Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Inside and the Outside

A lot of my interaction with film buffs these days occurs on Twitter, where disagreements are argued out by the score every day. Whether I intervene or not, I find that I often want to say the same things to different combatants. For instance:

One can evaluate the behavior in a movie in two different ways.

  1. According to the internal workings of the film universe. An example would be to praise or criticize behavior according to its trueness to the overall psychological portrait of the character, or to a general perceived social or psychological idea of how people are likely to behave.

  2. According to the effect of the behavior on the viewer. In this game, it tends to be the filmmaker, not a character, who is pitching, and the viewer, not another character, who is catching.

I've written about this dichotomy before, but it's tricky to fit the two methods of evaluation into a unified field theory. Obviously both approaches can be abused. The "internal" approach, despite the appeal to the authority of the soft sciences, is no more or less likely to get bogged down in subjectivity than the more obviously subjective "external" approach. You'd think that it would mean something when a critic says "As a former construction worker, I can testify that the film's portrait of construction workers is accurate." But one learns in one's youth that such statements are 100% subjective and have no bearing on anything at all.

I'm tempted to talk about these methods in terms of "two-ness," which, in this case, would mean meeting the criterion of internal plausibility while at the same time creating a worthwhile external effect. And this is certainly the ideal of a kind of classical storytelling that adheres to notions of social or psychological realism. At the least, verisimilitude and observational insight will always be a valuable arrow in the cinema's quiver.

However, it doesn't do to beat a film with the stick of verisimilitude. When we like a bit of abstract behavior, we forgive its departure from documentary realism because the abstraction gives us something valuable. It's only when we don't get anything from an abstraction, or when we get something we don't like, that we are tempted to say "No one behaves like that." And so the internal approach isn't a completely independent criterion: to make a just criticism of a failure of internal coherence, we have to take external factors into consideration. "No one behaves like that" is never a valid condemnation when taken in isolation from other factors.

More and more I feel that the external approach to evaluation is the larger and more philosophical viewpoint, the one that provides context for issues of internal verisimilitude. And yet it's rare to hear people talk about a movie as if it's a moment-by-moment feed of information and pleasure from the filmmaker to the audience: we are much more likely to try to praise or condemn a movie according to whether we believe the characters, even though we know that the characters are merely the filmmaker's tools.

The main pitfall of external evaluation is obvious: it's not immediately obvious why one viewer's response to a filmmaker's stimuli should be of any use to a different viewer. Any attempt to identify objective elements of form that create one's subjective responses is highly likely to devolve into rationalization, even when one brings some rigor to the process of identification. But hey - if it were easy to talk about art, everyone would do it. It's by no means impossible to argue that the delivery of certain experiences is inscribed into a film's form, even if many others don't receive the experience, even if one doesn't receive the experience oneself. There's something up there on screen that is the same for all of us, and that's where the job begins, even if one must proceed with the utmost caution in trying to build a model of pleasure delivery upon the relatively solid foundation of formal analysis.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Improvisation in Joe Swanberg's Silver Bullets

I have become friends with Joe Swanberg over the years, which may cast suspicion on the journalistic value of this piece. I hope the analysis below may be of some use anyway.

As per Swanberg's usual working methods, Silver Bullets (which begins a week run at the reRun Theater on Friday, October 28) is improvised, with the performers receiving at best a story outline and guidelines for individual scenes. The improvision is not simply a means to arrive at a piece of fiction: Swanberg's goal is not to find new ways to get good performances, but rather to use the fiction as a tool to document the performers' states of being.

I'll look at a few key scenes from the film, all single-shot long takes, all conversations between a couple in crisis: Ethan (Swanberg), a filmmaker, and Claire (the extraordinary Kate Lyn Sheil), each of whom is at work on projects with other artists.

