The 2006 movies that made me cry: CARS ("Our Town"). WORLD TRADE CENTER ("You kept me alive"). SHUT UP AND SING ("The Long Way Around" / closing credits). And now, more so than any of these: THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS.

I'd say Will Smith gives the performance of the year, if it weren't for its being apples to Sacha Baron Cohen's oranges.

Now it's your turn to fess up. What movies choked you up this year?


The Year in Movie Music

Since Tim Burton's BATMAN debuted the dual-soundtrack -- one of them Danny Elfman's finest and most iconic score, the other featuring original Prince songs -- I've been hooked on movie music. I'm nothing of the film score expert that I'd love to be; I've barely dug into the bins of Ennio Morricone or Bernard Herrmann. But the scores to high school favorites like GATTACA and DARK CITY sat in my disc changer right alongside Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins, and my middle school life was lived to the tune of "I Will Always Love You," and "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" during the 90s' renaissance of movie love themes. Reading this year's list of songs eligable for the Best Original Song Oscar, it was more clear than ever that they don't make em like they used to, and the ones that they do make we never really hear or remember. Meanwhile, I started paying attention to new film scores again this year and my ears liked what they heard. So rather than a Top Five, Ten, or more, here's a virtual tracklist of my latest mix CD, covering both new and used scores and songs-- the best film music of 2006. (A few of my friends at TheThree will recieve limited edition hard copies; the rest of you will have to settle for making your own with iTunes).

First, some notes. The scores for OLD JOY and BUBBLE, provided by Yo La Tengo and Robert Pollard respectively, are so indie that you can't even listen to them on CD. It's too bad, since I liked Yo La Tengo's OLD JOY more than their new record.

Thomas Newman's THE GOOD GERMAN, Philip Glass' NOTES ON A SCANDAL, and Alexandre Desplat's THE PAINTED VEIL aren't out yet, so I haven't heard them. After the iTunes-only release of Newman's LITTLE CHILDREN, I'm worried about the state of the soundtrack CD in general, and I shouldn't get started on that lest I get teary eyed.

Sure enough, I ended up sifting out much more music than could actually fit on the 80 minutes of a single CDR. So some of film scoring's most familiar names got left on the cutting room floor (though the music's all quite good): Hans Zimmer (THE DA VINCI CODE), Danny Elfman (CHARLOTTE'S WEB and NACHO LIBRE), Craig Armstrong (WORLD TRADE CENTER), Mychael Danna (THE NATIVITY STORY and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE), John Ottman (SUPERMAN RETURNS and UNITED 93), and Clint Eastwood (FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS).

There wasn't even room to really represent what my friend Jason Jackowski talks about as a new concert film revival, including the music movies DAVE CHAPPELLE'S BLOCK PARTY, NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD, and The Beastie Boys' AWESOME! I FUCKIN SHOT THAT! The saddest cut from my CD? Probably the Dixie Chicks' "The Long Way Around," which ended SHUT UP AND SING. It's my latest guilty pleasure.

A few other tunes missing in action: Penelope Cruz singing "Volver" -- not only is the soundtrack hard to come by, but on it, someone else sings the titular song made so memorable by Cruz in the film. Also unavailable is Beck's "Holy Man" from NACHO LIBRE, though a few of his instrumental cues made the soundtrack. I liked Gwyneth Paltrow's "This Thing Called Love" from INFAMOUS, as well as the music of IDLEWILD, but I've heard that the latter's soundtrack doesn't properly refect the songs in the film. Another song I didn't know what to do with is "Whole Wide World," loosely strummed by Will Farrell in STRANGER THAN FICTION (which also includes a nice new Spoon song). I love the original version by Wreckless Eric. But some have compared this moment to SAY ANYTHING's "In Your Eyes," famously played over John Cusack's boom box; as if it were that easy to achieve movie music magic.

So here we go. Some scores, some songs, and hopefully a little something for everyone.

1. Nathan Johnson - "Emily's Theme" from BRICK
Pretty much everything about Rian Johnson's debut, a detective yarn spun in highschool, sticks in your mind after watching it, but particularly its score. This main theme, played by jangly bells over guitar, is so simple yet hard to forget.

2. Carter Burwell - "Crazy Times" from FUR
It's not often that a film score is done early enough to be cut into its movie's trailer, but I've been hooked on this cue ever since I heard it in Quicktime.

3. Thom Yorke - "Black Swan" from A SCANNER DARKLY
The interesting coincidence of the year seems to be using a Thom Yorke song over your closing credits. Can you name the other movie that did this?

4. The Radio Dept. - "Pulling Our Weight" from MARIE ANTOINETTE
When I heard this band's songs in this movie, used just like instrumental score as Marie louges around or travels through Versailles, I figured they were another 80's band I never discovered. Turns out their music is new, and it just so happens to fit perfectly into this great soundtrack.

5. Howard Shore et al. - "The Departed Tango" from THE DEPARTED
Score nuts say that Horner's is one of the best scores of the year. I haven't got around to listening to it all again, but this is a nice place to start.

6. Gustavo Santaolalla - "Deportation / Iguazu" from BABEL
Beautiful work from the composer of the Oscar-winning BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN score. I may not yet have a grasp on how good BABEL was, but its soundtrack was definitely on point.

7. Alexandre Desplat - "People's Princess 1" from THE QUEEN
I don't think Desplat's score perfectly fits THE QUEEN-- a movie with multiple tones in need of some musical guidance. But like BIRTH, my introduction to Desplat which became one of my favorite scores, it stands up wonderfully on its own.

8. James Newton Howard - "The Great Eatlon" from LADY IN THE WATER
As long as M. Night Shyamalan keeps making nearly-laughable films like this one, Newton Howard's film scores will be there keep the price of admission worthwhile.

