Top twenty films of 2005 (so far)

01 Clean
02 3-Iron
03 Nobody Knows
04 The Best of Youth
05 Double Dare
06 Mysterious Skin
07 My Summer of Love
08 Howl's Moving Castle
09 Wilby Wonderful
10 Los Angeles Plays Itself
11 2046*
12 Coward Bends the Knee
13 The Holy Girl
14 Look At Me
15 Head-On
16 Funny Ha Ha
17 Kings and Queen
18 A Tale of Two Sisters
19 Watermarks
20 In The Realms of the Unreal

* I'm probably underrating this. I need to see it again during its offical U.S. theatrical release in August/Sept.

Normally, I'd also do a music list. Since I'm no longer reviewing for a website, I've heard much less new stuff than I did a year ago: barely twenty albums. I'm going to write a review of my current favorite in another week or two, but I'm not going to say what it is just yet--I want it to be a surprise.


A is for age: 30
B is for booze: Cosmo
C is for career: Film geek
D is for dad's name: Robert
E is for essential items to bring to a party: A good mood
F is for favorite song at the moment: "Stars Above Us" by Saint Etienne
H is for hometown: Milwaukee
I is for instruments you play: Guitar, maybe a little bass
J is for jam or jelly you like: Apricot
K is for kids: None that I know of
L is for living arrangement: Apartment w/ two roommates
M is for mom's name: Barbara
N is for name of your best friend: I can't pick just one--it might anger the others.
O is for overnight hospital stays: only when I was born premature
P is for phobia[s]: roaches, loud alarms
Q is for quote you like: "YES! YES! He... vas... my... BOYFRIEND!"
R is for relationship that lasted the longest: 2.5 wasted years
S is for siblings: None
U is for unique trait: encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture
V is for vegetable you love: steamed asparagus
W is for worst trait: I don't know what you're talking about
X is for x-rays you've had: dentist, buckled wrist bone
Y is for yummy food you make: sweet potato pie/bake
Z is for zodiac sign: hello, aquarius


First job: Baskin Robbins scooper
First screen name: probably "lymejello"
First piercing: Right ear twice!
First tattoo: none
First credit card: when I was 19, baby!
First kiss: Nothing to write home about
First favorite musician/band: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Last kiss: Also nothing to write home about
Last movie watched: Amateur
Last beverage drank: hot coffee
Last food consumed: Cranberry granola cereal
Last phone call: Michael Colford
Last Shower: 9:00 this morning
Last CD played: "Into The Black" by Tompaulin
Last web site visited: http://www.ata.com/ (just booked a flight)
Single or Taken? Single
What do you miss? Frozen custard
Hair color? Slightly dirty blonde as always
Natural color? Same
Eye color? true blue
Makes you sad? Intolerance and ignorance
Are you happy? Only when I'm not sad
Do you want your friends to fill this out? What an obvious question



I rang in this numerically significant new year (or century/millennium, if you will) by nervously coming out to my parents. I returned to Boston, jobless and in love. Both states color this year more profoundly in my memory than any music I acquired. Oh, I could systematically rattle off a list or reminisce over the new albums I anticipated fervently (such as Aimee Mann’s Bachelor # 2, or the Last Remains of the Dodo, which I bought off her website months before you could get it in stores), but none of it would have a meaningful context. I didn’t explore any new genres or make any major changes in the way I discovered music. I did buy a new table-top stereo to replace my five-year-old boombox, but really, how exciting is that?

I had precious little in common with the guy I fell for when it came to musical tastes (among far too many other things to mention). He exclusively listened to top-40 radio; thus came my reintroduction into that arena after years of aloof semi-avoidance. Apart from the numbing repetition, it wasn’t all that bad. Within weeks, I found myself humming along to (if not exactly anticipating) hits of the day from radio-friendly unit shifters like Enrique Iglesias (though not Ricky Martin) and the Backstreet Boys (though not N’Sync).

