Friday, December 31, 2004

2004 TOP TEN

In alphabetical order

This is a true story of a group of mature English women who decide to pose nude to raise money for cancer research. A charming and delightful movie that often provokes frequent smiles and sometimes outright laughter.

This is a strong condemnation of the current President of the United States. Much of the movie we’ve already heard or read about, but somehow Moore puts things in perspective that make these things better understood.

While falling in and out of consciousness, we see through flashback the life of a fire fighter over a ten-year period. There’s a nice balance with realistic scenes of fires in Baltimore and the quieter moments in the life of the men who battle these out breaks.

At the age of 40, Nathaniel, the illegitimate son of the famous architect Louis Kahn, sets out to find out about his father, someone he hardly knew since visits by him were infrequent. By doing some archival research and interviewing his father’s contemporaries, the man begins to take substance.

For a change, the movie actually is a romantic-comedy: funny at times, there is also an element of romance. Some of the dance scenes are beautiful to watch (presuming you are into ballroom dancing) and the acting throughout is excellent. One of the few movies I’ve attended that prompted the audience to applaud while the credits were rolling.

As a sequel, the movie lacks some of the originality of the first one but has enough new characters to make it interesting. It’s a fun movie despite the message underlying some of the gags (that it’s not just appearances that are important) with Donkey once more coming up with the best lines.

Primarily a documentary about the fast food industry in the United States, the film focuses on McDonald’s. To prove a point (that eating too much fast food isn’t good for you) the writer/producer/star goes to the extreme by eating three meals a day there.

The title comes from an ancient Chinese saying meant to convey the difficulty of perceiving the engagement of war in a clear rational manner. This documentary does exactly the opposite. With Robert McNamarra talking frankly about some of the major events that have happened over the past fifty years or so, we are provided insights to what really went on as seen by a key player with 20/20 hindsight.

Adapted from the Farley Mowat short story "Walk Well My Brother" this is a tale of two people of different backgrounds working together against the harsh Canadian north. Since the movie begins with a barely discernible figure walking through a blinding snowstorm, the conclusion comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the reality of the movie: the depiction of the scenic beauty of the vast tundra near the Arctic Circle, the way the friendship grows between Charlie and Kanalack, the sharing of cultural differences that exist between them. Set in the early ‘50’s this is one terrific movie.

Back in 1985 two very experienced mountaineers, Joe and Simon, set out to climb one of the Peruvian Andes peaks by way of the northeast face, something that hadn’t been done before. The summit of Siula Grande is over 21,000’ high and they set up their one camp at an altitude higher than Mont Blanc (highest mountain peak in all of Europe at 16,000’). They were aware that there was a possibility that something could go wrong. And it did.

The movie has an unusual combination of film elements. Some very learned, highly regarded people express their views on a variety of subjects. Animation and cartoons are used to better explain these. Interspersed are some simplistic dramatic sequences showing the effect some of these ideas have on one person, in this case Amanda. All this and a rather busy visual style with ripple effects, whiteouts etc.

Using the parallel technique, we get to meet both protagonists: Massoud Behrani who can only get menial work in the U.S. but continues to live beyond his means despite a dwindling bank account and Kathy the former owner of the house who’s having a bit of bad luck in her life. They don’t meet up until well into the movie. Both give terrific performances.

As Al Michaels the sports announcer says, “you don’t have to know the difference between the blue line and a clothes line to understand the importance of this hockey game”. That’s true since the movie is more about motivation, hard work, dedication and the effort required to make a winning team than it is about an Olympic event.

This is a biography of a man who’s been described as a genius, filmmaker, playboy, entrepreneur, irresponsible aviator, and neurotic. However, the movie suffers from several major faults:
1. it’s far too long: at 2 hours and 46 minutes there are ample opportunities to do some serious editing without adversely affecting the story line
2. the director, it seems to me, is too anxious to get to the “good stuff” (a movie about making a movie) and skips right over the crucially important early years of Howard Hughes’ life
3. the tedious Senate hearings, although revealing, put a halt to the rapid fire pace of the story

As would be expected, the film covers a lot of the same material we’ve seen or heard about before:
 how the September 11 attack gave a "clueless" Bush his raison d’├¬tre, the "crusade" against terrorism
 the false pretext under which the second war on Iraq was waged
 the big lie linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11
 the overt connection Bush’s government has with Saudi Arabia
 that Bush is a puppet to corporate interests, to religious zealots
 that George Bush Sr., first as Vice President and then as President from 1988 to 1992, armed and financed Hussein
 the Bush family's long term ties to the Bin Laden clan and Saudi Arabia

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