December 2007 Archives

bateman.jpgEven if it weren’t against two of my least favorite movie personalities — Tim Burton and Nicolas Cage — I’d root for Juno just because of Jason Bateman. Look at his list of credits and see a sad litany of roles in things few people remember beyond the punchline of Teen Wolf Too. Arrested Development resurrected his career, but it also made Scott Baio and Henry Winkler look good; true redemption requires parlaying success into more success. (No, mere resurrection just isn’t good enough these days, Jesus.)

Alas, because of its seriously limited release, Juno only finished second in this week’s Box Office Power Rankings, trailing Burton’s Sweeney Todd by the slimmest of margins.

But take heart, Silver Spoons fans! Juno did trounce Cage’s sequel to National Treasure. And remember that these rankings were compiled only with the weekend numbers. A cursory look at the Friday-through-Christmas chart suggests that with its ninth-place box-office finish over the five-day holiday weekend, Juno likely would have tied Todd. But I’m too lazy to recalculate.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

lerner.jpgA foolish person doesn’t recognize that one can learn much from opponents. So liberals have begun to understand that they need God on their side as much as the Christian Right does.

The lesson from conservatives, said Rabbi Michael Lerner, is that it’s okay to base policy on faith and spiritual values, and it’s important to stand up for what you believe in. “When they come to a decision about what they believe in, they fight for it,” he said of the Christian Right in a recent interview. “And they’re willing to lose an election for the sake of what they believe in.”

Anton Chigurh


No Country for Old Men's antagonist is

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I doubt Anton Chigurh (who will be referenced in every Culture Snob entry from this point forward) would appreciate the analogy, but No Country for Old Men looks like a perennial bridesmaid in the Box Office Power Rankings.

In its four weeks on our charts, it has finished in a three-way tie for first (which doesn’t count as being a bride) and thrice ended up second — two times to Enchanted and this past weekend to I Am Legend.

Spun positively, the movie’s Box Office Power Rankings longevity and performance bode well for its Oscar chances, if one accepts the premise that Academy Award respect requires a combination of critical acclaim and audience affection.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

Devil on My Trail

nocountry1.jpgMy first thought after watching Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country for Old Men — amid groans from others in the theater — was that I understood why some people hate it.

This was prompted by something I’d read earlier that day, an item from Roger Ebert’s Movie Answer Man column:

“I went to see No Country for Old Men with a group of my friends. I was absolutely fascinated and riveted by the film and think it is the best film I have seen thus far this year. My very good friend, who also happens to be a very smart guy, thought the film was terrible. I was shocked. Should I debate the merits of the film with him? Is it even worth debating such a wonderful film when the person you are debating with has no appreciation for it, and does it pose a risk to the friendship?

It’s a fair and fascinating question, but Ebert’s reply was unfortunately glib:

“As Louis Armstrong instructs us, ‘There are some folks that, if they don’t know, you can’t tell ’em.’”

I might accept that dismissive response if he were talking about Transformers or some tony, repressed period romance; we all have things that we just don’t like, no matter how well they’re done.

But No Country for Old Men subverts audience expectations at just about every turn, and despite its considerable pleasures and a straightforward chase-the-drug-money plot, it’s a willfully difficult film. In that context, why wouldn’t you want to argue about it? It’s the rare movie that’s open enough to foster malleable opinion; thoughtful people who dislike it initially can be won over if spurred to look at it differently.

In its opening weekend, The Golden Compass made more than twice as much money as any of its competitors, yet in the great equalizer that is the Box Office Power Rankings, it still ended up in third place, and barely beat out This Christmas.

Enchanted extended its reign atop the rankings to three weeks, but it was nearly unseated by the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. I doubt either has anything to fear from Alvin and the Chipmunks this weekend, but I Am Legend might be another story ... .

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

The “Short-Film Week” blog-a-thon technically closed Sunday, December 8, but I’ll happily accept contributions as long as people send them (using the e-mail form or

Blog-a-thons are unusual in the world in that they seem a genuine win-win-win proposition. The hosts of blog-a-thons get traffic from participants’ readers. Participants get traffic from new readers through the host(s). And the world gets new writing, analysis, provocation, and thought that it wouldn’t have had without the blog-a-thon.

In the case of Short-Film Week, we generated roughly three dozen new pieces on short films. This is a small, good thing.

