Four times a year, Dennis Cozzalio heralds us with his idiosyncratic, freewheeling film quiz. Christmas Eve proves to be no exception. As with my previous entries, I’ve decided to answer here rather than in his original post’s comment section. (But that shouldn’t stop you from going there to see the great responses.) Things get started after the jump.
1) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD or Blu-ray?
In theaters: Rachel Getting Married. On DVD: Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot.
2) Holiday movies— Do you like them naughty or nice?
My favorites are A Nightmare before Christmas and Scrooged but I hated Bad Santa, so I suppose I like a naughty, bitter exterior with a gooey, sweet center.
3) Ida Lupino or Mercedes McCambridge?
Lupino, Lupino, Lupino.
4) Favorite actor/character from Twin Peaks
Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). Best. Detective. Ever.
5) It’s been said that, rather than remaking beloved, respected films, Hollywood should concentrate more on righting the wrongs of the past and tinker more with films that didn’t work so well the first time. Pretending for a moment that movies are made in an economic vacuum, name a good candidate for a remake based on this criterion.
There’s a great satire somewhere in 1941 but it needs the Spielberg of today, rather than the Spielberg of 1979, to make it.
6) Favorite Spike Lee joint.
A toughie, given my affection for the man’s movies. The question’s made more difficult because, as with Jonathan Demme (see question #19 below) and Werner Herzog, Lee has had as prominent and fascinating a career with nonfiction movies as with fiction films. In fact, over the past decade or so, I think his documentaries are better than his features, though his aesthetic—political urgency, restless use of camera movement and stock, a willingness to experiment with video, a barbed sense of humor, the hothouse fusion of sex and profanity—remains the same within each mode. So, my answer has to be a two-fer. Fiction: Summer of Sam (1999). Nonfiction: When the Levees Broke (2006).
7) Lawrence Tierney or Scott Brady?
Tierney, for Reservoir Dogs.
8) Are most movies too long?
Only the bad ones. Most movies—like most works of art, period—are bad so, by corollary, most movies are too long. But it’s a meaningless question.
9) Favorite performance by an actor portraying a real-life politician.
John Travolta playing Bill Clinton in Primary Colors (1998). Oh, c’mon, we all know “Jack Stanton” is Bill Clinton.
10) Create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown
A triple bill of Them!, Mothra, and The Blob.
11) Jean Peters or Sheree North?
If I answer Peter North, will I at least get a pity laugh? (If you don’t know who he is, don’t—I repeat, do not—look him up at work.) Seriously, I don’t care about the question.
12) Why would you ever want or need to see a movie more than once?
Because a great movie is only deepened and made richer by repeated viewings.
13) Favorite road movie.
Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985).
14) Favorite Budd Boetticher picture.
I’ve probably mentioned a few times before that one of my (many) gaps in movie knowledge is an appreciation of the western. It’s a genre that I only like when it’s being parodied—Buster Keaton’s Go West and Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles—or being used in a consciously collage-like, postmodern way. (See: Tampopo and Sukiyaki Western Django.) This is a longwinded way of saying that I’ve never seen a Boetticher picture and probably never will.
15) Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?
Matt Zoller Seitz.
16) Favorite opening credit sequence. (Please include YouTube link if possible.)
My answer’s the same as this time last year: Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can:
17) Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?
I’ve no dog in this fight.
18) Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that the more popular the movie, the less likely it was that it was a good movie. Is he right or just cranky? Cite the best evidence one way or the other.
It depends on what you mean by “popular.” Pauline Kael’s essay, “Why Are Movies So Bad? Or, the Numbers” opens this way:
“The movies have been so rank the last couple of years that when I see people lining up to buy tickets, I sometimes think that the movies aren’t drawing an audience—they’re inheriting an audience. People just want to go to a movie. They’re stung repeatedly, yet their desire for a good movie—for any movie—is so strong that all over the country they keep lining up. ‘There’s one God for all creation, but there must be a separate God for the movies,’ a producer said. ‘How else can you explain their survival?’ An atmosphere of hope develops before a big picture’s release, and even after your friends tell you how bad it is, you can’t quite believe it until you see for yourself. The lines (and the grosses) tell us only that people are going to the movies—not that they’re having a good time.”
