As long promised, I’ve started a new blog counting down (or up?) my one hundred all time favorite albums as of today. The title paraphrases a song by white girl rap trio Northern State called “A Thousand Words”. My goal is to write at least one hundred words about each of these records. Of course, the main problem with an all-time-best-of list is that it maddeningly fluctuates over time. It was excruciatingly hard reaching a cut-off point, deciding what would make the bottom of the list. And as I get closer to the top, I fear I’ll be making substitutions left and right, or looking back at, say, number 80 and thinking, “Man, that doesn’t belong on this list!”

Anyway, this is something I’ve always wanted to do, and maybe years from now I’ll be able to look back on my selections and their order and laugh at my 28/29-year-old self.


It's That Time Again: 13 Reactions To The Oscar Nominations
My batting average for nomination predictions was a not-bad .650. Lemme put on my film geek coke bottle glasses...

1. Kudos to the Academy for nominating the year’s actual best picture for Best Picture! Lost In Translation has no good chance of winning any of its four nods except for Best Original Screenplay, although Bill Murray vs. Sean Penn (for Mystic River) could be the year’s trickiest showdown.

2. Notice how the two films with the most nominations (11 for The Return Of The King, 10 for Master and Commander) received absolutely no acting nods? Russell Crowe, your film is a hit, but that tantrum from two years back is gonna haunt you for many years to come.

3. Best Surprise: Multiple nods for City of God. Controversial foreign films that people tend to either totally love or deeply loathe rarely get this sort of recognition. A must-see once it comes out on DVD next month.

4. Nearly as good: I actually like all five Best Original Song nods, especially those from The Triplets of Belleville and A Mighty Wind (ah, if only “Stonehenge” from This Is Spinal Tap could’ve been recognized back in ’84.)

5. Pleasantly Unexpected: Acting nods for Kiesha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider) and Samantha Morton and Djimon Hounson (both for In America—but where’s Paddy Considine?) Also, Johnny Depp’s first-ever nom (for Pirates of The Caribbean) nearly makes up for ignoring Jamie Lee Curtis’ hilarious turn in Freaky Friday.

6. Worst Surprise: No love whatsoever for Scarlet Johannson, even with two films and two categories in contention. Oh well, she’s young.

7. Other deserving actors besides Scarlet, Jamie Lee, and Paddy who got the shaft: Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass), Sean Astin and nearly everyone else in The Return Of The King, Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen), Sarah Polley (My Life Without Me), the entire cast of The Station Agent, Hope Davis and Paul Giamatti (American Splendor), Jack Black (School of Rock), and last but not least, the best cartoon voice-over performance ever, Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Nemo).

8. No nod for Nicole Kidman is nearly as pleasing as no nod for Crowe. Well, Dogville (or The Stepford Wives!) might put her in the running next year.

9. Deserving films that were snubbed entirely: The Station Agent, Raising Victor Vargas, Shattered Glass, Elephant and Gerry (Harris Savides should’ve received a cinematography nod for at least one of ‘em), All The Real Girls, The Secret Lives of Dentists, Swimming Pool, and last but not least, Kill Bill Volume One, which I enjoyed, but apparently it’s a long, long way from the heady days of Pulp Fiction.

10. This year’s Y Tu Mama Tambien Memorial Award for brilliant film that got one measly Screenplay nod goes to American Splendor.

11. Notice how the three films nominated for both Makeup and Visual Effects have lengthy titles with colons in them? Is that what prevented the Academy from nominating two more films in each category?

12. Nuttiest nomination in a single category goes to Brother Bear for Animated Feature Film. The Triplets of Belleville deserves it, and Finding Nemo was expected, but why Brother Bear? Because it’s friggin Disney?

13. Saving grace: Since it was passed over for Best Picture, I won’t ever have to see The Last Samurai (or ponder the horror of a thankfully snubbed Tom Cruise winning an Oscar for it, comparing the film’s philosophy to his beloved Scientology as he accepts the statuette).


