The month in movies (special 2-month edition)

I haven't yet figured out an ideal way to post updates to the Actual Movies page. As it is now, the page is incomplete, it's updated irregularly, and an "update" consists of adding one or two movies to a much longer list, which no one even notices anyway.

So this is where I say that I've come up with a great new way of leveraging this ratings system into something larger, more organized, and more interactive (there were no comments allowed on the Actual Movie page before--this was not intentional). But, alas, I have not. First off, No Film School 2.0 is coming soon, and by that I mean I'm attempting to redesign this place (is a web page a "place?"), and that should fix the comments problem--although it will probably introduce entirely new problems. But even if comments were working on the Actual Movies page, how would they work? Not very well: the list is updated regularly, which means that while the old movies would be removed from the page, the old comments would still stay on top. Thus there would be a long list of comments irrelevant to the current list of movies (well, maybe not a long list). Sure, I could delete the old comments, but I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth.


What I mean to say is, I appreciate any comments I get, and I wouldn't want to just delete them. If someone actually did give me a horse in real life, I probably would examine its teeth, just because I'd have no idea what else to do.

So. Without actually figuring out an ideal way of updating the Actual Movies page, I'm going to start a separate monthly post here where I reach a haphazard verdict on all the films I can remember seeing over the past month or so. This will allow all of us to engage in the universally enjoyable activity of debating things of little consequence--in this case, whether so-and-so movie fits into so-and-so category, as ill-defined by my arbitrary ratings system. This monthly post will include old movies as well as new ones. In case you have no idea what this is all about, the Actual Movies, Explained page contains the vague criteria behind this ratings system. Without further ado:

Actual Movies
8 1/2
All About My Mother
Bob Dylan: No Direction Home
The Constant Gardener
Cool Hand Luke
Donnie Darko
Gates of Heaven
Pumping Iron
The Shape of Things

Pseudo-Actual Movies
The Brown Bunny
Corpse Bride
Dead Man
Dangerous Liaisons
A History of Violence
In America
March of the Penguins
The Motorcycle Diaries

Not Actual Movies
And 1 Mixtape: Volume 7
Broken Flowers
Finding Never____
The 40 Year Old Virgin
Gunner Palace
Jack Johnson: The September Sessions
Jungle Fever
Wedding Crashers

And now, some obligatory caveats and qualifiers:

There are times when I find myself watching a lot of films, and there are times when I do other stuff instead, like reading books, or living life. I'm not really living life right now (broken ankle, unemployed, living in the suburbs with the rents), so I have plenty of movies to post for the time being. One day, when I'm living in a refrigerator box in New York City, I'll look back at these days fondly.

Just because a movie is on this month's list doesn't mean I'm seeing it for the first time, so don't go telling me, "Oh, you just saw Citizen Kane? You really should go to film school, you dilettante." To which I reply: nice choice of words--I see you went to grad school. For biochemistry.

One of the great things about movies (and music, and books, for that matter) is that your opinion of a film can change, as your life changes. A movie I don't like today I may love tomorrow, or vice-versa. Basically: don't hold me accountable for what I say here--I just thought it at the time. What do you want? I'm 24. I'm navel-gazing.

Which, by the way, is a term that I thought meant something different than what it actually does ("excessive introspection"). I would have defined it as, "checking out a nubile's midsection." This would make sense, since, parallel with an increase in the term's popularity, there has also been a societal increase in belly-button piercings and midriff-revealage--both good reasons to gaze at the navel. Can a definition of a word be changed? I still say that the phrase's definition seems kind of obtuse.

Anyway, please comment if you agree or disagree with my evaluations of the above films. Or you can comment on movies you've seen recently, and whether you thought they were Actual Movies. Or not. Or sort-of.

Again, the explanation behind all this is here. Give it a read or a skim--I say skim because, unlike your comments, my explanation is a bit long in tooth. That is, if you choose to examine its teeth. Asshole.

Your Comment


so i haven't seen the ENRON movie, but since I started my "healthcare" job i've heard from the smartest people in the industry that the movie actually misrepresents the california energy crisis among other things. actual movie??

October 11, 2005 at 9:38AM, Edited September 4, 7:12AM


Difficult to argue with your breakdown based on the movies on your list that I have seen. I think Donnie Darko is the epitome of actually-a-movie based on your criteria. I saw Crash a few weeks ago. Some of the acting was good, but how stereotypical and predicatable and preachy. Kind of silly.

You note that some not-actual-movies can still be enjoyable. I enjoyed Wedding Crashers and 40 Year Old Virgin. I just saw Serenity, which didn't contain a single original thought, but still felt somewhat fresh. Can you be unique in the way you combine other people's stuff? (In this case, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Raiders, Mad Max, Matrix...) Anyway, if the movie is enjoyable, can it also be deemed "good". If a movie is formulaic, but improves on the formula, shouldn't it get a nod?