My favorite thing about top 40, always and forever is the one-hit wonder, that fleeting novelty that gets under everyone’s skin for a few weeks until it inevitably wears out its welcome, forever relegated to time capsules and flashback shows. Five years on, one might not remember songs like Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” or Sonique’s “It Feels So Good” by title alone, but hearing them conjures up a giggle or a groan (depending on the mood), transporting one back to a painfully specific time and place. I know it’s the inverse of an album with timeless appeal, but I’d argue it’s nothing to scoff at. I love having that option to emotionally go back in time, just for an instant, not getting stuck there for good.

The boyfriend also loved to go clubbing—it’s how we met. I usually joined him on Saturday nights at Man Ray in Cambridge. The theme was all-around retro: the front room (which he preferred) skewed dance/disco, with lots of vocal-heavy contemporary selections and new remixes of classics like Petula Clark’s “Downtown”, Manilow’s “Copacabana” and even “Xanadu” (!). The back room (which I preferred) was heavenly ‘80s/new wave. On any given week, you’d hear The Smiths, Depeche Mode, New Order, The B-52’s and The Clash, all in a row (with the odd Patti Smith or Violent Femmes track lithely thrown in). We’d move back and forth between the two rooms until last call, securing a spot in the front room for the final song of the night, Donna Summer’s “Last Dance”, an obvious, corny but effective choice.

This year feels more distant to me now than 1995 for a variety of reasons. Though fresh-faced and stupidly happy (to quote one of the year’s best unsung singles, from XTC’s Wasp Star), it alarms me now to see how quickly I was willing to settle for a remarkably challenge-free life—one teeming with pleasure and happiness and yes, love, but not a whole lot of depth. Maybe that explains why this year seems so stagnant in memory: in this new, all-consuming relationship I jumped feet-first into, I ended up muting a small but significant part of who I really was. The music geek within, forever sprouting off obscure trivia and urging friends to listen to something that could CHANGE their LIVES was temporarily out to lunch.



I wasn't planning on attending the Provincetown International Film Festival this year; I figured I'm going to Toronto in September and might as well save up for that. Besides, just about everything that plays P-Town makes it to Boston sooner or later.

Still, by the second week of June, I was starting to play around with the idea of going just for the day, to get out of this great, but sometimes tiresome, constricting city and head closer to the coast. I love P-Town for the ocean but also for its otherness, and the trip was just what I needed to cure my Boston malaise. Here are the four films I saw over two days:


Gus Van Sant’s latest continues the experimental narrative style of GERRY and ELEPHANT. Sadly, it’s not as existentially deep and original as the first film and nowhere near as formally brilliant and convincingly tense as the second one.

Set in a vast crumbling mansion in the Pacific Northwest woods, LAST DAYS follows Blake (Michael Pitt), a troubled, drugged up rock musician (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Kurt Cobain) shambling through this landscape. He mumbles, carries a rifle, dazedly watches a Boyz II Men (!) music video, makes mac ‘n cheese, occasionally strums a guitar, and mumbles some more. Friends, bandmates, and members of his entourage also hang out nonchalantly, mostly in the background. They leave town after Blake offs himself near the film’s end for fear of implication in his death.

It’s no surprise that Van Sant originally set out to make a film specifically about Cobain and was denied the rights to do so, and it’s damn near impossible not to think of Blake as a Cobain surrogate. Pitt is eerily convincing, but he delivers more of an impression than a performance, and neither he nor the director has anything enlightening to say about this archetype: the tragic, suicidal musical icon. The film just meanders about aimlessly, without stirring up enough passion or real emotion for us to care.

Having said that, LAST DAYS is not entirely worthless. A few scenes (particularly one where Blake meets with a soliciting Yellow Pages adman), are amusing, almost interesting, even; they look back to the engaging offhandedness of Van Sant’s earliest work. As a whole, it’s also beautifully shot and in a few instances, haunting. But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have made a much better short. In the time since I’ve seen ELEPHANT and GERRY, two films I found equally baffling and intriguing, I’ve been more and more eager to return to them and bask in their spatial, temporal puzzles. Can’t say the same for this one, though. It’s encouraging that Van Sant wants to continue his descent from conventional filmmaking into the unknown, but he should navel gaze less and edit more. 2.5 cats


Having seen all of Francois Ozon’s features except for SITCOM, I can say that he’s never made a bad film, but his latest is the closest he’s come to being boring. 5x2 begins with Gilles (Stephane Freiss) and Marion (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), a bourgeois married couple filing for divorce, then proceeds in reverse chronological order, providing us with five glimpses of their relationship, going all the way back to when they first met.

