Poll: Chinese Films of the Decade

Running on Karma (dir. Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai) Over on the dGenerate Films website, the results of weeks of emailing Chinese film experts and tabulating of ballots to determined the top Chinese language films of the last 10 years. I'm kind of whateverz about the top pick, which I've reflected upon already, but I think results are quite interesting. I didn't expect West of the Tracks to place so highly, and didn't realize Devils on the Doorstep had so much support as well. But the showing for Oxhide was truly amazing - and heartening. I still need to write at length what I think about that film as well as it's equally astounding sequel.

I didn't submit a top ten list to the poll to avoid conflict of interest, but for what it's worth here's what mine would have looked like:

Before the Flood (Yu Yan and Li Yifan) Crime and Punishment (Zhao Liang) - still waiting to see Petition though Hero (Zhang Yimou) Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow) Oxhide (Liu Jiayin) Platform (Jia Zhangke) Running on Karma (Johnnie To and Wa Ka-Fai) The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang) West of the Tracks (Wang Bing) - sort of the 800 pound gorilla whose massiveness can't be denied Yi Yi (Edward Yang)

See what everyone else voted by going here

Top 50 of the '00s (as seen on Twitter)

For those not following, here's the rundown: 50: ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (04 McKay) The purest, most protean offering from the Judd Apatow juggernaut. 49: HERO ('02, Zhang) Up there with TRIUMPH OF THE WILL among great propaganda movies. (The '08 Olympic ceremonies could have this spot 2) 48: CACHE. Former #1 of '05 4 me, but I've lost interest in Haneke's puppet-stringing along of his audience no matter how masterful 47: WOMAN ON THE BEACH (06) My favorite Hong Sang-soo film b/c it goes furthest beyond the psychosexual self-flagellation of prickish males 46: WEST OF THE TRACKS (04 Wang Bing) The SHOAH or SATANTANGO of the '00s? Europe/Asia say yes, US has no clue - I'm somewhere in between 45 KUNG FU HUSTLE (04) Not as deliriously funny as Chow's 90s work but more consistent, world audience-friendly, and still crazy inventive 44 GRIZZLY MAN (05 Herzog) Rarely has a filmmaker revealed so much of himself (boorishly & brilliantly) by sifting through another's work 43 WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE (06) 25th HOUR is great, but Spike Lee's 4 hr Katrina doc is like a Mahler symphony: 1 long cumulating heartbreak 42 BEFORE THE FLOOD (05 Yan Yu, Li Yifan) docu inspiration for STILL LIFE, w/o the arthouse dressing. Sometimes raw is better than cooked. 41 PAPRIKA (06 Satoshi Kon) like an anime Cronenberg movie, and even more chockfull of animation styles than SPIRITED AWAY 40: MOOLAADE (04 Sembene) A feel-good movie on female genital mutilation: one of many contradictions from this African JOHNNY GUITAR 39 FOUR MONTHS THREE WEEKS AND TWO DAYS (07 Mungiu) The terrifying splendor of claustrophobic long takes. 38 ESTHER KAHN (00) Less multitasking/audience-pleasing, more focused/iconoclastic than Desplechin's more touted films. Sinuous + defiant 37 THE HURT LOCKER (09 Bigelow) thoroughly exploits the paradox of its premise. War = cinema = traumatic high 4ever beckoning 36 WALL-E (08) My favorite Pixar film of the decade; their most purely cinematic achievement, at times approaching a musical formalism 35 RUSSIAN ARK (02) Yes it's a stunt, but it pushed digital cinema to uncharted territory. The last 5 minutes always takes my breath away. 34 MY ARCHITECT (03 Nathaniel Kahn) Essay on architecture woven into a heartfelt father-son dialogue. The final scene in Dhaka DESTROYED me 33 THE GLEANERS AND I (00 Varda) timely theme of recycling thoroughly explored to become a manifesto for living, seeing and filmmaking 32 HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (04 Miyazaki) Prefer this to SPIRITED AWAY - narrative more vibrant and disruptive, sentiments more adult. 