The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Friday, December 19, 2014
THAT CASEY KASEM /GEORGE ORWELL MASHUP YOU WERE LOOKING FOR: So far this week, I've listed my favorite films of
2004 and 1994. It should be easy to guess what's next.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1984, it gave its Best Picture award to Amadeus. That one made it into my top 10, but it isn't at number one:

1. Repo Man
Written and directed by Alex Cox

"It happens sometimes. People just explode. Natural causes."

2. Love Streams
Directed by John Cassavetes
Written by Cassavetes and Ted Allan, from a play by Allan

"All through the making of this picture," Cassavetes later said, "I kept reliving my father's words. 'For every problem there's an answer.' But since Love Streams is about a question of love, there didn't seem to be an answer I could find....Even now, I still don't know what the brother and sister really feel about each other."

3. This Is Spinal Tap
Directed by Rob Reiner
Written by Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer

My favorite rock movie; the first and funniest of the Christopher Guest troupe's semi-improvised comedies; and the strongest evidence that the now-insufferable Reiner was once capable of doing good work.

4. Once Upon a Time in America
Directed by Sergio Leone
Written by Leone, Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, and Stuart Kaminsky, from a novel by Harry Grey

One of the greatest gangster pictures. Arguably even better than The Godfather.

5. Nothing Lasts Forever
Written and directed by Tom Schiller

This movie harkens back to so many different film styles that it seems to take place in the entire 20th century at once. But it's a different 20th century—one where the Port Authority has seized dictatorial powers in Manhattan, a benevolent conspiracy of tramps guides people's destinies from a hidden base beneath New York, and the U.S. government first went to the moon in 1953, where it set up a secret shopping district for elderly American tourists.

6. Antonio Gaudí
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara

The next best thing to seeing the buildings in person.

7. Secret Honor
Directed by Robert Altman
Written by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone, from their play

Like a post-Watergate conspiracy picture, only instead of a thriller it's a one-man show.

8. Amadeus
Directed by Milos Forman
Written by Peter Shaffer, from his play

"Mediocrities everywhere, I absolve you."

9. Ghostbusters
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

A pleasant little comedy about a small business and its run-ins with the Environmental Protection Agency.

10. Blood Simple
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

My favorite living American filmmakers make their directorial debut.

Honorable mentions:

11. King Lear (Michael Elliott)
12. Before Stonewall (John Scagliotti, Greta Schiller, Robert Rosenberg)
13. Favorites of the Moon (Otar Iosseliani)
14. There Will Come Soft Rains (Nazim Tulyakhodzayev)
15. After the Rehearsal (Ingmar Bergman)
16. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders)
17. Return to Waterloo (Ray Davies)
18. Stranger Than Paradise (Jim Jarmusch)
19. Two Tribes (Kevin Godley, Lol Creme)
20. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven)

Of the films of 1984 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Tightrope and The Funeral.

posted by Jesse 8:26 PM
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014
GEN X DAYS: On Monday I listed my favorite films of 2004. Today we'll travel another 10 years back.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1994, it gave its Best Picture award to Forrest Gump, a film dedicated to the idea that it's better to be retarded than a hippie. It didn't make it onto my list:

1. Pulp Fiction
Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Written by Tarantino and Roger Avery

Tarantino is one of those artists, like Hunter Thompson or Marcel Duchamp, who it's better to admire than to imitate. But you can't blame him for that.

Directed by Terry Zwigoff

This has a sequence where a comic book slowly devolves into something else, the illustrations swept aside by page upon page of tiny, illegible words. 
I don't think I've ever seen a movie portray a man's descent into madness so effectively.   

Hoop Dreams
Directed by Steve James

Better than any scripted basketball movie.

Before the Rain
Written and directed by Milcho Manchevski

A Balkan time-loop.

