So the Friday, Nov. 30 "Cort and Fatboy" podcast was my final sit-down in our studio space above the Roseway Theater. Instead of getting all maudlin about how much I loved being on their show most Fridays for six-and-a-half flippin' years, we just talked for 90 minutes about movies, Coppola, Wes Anderson and for some reason "Leonard McCoy: Frontier Doctor."
A DISORGANIZED LIST OF MOVIES I REALLY LIKED THAT CAME OUT DURING MY 2006-12 ‘CORT AND FATBOY’ RUN, WHICH THE SHOW’S LISTENERS MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
(NOTE: The night before we taped my final C&F podcast, I went through every top-10 list I made for The Oregonian from 2006-11 and just quickly picked the following movies to recommend on Friday’s sho. I mostly left out a bunch of obvious heavy-hitter stuff [e.g., "The Departed"] and just picked stuff that really nerded me out and might nerd out the average listener in equal measure. Anyway. Enjoy. You’ve probably already seen a bunch of these.)
THE DESCENT (dir. Neil Marshall)
A nasty little tube of frozen horror concentrate. It’s about six lissome women who rappel into an Appalachian cave system without a map — only to face off against Gollum-like predators (and each other). With its half-dozen self-reliant female protagonists, “Descent” was touted as a revolutionary act by film writers in 2006, at least among people who turn up their noses at James Cameron. But Marshall’s greatest achievement isn’t the gender-switch. It’s that he pits complex human beings against hillbilly Bat Boys in the dark — and manages to make it all feel smart, coherent, character-driven, powerfully atmospheric and scary as hell.
BRICK (dir. Rian Johnson)
Johnson had the bold idea to transplant a dense film-noir plot into a suburban high school, then fill the characters’ mouths with hyper-stylized dialogue. His gamble paid off big-time: “Brick” was the sharpest little detective movie of 2006 (and probably several surrounding years).
THE FOUNTAIN (dir. Darren Aronofsky)
Aronofsky’s mind-blowing sci-fi Zen koan about love and death split audiences (and critics) with its open-ended trippiness. But its uncompromising audaciousness will earn it a long cult afterlife. Brazenly spiritual, psychedelic, plot-rejecting. “The Fountain” contains action and spectacle, yes, but the visuals are (brilliantly) placed in the service of a nonlinear story about the power of love and the inevitability of death. The result feels like a cross between “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and the final glowing-hotel-room scenes of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Aronofsky polishes his images to a diamond sheen: “The Fountain” is packed with symbols and motifs that underscore his ambition to make a powerful love story that’s also a provocative Zen koan. (Though, to be fair, one man’s “provocative” is another man’s “exasperating.” But I loved it.) All three of Jackman’s characters seek miracles; only the one[s] who surrender to the idea that “death is the road to awe” get their minds boggled.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Calling this (or any) movie an “instant classic” is reckless, but the temptation was overwhelming in 2007 when it came to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Kubrickian study of an oilman (Daniel Day-Lewis) who drinks black gold out of the ground and the life out of his rivals in turn-of-the-century Texas. The script is poetry. The ideas are merciless. The photography is perfect. The music unsettles. And Day-Lewis gives what may be a career performance (imagine how good that would need to be) as a pure capitalist predator.
ZODIAC (dir. David Fincher)
David Fincher’s ’70s-flavored, carefully researched procedural follows three investigators (Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr.) as they tumble into the abyss while obsessing over the identity of the Zodiac killer. The movie never found an audience in theaters, and I’m guessing the problem was partly one of marketing: People expect a Fincher serial-killer movie to feel like “Se7en,” and “Zodiac” feels like nothing so much as “All the President’s Men.”
THE HOST (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
The year’s angriest political satire was a South Korean monster-movie comedy. The monster — a freaky mutated land shark — ends up being less dangerous than the local government, which is more interested in cover-ups than life-saving.
