A Vivat Mudede Top 10 List

It’s that special time of year at Northwest Film Forum when our staff shares with you their “Top 10 Lists” from the past sun-round.  Some are styled on the more traditional “top-10 best films” list we see regularly in the media. And some push the boundaries of the top ten format. Let us know what you think in the comments below!


Vivat! Vivat Charles Mudede! There is no better writer in Seattle, and lucky for us all, he is wildly prolific: A dependable, recurring pleasure of city life is to pick up a copy of The Stranger, flip it open and make a quick, delicious feast of whatever is offered up by this erudite and eloquent man.

His criticism, in particular, has everything I require as a cinephile: snobbery, wit, references to fields of scholarship I know nothing about, and yet, beneath it all, a gravitas that always seems to come calling at  precisely the right moment. Mudede never settles for being merely clever.

The man himself.

My original idea was to find the 10 best Charles Mudede excerpts from 2012 — a task that proved as difficult as locating the 10 most sweetly narcotic flowers blooming in an expansive field of poppies. So instead, here are eleven paragraphs and pull quotes — including a devastating 125-word take down of the films of Terrence Malick that Mudede penned in 2011 — that made me laugh or scratch my head in wonder or simply feel a kind of fleeting pride that I, like Charles Mudede, am a human being with a brain. His is superior to mine, no doubt, which is fine with me because I think it might actually be a burden to be that smart.

#1 — Dec. 5, Mekong Hotel
“Before exploring Mekong Hotel, a short but truly magical film by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, I want to explain a key concept in the books of Portuguese neuroscientist Antonio Damasio.”

#2 — Oct. 17, Hellbound
“The universe was not made for us, nor was it made for cows or whales or chickens or bats. We are all here by accident, and we are all going the way of the dinosaurs. All of our efforts, hopes, and achievements will be erased in time. Nothing comes after death. The universe is expanding at a faster and faster rate. The galaxies we see in the sky are in the bumps that expanded from quantum jitters. Matter is only energy converted into mass. Is heaven made of matter? Is hell? Does Satan have teeth and a digestive system? Did a snake talk to a naked woman and man? Enough of this nonsense. Humans are associations of cells that descended from free-living bacteria. Bacteria are as holy as you will ever get in this world, if not this universe. They’ve been around for 3.6 billion years. They will still be here long after we and our cats and dogs are gone. Let’s make documentaries about bacteria.”

#3 — November 14, The Sheik and I
“By the time you are halfway through, your head and heart throb like a toe that has been crushed by an anvil.”

#4 — November 7, Daisies
“The girls date and dump older men, giggle a lot, eat a lot, walk around the city, get drunk and rowdy, play with each other in bed, get philosophical about life and desire. They came from nowhere; they are going nowhere. They are happy to be here forever. What a lovely movie.”

#5 — June 15, 2011, “I Didn’t See The Tree of Life but I Hate It”
“I heard from someone who may or may not be reliable that Malick’s film has a boy narrator. This boy talks to God, asking deep questions like: Why am I here? How did I get here? Where are you? Now, it’s very possible The Tree of Life has no such thing, no boy talking to God. But even if this is the case, it still sounds like something you’d expect to find in a Malick film. It’s Malickian for a boy (innocence) to talk to God (experience). How heavy and dull. How Heideggerian. How Eckhartian. How Lutheran. Indeed, wasn’t it Luther who went on and on about keeping life silent so that he could hear (be open to) the word of God? Pure mystical nonsense.”

#6 — August 22, Walk Away Renee
“I will almost never like a movie about a road trip, about some sick or suffering family member or emotionally stressful family situation, about a boy/girl’s troubled relationship with his/her mother/father, about a childhood that’s unhappy, about self-discovery in high school, about mothers who are crazy, fathers who are unloving. These types of films, however, dominate American independent filmmaking and are the sole reason why, during the Seattle International Film Festival, I do everything in my power to avoid watching and reviewing movies made by unknown or emerging American directors. Give me French, Chinese, Mexican, Iranian—anything but indie American filmmakers and all of their road trips and family issues.”

#7 — August 1, “The Domestication of Downtown — What the New Target Will
Do to Second and Pike

“On October 26, 2010, shots were fired at Second and Pike. A man fell to the ground. Another man fled the scene. Many people witnessed the crime, as it occurred on a very busy intersection at rush hour. The police were at the scene almost immediately, roped off the area, and began questioning witnesses, one of whom was a hot dog vendor. (He saw the whole thing—gun, bullets, blood, brains, fall.) It did not take long for the police to capture the suspect, nor did it take long for the medical staff at Harborview Medical Center to declare the victim dead. Thirty minutes later, one block east of the spot the killer pulled the trigger, my brother was waiting for a bus to West Seattle. This bus, which usually runs every 10 minutes, did not appear for a good hour. The shooting had brought downtown traffic to a near standstill. Finally the
bus arrived, finally it carried him across the West Seattle Bridge, finally he got to the door of his destination, finally he opened it, and there he found our father dead on the kitchen floor. My father’s heart had collapsed 15 minutes before my brother arrived home. Nothing in a city happens in isolation. We are all interconnected in simple/direct and complicated/indirect ways.”

#8 — June 27, Celine and Julie Go Boating
“What Mr. Matthews’s review revealed to me was something I had never really considered: There’s good escapism and bad escapism. Bad escapism simply exploits your need for a distraction; good escapism rewards your distraction with happy thoughts, strange ideas, and even words that never existed.”

#9 — June 13, “Charles Muede Reviews Jupiter
“Jupiter is, to our eyes, a stunning symphony of folds—white clouds folding brown clouds, brown clouds folding blue clouds, light blue clouds folding dark blue clouds. What kind of beauty is this? And why is it able to stir the deepest parts of our souls? Essentially, we are impressed by a world that is totally inhuman, unlivable, unthinkable. This confusion of clouds is alive in the deadest sense possible. It’s matter behaving only as matter. Matter violently thrown this way and that by spin, wind, and pressure. Even our extremophiles (microbes that live in the most acidic, hottest, and coldest parts of Earth) would call Jupiter a living hell.”

#10 — May 30, “The Top 10 Worst Pop Songs About Africa and Africans
“For a long time, I thought Toto was a band from a country somewhere near Malawi, Tanzania, and Kenya. For some reason, I never bothered to find this country on a map, but simply judged from the tune that it was small and had a huge game park and lots of farms owned by white Africans, some of whom formed the band Toto. Who else but rugged white Africans could sing so passionately about the beauty and wonders of the continent their forefathers colonized. Only recently did I discover that no such country existed and that Toto is a white American rock band. Also—and this truly surprised me—its members had never been to Africa when they wrote and recorded this song.”

#11 — December 5, “Don’t Do it Like They Did: A Very Brief History of Very Bad Straight Marriages
“On May 16, 1836, Edgar Allan Poe (the man who invented, among other things, detective fiction) secretly married his first cousin Virginia. He was 27 and she was 13. Though the marriage started off well (Poe was more her teacher than her husband), it eventually collapsed under the weight of rumors about Poe’s extramarital affairs. It is believed by some scholars that the stress of these rumors had an impact on Virginia’s fragile health. She eventually contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of 24. The lesson? Do not marry someone who is, one, a child and, two, your first cousin. Nothing but misery can be expected from such a union.”

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