The World’s 40 Best Directors

The Guardian tallies up the 40 best directors in the world today, complete with ratings in Zagat-style (or beauty pageant-style) categories: Substance/Look/Craft/Originality/Intelligence.
Setting aside the unavoidable grade inflation–seven critics rated them from 1-20 for each category, but the totals fall in a narrow range, from 89 (David Lynch at #1) to 73 (the Gus Van Sant “who didn’t make Good Will Hunting” at #40)– it’s a pretty safe, festival-y list. But it does have it’s share of Eurotrashing quirks (David Lynch is #1??? Michael Moore is on it at all????? ditto Samira Makhmalbaf, one of only two women).
All in all, though, I’m glad to see so many of my boys made the list Missing, though: Agnes Varda, Hirokazu Kore-eda (a stretch, maybe, but more deserving than Makhmalbaf), the Amy Heckerling who did Fast Times and Clueless, Marc Forster, oh, I don’t know.

On My Architect: The Path of Kahn

[STANDARD SPOILER ALERT] Despite what the global saturation ad campaign may imply, it’s better to approach My Architect as a spinoff–like a feature-length installment the Animatrix–not as a sequel. (That none of the actors from The Matrix films were in My Architect should’ve been my first clue.) Once I made this distinction, I was able to appreciate the movie much better; it turns out to be a moving, well-told story which happens to have an extremely misleading marketing strategy behind it. It’s the Shawshank Redemption of the Matrix Universe.
Louis Kahn, image: myarchitectfilm.comMy Architect is set in the previous iteration of The Matrix, slotting into the Timeline somewhere between 1963 and 1974, although it includes trips backward and forward in time. The One here is a filmmaker named Nathaniel Kahn and is also called The Only Son. And the movie follows him on his quest to understand the Big Questions about his existence and his relationship to The Architect, who doesn’t look like Colonel Sanders in this film, but ressembles instead a somewhat homelier Danny Kaye, complete with big Architect glasses and a bowtie.
While some characters in the film react badly to the idea, there’s never any suspense about whether The Architect is The One’s father. For one thing (no pun intended), his name is Louis Kahn. Frankly, I couldn’t tell who is The Oracle. In a plotline taken straight from Star Wars, The One learns he has siblings, sisters–half-sisters, really–who also grew up thinking they were The One. It made for confusing family lives, and The Architect led a nomadic existence, hopping from house to office to building site to house, ultimately alone, even among his three “families.” Unlike Star Wars, though, The One doesn’t almost inadvertently hook up with his sister.
Louis Kahn, image: myarchitectfilm.comThe Architect has uncompromising visions of a perfectly constructed world; the film tells many stories of his mighty battles with the forces of evil (called Clients, or in one case, Urban Renewal Planners). Ultimately, The Architect has to leave The Matrix itself, traveling to the then-new country of Bangladesh, where he harnesses the energy of the most un-plugged-in population on Earth to build his Capital. [This is a direct reference to the Animatrix episode about how the machines founded their country, 01, in a desolate corner of the Middle East.]
As we know from the movies, train stations figure prominently in the Matrix, and My Architect is no exception. The Architect dies of a heart attack in the men’s room at Penn Station. [This is not really a spoiler since the whole premise of the movie is The One’s search as an adult for The Architect/Father he barely knew as a child, his attempt to understand more about how The Architect spent his last moments, when, instead of being surrounded by at least one of his families, he collapsed alone in a bathroom.]
In a plotpoint that reminded me a bit too much of Kevin Smith‘s Dogma, where God goes temporarily AWOL because he (she, actually, since God is played there by Alannis Morrisette) went unrecognized in a hospital ICU, The Architect went unrecognized at the morgue for several days because he’s crossed the address off his passport. Nevertheless, both the enigma and emotional stakes faced by The One are touchingly conveyed, and this viewer found himself identifying freuqently with Nathaniel and his quest.
Louis Kahn, image: myarchitectfilm.comDid I say action scenes? Perhaps the most significant way in which My Architect varies from the Matrix formula is the utter and complete lack of action. Every time I thought, “here comes the big chase scene,” it was, “here comes another serene pan of a museum, library, and/or hall of parliament.” And while there were some tense moments, there weren’t any real fight scenes. Aunt Posie got pretty worked up, though, talking about her sister running off and having a baby like that. Just drives her up the wall.
Kudos, finally, to the set designers. The series has always been known for its production design, but the dreary technoworld of the previous movies is replaced here by a seemingly endless parade of luminous, inspiring spaces. Very Logan’s Run. I wonder who did them.
What Nathaniel learns–and what he teaches us, of course, even in the title of his film– is that the quest isn’t for The Architect, but for My Architect. While the other Matrix films seduce us with the threat of an insidious, all-pervasive, artificially constructed reality, Nathaniel shows how much more enmeshed we become in the reality we fabricate inside ourselves.
Nathaniel’s mother recognized the stigma of having a married man’s child as an externally imposed social construct, and she rejected it. Yet her survival hinged inextricably on her belief that Her Architect was always just a passport edit away from leaving his wife. By definition, Nathaniel the filmmaker traffics in constructed, edited reality. He’s aware of the wilfully childlike innocence of his objective (he included scenes of himself rollerblading around the Salk institute or chasing his paper yarmulke in the wind at the Wailing Wall, after all), and yet he spent five difficult, emotionally wrenching years pursuing it with his camera.
Why get all worked up about The Matrix when My Matrix is more revealing and engrossing?