The Secret of Roan Inish
Written and directed by John Sayles, from a novel by Rosalie K. Fry

Aside from
Limbo, which doesn't entirely fit the mold anyway, I'm not a fan of Sayles' big-canvas pictures—those labored films where he tries to create a politically engaged portrait of an entire community but ends up producing a clockwork-powered speechmaking machine instead. But his small movies, like this eerie and endearing fantasy, can be wonderful.

6. Red
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski

Written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz

Surveillance, love, and coincidence.

Chungking Express
Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai

More surveillance, more love, more coincidence. There's a plotline in this movie about a woman who keeps sneaking into a man's apartment and rearranging his things. I'm a sucker for stories like that.

Ed Wood
Directed by Tim Burton

Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski

Alexander and Karaszewski went on to write two other movies about misfits,
The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon. But those were directed by Milos Forman, who turned them into sanctimonious biopics. Burton did much better, because he had the inspired idea to treat Wood's life as a fairy tale.

Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter
Directed by Deborah Hoffman

It's a touching documentary about Alzheimer's, and it's
funny. No, really.

Pipsqueak Pfollies
Written and directed by Danny Plotnick

In the words of the filmmaker, this short "painstakingly details all the crap little kids can get away with."

Honorable mentions:

Burnt by the Sun (Nikita Mikhalkov)
12. The Last Seduction (John Dahl)
The Kingdom (Lars von Trier)
Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson)
The Madness of George III (Nicholas Hytner)
White (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Faust (Jan Svankmajer)
Barcelona (Whit Stillman)
Fresh (Boaz Yakin)
True Lies (James Cameron)

Of the films of 1994 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Through the Olive Trees and Wes Craven's New Nightmare. And someday I should sit through Sátántangó, if only as an endurance test.

(If you compare this to the rankings for 1994 that I posted 10 years ago, you'll see I had to bump out The Hudsucker Proxy and Crooklyn to make room for new movies. But I still like them!)

posted by Jesse 4:05 PM
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Monday, December 15, 2014
THE TEN-YEAR CURSE: In December, it is customary for critics to list their favorite films of the year. Since I am not able to keep up with new releases as they appear in theaters, I do something else: I offer top-10 lists for 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, and so on. This has become a tradition here at The Perpetual Three-Dot Column. Indeed, at this point, it's practically the only thing I use the site for.

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 2004, it gave its Best Picture award to Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby. On balance, I liked that movie. But I didn't like it enough to put on my list:

1. Bad Education
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar

No one wrings meaning from melodrama like Almodóvar does.

2. Kill Bill: Vol. 2
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino

The second installment of the Kill Bill sequence deepens our sense of the story's characters, treats this objectively silly material seriously, and somehow makes me take it seriously too. Not by loudly proclaiming its seriousness, as so much trash aspiring to arthood does, but by earning my respect; by letting me get attached to these pulp characters with their truth serums, their kung fu superpowers, and their deeply human attachments and resentments and revealing little lies.

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Charlie Kaufman

The best of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies, not least because it subverts every other Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie.

4. The Wire 3
Written by David Simon, Ed Burns, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Rafael Alvarez, and Joy Lusco
Directed by Ed Bianchi, Steve Shill, Rob Bailey, Ernest Dickerson, Dan Attias, Leslie Libman, Tim Van Patten, Agnieszka Holland, Alex Zakrzewski, Christine Moore, and Joe Chappelle

In which reform turns out to be difficult for an individual and just about impossible for an institution.

5. Deadwood
Written by David Milch, Malcolm MacRury, Jody Worth, Elizabeth Sarnoff, John Belluso, George Putnam, Bryan McDonald, Ricky Jay, and Ted Mann
Directed by Walter Hill, David Guggenheim, Alan Taylor, Ed Bianchi, Michael Engler, Dan Minahan, and Steve Shill

Studies in state-building.

6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach

"That's an endangered species at most. What would be the scientific purpose of killing it?" "Revenge."