I'm hopped up on strong Black Angel of Death Coffee and ready to hit the discount stores! ("S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G / We're shopping!")

I also just read a good chunk of Life of Pi, the current bestseller about an Indian boy and a tiger stranded in a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean. I've found parts of it mesmerizing, especially a lengthy passage about a strange, unearthly meerkat and algae covered island--where does the author, Yann Martel, come up with this stuff? Other parts are a little tedious, and I can't stand the titular character's religious sanctimony... the book jacket promises that it may just make you believe in God. Well, unless something unceremoniously spellbinding comes up in the last thirty minutes to make me see the light, I remain skeptical.

I stand by most of my Oscar pics, exception maybe for my exclusion of Seabiscuit. It's a little sad that this decent, but by no means spectacular flick is a likely multi-nomination candidate just because the studio is pouring millions into a campaign for it. Even if it gets nominated for Best Picture / Best Director, it'll be akin to flogging a dead horse to think that it'll even have a chance of beating The Return of The King.

However, not only does a nom for Charlize Theron in Monster seem like a lock, I wouldn't be surprised if she'll be taking home a statuette (and giving presenter Adrian Brody a peck on the cheek.) I saw the film last Monday. It's not the masterpiece Ebert would have you believe, but it's impressive for a first film, and earns its favorable comparisions to Boys Don't Cry. Theron, though, is as amazing as she's hyped up to be. Especially when you consider how blandly vapid and unmemorable she was in nearly everything else she's appeared in. No one ever would have imagined her in this type of role, or pulling it off so well. She owns the film and our empathy, even as her character irritates and repulses. The circa late '80s roller rink sequences (set to Journey's :"Don't Stop Believin'"!) nearly brought a nostalgic tear to my eye for their tenderness and charm. After popping up in one mediocre film after another, Christina Ricci is also fine as Theron's lover ("You HAVE to get a car!").

I will have to write about Head and Tamala 2010 sometime soon... enough trippy goodness to satisfy my psychedelically surreal gene for months. As a dopey, oafish man said to me during the latter, "Man, this movie is like being WASTED!"


Thought I'd give it a shot...

The Lord of The Rings: The Return Of The King
Master and Commander
Mystic River
Cold Mountain
Big Fish

Peter Jackson
Peter Weir
Clint Eastwood
Anthony Minghella
Sofia Coppola

Bill Murray
Jude Law
Russell Crowe
Sean Penn (for Mystic River)
Ben Kingsley

Naomi Watts
Nicole Kidman
Charlize Theron
Diane Keaton
Scarlett Johannson

Tim Robbins
Peter Sarsgaard
Benicio Del Toro
Alec Baldwin
Ian McKellen

Renee Zellweger
Holly Hunter
Patricia Clarkson (for Pieces of April)
Marcia Gay Harden
Laura Linney

American Splendor
LOTR: The Return Of The King
Cold Mountain
Mystic River
Big Fish

Lost In Translation
In America
The Station Agent
Kill Bill Vo1. 1
21 Grams



This is an incredibly charming little film playing at the Coolidge's screening room. Natalie, a 30-ish woman and her much older psychiatrist husband move from suburban CT to the small town of Tunbridge, VT. They've remodeled an old barn into a McMansion, much to the consternation and curiosity of most of the townsfolk. Eventually, Natalie befriends one of them, George, an elderly farmer whom she hires as a handyman.

Nosey Parker is decidedly a homegrown effort, as director and Tunbridge resident John O'Brien worked with a cast made up of actual Tunbridge denizens. The script is mostly improvised, and you get a sense that these people are more or less playing themselves. And it works beautifully--you walk away sensing what you've just seen can't be faked (although it is technically fiction), and the "acting" rarely seems clunky or off (although I didn't care much for Natalie's somewhat creepy husband). The star is undoubtedly George Lyford (who passed away after filming). By way of his engaging personality and genuineness, you can see why anyone would want to befriend him.