9. Ben Folds - "Still" from OVER THE HEDGE
Seeing four of Folds' songs in contention for the Best Original Song Oscar reminded me to back up and check them out. Jack Johnson got most of the attention for writing kiddie songs for CURIOUS GEORGE, but this is where it's at. I like Daddy Ben.

10. David Julyan - "The Prestige" from THE PRESTIGE
After re-listening to this score, it turns out that the most memorable theme really only gets played once, during the film's last moments. After an hour of ambient, ominous strings, this final melody is only a few notes long. But it's perfect.

11. Gael Garcia Bernal et al. - "If You Rescue Me" from THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP
Dreamy, fun, and French, just like Michel Gondry. There's lots of great original music in this film. This tune, a Lou Reed cover, can also be heard on the movie's neato e-cards.

12. James Taylor - "Our Town" from CARS
I was all but alone defending CARS up against the rest of Pixar's classics, and I'm sure it's partly because this song just about had me weeping. Who knew I could so miss the good ole days of Radiator Springs without it ever having existed?

13. Thomas Newman - "End Titles" from LITTLE CHILDREN
My favorite composer plays it safe for most of this score, then drops this bad boy over the credits.

14. Clint Mansell - "Together We Will Live Forever" from THE FOUNTAIN
My favorite score of the year. Mansell's music, performed by Mogwai and the Kronos Quartet, seems to play through the entire film. It's best when listened through in its entirety, which makes it hard to pick just one track. This is the soft piano piece that plays over the credits.

15. Ryuichi Sakamoto - "Bibo No Aozora / O4" from BABEL
Again, I'm in need of a second viewing of BABEL. But the one image that's stuck with me? The long, slow zoom away from a Tokyo apartment building at night. And it's tied to this gorgeous piece of music by a composer I've always wanted to learn more about. The only song iTunes won't let me buy is an even longer version of this piece with Santaolalla.

16. Mogwai - "Auto Rock" from MIAMI VICE
Mogwai may have been the busiest indie rock band in Hollywood this year (also working on THE FOUNTAIN and the experimental soccer film ZIDANE) now that filmmakers are realizing how cinematic post-rock can be (see also Explosions in the Sky's FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS score).

17. Snow Patrol - "Chocolate" from THE LAST KISS
This song merely heralded THE LAST KISS' trailer and opening credits, and it didn't do all that much to help elevate it to the level of L'ULTIMO BACIO, the outstanding Italian film on which its based. But it's absolutely perfect for this story, as if it were written for it. My most addictive, most played song this year.

18. Dropkick Murphys - "Shipping Off to Boston" from THE DEPARTED
It screams Scorsese and adds some much needed spunk to my CD.

19. Erran Baron Cohen - "Oh Kazahkstan" from BORAT
Great vocal performances in movies rarely make it onto the soundtrack, like Julie Delpy's in BEFORE SUNSET, or Jack Black's "Encarnacion" in NACHO LIBRE. So instead of Borat's painfully awkward National Anthem sung at a Texas rodeo, this song will have to do. Just remember that if it's nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar, you heard it here first.

20. Jennifer Hudson - "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Leaving" from DREAMGIRLS
Let's make this clear: DREAMGIRLS was a cheesy, awkward, disappointing mess to me. That said, former Idol Jennifer Hudson had me clapping after this first-act closer that stole the whole movie. But this song pretty much destroys the flow of my CD, and it's only on here because I feel like it would just be wrong to neglect it. And in retrospect, Hudson went way over the top with this one. Maybe your inner diva will thank me for leaving it on, and if not, just proceed to the last track.

21. Garrison Keillor et al. - "In the Sweet By and By" from A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
I know, I know. You're tired of hearing me gush about Altman's last movie, and this will be the last time I do... until my Top Ten list. Here, Altman's cast sings him out. As for Lindsay Lohan's mic-hogging, just think of it as part of her character, caught up in the excitement of her first show with the grownups. The only fitting way to end this compilation.

So what do you think? Do you remember any of these songs? What was your favorite score this year? And of course, what did I forget?


A Comfy Christmas

My band, The Comfies, has recorded a few holiday tunes for your enjoyment this season, and I'm passing along the links for you to download: Two old favorites, "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" and "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve," plus a Comfies original instrumental, "Christmas Eve Eve."

Listen, enjoy, and download them by right-clicking the links above, then selecting "save target as". Or hear all three on our myspace profile.

Enjoy, and have a very Comfy Christmas...


Christmas List

Here's some stuff I want. This year, film scores lead the pack, followed closely by toys, including those LOST figures that are just about impossible to find. See also: my DVD Aficionado wishlist.


Belcourt Happenings

First things first: THANK YOU to Greencine and Cinematical for linking my Top 5 Movie Posters of the year. If you love film, you've gotta read these two blogs. Hello to all new readers stopping in. I don't know where you've all come from, but I hope you stick around! Leave me a comment and tell me who you are and how you found me.

An administrative note: The aforementioned new readers -- people who've stumbled across my blog through other links -- should be informed that I reside in Nashville, TN, home of the Pancake Pantry, the Parthenon, and about 84 great bands. I keep close tabs on what movies are coming and going through this town, which means that you might read some announcements here like the one below which have little relevance to someone in another city. It also means that these days I won't always get to see those limited releases (PAN'S LABYRINTH, INLAND EMPIRE, etc) as early as you New Yorkers and Californians do. But hopefully visitors like you will discover some cool stuff from my neck of the woods -- The Privates being a perfect example.

From now until Christmas Eve, the Belcourt Theater in Nashville is presenting their annual Second Chance series. These five movies, all of which I endorse, each screen for only a couple of days, so don't miss them again. A SCANNER DARKLY (December 12-14) is one of my favorite films of the year, in which director Richard Linklater applies the digital rotoscoping animation seen in WAKING LIFE to the visionary work of Philip K. Dick. In HALF NELSON (December 15-19), little tyke Shareeka Epps outacts critical darling Ryan Gosling as the sole confidant to her teacher's drug addiction. THE DESCENT (December 19-21) traps a group of adventurous women in a cave full of flesh-eating creatures; it's a claustrophobic's nightmare with a girl-power subtext. Michel Gondry's THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP (December 21), filled to its brim with imagination, swims laps between a young man's waking life and his dream world.