1) In a laundry room, Claire is folding clothes and listening to Ethan voice complaints about his work: new forms are needed, he says, and the films he's been making don't turn out as innovative as he intends them to be. Claire tries to reassure him, at some length: all endeavors realize their conception only partially, and this doesn't mean they're bad. Ethan stares down and doesn't respond. Claire continues to fold clothes; as his silence grows, she realizes that she has not helped, that her argument means nothing to Ethan. So she wipes the slate clean and engages again: "It's not a new form," she says, acknowledging his unhappiness. "No," he says firmly, his first utterance in a while. The two have common ground again. "So what is?" she asks. "I don't know," says Ethan, and is full of words again, struggling with the difficulty of giving a concrete form to his aspiration. The battle is a small one, but the scene shows in its totality a successful attempt by one person to overcome an obstacle to intimacy with another.

2) In bed at night, Ethan hovers in out-of-focus foreground, drinking a beer and not making eye contact, with Claire in focus and center frame, sitting up in bed and looking at him. Before the start of the scene, Ethan dropped a bombshell: he wants to make a movie featuring Claire's friend Charlie (Amy Seimetz), whom he had just met. The scene follows the process of Claire grasping and clarifying her negative reaction. It begins in mid-conversation, with Claire protesting that Ethan has given her no legitimate way to respond. It's a true enough claim, as Ethan is passive, seemingly waiting for Claire's anger to subside before proceeding on his course; yet her response doesn't get to the heart of her distress. Left with time to think, Claire tries again and hits closer to the mark: in mentioning his plan so casually, Ethan is pretending not to know that casting Claire's friend opposite himself in a sexually themed movie is provocative. She errs slightly in saying that Ethan is casting Charlie as Claire; when Ethan corrects her, she refines her position instead of sticking to it: "No, she'd be playing herself. Your new girlfriend." Knowing that she risks losing perspective, Claire momentarily abandons her protest to find common ground: "I'm not saying that you shouldn't do it. I'm also not saying that she wouldn't be great in it - I think that she would. I'm just asking you to acknowledge the fact that it would be weird for me." Ethan sees her gesture of understanding and raises her with an intensifying adverb - "Fully acknowledged" - and meaningful emphasis. But the terms of this peace accord are too unfavorable to Claire, and they both know it. "But you still want to do it?" asks Claire pointedly, knowing the answer, and choosing to leave the wound unhealed.

3) Sitting side by side in a wooded outdoor location, two years after the main action of the film, Ethan and Claire, now separated, take up the topic of their past together, making only occasional eye contact. Ethan confesses that Claire was the only girlfriend that he considered his equal or even better than him, and that he had found this difficult. This tribute corresponds poorly to Claire's experience: without raising her voice, she says that Ethan did a pretty good job of making her feel worse than him. Bitterness will clearly always be within easy reach for the couple. Ethan responds in kind: the low self-regard was her own work, he says; he won't accept responsibility for it. The conversation eventually seems to wind down, with neither person having become too angry or too affectionate. After a silence, Ethan clearly wants to say something large and new to Claire: "Is the work enough, do you think? Is the work we made together enough to justify all this?" Claire just stares at the ground: "I don't know what you mean," she says, almost angrily. Ethan repeats the question with emotion, several times. He has found a genuine way to express his troubled feelings, but this formulation is not valuable at all to Claire, and she will not answer it. When Ethan drops the offending context at one point and simply asks if the work speaks for itself, Claire quietly affirms that it does - but she remains silent when Ethan returns to his theme, unwilling to weigh the relationship on this scale. The improvisation has led to a subtle but identifiable gap between the characters, and the actors sense and maintain the continuity of their character's feelings, even when this leads to the kind of dead air that makes bad improvisers uncomfortable.

In all three instances, we see the actors recovering from starts in the wrong direction. False starts are a necessary consequence of any improvisation; being able to see the mental work that goes into correcting the errors is a much rarer pleasure. Even more noteworthy is the way that all these improvisations refuse to sacrifice the integrity of the characters' positions for easy effect. The feelings underlying the characters' stances are sufficiently complex that the characters naturally waver or double back on themselves under the pressure of relating to each other, and yet are sufficiently consistent that the duels lead to standoffs, to silences that require effort to dislodge.