Ozon isn’t the first person to construct a film this way: see MEMENTO, IRREVERSIBLE, and Jane Campion’s obscure but wonderful first feature, TWO FRIENDS. While it’s enriching to view the later sequences with the hindsight and almost illicit thrill of knowing what’s going to happen to these people (and how they are so clearly doomed as a couple), it’s also not very deep—more of a novelty, really. There’s little of the inspired, fervent discourse of a superior disintegrating relationship film like Bergman’s SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE.

Bruni-Tedeschi’s performance grows in assurance and resonance as the film progresses, but Gilles and Marion ultimately seem like a bland, unexceptional case study. Even with their quirks and revelations, they’re reduced to coming across as a generic test couple in an exercise. Loved the woman who played Gilles’ supremely bitchy ex-girlfriend near the end, though. 3 cats


I have a problem with films that morally judge and punish their characters for their addictions—it’s partially what makes REQUIEM FOR A DREAM unwatchable for me. Fortunately, CLEAN doesn’t so much reprimand its antagonist, Emily (Maggie Cheung), for her heroin addiction as much as it honestly lays out on the table the inevitable consequences of such a lifestyle.

When a tragedy involving her aging-rocker lover, Lee, radically alters Emily’s life early in the film, what follows isn’t so much an inspirational, movie-of-the-week tale of recovery against all odds, but a more realistic chain of events: one of redemption, but also self-actualization. Her obvious goal is to see her estranged young son, Jay, who is in the care of Lee’s parents. She knows the only realistic way to accomplish this is in sobriety, yet her attempts to reach this goal aren’t implausible or clichéd.

Split between the glowing, meditative oil refineries of Hamilton, Ontario and the cosmopolitan, claustrophobic streets of Paris, CLEAN also uses the music industry as a backdrop. As it delves into grand themes of death and rebirth, it also sheds light on the inner workings of that industry, which prove to be both a boon and a curse to Emily’s struggle.

Naturally, Cheung is magnificent and Nick Nolte also turns in a strong performance as Lee’s father. The relationship that develops between Emily and him is touching and unsentimental. Beatrice Dalle and Don McKellar also show up in fine supporting roles. In fact, given a week to absorb this film, I’d go as far to say that it’s absolutely flawless—I really can’t think of a single complaint. With the right support from its distributor, this very well could be director Olivier Assayas’ commercial breakthrough—it’s undoubtedly an artistic one. 5 cats


A surprise Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, this film from director Ira Sachs (The DELTA) is also firmly entrenched in the music industry, specifically Memphis’. Alan (Rip Torn) is a veteran white jazz/blues musician. His estranged son, Michael (Darren E. Burrows) returns home to attend a ceremony where his father is receiving a lifetime achievement award. Michael soon bonds with Laura (Dina Korzun), his father's young Russian lover with whom Alan has a three-year-old son.

That’s pretty much the plot of this often quiet, tremendously subtle, European-feeling character study. It arrived at a predictable conclusion, but the way it got there is what kept me awake. I was less taken by the main narrative and more by the many incidental scenes that end up painting an intricate portrait of this particular community (something THE DELTA also did very well). Burrows doesn’t have the range to pull his crucial part off, but Torn is well-cast as a towering figure who’s alternately a volatile beast and a loving pussycat. It’s Korzun, however, who really carries this film’s weight—see it chiefly for her. 3.5 cats



I have to admit I was hooked from the first scene, where the amazing, immense contraption that gives this film its title emerges through a brown, dusty fog. Although based on a story by Diana Wynne Jones, this adaptation could only come from Miyazaki: it's full of breathtaking landscapes, valiant, but not always clear-cut battles between good and evil, and odd, endearing-if-not-quite-cuddly little creatures and inventions that are emblematic of his oeuvre.

