Archive for the ‘Lists’ Category

50 Great Films of the 00s: 40-31

August 21, 2009

50-41 here. No links this time, on account of bandwidth constraints. Anyhow:

40. Infernal Affairs

Maybe it’s because I don’t much like Leonardo DiCaprio, or maybe it’s because I’m a film snob, but I much preferred the original Chinese Infernal Affairs to the American remake The Departed. Most likely, though it’s due to the “first met is best” effect that I’ve noticed elsewhere. Given two works of art, one a remake or adaptation of the other, I tend to prefer the first one I meet, regardless of whether it’s the original or the remake/adaptation. So I prefer the adaptation of Oldboy to the original manga, or the manga adaptation of Welcome to the NHK to the original novel, or in the case at hand, Infernal Affairs to the Departed, because those were the first ones I met. In any event, Infernal Affairs was an improbably stylish thriller that rose above its somewhat dopey plot through force of sheer pulpish conviction.

39. The Wind That Shakes the Barley

I’ve talked here before about spinach art: works that are good for you but no fun. For years I avoided the films of director Ken Loach, figuring that they must be spinach of the highest order. Socially committed films on “issues” (mixed-race romance: Ae Fond Kiss; workplace conditions in the construction industry: Riff-Raff; etc.)? Films where characters engage in passionate debate about the merits of various forms of socialism (Land and Freedom)? Yeccch — this despite our sharing much the same political outlook, I might add. So it was with great surprise that I learned, once I finally bothered to test my knee-jerk reaction, that Loach’s films were funny, good-natured and compassionate and were indeed films first, civics lessons second. The Wind That Shakes the Barley was no exception despite its heavy subject matter (the start of the troubles in Ireland) and, I’ll admit it, I totally have a man-crush on lead Cillian Murphy.

38. Volver

Pedro Almodovar is another writer/director I came to late. He’s the sort of film-maker who often gets called “flamboyant” and “colourful”. With good reason; he is flamboyant and colourful. He’s also one of the few major figures in world cinema who is deeply concerned with women — what they’re like, what they like, how they live life. Volver is typical of his oeuvre in this respect and reminded me more than a little of Gilbert Hernandez, for its mixture of the mundane with the supernatural, telenovela flourish with novelistic emotion and above all the women: strong, wise, foolish, human.

37. Lost in Translation

It became fashionable for a while to bash Sofia Coppola and this film in particular. Okay, its deployment of Japanese culture veers into “Aren’t these wacky Easterners funny?” territory. But if you can put that aside — a big if for some — this is still a fine film about alienation and dislocation. Indeed, I’d say it captured better than any other film I’ve ever seen the sense of dislocation and placelessness of being an innocent (or not-so innocent) abroad, and the aching need for an emotional connection with the familiar. No doubt it helped that I saw it at a pretty receptive time in my own life: as a twenty-six year-old graduate student in the States, alone and friendless and far, far from loved ones. But there’s more than enough about the film to put it on this list regardless: two strong lead performances — honestly, has Scarlett Johansson been remotely as good in anything else? — dreamy cinematography; and brilliant sound design by Richard Beggs.

36. Fear and Trembling

Speaking of East-West encounters and those wacky Japanese, there’s always this French curio, also from 2003 and also chronicling the meeting between a Western ingenue and Japanese culture. This time the ingenue is French and the culture she meets is specifically corporate culture. The title is from Kierkegaard, but it might as well have been from Sade; due to a series of cross-cultural misunderstandings, the protagonist finds her position in the Japanese office growing more and more degraded until, in a delirious scene, she wallows around and sleeps in the upturned garbage of her capitalist oppressors. That sounds like heavy, depressing stuff but the accomplishment of this remarkable little film — and it is decidedly minor in its focus, almost all of it occuring within the one office floor, concerned with the power relations between two people at its heart — is that it isn’t depressing. But nor is it played for laughs either. Instead the film walks a nimble line between outright satire and heavy-handed moralizing that makes it one of the most tonally interesting films of the decade. It’s also, despite its (cross-)cultural specificity, the best office film since The Apartment, which makes it a pretty damn good movie full stop.

35. Lilya 4-Ever

A grim bit of miserabilism from Lukas Moodysson, Lilya 4-Ever largely takes place in a generic bleak Eastern European hellhole, part of the detritus left behind by the former Soviet Union. Things only get worse once Lilya escapes to the West, as if to rebuke the one glimmer of hope offered in the first half of the film. There’s one thing audiences want from miserabilist cinema: the complete and crushing absence of hope. This movie delivers that in spades, and then some.