31 BORAT (06 Larry Charles) Many arguments for, many against. Ultimately, I laughed my ass off more than any other film in 2000s. 30 THE CLASS (08 Cantet) One of the smartest, most energetic and immersive depictions of institutional education among fiction films. 29 JACKASS NUMBER TWO (06) The most meta Hollywood comedy of 2000s, exposing desperation and terror behind the endless pursuit of laughs 28) CRIME AND PUNISHMENT (07 Zhao Liang) 1 of the best Frederick Wiseman docs not directed by Wiseman. 1 of the best police movies period. 27 BEESWAX (09 Bujalski) Transcends "mumblecore" - too busy peeling away the intricacies of language to be bothered with labels. 26 PEPPERMINT CANDY (2000, Lee Chang-dong) Like diving headlong into a festering national wound. Absolutely devastating. 25 TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (01 Jeong Jae-eun) Sublime chronicle of pre-adult friendships fading - if only Hollywood teen movies were this good. 24 VIBRATOR (03 Hiroki Ryuichi) Of the many films about the malaise that hit 2000s Japan, this one was the most fun and inventive. 23 BATTLE IN HEAVEN (05 Reygadas) A camera that dances like a needle, sinuously weaving together the disparate patches of a society 22 HAPPY GO LUCKY (08 Leigh) Has serotonin levels rivalling MGM musicals, but also thoughtful reflection on social politics of happiness 21 MILLION DOLLAR BABY (04) Forget Paul Haggis' script - it's just a vehicle for Eastwood's determinist battle waged in light and shadow. 20 THE CENTURY OF THE SELF (02) Adam Curtis may be England's answer to Michael Moore; but this treatise on human desire is worthy of Bunuel 19 THERE WILL BE BLOOD (07) My favorite movie with a capital M this decade. My tastes so different from 10 yrs ago (MAGNOLIA my #1 then) 18 THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX ('09) a deceptively breezy, anthropomorphic masterpiece that dares to dance upon humankind's self-made tomb. 17 BARKING DOGS NEVER BITE (00 Bong Joon-ho) Comically obsessive, socially incisive. Set the template for Korea's best director of 2000s. 16 MIAMI VICE (05 Mann) For me this was the film that advanced digital cinematic art into Hollywood filmmaking (or vice versa) Romantic trifecta: 15) EVERYONE ELSE (09 Ade), 14) BEFORE SUNSET (04 Linklater) 13) ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (04 Gondry) 12) THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (05 Christi Puiu) Romanian health care = Dante's Inferno. When's the US remake? Oh yeah, we're living it. 11) THE WAYWARD CLOUD (05 Tsai Ming-liang) Can't think of a braver, more inventive film about sex and movies. So darkly candid it hurts. 10) BY COMPARISON (09 Harun Farocki) Film on how bricks are made around the world becomes a stunning probe into humankind's destiny. 9) BAMAKO (06 Sissako) The world put on trial for Africa's cultural genocide. Witness "reclamation cinema," scathing and serenely eloquent 8: L'INTRUS (04 Claire Denis) the ultimate anti-Tom Friedman book: the world ain't flat, it's got as many curves as your dreams and fears. 7) LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF (03 Thom Andersen) Had a profound influence on my own criticism/filmmaking - I can only hope to be as good. 6) YI YI (00 Edward Yang) The best instance of the decade's worst subgenre, the multi-character globalization drama. All downhill from here. 5) A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (01 Spielberg)http://bit.ly/BRnqg 4) PLATFORM (00 Jia Zhang-ke) http://bit.ly/8Vd7qL 3) OXHIDE (04) and OXHIDE II (09). Liu Jiayin turns mom, dad and their tiny apartment into 2 experimental yet heartfelt Cinemascope epics 2) WHERE DOES YOUR HIDDEN SMILE LIE? (01 Pedro Costa) The best documentary AND romantic comedy of the decade.http://bit.ly/7rZsgv 1) THE MAD SONGS OF FERNANDA HUSSEIN (01 John Gianvito) Changed my view on the meaning of movies like no other film. http://bit.ly/5bH98L

Stay tuned for a podcast between me and another critic who shares my choice for #1...