The scenes also suggest one of the functions of Swanberg performing in his own films. In all the examples above, he creates a tension or an imbalance by starting an action or taking a position. To an extent, Swanberg the actor carries out Swanberg the filmmaker's agenda, setting up scenes that other performers must react to. A corollary of this idea is that Swanberg invariably hands his films to his actresses on a silver platter. As the principal reactor in the film, Sheil is continuously on center stage, and the value of the improvisations largely depends on her sensibility. The scenes above are hitched less to her acting skill than to her intelligence and her emotional balance. Like all Swanberg's films, Silver Bullets requires a level of creativity from its performers beyond what any scripted film can elicit.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Assorted Screenings in NYC: October 2011

1. MoMA's ninth annual To Save and Project festival includes a few strong Italian films that could be better known. The pick of the October screenings is Elio Petri's startlingly good 1961 debut L'Assassino (Sunday, October 16 at 5:45 pm and Thursday, October 20 at 7:15 pm), starring Marcello Mastroianni as a shady operator whose life is shaken up by a police investigation. Petri's stock on the international film scene would peak almost a decade later with his excellent 1970 Investigation of a Citizen Under Suspicion; but the more classically constructed L'Assassino, with its impressive command of point of view, still seems to me Petri's greatest achievement. More modest in scale, Alberto Lattuada's 1954 La Spiaggia (Friday, October 28 at 4 pm and Monday, October 31 at 8:30 pm), built around the visual appeal of Martine Carol, the Riviera, and carefully composed Academy-ratio color photography, is a melancholy, atmospheric film that first tipped me off to the talents of this underrecognized director, who is probably best known as the co-director of Fellini's 1950 debut Variety Lights.

2. The Doomsday Film Festival & Symposium, held at 92YTribeca and dedicated to movies about the end of the world, has a strong lineup this year. Steve DeJarnatt's 1988 Miracle Mile (Friday, October 21 at 8 pm) has become a bit of a cult film since I caught it on its fleeting first run, but is rarely revived in theaters. If memory serves, the film takes a while to establish its tone, but never loses track of its casually affecting love story as it whips through the decline and fall of Los Angeles in 87 minutes. Screening the same evening (Friday, October 21 at 10:30 pm), Don McKellar's appealing 1999 Last Night has no problem at all scaling the apocalypse down to an opportunity for two total strangers to have a really good first and last kiss. Colossus: The Forbin Project (Saturday, October 22 at 6 pm) was made for TV but deemed worthy of a 1970 theatrical release, and was the first clear sign of director Joseph Sargent's talent for tense, fast-paced ensemble work. The film could have used a good computer science technical advisor, but Sargent and scriptwriter James Bridges keep the focus small and human despite the fascination of malevolent supercomputer Colossus. Wrapping up the catastrophic weekend is one of Larry Cohen's best films, 1977's crazy but compelling God Told Me To (aka Demon) (Sunday, October 23 at 7 pm).

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Old Movies on Amazon Instant Video

I've recently made my movies Honeymoon (1998) and All the Ships at Sea (2004) available for rental or download at Amazon Instant Video. Prices are as low as I could set them: $1.99 for rental, $2.50 for purchase. If you try it, let me know how it works.

Both films are still available on DVD from CreateSpace:

...but I get the feeling CreateSpace is phasing out its DVD sales in favor of its parent company Amazon. The filmmaker gets a bigger cut of the sale at CreateSpace, not that either income stream is going to put my imaginary children through college:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


This year’s sidebar program at the New York Film Festival is so exciting that it threatens to overshadow the main slate: a retrospective of the Japanese studio Nikkatsu, whose opportunistic shifts of focus always seemed to open doors for some of Japan’s most creative filmmakers. Compare film magazine Kinema Junpo’s 1999 and 2009 lists of all-time greatest Japanese films to the Lincoln Center series schedule, and count the overlaps.

You’ll have to move quickly to catch my strongest recommendation in the series, Sadao Yamanaka’s delightful 1935 Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo, which screens once more on Wednesday, October 5 at 8:45 pm. Yamanaka, who died before his 29th birthday, made only three films that survive today, but the evidence that he was one of the greatest of filmmakers is present in any five minutes of his work. A Pot Worth a Million Ryo is a class-crossing light comedy, not especially interesting on paper, that shows off Yamanaka’s comprehensive command of cinema: contained, somewhat distant compositions with unusual architectural elements that often narrow the frame horizontally or vertically; an irreverent use of psychology to modify familiar character types; confident timing that owes something to American comic rhythms; a gentle sense of the absurd and outrageous that is unobtrusively pitted against social quietude; and a throwaway flair for action direction.