34. Little Otik

Jan Svenkmajer has for decades been one of the world’s greatest living animators, which is all the more remarkable given the budget constraints he must have been working under. In Svenkmajer’s world, everyday objects come miraculously alive, but the resulting vision couldn’t be further from the dancing candle and teapots of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. No, the living objects in Svenkmajer’s world don’t dance so much as writhe, and rather than being shining new friends, there’s apt to be a touch of death about them even as they writhe. Little Otik isn’t even his best film — for mine, that would be his marvellous Alice, an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland that manages to remember and recreate the creepiness of the original. But it’s a Svenkmajer film all right, and we’re lucky to have his creepy, insidious surrealism and stop-motion animation in any form we can get. If Dave McKean, Marcel Duchamp and Tom Waits were combined into one person, and that person were an animator, the result would be something like Svenkmajer.

33. Gomorrah

There’s a scene towards the start of this brutal organised crime exposé where two dimwitted wanna-be gangsters act out scenes from Scarface. That one scene sums up the intent of the film: to contrast the grim reality of organised crime with the Hollywood glamourised version. And at that it succeeds admirably; the crime we see in Naples is vicious and surprisingly petty. Who knew, for instance, that the mob had their fingers in sweatshops or that a sweatshop foreman selling his skills to rival sweatshops would be such a risky proposition? Gomorrah is a powerful film with a simple message, which it sells with great skill.

32. L’Enfant

The Dardenne brothers specialise in a nouveau cinéma vérité, detailing the lives of the lower classes in Belgium. Not unlike a Belgian Ken Loach, come to think of it. L’Enfant was their second film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and it stays true to their themes and style. A young couple fall pregnant and have a baby and things just get worse from there, with one bad decision after another. Cheery!

31. The Bourne trilogy

All right, I’m cheating by counting these three films as one. But the three films in the Bourne series were all written by the same screenwriter, Tony Gilroy (who would go on to direct Michael  Clayton, itself a fine film about keeping your principles in the workplace). And they all share a naturalistic visual aesthetic, plus a  sober sense of seriousness. It was that sense of seriousness that made the first film stand out, and showed you could make an action movie as adult and stripped-down as the best thriller. Would that more film-makers were paying attention.

Most disappointing of 2008

January 12, 2009

Any idiot can do a best-of list. In keeping with the relentless negativity of this site, here’s my list of the biggest disappointments of 2008:

10. Final Crisis

It only started to get readable with #4, and #5 was actually quite good. Shame #1-3 were all teh suk.

9. Acme Novelty Library #19

After branching out into other voices with the last two volumes, Chris Ware takes a step back into familiar territory with this depressing study of a fat, nerdish social misfit. Which is totally not the same as any of his other studies of fat, nerdish social misfits. I’ve been reading Ware since 1996, and this is the first time I’ve felt like he was spinning his wheels.

8. Bourbon Island 1730

Trondheim’s line was too chaotic for me; I found — or rather, couldn’t find — the characters tangled up in the sameness of lines.

7. Dungeon Monstres 2: The Dark Lord

Not so much a reflection of its intrinsic quality, as of the insanely high expectations built up by previous volumes. This is the first volume in the entire series that has felt less than essential. Maybe the Dungeon formula is starting to wear thin; maybe I was in a bad mood when I read it.

6. Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Vol 18

Speaking of insanely high expectations… Good on its own rights, but a little anti-climactic compared with what went before.

5. Cat-Eyed Boy Vol. 1

As I recounted here, I was disappointed with the first volume. It’s no Drifting Classroom, that’s for sure.

4. No new volumes of Little Lulu from Dark Horse.

Although apparently they’re starting up again in 2009. Don’t toy with my affections, Dark Horse.

3. No new English volumes of Cromartie High School.

‘Nuff said.

2. Later volumes of Welcome to the NHK

I liked the first few volumes of this series a LOT, for reasons I might get into one day. The rest, not so much.

1. Only nine posts all year.

Seriously, Jones, what the fuck?

Spoilers for the series finale of The Wire

March 9, 2008
  • McNulty, Greggs and Bunk have a hawt three-way
  • Bunk keeps smoking his cigar while he’s getting his cigar smoked, if you know what I mean
  • Although that’s probably not a spoiler; I mean, everyone already thought the Bunk did that anyway, right?
  • All these years, the real kingpin of the whole Baltimore drug trade has been Bubbles
  • Herc becomes a real police
  • Fuzzy Dunlop is a skrull
  • The wire itself is a ghost; why, no one’s lived in the old Major Crimes Unit place for years
  • Wallace killed Edena Watson

ZOMG!