While I hope that the people who host or write for or read a blog-a-thon benefit in some way, that doesn’t diminish the need to express appreciation for their contributions.

cash10.jpgOn the last day of the “Short-Film Week” blog-a-thon, I had planned to write an essay on a music video of my readers’ choosing. But my polling functions went poof this week, and I’ve written enough. So I’ll let two of the videos on my ballot do (most of) the talking.

I chose these two because I can’t imagine a more efficient way for their effects to be achieved: a poignant look at the career of Johnny Cash, and a dead-on spoof of NFL Films. Sometimes and somehow, the music video can do things (beyond the song) that seem impossible in any other format, regardless if the aims are serious or silly.

terminalbar2.jpgThe guy who dominates Stefan Nadelman’s documentary short Terminal Bar could be related to Robert Crumb, both in his physical features and his matter-of-fact way. He talks about everything from death by alcohol to bathroom blowjobs to the “destituted” people who frequented the titular establishment where he tended bar for a decade. And like the famous cartoonist Crumb, he seems perpetually amused, and it looks suspiciously like a defense mechanism.

He tells of putting cheap liquor in the bottles of more expensive brands, and brags that not one person ever noticed.

In talking about the clientele, he says that the white, working-class patrons died off — often because of booze — and were replaced by gay black men. With a shrug, without bitterness or judgment, he says something along the lines of: If you become a gay bar, you become a gay bar. Whatcha gonna do?

His name is Sheldon Nadelman. He is not the subject of the 23-minute movie, but its character is drawn from him: lively, detailed, aloof, unfocused, and scattershot.

(A warning for sensitive folk: This essay discusses and uses screen captures from a short film in which a man conquers mammoth bare breasts and inserts his entire naked body into a woman’s vagina. [And, magically, the number of Culture Snob readers grows exponentially.])

talktoher03.jpgAn object within an object of the same type — the novel within a novel, the film within a film — is rarely considered out of its context. Its meanings, and its narrative or thematic roles, are derived from its conversation with the larger work.

But if the object is nearly whole — that is, if it’s not just a fragment, if we have a reasonably full sense of its shape, structure, and content — looking at it in isolation can bear fruit and is an act of respect.

Behold the power of the Box Office Power Rankings! Able to turn the Coen brothers’ box-office weakling — No Country for Old Men, 10th in revenue this past weekend — into the maid of honor. (And, yes, I recognize that I’ve crafted a metaphoric non sequitur.) Enchanted still tops our rankings, but No Country was first in three of our four criteria, including per-theater average.

Continue reading for the week’s full rankings and the methodology.

contact3.jpgRobert Zemeckis’ Contact is a triumph of short-form —

What’s that?

Yes, I’m aware that Contact isn’t exactly short, but the Screen Actors Guild defines a feature film as a movie of 80 minutes or longer, and Contact’s 53-minute running —

Pardon me?

Yes, I know that Contact was 150 minutes long when it played in movie theaters. I’m not talking about that movie. It was terrible and interminable.

My version uses the same source material but starts at the 33-minute, 25-second mark and ends at one hour, 26 minutes, and five seconds. It’s a marvel of economy and —

Yes, as a matter of fact I do think you can chop off the first half-hour and the last hour of the theatrical version without losing —

What? You liked all that backstory and preface? You thought it was necessary? And you were satisfied with the way the movie dragged on, and ended &mdash and then ended again?

Now shut up and let me explain myself.

transit4.jpgThe animated T.R.A.N.S.I.T. is a feature-film plot distilled into 10 minutes, and it shows the ways in which the short film is more forgiving than longer cinematic forms. This movie operates wordlessly almost as a plot outline, and it’s gorgeous to look at and challenging to keep up with. It feels like a small, perfectly cut gem.

On reflection, that’s a good analogy, because Piet Kroon’s 1997 short is a beautiful piece of visual craftsmanship that fails as art in any rational analysis.

camera2.jpgLike most of his movies, David Cronenberg’s Camera is a sly piece of work. On the surface, it’s an illustration of the effects of lighting, camera movement, recording format, performance, and even costumes.

Camera appears to be Cronenberg’s most warm and human work. But it packs a lot into its running time, and, on closer inspection, it’s a downer about submission to addiction.