Ridiculously sub-zero temps (or at least sub-zero wind chills) have provided me with ample opportunities to catch up on my movie viewin’. While putting together a new VHS stand earlier this week, I was bombarded with titles I taped while living in Watertown that I still haven’t watched: among them, Croupier, The Vertical Ray of The Sun, The Right Stuff, The Goodbye Girl… and I can’t even find or remember what tape I put Head on! (Not Head On, a disappointing coming-of-age gay film from a few years back). And yet, I still want to rent more. Anyway, here’s what I’ve seen since returning from Iowa.

Love Liza: Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays a graphic designer shlub whose wife commits suicide and leaves him a note that he can’t bear to read. Instead, he finds solace in increasingly dangerous dosages of sniffed gas fumes. With a screenplay written by Hoffman’s older brother, Gordy, (whom I met in Rochester), this is a peculiar tale, more for the dazed, unexpectedly dark comic tone than for the depressing, offbeat premise. Hoffman is effortlessly good (you can’t imagine anyone else in this role) and Kathy Bates tackles her difficult, minimal part well. This is exactly the type of film you’d expect from director Todd Louiso by way of his meek record store clerk in High Fidelity: a little eccentric, a little sweet, relentlessly indie, and not quite all there. My favorite part was Hoffman’s absurd, impromptu road trip to Louisiana with his sketchily acquired model plane.

Marion Bridge: Quiet, understated Canadian film about three daughters dealing with their ailing mother and past demons. It has subtly sound performances, lovely cinematography, and a thoughtful, original script. Molly Parker stands out as Agnes, the prodigal alcoholic daughter who is as real and fleshed-out a female character as I’ve seen in awhile. This reminded me a little of Mike Leigh’s films, only with more optimism and a few less stereotypes. It didn’t move me as much as, say, The Station Agent, but it came close.

Teknolust: I couldn’t make it through Lynn Hershman-Leeson’s stilted first feature, Conceiving Ada, which had the terrible misfortune to waste Tilda Swinton. Fortunately, Swinton’s fabulous in this more relaxed, much funnier follow-up as an endearingly mousy scientist and her three self-created genetic clones. With Henry Fool-ers James Urbaniak and Thomas Jay Ryan in supporting roles, not to mention such quirkaholics as Karen Black and the increasingly weird Jeremy Davies, this is almost everything I wanted Hal Hartley’s last film to be. Don’t miss the indescribable dance routine the clones put on for their creator, or when one of them, the sex-bot Ruby, hilariously tries to ingest what is for her a new kind of “succulent protein”.

This Little Life: Honest and sad little British film about a couple that give birth to a prematurely born baby. Like Lilya 4-Ever (only gentler), it’s not an easy one to watch, but you will get so caught up in the tiny details and struggles the characters endure that you’ll have no difficulty making it to the challenging but pretty apt conclusion.

Cold Mountain: The season’s bloated literary adaptation / historical epic Oscar bait is Anthony Minghella’s first film since the similarly crafted and still underrated The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s no masterpiece, but it exceeded my expectations nonetheless. Jude Law gives his first interesting lead performance to date and his best overall since Ripley’s Dickie Greenleaf. Nicole Kidman is fair as the fragile southern belle Law leaves behind, but Renee Zellweger is shockingly great as the coarse, uneducated mountain girl who sort of becomes Kidman’s maid and companion. Even though she’s often just comic relief, Zellweger is so striking and likable that if she gets an Oscar nomination, it’ll be her first that’s truly deserved.

Big Fish: Anyone calling this Tim Burton’s masterpiece obviously hasn't seen Ed Wood (or can’t grasp how brilliant, in an anarchic way, Beetlejuice still is). It’s a relief after the boring Sleepy Hollow and the atrocious Planet of The Apes remake, and it features a solid turn from Ewan McGregor in his best role since Moulin Rouge. Not at all as corny or brainless as Forrest Gump, I found it really affecting at the end, and I marveled at Burton’s phantasmagoric delight in all of the flashback sequences. The present day scenes with Billy Crudup and Albert Finney are a little heavy-handed and joyless by comparison.