Once more unto the breach

March 4, 2008

For those of you who can’t wait to get your wonk on until Brian Hibbs writes another 70,000 words on Bookscan sales, Dick Hyacinth has more on his meta-list of 2007’s Best Comics.

I kid, I kid. The entire blogosphere thanks Dick for doing this. As they say where I come from, you’re a dead-set legend.

(Oh, and we thank Brian too!)

As you probably know if you’re reading this blog, Dick collated all the best of lists into a meta-list. In his new post he splits the lists into two types: those that came from comics-specific sources (like Jog, the Journal, etc.), and those that came from more general sources (Time, Salon, etc.).

Then he points out an interesting difference between the two. Lists from comics-specific sources summed to this meta-ranking at the very top:

  1. I shall destroy all the civilised planets
  2. All-star Superman
  3. Alias the Cat
  4. Scott Pilgrim gets it together
  5. Powr Mastrs
  6. Exit Wounds
  7. Shortcomings.

By contrast, general sources gave Exit Wounds and Shortcomings meta-rankings of #1 and #2, respectively.

Prima facie, this is kind of surprising. You might expect to see a lot of variation further on down the list, but more agreement (across the two types of source) about the very best comics of the year.

As an analogy, think about films of 2007. Critics might disagree about the rest of their top ten–was Zodiac among the best of the year? Was The Bourne Ultimatum? Was Norbit? But they mostly agreed that No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood were, between them, #1 and #2, the exact order to be determined by a no-holds-barred cage-match.

In other words, people disagree about the very best. But you might expect them to agree about the very very very best.

Obviously, when it came to the comics of 2007, they didn’t. General sources liked Shortcomings and Exit Wounds rather more than comics-specific sources did. Well, what gives? Here’s Dick’s suggested explanation:

This alone doesn’t prove the “Chris Ware and his ilk have undue influence” theory (especially since there isn’t a whole lot of formally ambitious work on [the general] list), it’s interesting that the four [I think he means five; even Homer nods] titles which bested Exit Wounds and Shortcomings on the comics-focused lists could safely be described as more “fun” than these two graphic novels.

That’s an interesting suggestion. But I’d like to suggest another couple of explanations for the disparity in ranking.

Dick sort of acknowledges this in his aside, but Chris Ware has at least two (often conflated) “ilks”:

(1) the formalist/experimental ilk–think Fort Thunder, Paper Rad, Dash Shaw, et al.

(2) the autobio/depressing/tales-of-everyday life ilk–think Clowes, Bechdel, Matt et al.

The higher ranking of Shortcomings and Exit Wounds on list collated from general sources shows, I suspect, the influence of each ilk among the different types of source.

Comics-specific sources often care a lot about visual aesthetics and get excited about books that look distinctive, use comics-specific technique in novel ways, etc. That’s certainly true for me, and it seems true for Dick from some of his past comments.

By contrast, general sources seem to respond more to more universal narrative elements–by which I mean elements that are common to artworks across different media. Things like dialogue, thematics, plot, etc.

Yeah yeah it’s an overgeneralization blah blah blah…but it seems plausible that lists appearing in general sources, in comparison with comics-specific sources, are more likely to be either (a) written by someone with more experience in other media (film, prose, theatre) than in comics, or (b) written for an audience with more experience in other media. Doesn’t that sound plausible?

And PLEASE note that I’m NOT making any claims that one set of emphases/interests is better than the other, or that one side has a better idea of what makes for good comics. Different strokes for different folks, man. It’s all good.

Anyway, the five books that beat Shortcomings and Exit Wounds on the specific list are–to be as polite as possible to those two works–MUCH more visually interesting than they are. I’d guess that that probably explains as much of the disparity as their greater “fun” value.

The general list would probably look very different if art/visual culture sites and mags published their own top 10 lists and they were included. I bet stuff like Maggots (my personal #1 for the year, although I didn’t do a serious list) and New Engineering would rank much higher. Although I don’t know whether there’d be call for such lists at, fuck, I don’t know…Wallpaper? Taschen Readers’ Digest?

There’s another factor which might have contributed, too. At least three of the top five on the comics-specific sites (Superman, Planets, Alias) either draw heavily on tropes from the comics of yore, or need a lot of context to appreciate them, or both. Which would, again, boost their standing among comics-specific sources.

As for Scott Pilgrim, well, comics-specific sources are all big fat nerds, so naturally they’d respond to a book that grossly pandered to their stunted development.