7. Sideways
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Payne and Jim Taylor, from a novel by Rex Pickett

The movie that made the critical establishment take note of Virginia Madsen. (Me, I've been a fan since Candyman.)

8. Palindromes
Written and directed by Todd Solondz

The most dark and sardonic treatment of abortion that I've ever seen on film, outdoing even Citizen Ruth.

9. The Incredibles
Written and directed by Brad Bird

"Everyone's special" does not, in fact, mean that no one is special, because people can have different specialties. But I get the point.

10. Team America: World Police
Directed by Trey Parker
Written by Parker, Matt Stone, and Pam Brady

When future generations want to try to get a handle on the Bush years, they should watch this movie. I wouldn't say it explains the era, but at least it should give them a sense of what it was like to be there.

Honorable mentions:

11. Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Koreeda)
12. Howl's Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki)
13. In the Realms of the Unreal (Jessica Yu)
14. The Assassination of Richard Nixon (Niels Mueller)
15. Panorama Ephemera (Rick Prelinger)
16. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)
17. Garden State (Zach Braff)
18. Light Is Calling (Bill Morrison)
19. Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow)
20. Primer (Shane Carruth)

Of the films of 2004 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Undertow.

posted by Jesse 8:17 PM
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Thursday, December 11, 2014
WHAT I WROTE IN 2014: I have evidently given up on the idea of linking to all my articles on this blog as they come out, and I'm not going to try to list all my stories of the year here now. (You can scroll through my
author's page at Reason for that.) But here are some of the more notable items I published this year:

• "10 Most Essential 1970s Conspiracy Thrillers" (io9, January 28)

• "Transforming a Tower" (Reason, February)

• "The Monster at the End of This Book" (RALPH, Mid-Spring)

• "Another War Breaks Out In the Pacifica Radio Network" (Hit & Run, March 19)


• "Mickey Rooney, RIP" (Hit & Run, April 7)

• "Regulating Hateful Speech Won't Stop Hateful Crimes" (Reason, April 17)

• "Four Great Myths of the McCarthy Era" (Hit & Run, April 22)

• "Paranoia at the Disco" (The New Inquiry, May 15)

• "It's All a Conspiracy" (Slate, May 20)

• "American Panic" (The Wall Street Journal, May 23)

• "A Short History of Game Panics" (Reason, June)

• "Choose Your Own Adventure" (Reason, June)

• "Why Did Nicholas Kristof Believe Somaly Mam's Lies?" (Hit & Run, June 3)

• "Are School Homicides 'Becoming the Norm'?" (Hit & Run, June 11)

• "The Superpower Should Retire" (Reason, June 19)

• "The Sultan of Sewers" (Reason, July)

• "No Messing With Death" (The American Spectator, July/August)

• "The Greatest Fake Religion of All Time" (io9, August 15)

• "The ISIS Conspiracies" (Reason, September 17)

• "The FBI Says 'Active Shooter Incidents' Are On the Rise. What Does That Mean?" (Hit & Run, September 24)

• "Jim Traficant, 1941-2014" (Hit & Run, September 28)

• "Generational Generalizations Gone Wrong" (Reason, October)

• "I think I accidentally started an urban legend. My bad." (Hit & Run, October 8)

• "Ebola and the Media's Multiple Personality Disorder" (Reason, October 22)

• "Avant-GIFs" (Reason, November)

• "The Hidden History of Queer Country Music" (Hit & Run, November 21)

• "Suspicious Minds" (Reason, December)

• "The Last Words of Eric Garner" (Hit & Run, December 4)

This was also the year I launched a weekly Hit & Run feature called the Friday A/V Club. And (oh, yeah) Harper published an expanded paperback edition of my book The United States of Paranoia.

If you'd like to keep up with my writing as it comes out, as opposed to waiting for an annual roundup of the highlights, I suggest following me on Twitter. Though there's something to be said for the roundup approach—Slow Twitter, we can call it. Reading all those pieces can keep you occupied til next December, and then we'll do it all over again.

posted by Jesse 11:40 AM
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Monday, January 13, 2014
SILENCE AND THE SILENTS: I've listed my favorite films of
2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963, 1953, 1943, and 1933. And now...