I also think the inverse can be true -- that some actual movies can be "bad". I can't think of any good examples; while I haven't seen his movies (and don't intend to) I see Harmony Korine as someone making arguably actual-movies that are truly awful. Maybe Spike Lee's early stuff is another example. Oh, I saw the other Crash a few years ago. Different? Yes. Trying to be Mainstream? No. Artistic? I guess. Appealing? No. Did I understand or care about the statement it was making? Nope.

October 11, 2005 at 11:28AM, Edited September 4, 7:12AM


I've spent considerable time knocking Crash (the 2005 Crash, not the 1996 Crash), and I'm glad you see it for what it is. Watching it, I thought, wow, this would have been a great movie in 1991. It would've been one of those race-conscious movies which seemed liberal and aware at the time, and then in retrospect, 10 or so years later, it would just seems racist by virtue of its oh-so-trying efforts to not be racist. Maybe that doesn't make sense. Basically: oh, this movie is supposed to be good because the Latino guy is actually good, and Ludacris actually passes up some petty cash for a dozen human lives? Way to go! Didn't see that coming! Paul Haggis (writer/director) is apparently penning the new Bond script, so that will be interesting--with him writing, I guess I'm actually NOT hoping to see Black Bond this time around.

Donnie Darko is definitely an Actual Movie, although making something cryptic does not necessarily make it significant. Still, I'll have to see it again--the director's cut, this time, I guess--to try to figure it out a bit more. As it is I'd have to guess that it had a kind of ghost-of-Christmas future thing going on with the bunny. But really, I have no clue.

Yes, I need to clarify my Actual Movie evaluation--essentially the rating is based more on a film's significance, staying power, effort at expanding the art form, and pursuit of genuine emotion--in lieu of whether it was actually enjoyable. So yes, you're onto something--certainly a Not-Actual-Movie could be a lot more fun than an Actual Movie. This month, the best example of this is probably Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny, which is shockingly boring for the most part, but in the end does carry some weight, by virtue of tenacity, which is why it achieves Pseudo status. Wedding Crashers and The 40 Year Old Virgin, while very enjoyable and funny, do not qualify; thus is my ratings system. I'll have to update it.

October 12, 2005 at 9:26PM, Edited September 4, 7:12AM

Ryan Koo

Yep, at some point, some of the continued liberal obsession with race does start to feel racist. Crash introduced most of the themes at about a 10th grade level. I think most annoying was that it wanted to cover just about *every* race-relation theme... its just too much. It reminded me, in a strange way, of Good Will Hunting's presentation of class. Its another liberal dream: tough, troubled kid from the wrong side of the tracks who can beat the priviliged rich kids at their own game, while still rejecting the game... writen by rich kids so they can live out their fantasy of being tough southies, cause they are tough and cool... I mean, just listen to how well we can do the accent, we must be tough! Don't get me wrong, they are all identifiable themes that strike a chord, but also all fairly obvious and well-worn.

I think the director's cut of DD will help clear some things up, but its stll a head-scratcher. I haven't seen Brown Bunny, but heard some interesting things about it.

I think you may hate Serenity.

October 13, 2005 at 10:16AM, Edited September 4, 7:12AM


Just curious what about Dead Man makes it a 'tweener. This query coming from someone without the patience to sort through the intricacies of the definition of an Actual Movie. And yes, I am asking because I think Dead Man is "totally rad."

October 19, 2005 at 5:03PM, Edited September 4, 7:12AM


Good question. Well, not having read the Actual Movie criteria, the one thing you need to know is that it's highly subjective and arbitrary. And I just don't seem to "get" Jim Jarmusch movies, for the most part. Dead Man was certainly different, but I'm not sure I see why the film was significant. Your thoughts?

October 20, 2005 at 8:04AM, Edited September 4, 7:12AM

Ryan Koo

I would say that it's easy to forget, when so many movies are made purely as an attempt to entertain by appealing to the senses (XXX, those kind of movies...), that one of the main points of making a movie is to entertain. So I would say that a movie like Dead Man is significant because it is an entertaining story/journey for the lead character, and a tthe same time, it is different. I can't speak for all of Jarmusch's movies, but, speaking solely in terms of Dead Man, he's unique as an independent filmmaker because he's still just trying to tell a good old-fashioned story, but he doesn't tell it with any glitz and he doesn't make the plot points and character shifts overtly obvious. So what I mean by that last sentence is, he's doing the Hollywood thing, but he's asking more from his audience. That said, Ghost Dog sucks ass.

October 25, 2005 at 6:02PM, Edited September 4, 7:12AM


Snakes on a Plane?

August 18, 2006 at 1:52PM, Edited September 4, 7:14AM

you know who