As usual, Kael was on to something. Blockbusters can saturate the market so much that they’re more or less guaranteed successes in the long term—if you’re a movie viewer, and all you’ve seen and are aware of for six months are ads for six movies, chances are you’ll see at least four of ‘em. We anticipate big releases. We want them to be good because we want to see them and thus be part of the zeitgeist. (Case in point: this summer, I felt left out of the cultural conversation because I had—and have—absolutely no idea in seeing The Dark Knight, which turns out to be the most written-about American movie of the year.) So we end up with our butts in seats for movies we half-know won’t be much good, simply so we won’t feel absent from our own popular culture.
This desire to be “in the know,” however, shouldn’t be mistaken for enduring popularity built through word-of-mouth. In the age of Facebook, YouTube, and film blogs, word-of-mouth is increasingly important. Consensuses are built, monographs are written, and canons are established by movies that linger in the head and force us to talk with each other long after the hype machine has died down.
At the same time, The Dark Knight’s mask—or more likely the Joker’s smeared grin—was the face that launched a thousand rhetorical ships. Lots of people think it’s great. Among my favorite 2008 films (see question #31) is one, Wall-E, that was extraordinarily successful on a financial level and seems to be genuinely beloved. Wall-E is truly popular. The Dark Knight had a built-in audience of comics fanboys and people who saw its immediate predecessor (and various cinematic/televisual interpretations of Batman), along with the ghoulish parade that accompanied the movie’s status as Heath Ledger’s Last Movie. So, the movie was “popular”—I’m not sure the fervent blogging about it exists outside of a community that was already invested in the Batman enterprise. In either case, neither popular or “popular” means much, in terms of whether the movie’s any good, which is a longwinded way of saying that, as usual, I think Godard is full of shit.
19) Favorite Jonathan Demme movie.
As with #6, this question involves one of my favorite filmmakers, and one who’s worked notably in both fiction and nonfiction features, so this one’s really hard for me. My answers will change tomorrow but for today, it is as follows. Fiction: Rachel Getting Married (2008). Nonfiction: The Agronomist (2004).
20) Tatum O’Neal or Linda Blair?
Blair, for The Exorcist.
21) Favorite use of irony in a movie. (This could be an idea, moment, scene, or an entire film.)
The oeuvre of the Coen Brothers.
22) Favorite Claude Chabrol film.
Never seen one.
23) The best movie of the year to which very little attention seems to have been paid.
I’m not exactly sure why Michel Gondry’s joyous, inventive, and utterly pop gem Be Kind Rewind fell off the radar, but there’s no question that it has. That’s a shame. It’s a movie that asks that we interact with, and manipulate, the pop culture that barrages us constantly, rather than just accepting it passively. With a finely tuned comic vision and topnotch performances from Mos Def, Danny Glover, Melonie Diaz, Mia Farrow, and even Jack Black, it’s a heartfelt, hilarious feature that is also quietly rebellious. It should be regarded as at least a minor classic.
24) Dennis Christopher or Robby Benson?
25) Favorite movie about journalism.
State of Play (2003).
26) What’s the DVD commentary you’d most like to hear? Who would be on the audio track?
I would love to hear Woody Allen discuss the making of Zelig, along with a separate track featuring someone from Kodak/Eastman talk about recreating old film stocks and inserting Allen into pre-existing footage… a decade before the advent of CGI.
27) Favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood.
Mystic River (2003).
28) Paul Dooley or Kurtwood Smith?
Smith, because Red Foreman can make me laugh with just an exasperated sigh.
29) Your clairvoyant moment: Make a prediction about the Oscar season.
Not a single actor from Rachel Getting Married will be nominated, at which point I will refuse to take the acting categories seriously at all.
30) Your hope for the movies in 2009.
A moratorium on superheroes, even though I liked Iron Man.
31) What’s your top 10 of 2008? (If you have a blog and have your list posted, please feel free to leave a link to the post.)
It should be noted that I saw less than 20 of the movies released in 2008, and I have major problems with half of those. A better list for me would be a Top Five, in order: 1. Rachel Getting Married. 2. Encounters at the End of the World. 3. Be Kind Rewind. 4. Wall-E. 5. Burn After Reading. Honorable mentions: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Fall, Iron Man, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and U2:3D.
BONUS QUESTION (to be answered after December 25):
32) What was your favorite movie-related Christmas gift that you received this year?
A two-disc set of four Buster Keaton features.
QUICK UPDATE: Slate has started up its annual Movie Club, with five critics (all women this time around–awesome!) hashing over 2008 in cinema. Go, go, go.