Set in an early-20th century England on the outbreak of war, 18-year-old Sophie is suddenly transformed into a 90-year-old woman by the wicked, zaftig Witch of the Waste. She sets off to the towering hills beyond town to seek a witch or wizard that can help her break the curse. She soon takes up residence with Howl, a handsome but troubled young wizard who travels around in an enormous, multi-tiered, forever-morphing makeshift mansion with feet.

From there, the narrative gets a little tangled as identities shift, motives are revealed/changed, and characters try to figure out how to break their spells. This isn't as ingenuous (or coherent) as SPIRITED AWAY; while Sophie is a richly-drawn protagonist, her plight doesn't seem nearly as urgent as Chihiro's was in the previous film. Still, it makes for another sumptuous, witty, artful feast for the eyes that's easy to get swept up in.

Given where it takes place, the English dub seems less jarring than in other Miyazaki pictures. For every campy minute of Billy Crystal as fire demon Calcifer (at least he's more restrained than Robin Williams would've been), you get to enjoy the perfectly-cast tones of veteran actresses Jean Simmons (as old Sophie) and Lauren Bacall (as the Witch). Christian Bale also hits just the right blend of heroism and narcissism as Howl.



I haven't posted any movie reviews in over three weeks. I could blame my lack of motivation on the sticky, mucky weather that has hung over this city like a festering, smelly sweatshirt. Fortunately, the winds have shifted, so I no longer have an excuse. Here's an incomplete list going backwards, with occasional commentary:

All of 'em in 3D! My theatre is having a super-cool week long festival. WAX was my favorite, because the aesthetic works best in a horror context, with hurled chairs and rising corpses clearly meant to startle and scare the bejeezus outta you. KATE was slightly more gimmicky, but the dance sequences (particularly any with Ann Miller) were giddy, show-stopping fun. As a stand-alone film, DIAL M is a decent murder mystery, but you could tell Hitchcock's heart wasn't in the 3D trickery--enough with that goddamn lamp, anyway! But the obviously giant phone (and fake dialing finger) was a hoot.

Fine screenplay (by Robert Towne) and cast (right down to a disarmingly young Carrie Fisher). Considerably dated, but it has much to say about its time.

Adaptation of Marilynne Robinson's first novel. Directed by Bill Forsyth. Starring Christine Lahti. Criminally unavailable on DVD. A work of genius. More on this later.

Unexceptional, if entertaining look at a real life SCHOOL OF ROCK. I'd rather watch the Linklater film again, but at least this one made me want to listen to Frank Zappa.

Now that I've spent time in Savannah, I wanted to watch this again. Of course, Eastwood's adaptation is no substitution for reading the book. The film comes alive when it shifts away from the John Cusack character and towards the town's inhabitants--especially The (Inimitable) Lady Chablis. What a daring, shrewd choice to have her play herself, and since she's naturally inhabiting the role of her life to begin with, it works.

While I love Hal Hartley for how he's remained so fiercely independent and distinctive, I cringe a little when confronted with some of his stylized dialogue and quirkier conceits. So, I was surprised at how much I actually liked this one. The first twelve minutes are oblique, confounding and almost off-putting, but from there, the film settles into a good, compelling groove, one far less jarring and uneven than Hartley's last feature, NO SUCH THING. It follows a typically hard-boiled Hartley hero, Jack (Bill Sage) in the throes of a dystopian society of faceless conglomerates, sex as the ultimate commodity, and a sinister plan to put "soda pop in the schools." Yep, it's a little pretentious, but also incredibly funny, always beautiful, and in a few instances, almost poignant. If the theories bandied about here don't exactly cohere, he does often make poetry out of digital video's limitations.