Seeing Lost In Translation on the Upper East Side

Lost in Translation soundtrack, image:amazon.com

Context isn’t everything, but it counts. We just got back from seeing Lost In Translation with a multi-generational crowd, in the movie theater around the corner from Holly Golightly’s brownstone. As they say, it’s the little differences:

  • “Gorgeous sheets.” –Woman of a certain age behind us, upon the cut to Bill Murray sitting on the Park Hyatt bed. [300-count egyptian cotton? Nice, but could be better, lady. Now pipe down.]
  • “hahahaha.” –me, laughing alone at the previously unrecognized 4:20 reference.
  • “nice soundtrack.” –me, wondering if the limited edition soundtrack is out yet.
  • “soundtrack’d be better if the idiot in front of us’d stop proclaiming Shinjuku landmarks to his mother/sugar mama. It ain’t no Harajuku, pal. Now pipe down.” – me.
  • “I loved it.” –adult children of the sheets woman, after it was over.
  • “I hated it.” –the sheets woman.
  • More on HBO Directors

    I’m reading and enjoying Steven Soderbergh’s book, Getting Away With It, where he intermixes his self-hating journal entries and deeply interested conversations with Richard Lester, the director credited with “launching” the British New Wave. (He did The Beatles movies, The Three Musketeers, and other stuff. Fascinating, funny guy, though.)
    Soderbergh tries on an authorial style, with David Foster Wallace-style, self-conscious footnotes [DFW-lite], but basically, he plays a very well-informed fan. But now that he’s in production on the first episode of K Street (which airs Sunday on HBO, no pressure), these discussions with Lester about how they used to make TV shows and movies in the “old” days seem to be bearing fruit.
    [The K Street site has an “online journal” totally spinning the party line, written, I think, by the Ari Fleischer character. It’d be interesting to see if they start leaking things as the show progresses.]
    There are only three copies of the book on Amazon right now, and it’s ranked 58,458th. Why not buy it? Turn the high-pressure hose of e-commerce that is greg.org readership on it, and see if we can break 5,000?

    Ozu in New York

    Wim Wenders' Tokyo-ga, image: filmlinc.com

    I know Venice is barely over and Toronto’s just getting started, but I’m already getting pumped for the New York Film Festival in October. Is “pumped” the right reaction for an Ozu centennial retrospective? All 36 films by the greatest Japanese filmmaker ever will screen at Lincoln Center.
    Also on the schedule: A 2-day symposium on Ozu’s work and influence (Oct. 11 and 12) and, batting cleanup, Wim Wenders’ 1985 Tokyo Picture, his filmed diary exploring Ozu’s world.

    On the Directors of HBO Series

    I should have mentioned it earlier–maybe when I asked for DVD rental suggestions–but HBO’s Band of Brothers is one of the best series I can think of. (Except that I can also think of Kieslowski’s Decalogue and Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, which are probably the #1 and #2 greatest “mini-series” of all time; that’s not the category we’re dealing with here. Decalogue has been re-released on DVD, by the way. Run, don’t walk.)
    Last week, I watched Part 5, the one installment I missed on TV. It was pretty remarkable, easily bearing the strongest directorial stamp. “Crossroads” was what it sounds like, a transitional story, notable for lacking (until the end) any of the “gotta take that ridge” straightforwardness typical of a war film. Instead, the story focused on the challenges Winters faced off the front; incoming mortars replaced by barrages of mundane paperwork and meetings. Even so, a complex mix of recollections and revealing subplots were woven together in a fairly complex structure. It could have been confusing, but it wasn’t.
    From the opening scene, the director let you know something was different. The handheld camerawork was unexpected, with an intensity that clearly referenced the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan. And in a later battle scene, the handheld camera follows a soldier on a dead run (no pun) across a battlefield. The SPR allusion was no coincidence. Of course, Steven Spielberg was an executive producer of BoB, but Part 5 was the only episode directed by the other exec producer–and veteran of the D-Day scene–Tom Hanks.
    The giddy pablum on HBO’s site, actors gushing about how great it was that Tom Hanks was directing them is exactly what “Crossroads” overcomes. Maybe it’s too directed, too edited to blend in with the more conventionally directed installments, but it feels like Hanks had something to prove, and for the most part, he did.