Now we bring the series to an end. For the record, my favorite film of 1923 is the Harold Lloyd vehicle Safety Last! and my favorite film of 1913 is the Louis Feuillade serial Fantômas—or, at least, the first three installments of it. (I've got nothing against the other two chapters, indeed I like them better, but they didn't come out until 1914. Fitting serials into years can be tricky.) I don't know enough other good films from 1923 to fill a top 10 list, and in 1913 I doubt I could even fill a top five list, so I'm going to stop the sequence here. In December we'll start over with the best of 2004.

posted by Jesse 3:01 PM
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Friday, January 10, 2014
LOTS OF LAUGHS IN A DEPRESSING YEAR: We've gone through the best movies of
2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963, 1953, and 1943. And a decade before that...

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1933, it gave its Best Picture award to Cavalcade, which isn't nearly as good as a movie based on a Noel Coward play ought to be. When I say "isn't nearly as good," I'm pulling my punches: Aside from a couple of montages and the song "20th Century Blues," Cavalcade is a study in tedium. It isn't on my list.

1. Duck Soup
Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby with Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin

A cinéma vérité documentary filmed at the White House after the invasion of Iraq.

2. Zero for Conduct
Written and directed by Jean Vigo

Anarchy in the schoolhouse.

3. Snow-White
Directed by Dave Fleischer

Comparing this to the Disney movie is like comparing an R. Crumb comic to Archie.

4. I'm No Angel
Directed by Wesley Ruggles
Written by Mae West

"I see a man in your life." "What? Only one?"

5. Design for Living
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Written by Ben Hecht, from a play by Noel Coward

"A man can meet two, three, or four women and fall in love with all of them, and then, by a process of interesting elimination, he is able to decide which he prefers. But a woman must decide purely on instinct, guesswork, if she wants to be considered nice."

6. Alice in Wonderland
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and William Cameron Menzies, from two novels by Lewis Carroll

It was a stroke of genius to cast W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty.

7. International House
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Written by Neil Brant

Fields is in this one too—and so are Cab Calloway, and Bela Lugosi, and Burns and Allen, and Rudy Vallee, and Col. Stoopnagle, and...

8. 42nd Street
Directed by Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley
Written by Rian James and James Seymour, from a novel by Bradford Ropes

It isn't the first backstage musical of the '30s, but it's the definitive one.

9. Lot in Sodom
Written and directed by James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber

The only entry on this list that is not in some sense a comedy.

10. The Fatal Glass of Beer
Directed by Clyde Bruckman
Written by W.C. Fields

Man. This was Fields' year, wasn't it?

Of the films of 1933 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Ecstasy and Hallelujah, I'm a Bum.

posted by Jesse 11:00 AM
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Tuesday, January 07, 2014
SELF-PROMOTION: It's been a while since this blog has run a roundup of the articles I've been publishing elsewhere. Since my last
post along those lines, I've written these:

"Wobblies, 'open mouth sabotage' and the history of American whistleblowing" (The National Post): In which I describe the Age of Easy Leaks.

"Conspiracies: Five things they don't want you to know" (The Boston Globe): A rundown of some themes from my conspiracy book.

"The Legend of the Child-Snatching Gypsies" (Reason): My Halloween column.

"Canadian Hate Speech" (Reason): Not really a full-fledged article—it's one of those mini-stories we run in the front of the mag.

"JFK Conspiracy Theories Will Never Die" (Time): Not the headline I would have chosen, since the article says it's possible that they will die.

"The roots of American conspiracy theories" ( Another rundown of some themes from my conspiracy book. For the most part, they aren't the same themes I covered in the Globe piece.

"Of Course the Law Should Tolerate Plural Marriages" (Reason): See? Not everything I write is about conspiracy theories.

