Happy new year quiz

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.

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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?
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.

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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.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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6 Responses to Happy new year quiz

  1. Ivan G. says:

    With regards to Boetticher, he did a lot more than just direct westerns. If oaters aren’t your thing, you might like The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951) or The Killer is Loose (1956).

  2. Hold on, hold on – Stop Making Sense is perfect. Is this other documentary better than perfect? If not, how dare you?! As for Spike, this might mark me as a fool but I found Summer of Sam a strong film and enjoyed it but…She Hate Me!! I was proud of the man for fitting at least five tenuously-linked films into one incoherent randy glorious mess of a feature. Fuck me, I loved that movie. SOS I just…enjoyed. Never sounded like a criticism until now!

  3. But then you’re dead right about Be Kind Rewind – I’d give my left nut not to have seen the insufferable Science of Sleep but Jables and the mighty Mos made me a believer. The end credits, with the local kids dancing and messing around in the gymnasium, were maybe the best thing I saw on DVD all year.

  4. Ivan, thanks for the Boetticher recommendations. Wally, Stop Making Sense is perfect but I would argue–and Demme has, too–that it’s not really a documentary but a performance film. In other words, he’s making distinctions between types of nonfiction filmmaking. In the first, he’s doing a mode of art that poses questions, and serves as a sort of essay or at least investigation. In the latter, he’s capturing someone else’s performance but the investigative aspect is muted. I’m not sure I agree with Demme’s distinction (In previous answers to this quiz, I have articulated that SOS is my favorite documentary.) but, since this was a Demme-specific question, I decided to answer it on Demme’s terms. So, The Agronomist, Jimmy Carter Man from Plains, and My Cousin Bobby are docs (all superb!), while Storefront Hitchcock, SOS, and Neil Young: Heart of Gold are performance films. This was the thinking I was going by when answering the query. Oh, and The Agronomist is nearly perfect. The question can be applied this way to Spike Lee, too, if you argue that The Original Kings of Comedy, Freak, and A Huey Newton Story are performance films while 4 Little Girls and Jim Brown, All-American are docs. But Lee, to my knowledge, has never argued for a distinction so I define ’em all as docs. Demme has repeatedly insisted that Stop Making Sense isn’t a doc in the traditional sense. Is he right or wrong? Discuss.

  5. lo says:

    Wow. I have never been put out by any of your blogs before, QB. But this one got to me. Probably the blind refusal to see any of Boetticher’s peak output, despite them being among my favorite films of all time, or your statements on The Dark Knight. Look, I understand, men in tights and Westerns aren’t your thing. And you shouldn’t have to watch them. But then you know where I stand on Allen, but if you or someone else I respect gives a particular Woody film a thoughtful review, I give it a try with as open a mind as possible. Thinking this time might be different. When you gave me Loaded to listen to upon hearing about my refusal to own any Velvet Underground album, I listened to it with open ears. And fell in love with the first 10 seconds of Rock n Roll, if not the rest.
    I’m not saying you have to watch either, not like it would matter if I did. But I find your statements as to the cause of TDK’s “popular”ity at best incomplete. I would say more about why it resonated with so many this year, or about the alternate and deeply appealing vision of the American masculine found in Randolph Scott’s Boettichers, but that would presume a common vocabulary. Something you have repeatedly stated you have no desire in developing.