Best of the Decade Derby: Now on Twitter

I haven't had much time to pursue the Best of the Decade Derby in the latter half of this year, but it would only be right to give it some kind of closure. So this week I made some time to sort through a long list of films from the past 10 years, and compiled a list of top 50 films of the decade. (One proviso: there were so many good films that I wanted to include, that I decided to restrict the list to one entry per director.) I'll post the list before the end of the month on this site - but for now I'm counting them down on my Twitter feed. You can follow @alsolikelife.

For now, here's a list of films that I had planned to do Best of Decade derby entries on with friends and colleagues. We'll just have to reflect on what they might have been like...

Battle in Heaven Before Sunset The Death of Mr. Lazarescu Fat Girl Kings and Queen Punch Drunk Love Regular Lovers Syndromes and a Century There Will Be Blood Two Lovers The Wayward Cloud The Wire -  I would have done a roundtable podcast pondering whether it deserved inclusion among the best films of the decade (there are some critics I know who think so)

Best of the Decade Derby Serial Killer Showdown: Zodiac vs. Memories of Murder with Andrew Grant and Vadim Rizov

memories_of_murder-1zodiac-3 On this installment of BoDD we're delving into the case of not one but two serial killer movies to determine which one is a better candidate for Best of the Decade. In one corner, we have Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder, a critical and box office smash in Korea that flopped in the U.S., though not without a few raves by a handful of critics who caught it. In the other corner, David Fincher's Zodiac, which also flopped in the U.S., though well received by a critical contingent.

In this lively podcast, I discuss both films with Andrew Grant, aka Filmbrain, of the popular blog Like Anna Karina's Sweater, and Vadim Rizov, film critic and contributor to the Indie Eye blog at IFC.com. We discuss our experiences watching both films, as well as Bong's and Fincher's' defining characteristics, what made Memories a commercial success and Zodiac a flop with their respective target audiences, the juggernaut that was Korean cinema in the early half of this decade, and other topics. Also listen to find out which film is the #2 pick of the decade for which podcast interviewee...

Click to play (right click to download)

Best of the Decade Derby: Live-blogging 25th Hour with Mike D'Angelo

Best of the Decade Derby resumes, hopefully with more frequency now that I'm settled in Brooklyn - and surrounded as I now am with dozens of cinephile friends and colleagues, I hope to have many of them over to watch and discuss more of the best films of the past 10 years.

Unfortunately, one of my favorite cinephiles and critics is moving out of New York today.  Although I've only known Mike D'Angelo personally for about a year, he's meant a lot to me for many years, as he has for many online cinephiles. When I first explored the internet for helpful writings on film, his voice stood out on his website The Man Who Viewed Too Much, long before the blogosphere cluttered the landscape with voices.  Once you read him, it's hard to forget his hard-edged style, his knack for an incisive turn of phrase that can raise both a chuckle and an eyebrow, and his more-than-occasional ruthless ass-ripping of a movie, including not a few golden calves cherished by myself or others (I'll never forget how he invoked the "cry of the fishmongers" line in Barton Fink to leave John Sayles' Limbo all but discredited.)  Mike became more or less the first to leverage his online writing into a career as a professional critic, with gigs at Entertainment Weekly, Time Out New York and Esquire, which made him the envy of not a few young, aspiring critics, myself included. I remember going to a screening of Jiang Wen's Devils on the Doorstep at Film Forum after reading Mike's glowing review, and being annoyed by several young guys in the row behind me talking loudly. They were discussing Mike's review.

Perhaps it was because his voice held so much sway that I eventually felt the need to rail against it, which I did in this post on the Rotten Tomatoes forum (I'm still rather proud of my opening line: "New York City, where models swing their hips and critics sling their quips" - and I find Mike to be the fastest quipslinger in the Western Hemisphere). In this post I accused Mike of being unwilling to meet a movie halfway, which I feel has blinkered him against certain treasures in world or experimental cinema (cf. his review of Jia Zhangke's Unknown Pleasures: " Those who get off on movies that serve primarily as sociological legends will have a field day with it. You hardcore Jia fans know what to do.") I also called him "notoriously impatient," an accusation that finds support in his well-known penchant for walking out on films with great frequency (though in fairness, he sees a lot more films than just about anyone - including titles I couldn't be bothered to watch - so for him there are bound to be more worth walking out on).  This blog, in fact, was in some ways conceived by an un-D'Angelo philosophy: that with the films in Shooting Down Pictures I'd try to go as deeply and as generously as possible into articulating what's interesting about each film, even at the sake of challenging my initial snap judgments.