Screening just before the Yamanaka, on Wednesday, October 5 at 6:20 pm, is Tomu Uchida’s impressive Earth, which I wrote about last year at the MUBI Notebook.

Most film buffs won’t need to be pointed to Shohei Imamura’s superb 1964 Intentions of Murder, playing Tuesday, October 11 at 8 pm and Friday, October 14 at 4:30 pm. But this film buff, at least, wasn’t hip to the considerable talents of Tatsumi Kumashiro until a few days ago. Best-known for his work in the “pink film,” the soft-core pornography that Nikkatsu churned out in the 70s, Kumashiro inhabits the genre so naturally that there is no conflict (well, almost none) between its commercial requirements and his semi-immersed, semi-detached artistic personality. His remarkable 1973 The World of Geisha, which screens once more on Friday, October 14 at 1 pm, shows the social and psychological repercussions of a single night of sex, which is extended through two-thirds of the film’s length with the aid of interpolated material and a superimposed layer of Brechtian play. Honestly erotic yet shot through with chilly pessimism, the film shows simultaneously the mundane destructiveness and the lingering gravitational pull of heterosexual coupling, with something of the tone of the Fassbinder of Pioneers in Ingolstadt or The Merchant of Four Seasons. Advance word is good on the other Kumashiro film in the Nikkatsu series, 1979’s The Woman With Red Hair, screening on Friday, October 14th at 9 pm and Sunday, October 16 at 6:20 pm.

Of the many films in the Nikkatsu series that I haven’t seen, I’m most excited by 1985’s Love Hotel, a pink film by the superb Shinji Sômai (Moving, Wait and See), whose fluency with scene-long tracking shots is well matched with his interest in quirky characters who preserve their mystery. Love Hotel screens only once, on Saturday, October 15 at 6:30 pm.

All films mentioned here, and all but one of the remaining films in the Nikkatsu series, will be projected in the 87-seat Howard Gilman Theater in Lincoln Center’s new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Toronto 2011

I'm covering the Toronto International Film Festival for this year. I'll probably post about five hastily-written reports from the festival, and will add them to this blog entry as they go up.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Top 100 Films of the 00s

Sorry to keep you all waiting! but I calculated that my list of favorite films of the 2000s wouldn't settle down until mid-2011 at least. And here we are.

I didn't try very hard to make this list a lot different from the 1999-2008 list that I posted amid the decade-end hurly-burly. But I allowed myself a few impulses that don't quite match my published lists of favorites.