  6. Okay, let’s start backward from the arrogant and misguided assumption that a dislike of, or antipathy towards, two of your personal loves represents a lack of my interest in developing a “common vocabulary”–of cinematic tastes? Or of critical standards?– that might be useful to someone who doesn’t share your tastes, and branch out to the specifics from there.
    Canons are useful because they give rise to a common vocabulary that can be used by lovers of an art to facilitate conversation about said art and the life that art stylizes; and because they provide an aspiration for art lovers to reach for, with the full knowledge that the aspiration is–in the end–impossible to achieve. (The best canons are always evolving.) My lack of knowledge about westerns reflects just as much on my canonical deficiencies as on the genre’s. What I wrote about Boetticher wasn’t intended as a value judgment but an admission and as a simple statement of fact. Hence, I called my lack of appreciation a gap–and, I might add, I noted that it was one of many–in my cinematic knowledge. We all have such gaps–even professional film critics (which I am not), even you–and I think it’s a good idea for film lovers to own up to these gaps on occasion.
    All that being said, the corollary assumption that you make–that because I’ve got antipathy toward the western, I must be snottily dismissive of it and of seeking common cause with other film lovers–is wrong. In fact, I’ve made considerable effort, on multiple occasions, to educate myself about the genre. Of the relatively few westerns I’ve seen, I’ve concentrated mostly on the canonical as opposed to the adjuncts. There are a few westerns–Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Broken Trail, Lonesome Dove–that count among my favorite movies. (And I’ve said so about Broken Trail here.) Until relatively recently, Boetticher’s oeuvre was considered lesser than that of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Anthony Mann, Clint Eastwood, and Sam Peckinpah. Since I shrugged at most of the work I’d seen by those filmmakers–well, most of the western work; I love Hawks in screwball comedy mode, and admire (if not like) much of Eastwood’s non-western output–I assumed that I might not enjoy Boetticher, either. It’s a refusal, perhaps, but it’s not blind.
    My refusal may be based on a poor assumption. But you know what? There’s too much good cinema to process in a lifetime (or five) and, as movie love requires time and money, it requires making hard choices—unless one’s free time is unencumbered by the demands of a full-time job. After a couple of sojourns with the western, I decided I would rather not waste money or time on works that left me largely unimpressed.
    On a case-by-case basis, however, I’m always open to being convinced by a well-articulated defense. Ivan’s above suggestion of Boetticher’s non-westerns has got me thinking–if I like the style and content of one of those, I’ll probably decide to give a couple of Boetticher westerns a try. But lambasting me about having “no desire in developing” a “common vocabulary”–and sniffing petulantly that it’s “not like it would matter if I did,” as if my mind’s a closed book because I don’t like your particular pet obsession–is not am argument but just a provocation.
    I was provoked by The Dark Knight’s defenders because I feel like they tried to bludgeon (rather than argue) for the movie, and often wrote things that effectively claimed that disliking the movie was tantamount to disliking comics and/or misunderstanding and lacking awareness of the Batman mythos.
    But I grew up a 1980s American boy who read comics, which meant by default that I grew up reading superhero comics, and by further default that I grew up loving Batman in a variety of incarnations. I still consider Batman: Year One to be an artistic high point of the decade, period. Watchmen, too. I wrote a post two years ago about superheroes, where I discuss my complex response to them and point out that I think the genre ultimately fails adults for a variety of reasons. So, saying “men in tights aren’t my thing” is somewhat inaccurate. There’s room for disagreement there but I get weary of defending “adult” superhero comics that just aren’t very good, or that seem to equate “adult” with using the word “fuck” a lot; or glancing, generalized references to real-time politics; or a self-conscious “darkness” expressed primarily through gore and systematic violence against women. (And, without having seen TDK, let me guess: Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character doesn’t make it out alive, does she?) It all seems like an adolescent’s notion of adulthood to me… which has its purposes but which I think I’ve outgrown. And when I kept hearing of TDK described as superheroes for adults, or fanboys praising it for its “faithfulness” to the comic—no adaptation of a comic can be truly faithful, because movies and comics are two different artforms with different grammars—my knee-jerk response was that it was more of the same.
    More importantly, I’m not that interested in TDK because I wasn’t crazy about Batman Begins (I’m not a big fan of Christopher Nolan in general, and I thought his first Batman was visually and spatially incoherent, and turgidly paced), so my antipathy towards its sequel (again) isn’t exactly blind but based on prior experience.
    Anyway, enough ranting. I’d love to hear why TDK resonated so much with you—don’t presume to speak for others—or how Boetticher and Randolph Scott articulate a vision of American masculinity that appeals to you.

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