    OY! Recommend me some movies! [update: the Mob has spoken]

    My DVD rental queue is down to dangerously low levels. GreenCine, by the way, not the big red DVD subscription service Gawker sold it’s soul to (I’m sure they used the money to buy an expanding T-Rex sponge. Chum…p).
    Most recently in the machine:

  • Punch-Drunk Love (Ouch. I had to stop, finally. Maybe my stereo settings were wrong, but it was so assaultive… the Bonus Disc is on the way, though.)
  • Soderbergh’s Solaris (underappreciated. re James Cameron’s commentary:he’s deeply, annoyingly, and predictably shallow. ).
  • Ghost World (Didn’t need to watch it since I didn’t end up interviewing Scarlett Johannson),
  • Virgin Suicides (Did need to watch it, because I did end up… wait, I’m getting ahead of my self. But I will say, it’s a little weird to have your mom shoot your Making Of video.)
  • Funeral, Juzo Itami’s dark comedy. (About as subtle as Japanese overacting gets, but the camerawork is bizarrely tight, and the DVD transfer absolutely sucks.)
  • Thirteen Conversations about Something or Other (If you’re gonna make a feature that interweaves several independent episodes together, you probably should watch one, right?)
    Update: Yow, thanks. I should be asking for stuff more often. The results–minus the ones that aren’t available on DVD–like Hearts of Darkness (also shot by Sofia Coppola’s mom) and Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho–ones that weren’t available on DVD–like GVS’s first feature, Mala Noche–and a couple of obviously dumb ideas–Everyone’s seen Pearl Harbor, duh–are below.
    Also, I put them all in an Amazon List, “movies greg.org readers told me to watch #1,” if you feel like watching along. Thanks again, and keep’em coming.

  • Before Night Falls
  • Dog Day Afternoon
  • Dogtown & Z Boys (Avary‘s working on the feature remake with David Fincher)
  • Double Indemnity (a staple)
  • e-dreams (ahh, Kozmo.com)
  • Office Space (always good)
  • Kundun (already on the list, actually)
  • Last Temptation of Christ (how timely)
  • Lumiere
  • One-Hour Photo (someone watched the the VMA, or the Johnny Cash video)
  • Raging Bull (ok, enough with the Scorsese)
  • Secretary
  • The Wind Will Carry Us (actually, the rec. was Abbas Kiarostami, so I picked this one about extremely rural Iran, which led me to…)
  • Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, a remarkable-sounding 1924 silent film about shepherds in rural Iran, which led me to…
  • The Saltmen of Tibet, and all on my own, I had the idea of rewatching Errol Morris’ Fast, Cheap & Out of Control
  • “Punch-Drunk Love is less a story than it is a poem”

    How’d I miss this? GreenCine has a lyrical article/review about Punch-Drunk Love, PT Anderson, and Jeremy Blake, by Tom Tykwer, the German director of Run Lola Run and Heaven.
    Punch-Drunk Love is FINALLY available on DVD, by the way. And it includes Blossoms & Blood, a short Paul and Jeremy made with John Brion’s music, which was previously only available to friends and family. And people on Paul’s Valentine’s Day card list.

    Fox Searchlight’s new weblog

    also via GreenCine: The indie mini-major studio Fox Searchlight Pictures has launched a weblog with the ambitious tagline, “All the independent and arthouse movie news that’s fit to blog.”
    Fortunately for what still feels like a one-man operation, the first post narrows the spotlight to Searchlight and news of their release slate. It seems intended to supplement the studio site’s Weekend Read mailing list, where FS filmmakers write about their work.
    Welcome to the phenomena, kids. Now all you need to do is to move to New York.