A few recent DVD releases and concessions to Hollywood... well, THE SEA INSIDE isn't necessarily a studio film; you probably won't see a mainstream euthanasia melodrama anytime soon. Another impossibly brilliant performance from Javier Bardem and some nice imagery, but it was a little heavy handed--Almodovar should've made it. IN GOOD COMPANY was competent and vastly preferable to any Kate Hudson rom-com vehicle you'd care to name, but also often as slick and impersonable as its title (they should've kept the original one: SYNERGY). TEAM AMERICA, on the other hand, was fully worth a rental. Predictably, it's as hit-or-miss as SOUTH PARK, but when it hits its targets, whether they be a certain misunderstood dictator, action schlockmeister Michael Bay, or various Hollywood liberals, it does so with the irreverent, hysterical glee you'd expect. And although a fine actor he sometimes is, you'll never take Matt Damon seriously again.



I ring in the New Year at a party in Chicago. Having missed the express bus, the trip takes nine grueling hours from Des Moines—six of them just to reach the Illinois border. Yet, I make it into town before the clock strikes Midnight. At the party, we listen to about thirty seconds of Prince’s “1999” before everyone in the apartment groans and the DJ plays something else.

On January 2, a massive blizzard ravages the Midwest, postponing plans my friend and I had to drive up to Milwaukee. Stranded at her parent’s suburban split-level, we stay in, making “dada poetry” (cutting out phrases from magazines and rearranging them in random order) and listening to Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, which I had just picked up in Iowa a few days before. We both instantly fall in love with first song, “The Stars of Track and Field”, and put the entire album on repeat play as the snow piles up outside.

I return to Boston a week later and begin my final semester of graduate school. It’s thesis time, and I spend much of the next three months gathering research, watching films, re-watching films and writing, writing, writing. Entire weekends are given up to staring at a computer screen until my eyes glaze over, completing a draft of a chapter for discussion group the following Monday. When I’m not working on my thesis, I’m taking two other classes, working as a teaching assistant for another class, and interning one day a week at the Harvard Film Archive.

Obviously, I’m left with little time to listen to or discover new music. However, early in the semester, I have to go to the Brookline Public Library to retrieve a book for my research that I can’t find anywhere else. They have racks and racks of CDs for borrowing, and upon first sight of them I had to rub my eyes and make sure they weren’t an apparition. The Boston Public Library has next to zilch when it comes to audio/visual materials; it didn’t occur to me that I only had to go to the suburbs to find them. I felt like the proverbial kid in a candy store, faced with a whole new collection to pick and choose from. At this time, I first heard Nina Simone, Serge Gainsbourg, Gillian Welch, Jason Falkner and Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On.

While I was knee deep in thesis-land, XTC finally released their first new album in seven years, Apple Venus (Volume One). My anticipation reaching its boiling point, I bought it the day it came out and rushed home after class, sprawled out in my dungeon-like basement room to listen to these eleven songs I’d heard (and read) so much about. Of course nothing can live up to such expectations, and while I wasn’t disappointed, hearing them felt a little anticlimactic. Six years later, I’d still argue the album is one of the band’s five best, but I didn’t feel as passionate about and consumed by it than I would have had it come out three years earlier.

After finishing up my thesis (I celebrated by walking over to Disc Diggers for a ritual browsing) and my studies, I chose to be lazy for the summer. I felt royally burned out, and had little desire to bend over backwards for a temporary employer or send out my resume to hundreds of prospective long-term ones. Oh, I tried the former, but after one day at a particularly ludicrous temp assignment, I vowed to live off my savings for a few months. I would do nothing but write, read (something other than film theory), bike, and rent movies from the library.

I went FOUR MONTHS without buying a single CD. Luckily, during that period nothing came out that I simply had to get. So, I purchased Pizzicato Five’s Playgirl & Playboy in mid-May and a used copy of Luscious Jackson’s Electric Honey in mid-September with absolutely nothing else in between. It wasn’t that hard—I regularly borrowed discs from three different libraries, so I still had new music to listen to, examine, dissect and enjoy. I look back on that time with astonishment, though. I was clearly trying to hold on to the last vestigial scraps of my childhood, putting off the post-student World of Responsibility as long as I possibly could.

