Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Leopard List: 2011 Movies

Rooney Mara in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
As The Leopard has written in other installments, I don't believe in "best of" lists. Being an artist myself, I have always disliked competition when it comes to art. It all comes down to aesthetics.

Still, I enjoy sharing films that I really liked. So this is not to say the following movies were the "best" of 2011, but certainly the ones I personally recommend.  For aesthetic reasons.

Directed by Wim Wenders
The only 3D movie I've seen that seems worthy of the format (and yes, that includes "Avatar"). Wenders' masterful documentary portrays modern dance in a new vital way-- the closest experience I've had to experiencing live performance. What's more, Pina Bausch's (1940-2009), choreography can be sexy,  violent, and most of all funny. The dancers themselves function like great actors, capable of intense emotion and humor in tiny dramas. Mesmerizing and memorable.

The Woman 
Directed by Lucky McKee
At the base of it, a pretty straightforward horror film complete with scares in all the right (and wrong) places that also has an intriguing subtext on contemporary American life. Not for the faint of heart, but if you can stomach a bit of gore, worth the effort.
Dancer from Pina

Martha Marcy May Marlene 
Directed by Sean Durkin
Incredibly subtle and elegant examination of a young woman seduced by a cult. Elizabeth Olsen, nearly unrecognizable, is excellent in the title role.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo  
Directed by David Fincher
Despite the superb star making turn by Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish Dragon Tattoo films, Rooney Mara makes the character her own, in part by creating a more sympathetic, tragic character. David Fincher is completely in his element.

Midnight In Paris 
Directed by Woody Allen
A pleasant surprise. The romantic atmosphere in the city of lights seemed to energize the director to make something that feels more inspired, creative and funny than what we've come to expect in recent years.

A Separation 
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
One of the most complex films about divorce I've seen. Despite an Iranian setting, the film feels spontaneous and alive, and easy to relate to. It's strength is the wealth of detail, and before long, you feel involved in the story in a way that is rare in movies.

The Descendants
Directed by Alexander Payne
I am a huge fan of Payne's last film, Sideways. But nothing could have prepared me for this film starring a slightly rumpled, pitch perfect George Clooney. Set in modern Hawaii, this funny/sad story about a man having just lost his wife while facing as series of life-changing events has more than its share of truly touching moments.

Other films I saw & recommend:
Melancholia Directed by Lars Von Trier 
Contagion Directed by Steven Soderbergh 
Kill List Directed by Ben Wheatley
A Dangerous Method Directed by David Cronenberg
Warrior Directed by Gavin O'Connor
We Need To Talk About Kevin
 Directed Lynne Ramsay

Carnage Directed by Roman Polanski
The Future Directed by Miranda July
Drive Directed by Nicholas Winding Refn
Bridesmaids Directed by Paul Feig


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Me'Shell Ndegéocello

In 1992, flushed with success, the  pop star Madonna did what any zillionaire phenomenon would do: start her own label, Maverick Records. There was quite a bit of speculation as to what artists Ms. Ciccone planned to sign, and when it was announced that a female sexually ambiguous African American bass playing songwriter who was formerly a member of New York’s Black Rock Coalition who had a nearly unpronounceable name would be the first artist to be released on her new roster, it was met with a collected “who?”
But that was a quick fix. Meshell Ndegeocello’s first CD, Plantation Lullabies, though wasn’t a breakthrough sales success, was a critical one that heralded a new, distinctive voice. She appeared on many best of the year lists 9 in 1993 and has since been nominated for 10 Grammys.
A master musician, Ndegeocello has gone on to write, produce, and play on many consistently superb discs since then. The Leopard’s personal favorite is Bitter, a musical confessional so personal if the songs weren’t so beautiful you’d think you were listening in on a lovers’ private conversation. (Click To hear "Bitter".)

Gene Ammons

Despite the Leopard's never-ending search of discovery for all things jazz, the name Gene Ammons has not perked up my furry ears until fairly recently. A friend hipped me to a funky date from 1971, You Talk That Talk, that partners Ammon's huge saxophone tone with the ultra - elastic big boss tenor of Sonny Stitt one of their many recorded collaborations.

Other than being a remarkable player with formidable chops, Ammons boasted two claims to fame: one, although he came from a bebop background, he was also equally adept at R&B, and was one of the original architects of what is now called soul jazz, and two, the big man was twice incarcerated for drug possession in his career, from 1958 to 1960 and  from 1962 to 1969.

Checking out his catalog has shown that we suffered a huge loss when Ammons passed away of cancer in 1974. He was funky and cerebral at the same time -- a lethal combination.

(Click to hear cut Jungle Strut from Ammons' album "Brother Jug")

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Good Ol' Charlie Brown

Of all characters in literature, one I have always felt the most personally connected to is Charlie Brown. There was always something in his persona that I related to, from childhood all the way to my early 20's - and still do, in away. when I see his image, I can feel myself quietly nodding in recognition.

In his voluminous biography on Charles M. Schulz, Schulz and Peanuts, David Michaelis describes Charlie Brown as not an alter ego of Schulz, but Schulz himself. Most of the Peanuts characters were in fact manifestations of people whom the cartoonist knew, funneled through his brilliant minds' - eye,  like the Little Red Haired Girl, the one that got away, and Snoopy, based on an actual childhood pet. 

But as accurately as he rendered these relationships, Charlie Brown was the most realistic of all. the eternal optimist, always bracing for failure. Like his creator eventually would, you knew somehow, some way he'd succeed. He would kick that football, he would eventually untangle that kite from the tree.  

That's why he was the kind of guy you called by his full name.  So you wouldn't forget it.