A few online cinephiles stopped corresponding with me because of what I said about Mike on Rotten Tomatoes, I guess due to a feeling of loyalty to Mike along with resentment that I had vandalized their own sacred cow. Apparently Mike didn't seem to mind, since he links to this critique on his own website, where he labels me "one of my most discerning critics."  I find it somewhat ironic, perhaps even sobering, that I've started writing for Time Out New York, D'Angelo's old platform. Just yesterday I told a filmmaker friend visiting from Japan that I was now writing for Time Out, to which he responded, "Wow, you're going to be like Mike D'Angelo!  He's a great writer, even though he wrote a hateful review of my movie!"

I'm only a few reviews into my stint and I've already come to realize how much my writing for this publication invokes that old D'Angelo snappiness. I feel that my writing runs a risk, the same risk that I'd complain about with Mike from time to time: to cut a movie down for an easy punchline rather than get to its center. But ultimately I do love writing in this voice, especially when it reflects a passionate, energetic and infectious concern for these films and for film in general - in other words, Mike's writing at its best.

I made sure to make Mike the first of hopefully many invitees to the Brooklyn Best of the Decade Derby, just days before his departure. We settled on Spike Lee's 25th Hour, a fitting choice in all too many ways. Not only is it one of Mike's very favorite films of the decade, and possibly one of mine as well, but it's about a man who's spending what may be his final hours in New York City. And it's about the bonds between guys who have a longstanding regard for each other, a bit of contentiousness mixed with concern.  My screening with Mike had little contentious to it whatsoever, just a lot of great insights from one of the best critics around, which I'd now like to share.

Here's the play by play, with Mike's comments in blue:

0:00 - MD'A: This always struck me as an odd way to start a film - you hear beating sounds and the whimpering of a dog.

KBL: In hindsight it could represent how the studio treated this movie.

MD'A: Yeah the studio all but buried this picture. Even this DVD package is pretty bare bones; it doesn't have much to it. They just didn't know what to do with a movie like this.


0:01 - KBL: Here's Tony Siragusa - ex-all-star linebacker from the Baltimore Ravens, in what I believe is his only film role

MD'A - I can see why that would be the case. His acting is pretty weak.

KBL: Especially in his last scene when he's pleading for his life. Pretty unconvincing.

0:02 - MD'A: Here's an example of something Spike Lee loves to do with shooting a scene - he cuts in the middle of a shot - not a jump cut, but shooting a scene from multiple angles and cutting between those angles. And he also loves to do this instant repeat of a shot, especially when people are meeting each other and shaking hands or embracing in a significant way.

KBL: I think that's something he got from Godard, but he's definitely made it into his own signature, just in the way he deploys it in his films.

MD'A: And there's also his infamous use of tracking shots directly facing an actor while the background is moving behind him - which this film has the best example of; we'll get to that later.

0:04 - MD'A: I just can't get over this opening credit sequence. When I first saw it, I didn't realize what it was that I was looking at. But then when it pulls back to a wide shot, and I realized what I was looking at, it floored me, and i think I was in tears when i first saw it. I don't think I've ever actually seen the WTC tribute in light in person.

At the time no one was acknowledging that this thing had happened, outside documentaries. As far as I know this is the first non-documentary to acknowledge 9-11, which is especially poignant as other films set in New York were busy erasing references to the World Trade Center. KBL: It definitely raises the stakes as far as what this film is going to deliver for the audience. Now you have the emotional weight of 9/11 to live up to.

MD'A: But it's not a film about 9/11. It's an adaptation of a book written before 9/11. And it's kind of grafted onto this event that happened. In the interviews i read, Spike said he said he couldn't shoot a movie in New York and pretend this didn't happen. Which is a pretty gutsy choice, as far as how he has to incorporate the event into the fabric of the film without it seeming phony.