1. Michael Clayton (Tony Gilroy, USA, 2007)
2. Esther Kahn (Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2000)
3. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania, 2005)
4. Night and Day (Hong Sang-Soo, South Korea, 2008)
5. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh, UK, 2004)
6. Le doux amour des hommes (Jean-Paul Civeyrac, France, 2002)
7. The Child (Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgium/France, 2005)
8. Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, France, 2001)
9. The Tracey Fragments (Bruce McDonald, Canada, 2007)
10. Raja (Jacques Doillon, France/Morocco, 2003)
11. Late Marriage (Dover Kosashvili, Israel/France, 2001)
12. Stella (Sylvie Verheyde, France, 2008)
13. The Sopranos: "Made in America" (David Chase, USA, 2007)
14. The House of Mirth (Terence Davies, UK/USA, 2000)
15. La face cachée de la lune (Robert Lepage, Canada, 2003)
16. The Son (Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Belgium, 2002)
17. Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes, USA, 2002)
18. The Forsaken Land (Vimukthi Jayasundara, Sri Lanka/France, 2005)
19. Ana and the Others (Celina Murga, Argentina, 2003)
20. Primer (Shane Carruth, USA, 2004)
21. Le Père de mes enfants (Mia Hansen-Løve, France, 2009)
22. The Exploding Girl (Bradley Rust Gray, USA, 2009)
23. Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley, USA, 2008)
24. Bled Number One (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, Algeria/France, 2006)
25. Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke, China, 2006)
26. Ballast (Lance Hammer, USA, 2008)
27. Sangre (Amat Escalante, Mexico, 2005)
28. The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan, 2005)
29. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico, 2007)
30. A Week Alone (Celina Murga, Argentina, 2008)
31. All Around Us (Ryosuke Hashiguchi, Japan, 2008)
32. Une Vieille Maîtresse (Catherine Breillat, France, 2007)
33. Japon (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico, 2002)
34. Waking Life (Richard Linklater, USA, 2001)
35. Bully (Larry Clark, USA, 2001)
36. Vibrator (Ryuichi Hiroki, Japan, 2003)
37. Crashing (Gary Walkow, USA, 2007)
38. Tout est pardonné (Mia Hansen-Løve, France, 2007)
39. Darling (Johan Kling, Sweden, 2007)
40. Eighteen (Jang Kun-jae, South Korea, 2009)
41. Triple Agent (Eric Rohmer, France, 2004)
42. Chopper (Andrew Dominic, Australia, 2000)
43. Platform (Jia Zhang Ke, China, 2000)
44. Zero Day (Ben Coccio, USA, 2003)
45. Happiness (Hur Jin-ho, South Korea, 2007)
46. Lady Chatterley (Pascale Ferran, France/Belgium, 2006)
47. La Donation (Bernard Émond, Canada, 2009)
48. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2006)
49. The Garden of Earthly Delights (Lech Majewski, UK/Italy/Poland, 2004)
50. Or (Mon Tresor) (Keren Yedaya, Israel, 2004)
51. Toutes ces belles promesses (Jean-Paul Civeyrac, France, 2003)
52. Ken Park (Larry Clark and Ed Lachman, USA, 2002)
53. Ten (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 2002)
54. Barbe Bleue (Catherine Breillat, France. 2009)
55. Jealousy Is My Middle Name (Park Chan-ok, South Korea, 2002)
56. Shara (Naomi Kawase, Japan, 2003)
57. The World (Jia Zhang-ke, China, 2004)
58. Roberto Succo (Cedric Kahn, France, 2001)
59. Îles flottantes (Nanouk Leopold, Netherlands, 2001)
60. Be My Star (Valeska Grisebach, Germany, 2001)
61. Face (Tsai Ming-Liang, France/Taiwan, 2009)
62. Avant que j'oublie (Jacques Nolot, France, 2007)
63. The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, USA, 2007)
64. Grain in Ear (Zhang Lu, China/South Korea, 2005)
65. Nights and Weekends (Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig, USA, 2008)
66. Mid-August Lunch (Gianni Di Gregorio, Italy, 2008)
67. Turning Gate (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2002)
68. Wolfsbergen (Nanouk Leopold, Netherlands, 2007)
69. Jesus, You Know (Ulrich Seidl, Austria, 2003)
70. Morphia (Aleksei Balabanov, Russia, 2008)
71. Paris: XY (Zeka Laplaine, France, 2001)
72. The Believer (Henry Bean, USA, 2001)
73. All or Nothing (Mike Leigh, UK, 2002)
74. Crimson Gold (Jafar Panahi, Iran, 2003)
75. No Rest for the Brave (Alain Guiraudie, France, 2003)
76. Forty Shades of Blue (Ira Sachs, USA, 2005)
77. C.R.A.Z.Y. (Jean-Marc Vallée, Canada, 2005)
78. The King of Escape (Alain Guiraudie, France, 2009)
79. Rain Dogs (Ho Yuhang, Malaysia, 2006)
80. Catastrophe (David Mamet, Ireland, 2000)
81. The Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (Hong Sang-Soo, South Korea, 2000)
82. She, a Chinese (Guo Xiaolu, UK/France/Germany, 2009)
83. Johanna (Kornel Mundruczó, Hungary, 2005)
84. A Tale of Cinema (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2005)
85. Brick (Rian Johnson, USA, 2005)
86. Beat (Gary Walkow, USA, 2000)
87. Head-On (Fatih Akin, Germany/Turkey, 2004)
88. Boogie (Radu Muntean, Romania, 2008)
89. Hannah Takes the Stairs (Joe Swanberg, USA, 2007)
90. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, USA, 2001)
91. The Fluffer (Richard Glatzer and Wash West, USA, 2001)
92. To Die Like a Man (João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal, 2009)
93. The Paper Will Be Blue (Radu Muntean, Romania, 2006)
94. The Banishment (Andrei Zyvagintsev, Russia, 2007)
95. Dog Days (Ulrich Seidl, Austria, 2001)
96. Harmful Insect (Akihiko Shiota, Japan, 2001)
97. The Days Between (Maria Speth, Germany, 2001)
98. Four Nights with Anna (Jerzy Skolimowski, Poland, 2008)
99. The Return (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia, 2003)
100. Cinema, Aspirin and Vultures (Marcelo Gomes, Brazil, 2005)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Sleeping Beauty: IFC Center, Now Playing

