. Definitely nothing that moved me or will stick with me, but Ball has a way with characters (especially the dad, played by Peter Macdissi) that makes them as complex as much as it makes them obvious and facile. Nerdflix Instructions: Add To Neverending Queue.

Frozen River: My March faves listing says it all. This is the perfect movie to crawl up with on a late weekday night with all the lights off and just totally grip you from beginning to end. The setup makes it sound like a standard melodrama: lower-class single mother wants to buy her sons a bigger trailer to live in, starts trafficking illegals over the border in order to afford it. But in fact it's as much a straight-up thriller as it is a heartstring-tugging tragedy. The natural lighting and cinematography is relentlessly enigmatic in its uncompromising honesty. Whether it's the dead black of night or the bright whiteness of a winter's day, first-time director Courtney Hunt is a marvel at making us care deeply for Melissa Leo's Ray not only as a human being but as a modern day anti-hero that we really want to see get away with doing some pretty awful things. And Leo deserved that surprise nom like none other, even more so than Jenkins in The Visitor. She's a wreck throughout, the perfect kind of forlorn soul for David Simon's next show (oh wait, that's happening! awesome!). See this movie please. Nerdflix Instructions: Move To Top Of Queue.

School Daze: Spike Lee was bound to fail me again one way or another. He's just too full of vibrancy and chutzpah to warrant the tag of "consistently rewarding filmmaker". What is consistent is that the ideas for, the execution of, and the performances within his movies are always outstanding. Unfortunately it's all those middle steps, such as flow and character development, that keep many (including myself) from calling too few of his films worthwhile. This one from 1988 (one year before his masterpiece Do The Right Thing) threads a narrative through the fictional campus of Mission University, a black-dominated college whose students struggle with frat pledging, social activism, and of course girls. And all through Lee's trademark lens of "it's not a race thing, it's a human thing" which always has and always will make him leagues beyond people like Paul Haggis, even when his filmmaking chops aren't up to par with his best work. Regardless, Laurence Fishburne pulls the film the best as he can with the little progression he's given as a protagonist, proving that his modern days as the CSI guy are even mroe depressing in retrospect. Also, whatever happened to Giancarlo Esposito? He's hammy and great. Ultimately though, I can't recommend spending your time with this. Nerdflix Instructions: Delete From Watch Instantly Queue.

The Hoax: So this Watch Instantly thing. Nerdflix has recently added a feature that allows the subscriber to know if a movie available on their Watch Now page will be relegated to DVD-only status anytime soon. Which is how I ended up watching this totally random flick as well as the previously reviewed Spike Lee joint. I figured I might as well take advantage of watching films like these online so I don't have to see them plop back into my stuffed-to-the-brim regular queue after they're made unavailable on Watch Now. Sure maybe I'll never get through either queue completely before I die, but at least it's an illusion of progress. I took this opportunity to present you this useless aside because while there are elements of interest in this (once again) totally random choice of film following a man named Clifford Irving (played by Richard Gere? since when do I watch Richard Gere movies?) who almost got away with writing a fake autobiography of the recluse billionaire Howard Hughes. It's your standard biopic/based-on-a-true-story formula with no flashy (read: interesting) direction, but at least the premise is slightly impressive in its basic form. The lovely Hope Davis plays a McGraw Hill assistant whose naivety and brilliance combat back and forth while Gere pretends to be likeable and Marcia Gay Harden and Alfred Molina both pretend they're no more than acceptable supporting cast. Nerdflix Instructions: Delete From Watch Instantly Queue.

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  1. Blogger Brigitte | 10:24 AM |  

    i forgot that i wanted to see Frozen River...thanks for reminding me!

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