Archive for December 2009

50 Best Films of the Decade, Part V

December 10, 2009

The final ten. (more…)

50 Best Films of the Decade, Part IV

December 10, 2009

Almost on the home stretch. Next ten: (more…)

50 Best Films of the Decade, Part III

December 9, 2009

Continuing with the next ten: (more…)

50 Best Films of the Decade, Part II

December 9, 2009

Continuing with the next ten, again in alphabetical order. (more…)

50 Best Films of the Decade, Part I

December 8, 2009

Everyone else is making this sort of list, so I might as well throw mine out there. The obvious problem is the shortage of foreign-language films here. There are only four. There are also two British films. Others were made by non-American directors but have Hollywood stars. So, by and large, with a few exceptions, this is a list of the fifty best American films of the decade. This is a lack on my part and not a conscious snub. I don’t see nearly enough foreign films. Perhaps I’ll rectify that next decade.

Essentially, I took my top five from each year and smooshed them all together into this thing. It’s subject to change. If you care, you could probably check back sometime in the future and find some stuff gone and some new stuff in its place. NOTE: High Fidelity, while terrific, did not make the list. The photo is there because of the whole list-making thing.

In alphabetical order, the first ten: (more…)

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

December 4, 2009

There are a host of scaly, slimy critters in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans — snakes, gators, iguanas — and after a while we get the idea: The movie is about the lizard brain, the atavistic area of the mind that wants, hates, fears. The bad lieutenant in question is Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), a reptile on two feet, ravenously snorting and smoking various iterations of cocaine. McDonagh does this to kill the pain in his back, which he injured while saving a prisoner from a flooded jail cell in the days after Hurricane Katrina. The New Orleans of the movie is a gray and blasted place, perfect stomping grounds for the beige-suited McDonagh, who takes advantage of the chaos to feed his demons.

None of this, though, prepares us for how funny Bad Lieutenant is. There was another movie by that title, from 1992, with Harvey Keitel as a soul-sick lapsed-Catholic cop confronting his own faith while trying to catch two guys who raped a nun. Keitel was a howling bulldog, drugging himself into quiet oblivion. This Bad Lieutenant is not a remake; it simply uses the title and the basic theme of a cop lost in addiction and corruption. The legendary director Werner Herzog, perhaps best known recently for Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn, has always been preoccupied by obsession, exalted or ecstatic states of mind. McDonagh, getting high, has visions of iguanas, football players with antlers, and so on. If anything, his drug abuse makes him a better detective, since it frees him to make connections that sane people miss. He’s a bit like Sherlock Holmes, who also liked to indulge in a sniff of powder, except McDonagh is his own Moriarty.

The official plot has McDonagh trying to get to the bottom of the murders of local African drug dealers. He also has a prostitute girlfriend (Eva Mendes) and a gambling habit (Brad Dourif is his bookie, indulgent up to a point). But most of Bad Lieutenant is a study in extremis. Herzog has obviously given Nicolas Cage permission to try anything, and Cage responds with an overwrought jazz riff of a performance, abstract and near-geometrical. (In agony from his compressed spine, McDonagh always stands and walks askew, a parallelogram pumped full of poison and pain.) If Keitel was a seething, ticking time bomb, Cage goes all the way into rage and hysteria. The weird thing is that McDonagh’s partner (Val Kilmer) might be an even dirtier cop than he is, but since Kilmer doesn’t rhapsodize about touchdown-scoring elks, nobody’s watching him.

As usual, Herzog works the madness for any poetry he can find, as in the much-quoted scene in which McDonagh says of a just-killed criminal, “Shoot him again — his soul’s still dancing,” and sure enough, the soul is break-dancing to harmonica music from Herzog’s Stroszek. On one level, the movie shows what happens when you hire the director of Fitzcarraldo to make a police procedural: Herzog couldn’t make a mainstream movie if you held a gun to his head. And in Cage, Herzog has found his lizard king, beginning the movie by jumping into snake-infested water and ending it leaning against a shark tank. By that point, life has improved externally for McDonagh (there’s a late scene that plays like McDonagh’s wishful daydream but is, hilariously, real), but he’s stuck with the same sharp-fanged amygdala, forever wanting and hating and fearing.