But it's A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (December 20-21) that most deserves another big-screen look. What was earlier this year simply another ensemble-led Robert Altman film is now the great director's last work. Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reily, and Lindsay Lohan all make up Garrison Keillor's radio troupe (the emcee plays himself), performing what might be their last show. The movie didn't do much for me when I first saw it, much like when I saw some of Altman's other films. But watching it again after Altman's death, the film itself had changed. Obviously preoccupied with the looming presence death, it focuses yet on the carefree pleasure of art, collaboration, memory, and making beautiful music up right up until someone pulls the plug.

The Belcourt also has a big Christmas gift for everyone this year: A full retrospective of 50 Years of Janus Films that will run through January and February. In conjunction with a new drool-worthy boxed set, this series includes new prints of many of the most famous and classic foreign films, spanning 50 years in 30 films. Save yourself the tuition money you'd spend at a film school and treat yourself to THE RULES OF THE GAME, THE SEVEN SAMURAI, THE 400 BLOWS, or just about anything you can catch. I'll be on the road with The Comfies some in January, but I hope to catch as many of these as I can.

Lastly, a quick report on new movies seen: BLOOD DIAMOND (C) featured some strong performances but bad chemistry and an excruciating running time. THE HOLIDAY (C) was sillier than I hoped it would be, and much too full of itself, but worked a bit of magic in the end. I loved APOCALYPTO (B+) and all of its powerful imagery, if a bit on the violent side. And I concluded the incredible Up Series with 49UP (A-), which must only be watched after a marathon of the others. Make it your New Year's resolution to experience this film series!

Thanks for reading!


Private Dave

In the Fall of 2000, Lifeboy, my band at the time, pla
yed a show with another high school band called Esposito, named after a Max Fischer character. When we heard them do Weezer's "Holiday," we knew it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Frontman Dave Paulson graduated high school and lurked around in Character, the instrumental band whose leading voice was provided by Dave's duct-tape covered strat. Eventually, Dave was drawn back to the microphone, and he coralled friends who'd all scattered amongst other bands to form The Privates. In between obligations, Nashville's youngest supergroup played rare shows and released CDs when they could. Last year Matt Bell, whose Silent Friction once headlined shows with Esposito, brought Dave on the road as an honorary Pink Spider. This week, Matt's putting out The Privates' new frankensteinian LP, "Barricades," as the first full-length release on his new indie label Mean Buzz Records. I sat down with Dave to pick his brain about Esposito, My Chemical Romance, and the fate of The Privates. At a Nashville cafe, Dave eats a grilled cheese with tabasco sauce, and wears a plain white t-shirt and a short-billed army cap. He looks a little worn out, yet still alert, perky. Okay, I didn't really sit down with Dave and note such observations, I've just always wanted to start out an interview like that. Here's what we had to say over Gmail.

Sam: It could be said that The Privates' claim to fame is that in a way they're not a working band. This year, you and the other three band members are all tied up with other projects; Rollum is recording with The Features, Keith is recording with De Novo Dahl, Ryan's found himself on tour with Lambchop, and you were recruited to join The Pink Spiders' live show. How did you manage to record a full-length album as a band?

Dave: Most of the material we were actually able to work up as a group in a natural manner. From August '05-February '06 we were just practicing/recording and playing shows when we could. By February we had seven new songs. The other four didn't come as easily. Once spring rolled around, everybody's schedules had ramped up and it was nearly impossible for the four of us to get together. I ended up going over to Rollum's and just rehearsing with him for three new songs, so we could at least get a good rhythmic feel for them. He and I recorded demos of them and sent them to Keith and Ryan so they could come up with parts for them. Time was running out before I left to tour all summer, so I recorded my guitar and vocal for those last 4 songs at Lake Fever by myself with just a click. I had to imagine everything else being there. It wasn't the best way to go about it, but it's all we could do. "Sea to Sea" was solely a studio creation. I just played the keyboard and sang and asked them to build something around it. The day after I recorded my last part, I left for Warped Tour with the Pink Spiders. I'd get mp3's emailed to me as each piece was added, Every morning I'd walk around a fairground or a parking lot with my laptop trying to steal wi-fi off of other tour buses. The mixing process was mostly done in this fashion, too.

It's gotta be great knowing that Keith, Ryan, and Rollum are three musicians who will always come up with distinctive, creative, interconnected parts. How pre-planned are your songs' arrangements in your mind?

They do whatever they want. When we practice I'll just play and sing and they'll jump in with whatever springs to mind. Occasionally I'll have a part in my head that I feel strongly about and suggest it to them, but I try to do that sparingly. What they come up with is much more interesting, and inspired. Rollum almost never goes for the obvious beat, and I think that approach gives each song a stronger identity. Some of our chord/time changes would feel jarring, but the lines that Keith came up with made them sound natural. Ryan's range is insane. On some songs he's the guy that throws the wrench into the works and deliberately ignores the rules (and that's a crucial thing for us) but sometimes he'll go in the complete opposite direction and come up with these baroque-ish parts that work perfectly. I did a few demos of these songs by myself before I brought them to the band. I've since gone back and listened to them and realized how bland the arrangements were. But maybe I was holding back because I knew they'd come up with something better.

You journeyed into the machine with The Pink Spiders: MTV, TRL, Warped Tour, roadies, autographs, tits. What did you take away from that experience?