(Again, I kid. The problem with the most recent Scott Pilgrim volume was that it didn’t pander enough. It was at its best when O’Malley stuck to the dopey video game fights and throwaway gags that dominated previous volumes, and at its worst when it attempted anything more. You can clearly see O’Malley straining against the formula he has written himself into, since that formula so patently doesn’t allow for the sort of depth that he apparently wants to mature into. Unfortunately, he’s stuck with it…but “My Scott Pilgrim Problem–And Ours” is a post for another day, a day that I can pretty much guarantee will never come).

Anyhoo, that’s my 2 cents. None of this is to say that Dick is wrong–the comics-specific top five are more fun and less serious. I just reckon they’re also more visual and, well, comics-specific. We can both be right; every child gets a prize!

Of course, the real explanation is probably that it’s just statistical noise and there is no deep meaning. But where would be the fun in that? Or, more importantly, the blog posts?

The canon

March 2, 2008

In no order, the real comics canon:

  • Detective #whatever it was that Batman first appeared in
  • DC Comics Presents #87 (first appearance of Superman Prime)
  • Every Millennium crossover except for The Outsiders #28
  • That issue of X-Men where Wolverine is all like “I’m gonna bust yo ass” on the Hellfire Club
  • Fantastic Four #286 (return of Jean Grey)
  • Secret Wars #9 (no particular reason)
  • Avengers #58 (“Even an android can cry!”)
  • Kingdom Come/Marvels (first appearances of Alex Ross)

…I toyed with the idea of including some “indy” comics like Spawn or Invincible, but I thought it best to stick to the widely recognized classics. If they are still reading comics in a hundred years, these are the works of sequential fiction they will be reading.

Excelsior!

In that dream where you find the comic store with all the cool comics that don’t exist, these are the comics you would find there

December 5, 2007

Sixteen comics that I wish were currently available in convenient English language editions.

Some of these have been reprinted but are currently out of print. Some have never been translated into English. Some have been reprinted in bits and pieces, but never properly collected.

Three cheers for the current Golden Age. But I’m greedy and want a little more gold.

16. Museum of Terror, by Junji Ito

Dark Horse went through three volumes before puttering out, presumably due to poor sales. Maybe the re-release of Gyo and Uzumaki will spark a broader interest in Ito, although that probably won’t be enough to bring us the other umpteen volumes of this horror anthology.

15. Mickey Mouse, by Floyd Gottfriedson

The selection in the Smithsonian collection shows an incredible sense of dynamism and motion. Disney can be weird about its older material, so we probably won’t be seeing this collected any time soon.

14. Various Duck comics by Carl Barks

…this, on the other hand, is baffling. Everyone agrees these are all-time greats; kids and adults recognise and like the characters; the recent collection of Don Rosa’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern schtick was successful enough to merit a second volume; so what gives? The best Gladstone can manage is a feeble two-volume collection of stories, the pitch for which is that they inspired the cartoon Duck Tales??

13. Les Schtroumpfs /The Smurfs, by Peyo

Fairly puzzling that these aren’t widely available in English translation, given the popularity of the cartoon and figurines. I don’t even know whether the comics are any good, but I’d like to be able to see for myself.

12. The Jimmy Corrigan stuff that was in Acme Novelty Library but didn’t make it into the Jimmy Corrigan book, by Chris Ware

There was a lot of good stuff in those earlier issues of Acme that Ware didn’t put in the book, presumably to make room for that tedious flashback to ye olden days. It’s a real shame, because I preferred a lot of what was dropped, with its vicious black comedy and formal experimentation.

11. Polly and her pals, by Cliff Sterrett

A few years ago, just before the current strip-reprint boom, I was in a B.D. store in Paris. They had a complete collection of this strip, widely recognised as one of the greats. If the French can do it, why can’t Americans? Is this another jazz/Hollywood/Jerry Lewis thing?

10. The Demon, by Jack Kirby et al.

I’ve heard that this is some of the King’s weaker work, but weak Kirby is still miles ahead of most.

9. Boy’s Ranch, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby

I actually own a copy of the hardcover collection Marvel released back in the (?) 80s. Despite the fact that (a) it sounds like a twink-on-twink porno and (b) I hate westerns, this is among my favourite of Kirby’s works. Pure comics.

8. Corto Maltese, by Hugo Pratt

Apparently, Heavy Metal was planning to release a new English translation of at least one volume, but that hasn’t happened yet. What are they waiting for?