I treated myself to one big concert: Ani DiFranco at the Fleet Center. It was a totally inappropriate venue, but my friends and I had fun, anyway. After a month carousing through the Midwest, I returned to Boston in the fall, moved out of the basement and into a new apartment and began temping for real. Weekly trips to Newbury Comics and CD Spins resumed immediately, and I adjusted to a 9-to-5 schedule more easily than I ever thought possible. I began this penultimate year (‘cause we all know the new century/millennium technically started in 2001, right?) tired, stressed and a little bewildered; I was, to a lesser extent, still all of these things at the end of it. By then, however, I was also on the verge of falling in love for real.



I expect Boston to be overwhelmingly cool, like Madison’s State Street times ten: a laid-back coffeehouse on every corner and a funky, disheveled used record store on every other one. Of course, Boston has both, but they’re a little different (not to mention more scattered). Unlike the places I frequented in my hometown (with names like Fuel and Brewed Awakenings), Boston’s coffeehouses are generally pricier, more pretentious, and always packed with a nary a free table or seat in sight. You could almost say the same for the used record stores.

Living on meager stipends and adjusting to a considerably higher cost of living, I buy less music out East. I make occasional trips to that stretch of Mass Ave. in Cambridge between Central and Harvard Squares informally known as “used-record row”, thumbing through the racks at Looney Tunes, Mars, and Mystery Train (but not Second Coming, which keeps all their goods behind impenetrable glass cases… what fun is that?). Sadly, none of them quite fill the used-music junky void left by 2nd Hand Tunes. Still, I’ll occasionally find something exciting that I never knew I was looking for, like a copy of Kirsty MacColl’s Galore for $5.99 at a place whose name I can’t remember (it closed not long after I made that purchase).

Fortunately, Boston radio is way more exciting than Milwaukee’s. The college stations, particularly WMBR (MIT) and WERS (Emerson) are always worth scanning the dial for. On the former, I occasionally tune into an eclectic weekly show called “In The Margin of the Other” which plays mostly (but is not limited to) female folk and jazz artists--somehow, it has a consistent sensibility in tandem with mine. During those first two years, I also listen to a lot of WFNX--back when they had the retro lunch hour, and back before alt-rock temporarily mutated into a malecentric, nu-metal bore.

Every Sunday night, I make it a habit to listen to One In Ten, 'FNX's gay/lesbian talk show. My arrival in Boston coincided with my coming out, a process which was as tentative and gradual as my getting to know and becoming comfortable with the city. I guess I expected to instantly make gay friends in such a vast, enlightened metropolis; my 23-year-old self didn’t know I had to go out and find them myself. But I didn’t make any attempts to date for another year. I spent one abortive Sunday summer night at Avalon, not too into the crowd or the throbbing, repetitive instrumental house music. I left, thinking of that line in “How Soon Is Now” that goes, “So you go to a club on your own / and you leave on your own / and you go home / and you cry and you want to die.” But I didn’t feel that bad, really.

Eventually, after I move from the student ghettos of Allston to quieter, leafier North Cambridge, I find a few used record stores I can live with: Disc Diggers in Davis Square (closed Jan. 2005) and Record Hog in Porter Square (closed Jan. 2003). Newbury Comics is my Exclusive Company-type surrogate for reasonably priced new discs. Looking back at my list of favorite albums of the year, Saint Etienne’s Good Humor, was number one (and today, still pretty high on my list of desert island discs). Somehow, R.E.M.’s daring but not altogether kosher Up was number two; I’ve probably listened to it twice since then.

Ah, but in 1998, film is becoming my life, music inevitably taking a backseat to the four movies I rent per week from Videosmith (in addition to everything I had to watch for classes). However, I'm perfecting my mixtaping skills, almost to the point of obsession. A good friend hands me an eight-pack of blank cassettes when I see her at New Year’s, and I return them to her, completely filled with everything from Sam Phillips to Sinead O'Connor, when she comes out to visit me on Spring Break. Actually, I’m finding excuses to make mixtapes for just about every person and occasion--it is my Creative Destiny, and also a nifty way to put off a reading or writing assignment.