I think one of the big motivators for joining them was that it seemed like maybe my only chance ever to experience all that. Not that I didn't think the Privates were good enough, just that we were heading in another direction. I think i used to write music that was much more accessible, and in recent years, at least from what people have told me, It's gotten progressively more idiosyncratic. "Weird" is the popular term. I had kind of ruled the whole mainstream thing out for me. So when I still got the opportunity to see that side, I jumped at the chance. But I felt more like a tourist than an active participant. I felt totally at home with the Pink Spiders and our crew, and I'm very proud of what we did - especially the album - but with everything else, with the label and other bands we toured with, I never really fit in.

Did it make you more inspired to "make it" with your own music, or even more turned off to the industry?

I guess I didn't feel profoundly inspired or turned off from the whole thing, just separated. I've always understood why Good Charlotte and Yellowcard sell millions of records. Your music will agree with certain people, and sometimes they happen to be in greater numbers than others. The experience was still definitely a positive one. I'm more optimistic now, and I hope I'm less of a jerk.

Esposito was probably more accessible, or at least a little more in-line with what “the kids” were listening to. Do you ever think Esposito could have been one of those bands out there right now?

I think we had plenty of potential, but it's hard to say. I wish we could have seen what the rest of the country thought of us. Seeing all the emo-tinged pop bands on Warped Tour this summer made think of it. We never would have survived, though. It's really hard to do one thing for a long time at that age. You wonder what you're missing out on. These days it kinda seems like the spoils go to the ones that are most committed. That definitely wasn't us. But then again, technology has changed everything. Look a band like Panic at the Disco - they were high school kids that posted a basement demo as a comment on Pete Wentz's Livejournal. We didn't have that in 1999. We drove to Spongebath's office and gave them our EP. We should have been frozen from then until 2004.

Do you think the state of popular music today is better or worse than it used to be, say, when you were growing up?

Popular music is probably on the whole, better than it was 10 years ago. Everybody's being more adventurous, or as much as they can be. But there's so many mediocre bands with a lot of hustle bubbling under on Myspace. I think it confuses the kids. When you're 14 you want to listen to a band that nobody else knows about. On Myspace you can listen to any band at any level in the country and the only distinction is the number of friends. And most of these bands aren't good. But you don't know that at 14. I had Silverchair records.

Hey – “Diorama” is incredible, but nobody in America knows about it.

Oh, sorry. I didn't get that far, but I remember hearing that they got better. I had the first two. Freak Show is hilarious.

What popular bands do you like / listen to?

[Of] newer mainstream stuff, I like My Chemical Romance, T.I., Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Green Day.

You’re the third person I know who’s told me My Chemical Romance is great.

My thing with MCR is kinda complicated. People latch on to their theatrics, but they actually care about melodies, I think that when you see them play you can tell that they're trying really hard to make something decent. I'm rooting for them.

The title track on the new album, "Barricades,” taps into a what seems to be a recurring theme for you: nostalgia. Do you wish you were still one of those 14 year old kids?

I don't want to relive the past but I think I've always tended to look back at things more than other people. That being said, the new album was much more in the moment than our earlier stuff.
You've always written catchy songs, but "Heart's Got a Hole" is on another level entirely. Do you care about writing hits?

I do care about writing hits, but I don't want to force it. The best hit songs I think are more born out of spontaneity. I think with some albums and bands you can smell the forced single from a mile away. I think "Heart's Got a Hole" just came out as naturally as anything else we've done. It may have been a little more conceptual. I actually brought it to the band as a Specials-ish mid tempo ska thing. When that wasn't working, I said, "Well, what if we played it like Gary Glitter?"

What's your favorite song you've ever written? And don't gimme any of that "they're all my children, I can't pick just one" crap.

Probably "I'm a Koala and I'm Cold".

I think I've probably lost a good amount of sleep trying to interpret your lyrics. When I hear lines like "We can now say it's been years / The time has come to reappear," I feel like you're talking about something really important that I have no clue about. Are the lyrics to your songs as arbitrary as their titles?

The lyrics mean something to me, but very rarely do I say something that I want other people to pick up on. There aren't secret codes or anything. When I listen to lyrics I tend to apply my own thoughts to it instead of trying to figure out what the singer's saying. And to me it's much more rewarding when you can relate to an abstract line as opposed to a blunt one.
It'd freak me out if somebody actually knew what I was talking about. In our defense we've now dropped the joke song titles. For the most part.

The lyrics on Barricades seem a little more personal, as if you're letting people a little closer to what it is that you're talking about. “One Piece” seems to be about long-distance relationships, “My Shoes” could be about being on the road with the Spiders, and “Surprise” makes me think of George W. Bush.

It's still a little more broad than that. All of those subjects apply to the songs, except I never really had Bush in mind. Either I'm unable to or I don't enjoy honing in on one particular subject. It's usually a bunch of different thoughts with a common theme.

What's going on with Knowledge the Knowledge (Dave's long-distance project with Esposito bassist Seth Murray)?

Knowledge the Knowledge is still around but we haven't completed anything in awhile. We have lots of bits and pieces of things. I think we're going to try to record more over the holidays when Seth's back in Nashville. Emailing is an interesting way to collaborate, but I'm more interested in working together in person. We'll see how it goes.

It's been a while since anyone heard much from your electronic alias, Wembley. Your former Character bandmates Ryan and Scott detoured into that world with Hands Off Cuba and are now touring with Lambchop. Are you still tinkering around on your computer?

I pretty much lost all interest in serious electronic music and I'm not sure why. I did most of it when I took a break from singing in a band, and right when the Privates started, that stuff immediately fell off. I still tinker quite a bit but now I just make beats. I sampled ZZ Top's "Tush" the other day and it was funny.

The way it looks now, it's not going get easier for The Privates to be The Privates anytime soon. What's the plan?

We're just hoping that the record alone is good enough for people in the rest of the country to take notice. We're sending alot of stuff out to press and college radio. A full-fledged tour probably won't happen soon but we're going to do some 3-4 day runs in the spring, up and down the east coast.

What's on your Christmas list this year?

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Gamecube), an Erik Satie songbook for piano, Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer DVD, an iTrip and "The Wizard" on DVD (finally!!!)

