Tag Archives: ramin bahrani

“Best of the 2000’s” – The Epilogue

The Epilogue (and, “The Ten Rest of the Prestigious Best.”)

It’s been two and a half months, and yet it only seems like we’ve just started. But, everything must wind down, eventually. That’s the way of things – but, I think it’s all been worth something, and certainly a great experience. We’ve just charted ten whole years of cinema – something that doesn’t sound big, after the fact, but man. And, as mentioned in our respective introductions, for every film on our list, there are at least three others that could take their place – and, here they are. As with the big ten, they’re not ranked in terms of scale, and could be interchanged willfully, depending on the day of the week, or the weather.

11. PrimerShane Carruth

Shane Carruth’s film, made for $7000, marks him as an intriguing new voice in the sci-fi genre – a brilliantly low-key meditation on time-travel, within a framing that becomes so gradually non-linear that even the audience feels as if they’ve come unhinged in time, somewhere along the road; all compounded by Carruth’s use of digital photography, which contrasts the inherent verisimilitude it brings to the film with its mind-bending subject matter, creating something else entirely. As a fellow Texan, I give him a pump of the fist.

12. OnceJohn Carney

A low-key musical filmed on the streets of Dublin, John Karney of The Frames gives us a meeting of the minds framed on all sides through song – what initially begins as simple flirtation becomes something infinitely warmer and more soulful, and even truthful.

13. Wendy & Lucy Kelly Reichardt

A stunningly under-played un-dramatization of poverty whose  potency is increased ten-fold in the current climate, told in a lean fashion by Kelly Reichardt, without even the most minimal extravagance. Only Wendy and her dog, together and apart, again and again.

14. Goodbye SoloRamin  Bahrani

The third film from Ramin Bahrani may be his very best, so far – continuing his exploration of the working classes, the immigrant in America, and the temporary, fleeting relationships that spark up between people, and their evolution. He charts the two of them through subtly long takes, and the natural quietude of their conversations, and their eyes – Red’s old and sad, Solo’s constantly alight. And, while the title of the film is never spoken, it informs every word.


15. Wall-EAndrew Stanton

Pixar’s environmental fable first takes us back to cinema’s silent beginnings, and then into a future of brilliant light. Never one for convolution, WALL-E‘s strength is in its simplicity – in the love story through masterful pantomime and exaggeration, in the dazzling use of color and sound in a simultaneously foreboding and foretelling future, and – near the end of the film – in the redemption of the whole human race spawned from the heart of a Chaplin-esque robot and his unending devotion to EVE.

16. A Scanner Darkly – Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater gives us one of the only adaptations of Philip K. Dick to not veer unrecognizably from the source text, utilizing a more pared-down version of the same kind of expressionistic rotoscoping that that made Waking Life so interesting – a strange, surreal trip of disassociation and misidentification, through a shifting kaleidoscope of colors and the constant paranoia that comes from Substance D. But, don’t disregard it completely.

17. The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford – Andrew Dominick

Well, Glenn sums this one up far better than I could have – and so, I will paraphrase him. This is a constantly and intensely lyrical deconstruction of American-Western iconography, from within the relationship between the ostensibly larger-than-life Jesse James and his number one fan. Dominick frames this story within forests, mountain rages and great, dirty faces. By the end, the film has become a tone-poem on that same thought illuminated on so clearly by Aaron Eckhart in my number ten, that of living long enough to see yourself become the villain.

18. Black Snake Moan – Craig Brewer

A eye-opening poster posed the main attraction for the film, but within its lurid trappings, Brewer’s keenly humanistic story of soulful resurrection takes advantage of doing the unexpected with its choice of actors – Christina Ricci, Justin Timberlake, and a Samuel L. Jackson who doesn’t once spout a catch-phrase the entire film. It remains completely earnest about these characters, and their plight, the entire way through, never trivializing their respective journeys, whether it be bluesy Lazarus’ and his coming to terms with his divorce, or Ray and her gradual awareness of her own sense of grace.

19. Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair – Quentin Tarantino

Lately, Quentin Tarantino’s fallen into a real slouch, with the violence in his films becoming meaningless, and trivial – with Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds, he’s given himself over to schlock and excess completely. More power to him, I suppose. But, at least he managed to eke out these two before he went – a giant homage and pastiche to all those things he considers so holy, from kung-fu films and comic books to Seijun Sezuki’s Tokyo Drifter, with a great deal of respect and visual panache, informed through bright colors and bloody faces, and exaggeratedly violent bullet ballets.

20. Moon – Duncan Jones

David Bowie’s son gives us a film that works on us as slowly and methodically as the movement of the main character out on the surface of the moon, itself. Sam Rockwell gives one of the great performances of the year, playing against himself and the anti-HAL. Jones makes no qualms about veering off in a direction we hadn’t expected – what appeared at first to be a cryptic drawing-room mystery in space becomes a film about the question of identity, within a giant moon base that feels  familiar-yet-underused.

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It has been my pleasure, and a real privilege, to do this thing with Glenn – a classier act you will not find, out there on the web. Couldn’t have done it by my lonesome. And, if any of you hated our selections – well, it was all his idea. His “rest of” can be found here.


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Brief Thoughts on Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” and Ramin Bahrani’s “Goodbye Solo.”

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Like Point Break before it, Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker continues her utter fascination with the dynamics of male bonding in extreme environments – this particular study is set in the EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) unit Bravo Company, during the first few months post-invasion in Iraq.  However, given the landscape, she also takes the opportunity to explore the after-effects of war – both the addictive adrenaline rush and the repulsiveness it provides.