7. Cerebus, by Dave Sim and Gerhard

Sim was way ahead of the curve in collecting his work for all the readers who didn’t happen to be reading in December of 1983 or whenever. But there’s a lot of material that didn’t make it into the phone books, particularly (a) the covers and (b) the extra material in the “Swords” collections. I won’t hold my breath, however, not when there’s all these other windmills for Sim to tilt at.

6. Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy, by Roy Crane

Maybe the reprints of this strip that I’ve read in the Smithsonian collection and elsewhere are misleading, and this isn’t an exciting, funny strip. Or maybe not.

5. Big Numbers, by Alan Moore and various artistic psychopaths

Even if there are only two issues and I’ve already read the first one.

4. Anything by Shintaro Kago

Amazing formalist mindfuckery. While you wait for official English translations, read some scanlations here.

Seriously, go read them.

Now.

3. Marvelman, by Alan Moore et al.

A no-brainer, even if parts of it haven’t aged well.

2. Flex Mentallo, by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely et al.

The other no-brainer. I suspect that scarcity has inflated its reputation, and that Morrison and Quitely have done better work since, but even so.

1. More by Osamu Tezuka

By all accounts, the man produced approximately ten million pages of manga during his life. It’s excellent to have Astro Boy from Dark Horse, the one-volume works from Vertical, and Buddha and Phoenix, and BlackJack coming out again (yes!). But my Tezuka appetite is insatiable.

***

You can assume that everything else didn’t make it onto the list because (a) it sucks and (b) if you like it, then you suck too. Prove me wrong.

The ten best “graphic novels” of 2007

November 24, 2007

It’s a bit early, I know. What if Countdown #19 turns out to be really, really good? But if Amazon and PW can make their lists already, so can I. Here, then, are my picks for the ten best “graphic novels” of 2007.

10. Countdown: Search for Ray Palmer: Gotham by Gaslight (#1)

9. Nymphet*

8. Southland Tales Books 1-3/The Fountain

7. Essential Werewolf By Night, Vol. 2

6. World War Hulk: Frontline #4

5. Y: The Last Man (every issue this year)

4. The Halo Graphic Novel

3. Amazing Spider-Man #545 (One More Day Part 2, aka “If you should read but one comic this decade…”)

2. Cowboys & Aliens

1. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together

I came close to including either that one issue of Heroes for Hentai with the tentacles, or the issue of New Avengers where Tigra gets brutally assaulted in a way that is not at all sexually exploitative what are the crazy internet people talking about YOU ARE CRAZY INTERNET PEOPLE WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT. But C:SfRP:GbG was just that little bit better than either of those and so it beat them onto the list.

Still, I’ve probably missed or forgotten some other excellent “graphic novels” this year. What else should be on the list?

[*if that is the name of the manga I mean. It’s the one about the prepubescent schoolgirl who tries to get her teacher to fuck her and comic hi-jinks ensue. For obvious reasons, I’m not inclined to check the name through Google]

“Content”, the easy way

October 11, 2007

Watched Lilya 4-ever last night. It was not as wrist-slittingly depressing as I’d hoped. Certainly not a patch on such curl-into-the-foetal-position classics as Requiem for a Dream or Dancer in the Dark. Miserabilist rating: emo.

And now, the funny books.

Top 10 comic book characters who are thinly veiled disses/caricatures of real cartoonists:

10. Zor

Alan Moore as a megalomaniac with all the wrong ideas about how to cast Magic Missile and other useful spells.

9. Chafe

Seth as, well, Seth. Probably the most hateful entry on the list; definitely the funniest.

8. The Chris-Ware stand-in who appears in the Rusty Brown story in Acme Novelty Library, you know, the failed art teacher

More proof that Chris Ware is his own harshest critic.

7. Funky Flashman

Stan Lee as fast-talking huckster with a bad hairpiece.

6. The Writer

When John Ostrander killed him in Suicide Squad. Cute gag.

5. Morlan the Mystic

Alan Moore again, with rather more affection this time. Keep casting those spells, Alan, and eventually you’ll get enough experience to reach level 17!

4. Billy Friday

Alan Moore one more time, in this case parodying himself and everyone else who belonged to either the “British invasion” or the grim’n’gritty progeny he helped vomit up onto the comics wasteland in the late eighties/early nineties.

3. Alec

The ultimate autobiographical proxy.

2. Viktor Reid/Viktor Davis

Dave Sim as misogynist boor.

1. Dave Sim

Dave Sim as misogynist, lunatic boor.

That said, Dave Sim is still one of the most talented cartoonists of his generation, and Cerebus one of the best comic books of the past thirty years. Hate the playa, not the game, yo.