The Privates play The End in Nashville, TN, Saturday December 16th.

"Barricades" comes out Tuesday, December 19th on Mean Buzz Records.

Video: Dave Then and Now (Esposito live at Indienet, 11/25/2000, and The Privates live at The End, 12/31/2005)


TOP FIVE: 2006 Movie Posters

Before kicking off an ongoing series of Top Fives, I'd like to formally request your ideas for future lists. You may know me well, or I may be a stranger to you. Either way, leave a comment below for what you'd like to hear me tackle. I'm starting off with something that hopefully not too many other people are covering: The best movie posters of 2006. (Click the posters for larger versions)


Producer Joel Silver and art director Ron Michelson were sparked with this idea after purusing the Russian Boshevik-era posters at the Tate Gallery in London. ''I wanted people to feel as if the posters came directly from the movie,'' Silver said. ''If we were actually going to mount a revolution here, what would the imagery look like?'' So the axis is skewed, the color palette is stripped to shades of red, black and tan, and the credit block becomes a design element itself. If only all movie posters could stand on their own like so, and feel so closely connected to their film's tone and content.


Perhaps this is just an excuse for me to plug a movie I loved that most people didn't. But the poster is just like the movie: you'll love it if you love Jack Black. This poster shows you exactly what you're in for, and it tells the uninterested to keep moving along. It's really perfect.

According to the poster for the new Pedro Almodovar film, the only thing you need to know about VOLVER is that it stars Penelope Cruz, and that she's lovely. And that pretty much is all you need to know. The cartoony flowers, in simple, bold colors and varied patterns, perfectly suit Almodovar's almost magical style. I just love this artwork, that's all there is to it.

Say what you will about the year's most talked-about Little Indie Film That Could, but you've gotta give it credit for having its visual template locked in: make everything yellow. I love the negative space, the simple font, and the picture, which playfully piques your curiosity if you don't know the premise. Rumor has it that the movie's press packets include yellow toy Volkswagen buses: now that's good marketing. And I want one for my toy collection.

No surprise here. The poster for Steven Soderbergh's Post-WWII murder mystery pays a direct homage to this CASABLANCA poster from the 40's. It lifts the curved, painted lettering of the title, the top marquee, the faded montage of supporting characters, and creates a border out of a crumbling landscape. By adding a deep red wash behind Clooney and Blanchett, and adding a tagline, the poster seems both antique and contemporary; I would've liked them to go all the way with a painted portrait. Still, this poster isn't a postmodern gimmick, it's just more gorgeous and eye-catching than any other posters in the multiplex.

Compiling this list was a little harder than I expected. So I'll leave you with a few other 2006 posters that caught my eye. Many times a movie's alternate poster -- one released by the studio secondarily, after a more formulaic one-sheet -- is more interesting, as seen below. Because, of course, average moviegoers can't digest interesting or experimental posters. Thanks for reading, and let me know what posters you liked this year.


A couple of you have asked about the shorthand over on the right column, where I've instructed you to skip the Bond reboot CASINO ROYALE and Christopher Guest's Oscar race send-up FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION. I figured I should elaborate.

The dozens of people who told me that CASINO ROYALE introduced us to a "grittier", "more realistic" James Bond must have seen a very different movie than the one I saw. First things first: I'm by no means even a Bond fan, but I've enjoyed the few Bond movies I've seen. So I won't attempt to contextualize CASINO ROYALE amongst the Bonds of the past. CASINO asks that you welcome the new, blonde Bond (Daniel Craig), which I do. He's the young, naive Bond, reckless with both his body and soul. But after the BOURNE IDENTITY and 24 showed us that action doesn't have to be so bombastic anymore, CASINO ROYALE seemed to me as unbelievably over-the-top as any 150-million-dollar Hollywood blockbuster from the past ten years.

Making it through the entertaining but ludicrous construction-site chase to the babe galloping across the beach on horseback to the overly-staged finale where the Venitian buildings cannot simply be collapsing but must be sinking underwater, at the 2 1/2-hour point I'd had enough. There were too many convoluted plots, too many villains, too many endings, and even I, having just learned how to play Texas Hold'em over Thanksgiving, could tell you that those poker hands were ridiculous; Just because there's a multi-million-dollar pot doesn't mean the dealer will turn a miraculous flop on miraculous hands. Daniel Craig will make a fine Bond in the future, but I think CASINO ROYALE is the most overrated movie of the year.

Of the dozen or so holiday movies to cram into your free time, you can safely skip the new Christopher Guest comedy FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION. The early buzz I heard from my friend John Ott was every bit as absurd as Guest's movie-within-a-movie, "Home for Purem," getting any kind of Oscar buzz (or being a real movie at all). But that wouldn't matter if the movie was at all funny; If you've seen the trailer you've seen it all, except for the utterly horrifying visage of Catherine O'Hara's character after getting the full silicone and botox treatment. But all of these Hollywood "in-jokes"are stale, cliche, and simply not funny. Even Fred Willard (who does look quite funny in a faux-hawk) adds nothing after scene-stealing turns in previous Guest films like BEST IN SHOW. Plus, I'm possibly the biggest Oscar fan you know, which makes FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION even more disappointing. What made sitting through this movie even worse? The fact that Guest has zero interest in making his movie aesthetically sound-- he doesn't even take the time to match his reverse-shot actors' dialogue to the movements of their mouths. I now feel about Guest like many feel about Kevin Smith: that it's now obvious he isn't evolving any time soon.


Watch JESUS CAMP Online

For months, I've been telling you that you absolutely MUST SEE the new documentary JESUS CAMP. It is, in my opinion, the most important movie you'll see this year-- maybe in the past several years. Now you have no excuse: Courtesy of Daily Motion, you can watch the entire movie online. Sit back with your laptop or chip away at this over the next several days, but whatever you do, make time for it and prepare to be moved and amazed.