Owning Mahoney: Wow, a year with two lead performances by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. This dry-verging-on-bland effort about gambling from the director of Love and Death on Long Island ringers truer than Casino, at least. It could use some of Shattered Glass’ intensity, as it’s also structured around a lie that grows exponentially through the course of the film. This is perhaps Hoffman’s best role to date (next to The Talented Mr. Ripley, which is its diametrical opposite) because you can barely sense any sort of character mask on him, apart from the one he hides his addiction behind.




1. Lost In Translation
I think what I wrote in my original review best sums up what’s so extraordinary about this one: “Have you ever seen a film where you’re utterly sad to leave the two main characters behind? You’ve been granted just a peek into their lives, but it's enough to leave you transformed, to feel your life has changed just for briefly knowing these people.”

2. American Splendor
Blurring documentary and fiction to an unforseen degree in narrative film, this unlikely adaptation of unlikely comic book auteur Harvey Pekar’s work is the year’s most innovative film and at times, its most rapturous and life-affirming.

3. Raising Victor Vargas
And Peter Sollett’s coming of age tale about a Dominican family in lower Manhattan is the year’s most unexpected delight. Working with non-professionals, the results favorably recall Jim McKay’s great Our Song, eavesdropping on everyday life as it unravels.

4. The Station Agent
What could’ve been painfully quirky or insufferably arch is instead a exquisitely nuanced, immensely likable tale about three societal misfits who really aren’t misfits at all. And four-foot-five star Peter Dinklage is a revelation, and the most multi-dimensional dwarf ever to appear onscreen.

5. The Triplets of Belleville
Certainly unlike anything you or I have ever seen, this surreal, witty slice of animation brims with intelligence, invention, clever sight gags, and most importantly, a beaming heart (albeit one that's slightly, engagingly warped).

6. Spellbound
The year’s most enjoyable documentary is much more than just a profile of the National Spelling Bee finals; it’s an essay about this country’s socioeconomic diversity, seen through the thrilling, oft-heartbreaking journey of eight children united by a distinctive, undervalued talent.

7. Morvern Callar
Lynne Ramsey’s second feature shows her to have mastered a fearless, far-seeing, almost hallucinatory approach to filmmaking, structured much like the mix tape that the titular heroine (a compelling Samantha Morton) finds solace in.

8. Lilya 4 Ever
Lukas Moodysson’s “feel-bad” opus about teenage abandonment and prostitution in the former Soviet Republic contains some of most painfully honest and delicate scenes with child actors that I’ve ever witnessed. And, despite its grim nature, it’s totally watchable, and pretty damn moving too.

9. Lawless Heart
I instantly loved this underrated triptych, a sweet comedy/drama about how one man’s death affects those he's left behind. The cyclical plot structure here hasn’t been executed with this much ingenuity since Pulp Fiction, and it often reveals interesting little facets that add up to a series of marvelous character studies.

10. The School of Rock
Richard Linklater subtly injects his indie sensibility into a studio picture, and with screenwriter Mike White, gives Jack Black the role of his career. Funny, smart and genuinely uplifting, it exudes the joy of playing air guitar while listening to your favorite album on headphones with the volume turned up to eleven.


Dracula: Pages From A Virgin’s Diary
The incomparable Guy Maddin transforms a ballet into a bold cinematic collage that’s as innovative as it is seductive.

The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King
The final chapter is the best, with emotional payoffs more vast than Mount Doom.

Gus Van Sant’s controversial telling of a Columbine-type massacre could use more of a narrative center, but it’s still unshakable, and maybe a decade or two ahead of its time.

Delphine Gleize’s ambitious, dizzying debut boasts a startlingly original screenplay and a rich, evocative set design and camerawork.

