The Movie Club

Southland Tales = Genius
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 2 2008 4:32 PM

The Movie Club

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Southland Tales. Click image to expand.
Dwayne Johnson and Mandy Moore in Southland Tales

Greetings, fellow Clubbers, and thanks for having me. It's a pleasure, an honor, a kick in the pants, and all-around superbadass to join this estimable powwow at the dawn of a new year that promises, movie-wise, to be a good deal less rewarding than the 12 months past.

I'm no pessimist, and there's definitely some great stuff on the way, including a trio of first-rate horror flicks I caught at the Toronto Film Festival: George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead, Dario Argento's outlandishly entertaining Mother of Tears, and a nasty little number from France called Inside, my personal, rather perverted choice for Best Abortion Film of 2007. (And that's pretty much the only fetus I want to bash with my cat.)

Advertisement

Onward: 2007 was hands down, hands up, wax on, wax off, do a little dance, drink a little water, yippie-kay-ya motherfucker!—the most exciting moviegoing year I've witnessed since becoming a film critic. Granted, that's only been since 2002, but still. Solemn, shmolemn! Good riddance to the era of Antonioni and Bergman, says I—all hail the age of Apichatpong Weerasethakul! (You're in luck, Dana: New York's Anthology Film Archives will screen Syndromes and a Century as part of their upcoming program devoted to the short films of this young Thai genius.) I mourn the loss of two others this year, Taiwanese master Edward Yang and the great African auteur Ousmane Sembene, but truth be told I'd rather have Richard Kelly around making movies than either of them.

Kelly (b. 1975), like Apichatpong (b. 1970), belongs to a generation—namely mine (b. 1974)—for whom "the movies" were never understood strictly (or even remotely) as films on celluloid projected in a communal theatrical setting. Cinema, for me, has always been a multimedia phenomenon equal parts Howard Hawks and VHS, neorealism and The Real World, Tarkovsky and Twin Peaks, Jean-Luc Godard and YouTube. And, while there are a few visionaries from earlier generations (above all the two King Davids, Lynch and Cronenberg) who forge new pathways into this "post-cinema" landscape, I'm constitutionally disposed to second the battle cry of Max Renn in Videodrome, right before he blows his head off: LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!

Movie Club Day 1 is a bit early to get into it, but I'm fully prepared to defend the poignant, trenchant, visionary excellence of Southland Tales, which looks and feels more like life in 2007 than Juno, In the Valley of Elah, and Michael Clayton combined, against all comers. Which is pretty much everyone.

Moving on to (semi)common ground, I'll make a quick case for Zodiac. (You can find my director's cut here.) The skillful execution is impressive enough in terms of good old-fashioned writing, acting, directing, and cinematography. Or maybe not so old-fashioned when it comes to the latter, Harris Savides' brilliant high-def lensing being crucial to what cuts deepest about the movie for me: the obsessive, exhaustive, ultimately tragic tenacity with which it roots through every square inch of its drama—and how that drama, ostensibly a mix of crime saga, journalistic procedural, and serial killer flick, presents itself as an information system. A digital meditation on the end of the analogue era, a procedural about process  itself, Zodiac has less in common with Se7en or All the President's Men than with new-media masterworks like Inland Empire, Russian Ark, and Southland Tales, or the system-based storytelling of The Wire (aka the best narrative film of the decade).

Speaking of polemics, I know I'm not the only one among us who loathes The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, aka My Left Eyelid, aka Awakenings for the smart set. Yes, I'm talking to you, Scott. I'd dis the thing myself, but I'd probably have to watch it again to do so properly, and we all have our limits—mine came about two minutes into the interminable, pretentious, Brakhage-for-dummies POV shtick at the outset of Butterfly.

To each their own, and that's what makes the Movie Club go round. Anyone else think No Country for Old Men and Ratatouille are more than a wee bit overrated? True or false: Rob Zombie's Halloween remake is the best biopic of the year? (True!) Have I gone completely out of my crazy gay mind by putting I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry on my top 10 list? Let the itches be scratched!

Your ball, Wesley.

—Nathan

Nathan Lee is a film critic for the Village Voice.