The Squid and the Whale et al.

Thursday, March 30, 2006
Posted by Loner.

Bernard: You're not a Philistine. You like books and interesting films.
Frank: No, I'm a Philistine.

The Squid and the Whale, screenplay by Noah Baumbach

These days I spend many an early morning half-listening to the director-cast-crew commentaries that are among the "Special Features" on a great many of the DVD releases of theatrical movies. What I mean by "half-listening" is that they've taken the place of religious programming (CBN), business programming (CNBC), and/or governmental programming (C-SPAN) that I put on in the morning while I read and do other things. Most include little or nothing of interest for even the most rabid movie fan, but you never know when something will be said that will answer a question that came to mind while viewing the movie presumably under discussion or that will lead one to an unseen, unnoticed or forgotten performance or shot in some other movie.

This morning I turned on the DVD player and prepared to half-listen to the director commentary that is part of the The Squid and the Whale DVD package. Noah Baumbach, the writer-director, decided not to do the standard commentary. Instead of talking over the movie for its duration, he talked about specific subjects, which were indexed for easy reference, while still photographs appeared on the screen. I'm not sure that I learned anything of much note, but it did significantly reduce the amount of time I spent listening to him and it was possible to go back easily to things I missed while I was engrossed by something on the internet. I think I prefer this approach, but I doubt it'll catch on.

Are there commentaries I more than half-listen to? Yes. I like almost all Criterion Collection commentaries because a lot of thought and work goes into them. Among the more traditional commentaries of note are the very entertaining Christopher Guest-Michael McKean-Harry Shearer takes on the movies they've made together (This Is Spinal Tap in particular), Paul Thomas Anderson's great storytelling commentaries for his movies (Boogie Nights in particular) and the wonderful Barry Sonnenfeld-Tommy Lee Jones commentary for Men In Black.

A couple of lists (and a correction):

2005 Favorites

1. Downfall
2. The Squid and the Whale
3. Kung Fu Hustle
4. Cinderella Man
5. Batman Begins
6. Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
7. Brokeback Mountain
8. Grizzly Man
9. Good Night, and Good Luck.
10. Millions

Another ten (in alphabetical order): The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Head-On, A History of Violence, Howl's Moving Castle, Junebug, Mad Hot Ballroom, March of the Penguins, Nobody Knows and Walk the Line

2004 Favorites

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Hero
3. The Sea Inside
4. Bad Education
5. Million Dollar Baby
6. The Incredibles
7. Collateral
8. Spider-Man II
9. Osama
10. Sideways

Another ten (in alphabetical order): The Aviator, Before Sunset, Dogville, Finding Neverland, Garden State, Hotel Rwanda, House of Flying Daggers, In Good Company, The Motorcycle Diaries and Vera Drake

Back to back unexceptional years in which I did not give a single movie my highest rating. 2004 was the better of the two and my 2005 favorite, Downfall, would have finished fourth on the 2004 list had it been released a few weeks earlier or had the Academy Awards not been moved up a month the year before in an effort to increase their relevance.

The 2004 favorite ten includes the Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film for both 2003 (Osama) and 2004 (The Sea Inside). Downfall was a 2004 nominee in that category. The 2004 list also includes a 2002 nominee, Hero, which didn't get a theatrical release in the United States until the end of August in 2004, and Bad Education, which marked the third consecutive Pedro Amaldovar directorial effort to end up in one of my top tens. It might have been Spain's submission for Best Foreign Language Film of 2004 had it not been released in the same year as The Sea Inside.

The 2004 favorite twenty includes six foreign language movies (those previously named and House of Flying Daggers and The Motorcycle Diaries) and no documentaries. The 2005 twenty includes five foreign language movies (Downfall, Kung Fu Hustle, Head-On, Nobody Knows and the non-dubbed version of Howl's Moving Castle) and four documentaries (Grizzly Man, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Mad Hot Ballroom and March of the Penguins).

Fair warning: Graphic and/or gratuitous sex and violence of all sorts does not impair my enjoyment of a movie unless that's all there is, and sometimes not even then. Many of the movies on my list would make worst lists where many are concerned. Certainly almost all have their critics and my best advise to anyone considering taking a look at a movie for which I have some regard is to spend a little time reading the reviews and plot descriptions at Hopefully, all my links are correct. As to my political views, I suppose they might sometimes interfere with my ability to objectively evaluate the merits, or lack thereof, of a movie, but so what. They're movies and I'm a Philistine.

The correction: In my comment in response to MHA's Chicago review, I indicated that Cabaret is my second favorite '70s-release movie and that Star Wars is in the top ten. Cabaret is actually fourth and Star Wars is eleventh. All That Jazz is fifteenth.


chuck said...


I think all your links got messed up.

Rick Ballard said...

Fixed now.

I think.

Nice of the email program to append a handy suffix to links automatically.