0:08 - MD'A: It wasn't till later that i realized that this homeless bum appears later in the movie, in flashback - he's the business man who we see buying drugs from Ed Norton in the playground, and it's apparent that he's just gotten started. He's not nearly as messed up then as he looks now.

0:09 - MD'A: This whole sequence is beautifully shot - from here to when he gets to the school. We don't quite realize what Ed Norton is doing, but it's that he's leaving for prison. So he's looking around his neighborhood one more time.

KBL: It's remarkable how beneath the surface so much of this is, as well as how much he's laying out these little nuggets for the audience to notice later on, like the junkie you pointed out earlier, or the beaten up dog at the beginning, which corresponds to Norton getting beaten up at the end. And you really have to pay attention to the details of the film to appreciate its architecture.

0:11- MD'A: Spike does things with the camera that no one else does. Like this shot, with the camera tracking forward, and then it moves in from behind.

0:12 - KBL: Phillip Seymour Hoffman before he became a showboating oscarmonger.

MD'A - This was about the time that i felt he was getting overexposed but i think he's great in this film.

KBL - He's muted and introspective, though even so it's highly mannered. It's a sign of bad tendencies that festered and swelled as his career continued.

0:16 - KBL (looking at Anna Paquin): Too bad Sasha Grey wasn't around when this film was being cast

MD'A: Not sure she'd be right for the role. This character played by Paquin comes on so strong, and Grey is so closed off in The Girlfriend Experience.

KBL: Without going into particulars, let's just say that she's more forthcoming in her other performances.

0:18 - MD'A (on the investment bank sequence with Barry Pepper): Does this world still exist?

KBL: Spike Lee's Wall Street. I'm not sure how convincing this sequence is on its own, but what I like about it is how it takes us to a completely different social circle than the ones we've seen so far, carried over by a tenuous transition, Philip Seymour Hoffmann calling Barry Pepper. There's a unique narrative conflict brought about just by the structure of this movie, that the audience is put in a position of having to reconcile these three worlds that they've been presented. For all the hating on D.W. Griffith, I think Spike Lee learned a few things from the old honky. And like Intolerance, this movie is about how the world is so much bigger than any one person, how we it's impossible for us to fully account for the mistakes or the sins of others, and what we do in the face of this knowledge.

23 min - MD'A: How far are we into this, and we still don't really know what this movie is about? And how far will we go before we really have a sense of what this movie is really about? As a viewer I find this kind of thing exciting, up to a point, the longer a film goes without me knowing what the film is about, because once i have a fix on something I risk losing interest.

0:26 - MD'A: This bath sequence - I've seen this film so many times that it's second natue but when I first saw this scene I didn't know whether this was a flashback or a continuation of Norton and Rosario Dawson sitting on the couch.

You have to pick up cues from the contrast in tone between the two scenes. The couch scene was cold in washed-out daylight, this one is warm and intimate by candlelight. You have to infer that these moments are separated by a huge stretch of time, but even then you can't assume that this is a flashback, until you see what happens next. Lee's being pretty aggressive with messing up the linearity of the narrative.

0:27 -MD'A: This is the first time I ever heard that "sheeeeeiiiit" actor apply his trademark. The guy who plays Clay Davis in The Wire.

0:28 - KBL: This is great, how it moves from Norton looking at Rosario Dawson in the flashback to his hand on the couch. It went into the flashback with that moment, with his hand on the couch, where she had just been sitting, and it seemed that he was placing his hand where she was just sitting, just to capture that moment of her presence before she leaves her life possibly forever. But after this flashback we realize that he's remembering the moment the feds busted in and found his stash in the couch, and his doubts about her as the informant. But what's great is that these two contrasting interpretations can both be right - they are the two sides of his feelings for her, and they're battling in his mind and his memories.

0:34 -KBL: Brian Cox - he had such a great run at this time - starting with LIE, then Adaptation, 25th Hour. But like most great character actors, your ship comes in for a few years, then it goes away. Haven't seen him much lately.