Shattered Glass
Structured like an intense thriller, this biopic about ousted New Republic reporter Stephen Glass has a spectacular cast, with a great performance from Peter Sarsgaard and a surprisingly good one from Hayden Christensen.

All The Real Girls
David Gordon Green’s sophomore feature is just as unique and beautiful as his first (and a heck of a lot more focused), and it has one of the most honestly rendered romances ever depicted on film.

OT: Our Town
Moving documentary about Compton high school students who put on a performance of Thornton Wilder’s famous play as if their lives depended on it, and by the end, you really sense how much it does.

The Man Without A Past
Aki Kaurismaki’s gentle fable about an amnesiac businessman living amongst the homeless is full of quirky charm and a humaneness that’s all too rare in a lot of quirky films.

Abbas Kiarostami reinvents cinema yet again, practically cutting out the director entirely while getting at the world in a grain of sand, or in this case, passengers in a car.

In The Mirror of Maya Deren
Martina Kudlacek would have had to try very hard to make an uninteresting doc about this legendary avant-garde film artist; fortunately, it’s a striking, illuminating portrait that even Deren herself might have appreciated.

(Good, if not particularly great films worth your time and attention):

Cold Mountain
Capturing The Friedmans
Kill Bill: Volume One
Russian Ark
A Mighty Wind
Friday Night
My Life Without Me
The Secret Lives of Dentists
Finding Nemo
21 Grams
Owning Mahoney
Swimming Pool
Bus 174
Big Fish
In America


The Company (There’s a great documentary hidden in this mess of a vanity project.)


Whale Rider, Bend It Like Beckham, Mystic River


Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation)

Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor)
Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas)
Peter Jackson (LOTR: The Return Of The King)
Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4-Ever)
Gus Van Sant (Elephant)


Bill Murray (Lost In Translation)

Paul Giamatti (American Splendor),
Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean)
Jack Black (The School of Rock)
Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent)
Campbell Scott (The Secret Lives of Dentists)


Scarlett Johansson (Lost In Translation)

Samantha Morton (Morvern Callar)
Sarah Polley (My Life Without Me)
Naomi Watts (21 Grams)
Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen)
Jamie Lee Curtis (Freaky Friday)


Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass)

Tim Robbins (Mystic River)
Benicio Del Toro (21 Grams)
Eugene Levy (A Mighty Wind)
Bobby Cannavale (The Station Agent)
Bill Nighy (Lawless Heart)


Hope Davis (American Splendor)

Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Nemo)
Patricia Clarkson (The Station Agent)
Holly Hunter (Thirteen)
Olympia Dukakis (The Event)
Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain)


Performance: Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent), Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen)
Direction: Peter Sollett (Raising Victor Vargas), Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville)


Crystel Fournier (Carnage)

Harris Savides (Elephant)
Robert Richardson (Kill Bill: Volume One)
Lance Acord (Lost In Translation)
Alwin H. Kuchler (Morvern Callar)
Agnes Godard (Friday Night)


Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor)

Sofia Coppola (Lost In Translation)
Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson (LOTR: The Return Of The King)
Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent)
Billy Ray (Shattered Glass)
Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter (Lawless Heart)


2003 was just another year. I could go on about all the accomplishments and disappointments I encountered over that span of time, but it's silly to reduce everything to an arbitrary set of dates. That doesn't mean I'll stop making my own best music and film of the year lists, or not take pleasure in reading other people's lists, but the last thing I want to do right now is dwell in the past.

All week, I've been listening to Quiet Is The New Loud by Kings of Convenience, a folkish duo from Norway. The record came out in 2001, and I first heard it a year ago, whilst at someone's apartment on a first date. I fell in love with the Simon and Garfunkel harmonies and Stuart Murdoch-influenced delicate melancholia right away, and over the next few weeks I also thought I was falling for the guy who played it for me. I was wrong about the guy, but hearing the music again after all this time, I'm not sure what kept me from acquiring this album right away (apart from the usual stinginess, and having too many CDs to listen to anyway.)