UPDATE: Once again, I have misled you. Hope you caught it, because it's been taken down... apparently the hosting was unauthorized.



Imagine that several centuries ago, a member of a country's royal family, known across the land, dies. Without the internet, television, telephones, or public transportation, how, and how soon, would the world proceed to mourn? Today, in a world where information travels in seconds, and when celebrities are modern-age mythological gods, is it possible for the people of the world to know one of these public figures better than their own family members know them? These questions are raised by THE QUEEN, featuring Helen Mirren in an Oscar-worthy performance as Elizabeth II, mother-in-law to Princess Diana. The princess' 1997 death brought an entire country to tears (my highschool self was all but obvlious to its impact) and came at a turning point in British government. The new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) wants to modernize a government under the royal traditions still in place and protected closely by Elizabeth.

In great movie conflicts, both opposing forces are both right and wrong. Here, as Blair and Elizabeth are forced into hasty negotiations in response to Diana's death, they might as well be talking through a tin cans and string stretched between centuries. Thousands of hopeless citizens pile flowers at Buckingham Palace, demanding that the royal family acknowledge Diana, yet Elizabeth remains resolved to keep Diana's funeral a private, family affair. In one scene, Mirren's Queen waits in a creek between two nearby estates, her car stuck in the water. She is alone in nature, with an almost childlike unawareness of the modern world rushing by elsewhere. In her only visible moment of dispair, she spots a roaming stag whose hunter can be heard nearby. Kindly shooing him away, she is more in touch with this ignorant creature's mortality than she ever was to Diana.

THE QUEEN needs a more overt, slam-dunk ending; Elizabeth's realizations are ambiguous at best. But all the while my mind was flooded with insight and fascination for this crux in time-- a creek-- where turn-of-the-millenia progress clashed and compromised with tradition. Neither Blair, nor Elizabeth, nor the princess's people, were in the right or in the wrong, and time, by nature, didn't really allow them to figure it out. A-


I always thought that I'd live to see the day when fireballs became a reality, but I never guessed that someone would one day figure out how to grow a 1UP Mushroom. Think Geek is selling the kit for only 8.99, which includes a green pipe planter, spores, and a solution that transforms the seedlings, in a dark room for a couple of weeks, into what you see above. I have little doubt in my mind that eating one of these could quite possibly grant me another 80-something years of life. Now will someone please invent an invincibility star?



Sorry there haven't been any updates over the Thanksgiving holiday, which I spent in Ohio with Mallory's family. I didn't catch any new releases (I secretly wanted to see HAPPY FEET), but I did convince Mallory to watch M*A*S*H with me in honor of Altman's passing. It's one of his most well-known films and I had never seen it. Like most of his films, it was underwhelming at first, but it only took an hour or two of reflection to start to get it. A darkly comedic and subtle film about how we behave in war, with great performances by Altman's regular Elliot Gould and then-newcomer Donald Sutherland. I'm looking forward to settling in with the rest of Altman's work once the new year is underway. For anyone else looking to try Altman, his 2001 "comeback" GOSFORD PARK is actually a great starting point.

My good friend Dan Tyler has posted a flash cartoon for his song "Happy Christmas," a delightful holiday waltz truly destined to be a classic, and featuring always-wonderful production by Joe Pisapia. Check out the video and be prepared to hum through the holidays.

It's crunch time for end-of-the-year movies, and on top of all the movies still to come out before January 1st, I figure there's no better time to cram in even more from the video store that I missed for one reason or another. At the top of the list is the rest of THE UP SERIES. This documentary series began in the 50's interviewing a range of British children about various aspects of their lives. Every seven years, the filmmakers caught up with these individuals to see how their lives, beliefs, and outlooks had changed. In the newest film released this year, 49 UP, those children are now 49 years old. Watching these films, which Roger Ebert lists as one of the greatest film projects of all time, is an experience unlike anything else I've encountered watching movies. They are addictive, inspiring, and profoundly moving. When 49 UP comes out I will undoubtedly demand that you see it, but knowing the entire story seems increasingly crucial. A bit of a commitment, but put aside your TV-on-DVD for a week and you'll be so greatly rewarded.

Keep it here this week for new reviews of THE QUEEN, BOBBY, CASINO ROYALE, and the first in my Top Fives series.


Robert Altman, 1925-2006

Yesterday one of the great masters of cinema passed away at 81: Robert Altman, a filmmaker who throughout his career distinguished himself as an independent. Altman's films are trademarked by the scope of the ensemble cast; not since RULES OF THE GAME has the ensemble been so richly explored and thoroughly interconnected. It makes sense then that to my knowledge there is no other director who has a more loving reputation with his actors. About his Academy Award nominated "comeback" GOSFORD PARK, Altman joked that he was on set merely to turn the lights on and off for his actors.

I'll never forget rediscovering NASHVILLE at film school, with its unforgettable scene "I'm Easy," sung to Lily Tomlin by its songwriter Keith Carradine. I immediately went home to learn it on guitar. 2001's GOSFORD PARK was a wake up call, asking me why I hadn't yet gone back to experience M*A*S*H, THE PLAYER, or SHORT CUTS (cited by many as Paul Thomas Anderson's model for MAGNOLIA. This year, Altman's A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION simply takes on an entirely new life after Altman's passing; an artistic troupe's final send off, led my a master of ceremonies, with the angel of death patiently looming backstage. It would be silly for me to take more time reflecting on Altman's career; I've now hardly made it through a third of his broad catalog. Instead, I'll direct you to GreenCine's long list of Altman tributes, and below, Altman's timely acceptance of the Academy's honorary Oscar this past February.