0:36 - MD'A: Never really noticed this before - the bulk of the film is loose and naturalistic, but it has these parts that take you out of naturalism into this super crazy stylized set pieces. This "fuck you" sequence and the fantasy sequence at the end, as well as the club sequence, which is extremely stylized. It's almost the same as how an action movie is structured, with these moments that take you into another space, where everything has been leading to and it all kind of pays off.

KBL: This diatribe against just about every social subset of New York, it's so caricatured and crude, to the point of being grating. But the thing is that these kinds of crude, superficial ways of looking at people are what's inside people's heads, whether we like to acknowledge it or not. So much about this film is about how we judge others, and how that judgment reflects back on us.

MD'A: No other person could get away with this. Partly because Spike already did it in Do the Right Thing, so he had already set a precedent. But this monologue is also taken from the source novel by David Benioff. Though I wouldn't be surprised if Benioff took inspiration for it from Do the Right Thing!

Also, this sequence wouldn't work for me if it weren't for the very last sequence, when these caricatures all come back to say goodbye to him. Which is just so incredibly moving, i get choked up just thinking about it.

KBL: It also does a remarkable job of tying together all the pieces of the plot that have been placed on the table up to this point. Like you said, it's a payoff moment, both emotionally and expositionally.

MD'A: it also the first time the movie mentions that he's going away for 7 years, you get a full sense of the stakes involved now.

KBL: Wow, so that means that this year, 2009, is the year that Norton would be getting released from prison. You have to wonder what that movie would look like. And also Barry Pepper's character, in light of all that has gone down in the finance world. Where is he at now?

0:42- MD'A: And then it goes boom right into the film that you have just been watching. It's as if it never happened.

KBL: Which is what he does at the very end as well.

0:43 - MD'A: This is such a dad thing to say - "Oh don't take the bus to jail, i'll drive you there. It'll take half as long." Like yeah, gee I can't wait to get there, Pop!

0:44- MD'A: This is a controversial scene because of where it's shot. This is where some people think he goes too far because he uses a location so close to Ground Zero, and we even see Ground Zero right outside the window of this apartment. But it makes perfect sense that this is where Barry Pepper's character would be working, since he works on Wall St.

0:46 - MD'A: What strikes me here is that these two characters played by Pepper and Hoffman, they would never be friends if they had met now.

KBL: So that touches on the significance of your past and how much of that matters to your present life. What really is keeping these guys together, especially since one of them is being put away and no one has a reason for being friends with him?

0:47 - So much of this film is about judging other people, and the way Lee deals with it can be both crude and blatant but also formally sophisticated (how the shit Pepper says about Norton in this scene plays counterpoint to his dialogue with Norton, when he makes out to be a big brother to him).

0:48 - MD'A: There's too much score in this scene. It's one of my few beefs with the film, that in this particular scene you could have had no score and it would have been just as effective.

0:50 - MD'A: I love how Lee takes us from a fade to black into this weird flashback scene in all white. This entire film is an amazingly structured series of color and tonal contrasts.

0:52 - MD'A: Funny way to get the exposition across in this interrogation scene. Let's have the cops mock the exposition to Norton, like it's some bad crime movie they've seen too many times!

0:55 - KBL: "I'm in the 99th percentile of desirable men." This scene with Barry Pepper is prescient because it shows the mentality of the financial analyst - that they can apply whatever supposedly objective measures they want to justify their evaluations - of companies, of debts, of their own sexual prospects, of themselves.

0:57 - KBL: Again, people passing crude judgments - I get that it's about the prejudices that people harbor and how it finally seeps out. But sometimes it gets to be a bit much, like in a scene like this - the most they can seem to relate to each other is in this thick social stereotypes - it's not that different from MTV's the real world.

0:59 - MD'A: Again i love this way you don't really see this guy Simon the junkie clearly.

1:03 - KBL: I kind of wonder looking at Rosario Dawson here - could she have had Angelina Jolie's career? She looks just like her in this shot. She's easily as attractive, and possibly as talented - we may never know because there just aren't that many roles written for women of color.

1:05 - KBL - Bar scene. See that look the bartender lady gave when Rosario Dawson walked in? Again, always this theme of judging and competition.