EXILED (dir. Johnnie To)
Hong Kong genre master Johnnie To reunites with the stone-cold cast of 1999′s “The Mission” to tell a story of hit men torn between duty and friendship when they’re asked to kill an old friend in Macau. It sounds familiar on paper, but what ensues is so gorgeous and weird and clever and balletically violent, it reminded me why I fell in love with Hong Kong movies in the first place.
BLACK SNAKE MOAN (dir. Craig Brewer)
A righteous Southern bluesman (Samuel L. Jackson) finds a nymphomaniac (Christina Ricci) beaten senseless on the side of the road — and then he chains her to his radiator and tries to cure her of her “wickedness.” It sounds unrepentantly lurid, but the neat surprise is that writer-director Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow”) is all (ital) about (ital) repentance: “Black Snake Moan” ends up being a funny, big-hearted movie about true Christian forgiveness that also contains one of Jackson’s finest performances.
Jean-Claude Van Damme gives a stunning, self-lacerating performance (really!) as fading action star “Jean-Claude” in this weirdly moving meta-thriller. The opening action set piece and a heartfelt Van Damme monologue — both shot in long single takes — were two of 2008′s coolest movie surprises.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
(the original Swedish version, though the remake is good, too)
This spooky drama about a tween-age boy courted by a vampire trapped in a tween-age girl’s body is one of the best-crafted horror films in years — ignoring cheap scares in favor of atmosphere, intimacy, subtle performances and bleak humor.
OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES
Did you like “The Artist”? In 2006, the same director and leads made this terrific spy-movie spoof and sneaky cultural satire about an oblivious French spy (Jean Dujardin, doing a killer riff on Connery) who blunders around Cairo making ignorant statements while, as Wikipedia puts it, stumbling “into a web of international intrigue, that involves the French, the Soviets, the British, separate factions of Egyptians, a goofy Belgian spy and even a splinter group of the Nazis.” The movie works on a bunch of levels: It’s funny, sexy, and beautifully shot, but also pulls off this great critique of condescending Westerners always assuming their culture is more sophisticated than everyone else’s. Also, to paraphrase my pal Becky Ohlsen, Bérénice Bejo is my movie girlfriend.
IN THE LOOP
This brutal satire concerns British and American hawks and spin doctors using secret committees and outright bullying to force the weak, careerist and foolish into a war. Co-writer/director Armando Iannucci (spinning off his own TV series, “The Thick of It,” which is every bit as good as this movie and well worth your time) slaps back-door Western politics on a steel table and guts it like a fish while employing some of the most scabrous, foul-mouthed insult comedy I’ve ever heard onscreen. Hilarious and a little terrifying.
A SERIOUS MAN
This Coen brothers masterpiece is structured like a joke setup: “A troubled man goes to see three rabbis…” The punchline might be the brothers’ bleakest reflection yet on the complete unknowability of anything. Michael Stuhlbarg is incredible as the befuddled professor who’s either the unluckiest man in an indifferent universe or the subject of the same wager God and Satan had over Job.
OBSERVE AND REPORT
Jody Hill (“The Foot Fist Way,” “Eastbound & Down”) offers up another brilliant dark comedy about a deluded striver. Seth Rogen’s performance as a mentally ill mall cop strays well outside the boundaries of a safe Hollywood laff-fest; the film failed at the box office, but I suspect a cult of fans will be praising its “Taxi Driver” fearlessness (and its take-no-prisoners comic stylings, and its empathetic core) for years to come.
THE BROTHERS BLOOM
Writer/director Rian Johnson (“Brick”) manages another tricky cinematic mashup — taking an Old-Hollywood screwball comedy story and somehow making it fly with melancholic undercurrents and naturalistic performances.
BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS
This movie might have made my list solely on the strength of Nicolas Cage’s off-the-rails performance as a drugged-out cop trying to solve a murder while lugging the baggage of various personal corruptions; he hasn’t been this much fun to watch in years. But director Werner Herzog also builds a surprisingly big-hearted addiction dramedy around Cage as the actor drives off the cliff.