    Shoot sequentially, post asynchronously

    Gerry, still, Gus van Sant

    Don’t know how I missed this; in Feb., Gus Van Sant talked to The Onion A.V. Club about making his films. The sequential filming mode from Gerry was used again on Elephant; with a small, light crew, Van Sant was practically flying along, shooting whatever he wanted. It was an approach he’d missed since his first feature, Mala Noche.
    One review of Gerry deadpanned that Los Angeles is enough of a desert itself, why go to Death Valley; since reading it, I’ve wanted to do a shot-for-shot remake of Gerry, set in teeming east LA. After all, for a west-side anglo, being stuck on foot in East LA could be as alienating and threatening as an empty desert.
    [Update: I finally found it; It was a Voice interview with Van Sant, who said: “In the West, as soon as you get out of town, depending on which direction you go, you can hit desert, especially in L.A. I mean, L.A. is really a desert anyway.”
    Unfortunately, there’s something screwy going on with the DVD release of Gerry. Criterion is apparently handling it, but there’s no mention of it at all on their site.

    Update: DVD Recs

    Thanks to the folks who’ve emailed suggestions for DVD’s to order up. Here’s a sample, along with recommendations from some other people:

  • Kurosawa’s Ran; Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour; and any Kubrick (I decided on Full Metal Jacket and Lolita)
  • I culled The Iron Giant from Jason.
  • By buying it the other day, Roger Avary recommends The Breakfast Club, from which I extrapolated Fast Times at Ridgemont High. (Added Avary’s own Rules of Attraction, esp. for the commentary track by Carrot Top.)
  • Finally, though he may not have intended to, Larry Wachowski is suggesting Orlando. Read the book, too.
  • Help me with Netflix, help yourself with GreenCine.

    Only a couple of weeks after Agent Smithing my brother’s early adopter, $10/month-for-life Netflix account, I’ve run out of movies I want to rent. Or more precisely, movies I want to rent that Netflix actually has. (Note: if you’re reading this from Netflix, my brother lives with us now. As do his wife and their two lovely children. Coincidentally, after tiring of Pooh’s various adventures, my four-year-old niece suddenly developed an interest in Ozu and Tarkovsky.)
    So, please help me fill my Netflix queue with films I haven’t thought to rent.
    And in the mean time, sign yourself up at GreenCine, the San Francisco Pink Dot to Netflix’s Kozmo. They have everything and a great film weblog. While you’re at it, read this fascinating analysis of Netflix’s DVD allocation system to see just how unprofitable my brother is for them.
    [Update: thanks, Sacrifice is actually already in the mail, and Bottle Rocket‘s on the list. Paul Krugman recommends Wag the Dog. Here’s my rental queue: Koyaanisqatsi, Dancer in the Dark (finally. I walked out of the theater after 10 min.), The Manchurian Candidate, Rashomon, Sokurov’s Mother and Son. Watched and mailed back: Badlands (again), Hedwig & the Angry Inch, In the Bedroom. ]
    [Unrelated: can anyone explain why I have the song, “Come on, be my baby tonight,” from idiot David on The Real World: New Orleans stuck in my head? Whitney, where are you when I need you?]

    Have you heard of this movie, Matrix Reloaded?

    You know how Justin invented Shoutcast so he could listen to Loveline in Arizona? Well, if weblogs never existed, I’m sure they would’ve been invented yesterday as a way for everyone in the world to review Matrix Reloaded. [Warning: major spoilers and countless review links in Jason’s comments thread]. Until Nick and Meg figure out how to find me the good ones, though, I’m sticking with the pros. Like that Agent Smith of MR reviewers, David Edelstein, who first loves, then hates, the movie in Slate, The NY Times, and Fresh Air.
    Matrix Reloaded, I swear I had this idea before seeing the movie.  Anyway, mine is completely different.  image:slate.comSure, I could write how the rave reminds me of that annoying “let’s target the ‘urban’ demographic” Kahlua commercial a few years ago, or how I actually apologized to the people sitting next to me for laughing so hard at the Merovingian (who hangs around the corner at Bilboquet like all the time) how the unexpectedly Chicago-esque editing destroyed the lyricism of some of the fight scenes, or how righteous Trinity’s hack turns out to be.
    But forget the movie; what interests me, is, well, me. What does the Matrix mean for my Animated Musical, my Terminator-meets-West Side Story? There were a couple of “great minds think alike” points that made me cringe at first, until a bit of satisfaction kicked in, at my occasional avant la lettre similarity to the Wachowskis’ script. On others, I got what they missed. Eat my dust, Wachowskis. I mean– I mean, let’s have breakfast.
    Basically, then, I was fine about it, at least until I came home and read Joyce Wadler’s opening party pitch to Joel Silver for Matrix: The Musical. I’m typing this in the fetal position, btw.