The film begins with a simple white coda over black, “war is a drug,” from Chris Hedges 2004 anti-war speech, and it ends with the main character trapped in a cycle of dangerous repetition. Initially, he appears to be a character of derring-do, and of his own volition – he makes the first move, strapping on the padded protection suit and wading out toward the danger zone without a prior word, and certain scenes paint him as an artist at work, fingers nimbly flitting around this cable and that. Interestingly, Bigelow avoids any sort of tried-out “is it the red wire, is it the blue wire” routine.

But gradually, Bigelow reveals her character James as one who runs for this kind of thing the way a smoker does a pack of cigarettes in times of  emergency; we’re told he believes that his wife and he are divorced, but she won’t leave him. And, one wonders how many times the kind of relationship he’d developed with the young Iranian boy Beckham had run it’s course, before the opening credits. The title of the film comes from the box that Renner’s character James keeps under his bunk – a collection of “things that have almost killed me:” the used wiring of defused bombs, shrapnel and his wedding ring hanging from a tarnished chain. He can pick out the used wiring of a bomb and remember it’s context, as if it were a small trophy he’d attained from something or another.

Bigelow has a real command of the mostly urban landscape of the film – hers is a browning, creaky and worried mise-en-scene that almost reminds one of  a Western, in places – trash floats by quietly like tumbleweeds over the dusty, littered roads, and all of the set pieces seem to result in a stand-off of some sort – but in particular the first real sequence in the film, which actually feels a lot like High Noon between the man in the bomb-squad suit, and the bomb; the main character is even called “wild man,” and “cowboy” throughout the film by multiple characters. And, when her camera is still enough (which I’ll get to in a second), her sense of composition has shown itself to have grown considerably; her action sequences are staged as taut strings, plucked every so often, and pulled almost to the breaking point. She prolongs them, she delays reaction – taking time to confront the jamming of a gun or the suspicion of a shop-keeper far off from the action at hand – and, throughout, her characters seem to almost “drift about like balloons caught on a gust of wind” in the empty streets.

Her sense of suspense is disarmingly simple, in the best way – shots of eyes in the rear-view mirror of an unknown car, fleeting movements in the building just opposite. And, always her point-of-view shots, here placing us into the darkened back alleys and forests of the Jordanian city at night – making us watch for what’s around the corner. However, there are a few points in the film where her use of handheld technique becomes almost too harried. Often, it’s very effective, and conveys a sense of visceral reality that, apart from Blomkamp’s District 9, hasn’t really been done as well in quite a long time. But, there are times when it descends into almost Greengrass-esque levels of incomprehensibility – where it would’ve had more impact to hold the camera still. But, these moments are fleeting, luckily enough.

Jeremy Renner is an interesting figure; his face scored and lined, yet he doesn’t appear to be a day over 39 – and, this film appears to be the one that let’s him loose on the world, formally. Now he’s being rumored to be the second man to take up the mantle of Mad Max – which I can certainly get behind, although he seems to be an explicitly American actor, and Max is by now an Australian icon. We shall see what we shall see. And, he and Howard Mackie are a far better example of the straight man-wild man dynamic that Bigelow employs in most of her films than, say – well, Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves.

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Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo is a film that spins out from a simple base premise: a chance meeting in a taxi between an older man, played by former Elvis bodyguard Red West, and his driver  Solo, played by newcomer Souléymane Sy Savané. West’s character tells Solo that he’ll pay him a thousand dollars up front to drive him to a spot Blowing Rock in the Blue Ridge Mountains in about a week and a half and leave him there, and this piques Solo’s concern – there’s no real mention said throughout the film of what it is that West’s character William intends to do, but the implication hangs in the air above the characters. The way the film starts is interesting – thrusting us mid-sentence into the moment when William offers the deal to Solo, and in a sense this epitomizes the approach the film takes to the characters. We really only know of them what they allow each other to know, and we know the relationship that develops between the two is a temporary one. They seem to acknowledge it, as well.

Solo actually reminds me a lot of the cab-drivers that have picked me up, over the past couple of years or so – he seems to be genuinely getting enjoyment out of his job, because he seems to just like people. Savané spent months riding around with the taxi-drivers in his area, and it was interesting to watch him talk with West’s character at the beginning of the film, just chatting back and forth – or trying to – just as so many I’ve paid fare to have done, and then to keep watching, as the film continues on and explores his life outside the driver’s seat, his relationship with his wife and step-daughter. And, even more so when he begins to involve William in his situation.

The title is never spoken aloud during the course of the film, but it underlines one of its more important scenes, near the tail-end.  Bahrani’s style is slow, and drawn out – in some places even pointedly so; here, for example the final moment between the two is a shared look that lasts over a minute. But, Bahrani invests in the eyes, and in this he has chosen his actors well.  It’s the eyes that give a lot of power to much of the quieter scenes – West’s hooded and full of regret, set in a face of rough-hewn leather from a similarly cast life. And, Solo’s – bright and observing, here and there watery.

Bahrani, being of this new “neo-neo-realist” (you see, because it’s not just neo-realist, it’s neo – neo realist. Blame A.O. Scott) aesthetic, seems to shy away from becoming consciously operatic. His films bear a lot of similarities to Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy and Lucy visually, and his is a style of slow, reined in movements and extremely naturalistic lighting.  But, his sense of composition is always evident, and here and there, images seem to creep their way in that, if they were held for a second or two longer, would become semi-iconic. He credits Abbas Kiarostami’s 1997  film Tastes of Cherry,  as one of the partial inspirations for the film – in terms of both the base mechanics of the plot and it’s look, here interspersed with almost kaleidoscopic shots of the colored leaves of the fall, “which may remind astute viewers of the director’s “Life and Nothing More.” But tazmin only demands of its practitioners to, as the director sees it, ‘make it your own and create something new.’ “*

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