1:08 - MD'A: I love how this scene gives that bartender a little moment to get humanized further, even though we don't see her again. The way she gets to express dismay and insecurity that these guys seem hesitant to come to her birthday party. I hate it when films get called generous in their treatment of their characters, but i think it really fits this film.

1:11 - MD'A: And now we're at the point where I think the movie finally makes it evident what Philip Seymour Hoffman's character is doing in this movie, because he is at the early part of the character arc shared by these three guys. He is at the point in his life where he's about to violate some kind of moral boundary. Ed Norton is already at the end of it.

KBL: And you can say that Barry Pepper is in the middle of it, playing fast and loose in the financial world, not even fully aware of the economic and even moral consequences of his actions - and we now have real life to make us aware of that.

1:12 - KBL: It's ironic that this super hip 17 year old dj who's being touted as being the hot new thing, that he's playing stuff from the early 90s. I don't know if this is Spike Lee's idea of a joke.

1:13 - KBL: "Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends." I would have bought a bottle for Mike, but he doesn't drink.

1:14 - MD'A: Here we have Norton egging Hoffman on about his possible dalliance with an underage student. This is a reversal of when Monty was about to start dealing as a kid, and no one was dissuading him. Now Hoffman is on the brink and no one is dissuading him.

1:15 - KBL: Here's where I rant about Hoffman's acting, because all the things I find annoying about him are in this scene. His slack jawed look, his bewildered eyes, the blinking, the sheepish downcast expressions. It was cool 10 years ago, but you simply cannot do this your entire career, because it becomes a schtick and you end up as petrified in it as Al Pacino's acting.

1:18 - MD'A: the "funny you should say that" bit - it's pleasurably digressive, it's worthy for its own sake, but it's the kind of thing that studios would have no patience for.

1:24 - MD'A: This is the first time in the film that he uses his trademark dolly shot reverse point of view, and it's great in expressing Anna Paquin's floating mental state, high on ecstasy.

KBL: And it's a bookend to the shot that ends this scene of Hoffman on the floating dolly, where he's in the exact opposite mental state.

1:26 - KBL: All that Hoffman low-key neurotic hamming actually amounts to the perfect buildup for what he says here. "I give a shit!!!"

MD'A: What's interesting is that at this point we can't tell if Anna Paquin's character is saying this stuff because she really wants the good grade in class, or if she's just fucking with him for the hell of it. Either way, she's clearly taken over the dynamic.

1:28 - MD'A: This is one of my favorite shots right here - this is so beautifully choreographed. He follows Anna Paquin up the stairs, then follows this random woman back down the stairs, where we find Philip Seymour Hoffman standing. And then we follow him going up. And then once he's inside the restroom with Anna Paquin, you can bearely hear the music in this scene.

KBL: The look in her eye is amazing - she's flabbergasted.

MD'A: Yeah, that he actually fucking did it.

1:30 - MD'A: And then we're back out and the music is now full blast - and this expression on Hoffman's face with that people mover shot. When I first saw this I was excited for Spike Lee because you've been trying to make this shot work for 15 years and Spike, you finally pulled it off!

1:33 - KBL: What a hypocrite - Barry Pepper's holier than thou speech to Rosario Dawson.

MD'A: The thing is that there's a lot of anger in him at the whole situation, a lot of guilt that he bears on himself. And the dialogue starts with him blaming himself and blaming himself, and then finally he can't take it anymore, and he has to direct it all at her.

1:34: MD'A: "Who do you trying to be, R. Kelly?" Mysteriously, surprisingly undated!

1:36 -MD'A: This is the only scene that feels like it should be in a different film, this scene in the den with the Russian mafia.

1:38 - KBL: I don't like these angles at all - they belong in a horror movie, esp. with the jack o lantern lighting.

1:45 - KBL: What's sad between Norton and Dawson's character is that she wants to have this crucial talk with him, but they never quite have it. He keeps kind of ignoring her. And to me that says the relationship is doomed.