Welcome, readers old and new. I've finally entered the Sphere as it were (though I still don't really like the word "blog"), to build a permanent home for my movie reviews which you may or may not have read (and may or may not trust, but here we are). Two years ago I graduated from NYU with a Cinema Studies degree, and I just missed writing papers so much that I thought I should start writing at least a few sentences in response to each new movie I watch. The ebb and flow comes and goes, as any creative type well knows, but at least I know I'm getting my practice. I was asked to contribute a few things to the Nashville Scene for the Nashvlle Film Festival, and I smuggled my way onto the press list by writing for my friend Todd's site, Nashville Independent. I discovered GreenCine, some of my contemporaries started blogs, and I realized that it'd be nice to have somewhere else to direct people other than my Myspace blog. That brings us to now.

I've had various sites in the past, updating people on what I think they should read, hear, and see, being still attached to my middle school reputation of having the most cassingles and putting aside my homework once a week, on Tuesday nights with my mom, to see a new movie. In high school my mix tapes were up there, but in the age of pods and playlists, pop culture moves faster than it ever did back then. This is my contining effort to stay caught up, so that the threshold of becoming a grownup-- stuck to the music and movies of your youth-- can be pushed further and further in front of me. So that's where I'm at.

A few notes, administrative memos, items of housekeeping:

- I started this blog as a more appropriate, semi-professional home for my reviews of new movies. But if and when I'm inspired to post about other stuff, I will. I'm convinced that any one person can only thoroughly follow two out of these three enterprises: Music, Movies, and Sports. This theory works with just about everyone I know. So while there's a good chance that you'll hear about music I'm liking, it's quite unlikely that this blog will help you with your fantasy football or college basketball predix.

- I am, as they say, a "comment whore." And aren't we all? So when you read something I've posted, click that link and hit me with something in return. I would love for this site to harvest a small community of dialogues and conversations, so reply with your thoughts on whatever's being addressed, or launch off onto something else. Not just for me, but for everyone else reading. Let's talk.

- If you're reading this you might be a good friend of mine, or you may have never met me. So to give you some context, I'll periodically clue you in on my favorite movies of all time. Maybe I will occasionally post a paragraph about one of these classics, perhaps I'll just give you my list off the bat. But I'll most definitely post topical Top Fives every now and then. Let me know what Top Five you'd like me write about.

- For your boredom, I've compiled some exits to the right-- other sites I read, a bunch of great undiscovered bands, and so forth. You'll also find my famous rolling Top Ten movie list, which will be updated in real-time throughout the year (it's on moratorium from November to January, so you can lose sleep in your suspense for my annual list).

- Bookmark me and tell one person you know about me too. It means a lot that so many of you are checking in to see what I'm thinking, even after I recommended to you LAST DAYS, GERRY, and a bunch of other really long, really slow movies, and tried to convince you that John Mayer is a genius.

Off we go, starting with my Holiday Movie Preview below. Thanks for reading.


This weekend you'll be busy picking out which dark room will play host to your tryptophan coma: The ensemble-led BOBBY, or maybe a second helping of BORAT. If you're feeling more perky, perhaps Daniel Craig's new James Bond in CASINO ROYALE, or Denzel's DEJA VU. Or if you're feeling particularly brave, then maybe the first movie on my list. Whatever you do, just keep in mind that there's plenty more to come between now and the New Year. Here are ten more movies I'm excited about... and ten more (why have just one top ten when you can have two?)

(November 22 - Trailer)
Before a recent L.A. screening of THE FOUNTAIN, Darren Aronofsky's long-awaited and troubled follow-up to 2000's REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, the director made an announcement to the audience: Remember this moment, because you will never see a major movie studio release a movie like this ever again. Like Soderbergh's SOLARIS and Malick's THE NEW WORLD, THE FOUNTAIN is being paraded around by its studio as a normal genre movie (with Wolverine as its star, can you blame them?). Like every other studio film, it's purpose is to earn money at the box office; specifically to outdo other studio's movies at the box office, before it gets passed onto DVD to make room for the next big box office picture. But THE FOUNTAIN is pure cinema, pure art. Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz play a scientist and his dying wife in the present. In the past (or perhaps in her mind), he is a conquistador and she is the Queen of Spain. In the future (or perhaps in his mind), he is an intergalactic voyager, and she is... a tree. THE FOUNTAIN is an opera, scored beautifully by Clint Mansell, that organically converges these three metaphors of death and rebirth. It is moving, ambitious filmmaking that will anger most everyone in the audience. But I urge you to open your mind and just soak it in. Try it, and it will challenge your notions of what a movie is.

(December 15 - Trailer)
Renaissance man Steven Soderbergh goes to Post-WWII Berlin, bringing pal George Clooney along as an American war correspondent who uncovers a missing-persons plot involving his former flame (Cate Winslet) and possibly his driver, a mysterious American soldier (Toby Maguire). Everything-- the cinemography (black and white), the score (Thomas Newman. my favorite), the performances, and the great poster (brilliantly modeled after artwork from CASABLANCA)-- pays homage to the cinema of yesteryear; Soderbergh makes this one like they used to.

(January - Trailer)
Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz have become, with VOLVER, one of the great director/actor pairs in the movies; This film is so full of love and adoration for its star, celebrating Le Cruz from her singing voice to her cleavage, and it offers the actress her best role yet as a young woman coping with the death of her mother and the upbringing of her teenager. Raimunda (Cruz) and her daughter don't know about her mother's ghost secretly hanging around to make amends, but her sister does (and even puts the spirit to work in her hair salon). It is a meeting of forgiveness waiting to take place, and Almodovar directs with such ease and such playfulness that this magical intersection feels perfectly real.

(December 8 - Trailer)
I know it's not "cool" for a guy like me to be hyping a chick flick like this, but you know what? Just like anyone else, all I really want for Christmas is a tear-jerking, holiday-themed, feel-good romantic comedy. From Nancy Meyers (SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE), THE HOLIDAY stars Cameron Diaz and Kate WInslet as two women, one in New York and one in London, who swap lives through an internet service. They're both sick of men, but when they reach their new destinations, they find new ones-- Jude Law and Jack Black-- free of charge and just on time.