Director Drew Barrymore (!) went and made her own “Breaking Away” with this joyful, funny and deeply humane ’70s-style comedy about a young alterna-dork (Ellen Page) finding herself through roller derby. Like the greatest sports flicks, it’s as much about failure and humanity as it is about The Big Game.
DRAG ME TO HELL
Sam Raimi makes a glorious return to his “Evil Dead”-era “spook-a-blast” stylings as he tells the story of a home-loan banker cursed by a foreclosed gypsy. Brilliantly staged Looney Tunes set pieces and splatterific housing-crisis and eating-disorder commentaries: THIS, my friends, is how you make a low-budget horror flick.
Sam Rockwell pulled off 2009′s cleverest acting stunt in this intimate bit of thinking-man’s science fiction from co-writer/director Duncan Jones. Rockwell would get an Oscar nomination in any sane universe for his performance(s) as a lonely lunar miner who learns some alarming things about himself. He carries the entire movie on his shoulders, with only himself and Kevin Spacey’s voice as backup.
THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD
This insane South Korean “Eastern Western” blew the doors off PDX movie-houses in 2010. If you like action scenes that go on for a million years each while referencing Leone, Spielberg and “Mad Max,” do I have a movie for you.
The best stripped-down thrill ride of 2010, no joke. Director Tony Scott, in his final directorial effort before his suicide, brilliantly smacks around America’s railway infrastructure while saluting blue-collar knowhow in the face of a failing bureaucracy. He also stages some of his best action scenes (using real live people and machines) in a career full of them.
This insanely violent, oddly beautiful neon-noir thriller is the best 1980s Michael Mann movie that Michael Mann never made, right down to the soundtrack. (And yes, I know it also owes more than a little to Walter Hill’s “The Driver.”) Director Nicolas Winding Refn brilliantly juxtaposes wordless sequences with terse conversations fraught with unspoken meaning. Albert Brooks should have been playing smiling psychopaths for years.
Turns out Takashi Miike is an absolute expert at making an old-school men-on-a-mission samurai flick that builds patiently to a stunning 45-minute battle scene. Who knew?
Genre master Johnnie To explores his obsessions with food, criminals, male bonding, loyalty and the arrangement of four or more guys in a film frame in this bizarre thriller about a senile chef (French pop star Johnny Hallyday) enlisting a gang of hit men to help him deliver a payback he’s in danger of forgetting. The family-picnic showdown is one of To’s finest set-pieces.
Underrated in much the same way “Observe and Report” is underrated. A deadpan, dark-as-hell comedy that finds tiny, horrifying, pitch-black laughs in deluded narcissism. Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt are fantastic in their scenes together.
ATTACK THE BLOCK
Writer/director Joe Cornish’s urban alien-invasion flick cleverly riffs on John Carpenter — and makes the bold choice to pay attention to the criminal punks who usually get killed first in these sorts of movies. So well-made, the fact that the aliens look like inky fanged Cookie Monsters is totally not a big deal.
STUFF THAT’S KICKED MY ASS IN 2012 SO FAR
(NOTE: This list excludes all the 2012 awards-season pictures I haven’t caught yet, but this is what I’ve dug so far )
- Kill List
- Moonrise Kingdom
- The Cabin in the Woods
- The Avengers
- 21 Jump Street
- Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman)
- The Master
- Cloud Atlas
- Miami Connection (if it comes to your town, make a special effort to see it with a big crowd, and beer)
- The Perks of Being A Wallflower
- The Grey
- Under African Skies
ALSO PRETTY COOL: THE YEAR IN STUNT EXPLORATION
- NASA landing a truck on Mars with a skycrane, a.k.a., the greatest trick-shot of all time
- A dude parachuting from outer space
- James Cameron just drivin’ around on the bottom of the ocean for a few hours