Top 10 of 2003
Los Angeles Plays Itself. In three hours of sardonic narration
and beautifully edited film excerpts, Thom Andersen examines the
way Hollywood movies have portrayed Los Angeles and casually lays
waste to preconceived notions about the canon. Climaxing with a
somber meditation on three great but little known African-American
films (Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep, Billy Woodberry’s
Bless Their Little Hearts and Haile Gerima’s Bush
Mama), this is a film that finds more to praise in the original
Gone in Sixty Seconds than in Chinatown, and compares
“Dragnet” favorably to Bresson. Erudite, ambivalent
and cranky, this is both the year’s best film and its best
2. Elephant. Declining
to explain or moralize about the Columbine massacre, all while
making it seem inevitable, Gus Van
Sant’s stark, elusive film couldn’t be further from exploitation.
A nightmare you can’t quite shake, months after seeing it.
Andrew Garza’s feature-length thesis project (don’t
laugh — you
could say the same about Eraserhead, Killer of Sheep and Who’s
That Knockin at My Door?) is a “mockumentary” about
an aspiring writer in East L.A. that’s so convincing — and
moving — that even after you’ve realized that you’re
watching actors working from a script, the distinction between
fact, narrative and reality dissolves completely. And, oh yeah —
it was made for less than $1,000.
“The Office.” Twelve flawless episodes, each
one funnier and more awful than the last. Poised between the belly
laugh and the cringe, the first season might be the funniest three
hours of television ever broadcast. The second season goes even
further, milking compromise and failure for nervous laughter right
up to the grimmest ending this side of Chinatown.
5. Bad Santa. Best
experienced in a mall after half an hour of Coke ads, Disney soundtrack
snippets and numbing trailers, this
is a Christmas movie so nasty it almost earns its sentimental ending.
Just when you think Terry Zwigoff’s taken the novelty of seeing
a drunken stumblebum in a soiled Santa suit say “fuck” in
front of Keene-eyed toddlers as far as he can, he manages another
tirade so gloriously profane it makes Fear’s “Fuck Christmas” sound
like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Miles Davis — The Jack Johnson Box. Sure, you
say, Jack Johnson is the great electric Miles Davis record,
but do I really need 5 CDs of work tapes and jam sessions? Is an
hour of a two-note funk riff so minimal it makes James Brown’s
work from the same era sound like Rachmaninoff, you know, listenable?
Absolutely. At once throbbing and dissonant, lyrical and calm, the
Jack Johnson box still sounds visionary 30 years later.
7. Toots and the
Maytals at the Hollywood Bowl. Paced like
a soul revue (think Otis Redding Live in Europe with a better set
list), the show played like a revival meeting in a dank, crowded
bar. This would be a feat in a club; it was miraculous in an open-air
hall that seats several thousand. Pushing 60, his great trio long
since disbanded, Toots Hibbert still sang like he could shout down
Redd Volkaert. Sunday night in Austin, Texas. $6 cover, cheap
beer. An enormous redhead in overalls and Mennonite beard takes
the stage, his Telecaster looking like a ukulele in his huge paws.
Playing a standard country bar band set (some Merle Haggard, a little
George Jones, keep it lively for the two-steppers) with a scalding
band, he made virtuosity sound easy. My Texas buddies say this was
nothing special — ho hum: just the best guitar player you’ll
ever hear, another Sunday night in Austin.
in Translation. No new Wes Anderson film this year,
but this’ll do.
10. Dinner party conversation 10/18.
Four belligerent movie fans (and two spouses who’ve heard it all
and an excellent bottle of Scotch. Topics covered: Godard, Cameron,
Polanski, Holocaust art, Brakhage, Pat O’Neill and the tendency
of critics to assume the worst about audiences who like movies
they don’t. Nothing I saw on a screen this year was anywhere near