"Pulp Paranoia" (TAC): I review a biography of Ray Palmer.

"Seven Pieces of Good News for Freedom in 2013" (Reason): Some Reason colleagues and I go hunting for silver linings. In my case, I write about the backlash against zero tolerance.

I also participated in The American Spectator's annual collection of Christmas book recommendations, and of course I've been blogging at Hit and Run. And I've had some stories in the print edition of Reason that haven't appeared online yet; I'll include them in the next roundup.

posted by Jesse 10:42 PM
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THE YEAR MY DAD WAS BORN: We've discussed my favorite films of
2003, 1993, 1983, 1973, 1963, and 1953. I think I've spotted a pattern!

When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences looked back at 1943, it gave its Best Picture award to Casablanca—a peculiar choice, since the film actually debuted in 1942. It appears in my top 10 list for that year, not this one.

1. Shadow of a Doubt
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, and Alma Reville, from a story by Gordon McDonell

Few things are as odd as watching Thornton Wilder's sensibility collide with Hitchcock's. Wilder's screenplay is an ode to conformity, and Hitch's picture drily undercuts the script at every turn.

2. Meshes of the Afternoon
Directed by Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid
Written by Deren

If a movie is set in a spooky dreamworld, chances are good that it owes a debt to this.

3. Le Corbeau
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by Clouzot and Louis Chavance, from a story by Chavance

A Vichy-era portrait of paranoia in a small town. The Resistance denounced the film as an attack on the French people, but in retrospect it looks like a critique of the culture of collaboration.

4. Red Hot Riding Hood
Written and directed by Tex Avery

The Male Gaze: A Comedy.

5. Ossessione
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Written by Visconti, Mario Alicata, Giuseppe De Santis, and Gianni Puccinim, from a novel by James M. Cain

The first and best of the pictures based on The Postman Always Rings Twice.

6. The Ox-Bow Incident
Directed by William A. Wellman
Written by Lamar Trotti, from a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

There's more to this noir western than a morality tale about the evils of lynching. In some ways, the view of humanity on display here is as bleak as the outlook in Le Corbeau.

7. I Walked with a Zombie
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Written by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray, from a novel by Charlotte Brontë

Tourneur and producer Val Lewton's follow-up to Cat People isn't quite as good as its predecessor, but it's still one of the best horror pictures of the '40s.

8. Five Graves to Cairo
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Wilder and Charles Brackett, from a play by Lajos Bíró

Billy Wilder's Casablanca.

9. Day of Wrath
Directed by Carl Dreyer
Written by Dreyer, Poul Knudsen, and Mogens Skot-Hansen, from a play by Hans Wiers-Jenssen

A film about a witch hunt. This would make an interesting triple bill with Ox-Bow and Le Corbeau.

10. The Eternal Return
Directed by Jean Delannoy
Written by Jean Cocteau

A fairy-tale romance. Remember, real fairy tales are cruel and weird.

Honorable mentions:

11. Tortoise Wins by a Hare (Bob Clampett)
12. Journey Into Fear (Norman Foster, Orson Welles)
13. Dumb-Hounded (Tex Avery)
14. Stormy Weather (Andrew L. Stone)
15. The Seventh Victim (Mark Robson)
16. The Fallen Sparrow (Richard Wallace)
17. Tin Pan Alley Cats (Bob Clampett)
18. Falling Hare (Bob Clampett)
19. Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (Bob Clampett)
20. What's Buzzin' Buzzard? (Tex Avery)

I'll spare you the trouble of counting: 7 of those 20 films are cartoon shorts, all from either Tex Avery or Bob Clampett. I've said before that if I allowed individual TV episodes onto these lists, there would be years in the '90s overwhelmed by installments of The Simpsons. I suppose this is the equivalent for the World War II era.

Of the films of 1943 that I haven't seen, I'm most interested in Lumière d'été.

posted by Jesse 8:34 AM
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