Last week in L.A., David Lynch set up camp at an intersection with a live cow and a banner advertising his leading actress, BLUE VELVET's Laura Dern, "For Your Consideration." The movie, shot entirely on video, is three hours long and, according to my friend Jason Shawhan, reportedly more abstract and assaulting than the most headpinning moments of ERASERHEAD and MULHOLLAND DRIVE put together. Lynch is releasing the opus on his own, so we can only hope the Belcourt picks it up. Ever the studious Lynchian since hearing him speak on films and dreams at the 2002 New York Film Festival, I anxiously await the challenge of unraveling his latest puzzle; we'll see if Academy members are up for it as well.

(December 19th limited - Trailer)
Guillermo Del Toro, maker of THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE and HELLBOY, directs this grown-up fairy tale about Ofelia, a child living in rural Spain who creates and explores a dream world of her own while above ground her stepfather hunts down rebels in a fascist territory. Buzz is charting high for PAN, which should be a Best Foreign Film frontrunner at the Oscars. It opens at the Belcourt in Nashville in January, and I for one wish I didn't have to wait that long.

(December 25 - Trailer)
Remember back in 2002 when we all thought CHICAGO would usher a musical revival in Hollywood? After PHANTOM and RENT flopped, it's up to DREAMGIRLS to determine what happens next. All of the elements are in place: Stars Beyonce and Jamie Foxx, director Bill Condon (wrote CHICAGO and won an Oscar for directing GODS AND MONSTERS), an Eddie Murphy performance that's all the buzz, and a breakout performance by former American Idol Jennifer Hudson. The movie is hers, and a statue will likely be hers as well, thanks to the untoppable first-act closer, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Leaving." But at the risk of offending Dreamgirls "fans," (and they're out there), the rest of the material just isn't memorable, and is executed with awkward cheesiness, the actors still struggling with that age-old challenge of Bursting Into Song. And the movie rushes so quickly through the decades, with songs that sound not like motown, but like the 80's showtunes that they are, that its characters and their relationships are never really developed. Apprently I'm in the minority; critics everywhere are eating this one up, and maybe you will too.

(December 8 - Trailer)
Mel Gibson's last PASSION project was one of the most controversail films of all time, yet after the dust cleared Mel came out quite the box office (and I think we can say artistic) victor. Well, a lot has changed for since then, and its anyone's guess as to how his current reputation will affect APOCALYPTO, an ancient Mayan epic about man on the run, sentenced to be sacrificed (it's also spoken in Mayan, with little dialogue at that). Controversy can only help a studio movie this experimental, yet so far there's surprisingly little talk about the film at all. I'm just here to remind everyone that the guy did make BRAVEHEART, and to reiterate how much I love films with hardly any dialogue, set in nature and/or ancient civilizations.

(December 22 limited - Trailer)
Zhang Yimou has jockeyed back and forth between small, intimate character pieces (TO LIVE, this year's underseen RIDING ALONE FOR A THOUSAND MILES) and the crowd-pleasing, DVD-ready martial arts epics (HERO, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS) that keep the big studios happy. The latest in the latter category is CURSE, set in the 10th century Tang Dynasty and involving the hidden conflicts and affairs of the Imperial Family. Starring Chow Yung Fat as the Emperor and Gong Li as his alienated emperess who's having an affair with a Crown Prince (who himself is secretly in love with the Imperial Doctor's daughter). Yimou knows, possibly better than any other director, that great action sequences should exist only as a projection of inner conflict, and he knows just as well how to make those conflicts look breathtakingly gorgeous.

(December 25 - Trailer)
Alfonso Cuaron (one of my favorite directors, from GREAT EXPECTATIONS to Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN to HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN) travels to a future London, where we've mostly blown ourselves up, where non-British immigrants are caged and camped, and where women have, for 18 years, been infertile. Julian (Julianne Moore) captures her ex Theo (Clive Owen), who she needs to get access to the proper immigration papers that will get Kee, a young pregnant woman with a miracle child, to safety. Almost without context, we follow the refugees as they narrowly escape death again and again and again, including an explosive battleground where Cuaron and cinematographer Emannuel Lubezki follow Theo and Kee's path in one long take. It's not just the best scene of the year (in possibly the best movie of the year); it's the most impressive, realistic, and meticulously choreographed war sequence that I've ever seen. When the final title card suddenly and ambiguously drops, it hits you, the ride you've been on. This story, about a newborn babe whose delicate birth will restore hope to the world, arrives on Christmas Day.

PLUS... Tom Twyker follows HEAVEN, one of my favorite movies ever, with PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MUDERER... Leonardo Dicaprio's South African mercenary exposes the BLOOD DIAMOND crisis in Sierra Leone... In THE PAINTED VEIL, a doctor (Edward Norton) drags his unfaithful wife (Naomi Watts) to research an epidemic in rural China... The Tony-Award winning play THE HISTORY BOYS comes to the big screen... Forest Whitaker leads the Best Actor race as ..... in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND while Will Smith may show up in the same category for THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS... Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman in GOYA'S GHOSTS... Renee Zelwegger plays the famous author Beatrix in MISS POTTER... An aging professor (Judi Dench) has a grudge with a new one (Cate Blanchett) in NOTES ON A SCANDAL... Robert Deniro directs Matt Damon with Angelina Jolie in the CIA story THE GOOD SHEPHERD... ERAGON, the novel by youngster Christopher Paolini, hopes to ride the Tolkien wave... and Julia Roberts leads an all-star voice cast in the live-action CHARLOTTE'S WEB.

Fall Movie Preview Update: For my Nashville readers, where movies often trickle in later than we'd like them to: LITTLE CHILDREN is highly recommended, and will come through sometime before the end of the year. The critically loathed TIDELAND will hit town as part of the Belcourt's mini-Gilliamfest between Christmas and New Years.