1:47 - MD'A: This climactic fight scene. I had some really heated arguments with people on the net about what this fight means. Monty asks to get beaten up, supposedly so no one will want to molest him with his pretty boy looks once he's in jail. That's what he says, but I think what the scene is really about is what's the right kind of justice for Monty. He knows what he's done is awful and that he traded in people's misery. He knows that he needs to be punished but he doesn't want to be punished by the state. He wants to be punished by his friends, the friends who should have punished him long ago, when in actuality, no one told him to stop when he should have. So he's asking to be punished by someone who he respects, which is Barry Pepper's character. And he knows that Barry Pepper has been wanting to kick his ass for some time, and he's just laying out all the shit that's between them - including Pepper's attraction to Rosario Dawson - so this is really cleaning out the stable between the two of them.

KBL: Because that may be what it takes for them to purify the bond between them, so that they can get through this long jail term and still come out with a friendship intact. It's a trauma that they have to go through together to give meaning to their relationship, which really has been dead for a long time.

MD'A: And meanwhile Zach Campbell on the net was talking about this character's fear of anal rape and how it was endemic of Spike Lee's homosexual panic. I'm sorry, I don't think that's what this is about.

KBL: I wonder, looking back, if the reason Barry Pepper treats Dawson so badly in their last scene together is so that he's deliberately sabotaging his chance of scoring with her once Norton is in jail. Maybe that's a stretch, but it fits the kind of twisted, almost subconscious logic of friendship in this film.

1:51 - MD'A: Here Lee and Terrence Blanchard do the opposite from that ground zero scene. He takes the soundtrack out instead of blaring a lot of dramatic music into it. It's what he should have done before. Here it's just amazingly effective, this wash of silence.

1:53 - KBL: Finally, Norton and Dawson get a chance to talk, but it happens too quickly and too late. It really leaves things hanging between them. And then the way he dumps the ice that she gave him - that to me tells me that he's renouncing her, he wants her to move on. He's sabotaging his chances with her as much as Barry Pepper was.

1:55 - MD'A: Here all the people from the "fuck you" montage show up, but they're all smiling and happy.

KBL: It's like the movie is asking, when you're likely to never see someone or some place again, how do you want to remember all these people?

MD'A: You start to feel sentimental to all the things you despise, even stupid shit. When I first moved to New York, I worked for 2 years in a dorky video store. and i hated it, it was a shitty job, the only thing i got was free movies. But the last day i remember getting nostalgic about it, and I visited every corner of that store. I was already missing it.

And he has no idea when he's coming back to this city. You could argue that that's why he chooses to go to jail and doesn't escape like his dad suggests, cuz it gives him the option to go back home. I wonder if this movie just didn't make an impression widely because it's so specifically about New York and what it means to live here.

1:57 - MD'A: You wonder when did this sequence switch from real to fantasy - you have no idea.

2:01 - MD'A: This sequence is "The Last Temptation of Christ" compressed into 10 minutes.


2:04 - KBL: This is perfect - an absolute Nowheresville- how do you location scout a place like this?

KBL: Brian Cox is pulling miracles out of this monologue. "We'll taste the barley. Let it linger."  How you say a line like that and make it poetic instead of cheesy - if that doesn't define a great actor I don't know what does.

2:05 - MD'A: I can't think of another film that has such an extended speculative happy ending.

KBL: Well there's Murau's The Last Laugh, which was foisted upon Murnau by the studios who demanded a happy ending, so he gave them a happy ending that's practically stuffed down the audience's throats, it's beyond belief. This is kind of like that, but it's less meta than meditative. It's less about what it means to have a happy ending in a movie than what it means to make a life-changing decision.

2:06 - MD'A: This is such a great way to reintroduce Rosario Dawson. And instead of the Spike Lee patented double shot embrace, you get three shots - the more time there's more emotion! Too bad there's some unfortunate age make-up at the end of this montage.

2:07 - MD'A: There are people who are confused by the ending because they don't know the New York geography. They don't know if they took that turn or just kept driving to the jail, because they don't get that the sign that the car just passed is for the George Washington Bridge, which is the where the dad had wanted to turn off for their planned exile.

KBL: So is this your favorite New York movie?

MD'A: Well it's definitely up there. When they asked me to select a New York movie for the New York Film Critics Circle series a few years back, I picked Dog Day Afternoon. That's my favorite, but this would be up there.