My piece on Catherine Breillat's La belle endormie (Sleeping Beauty), my favorite movie of the last few years, is up at the MUBI Notebook.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Round Table on Silent Naruse just published a lengthy email round-table discussion between Danny Kasman, David Phelps and me about the five silent Mikio Naruse films that were recently released on DVD by Criterion.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Mint Julep: Theatre 80 St. Marks, June 8 through 10, 2011

One of my favorite American indies of recent years, Mint Julep, will have its long-delayed New York premiere at Theatre 80 St. Marks, screening from Wednesday, June 8 to Friday, June 10 at 7:30 pm each night. My review of the film, with a few comments on its unusual history, is up at

Sunday, March 13, 2011

All the Ships at Sea at the Wexner Center, Columbus, OH, March 17, 2011

My 2004 movie All the Ships at Sea will screen this week as part of a series of "21st Century Independents" at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. Ships plays on Thursday, March 17 at 8:50 pm, on the tail end of a bill with Jennifer Reeder's short Seven Songs about Thunder and Damien Chazelle's Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. The entire series is very well curated: I especially like the March 24 double feature of Lance Hammer's Ballast and Andrew Bujalski's Beeswax.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

La belle endormie (The Sleeping Beauty): IFC, March 6, 2011; Walter Reade, March 8, 2011

Catherine Breillat's fans probably don't need a nudge to see her films, and her detractors should ignore all recommendations. But: wow, her 2010 La belle endormie (The Sleeping Beauty) is a major work even by her high standards. Starting from the premise of Perrault's fairy tale, Breillat contrives that the titular princess shall fall victim to her sleeping curse at age six (Carla Besnaïnou, showing off Breillat's distinctive manner of directing young children) but awaken at age sixteen (Julia Artamonov), and that she shall enjoy an active dream life. Once the plot is sprung, Breillat plunges into dreamland, and the film takes on more resemblance to Chabrol's Alice ou la dernière fugue (1977) or even Resnais' Je t'aime, je t'aime (1968) than to her more modest Perrault adaptation Barbe Bleue (2009). But not until the credits roll can we be completely sure that Breillat is after bigger game than fairy tales or even dreams... Her wide-ranging, tender interest in the contradictory twists of the human psyche is fully engaged by the unrestricted subject matter - and she has never made a film that demonstrates more clearly her great gift for operating on multiple levels of abstraction, a game that for her has always meant breaking the cage of narrative closure instead of seeing us safely to solid ground. Practically a trailer for our second viewing, La belle endormie screens twice more in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series: on Sunday, March 6 at 1 pm at the IFC Center, and on Tuesday, March 8 at 1:30 pm at the Walter Reade. And I believe it's been picked up by Strand for a spring 2011 theatrical release.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bas-Fonds: Walter Reade, Saturday, February 19, 2011

I have no time to write about this at any length, but if you can muster some tolerance for in-your-face cinematic depictions of depravity and malevolence, you should really try to see Isild Le Besco's remarkable third feature (barely so, at 68 minutes) in the Film Comment Selects series at the Walter Reade. I personally didn't think I could bear keeping company with these characters for a whole film, but Le Besco's control of the experience is extraordinary: on one hand, she stylizes her people into absurdist archetypes, and on the other she carefully disengages the spectacle from drama and identification. The crazy dichotomy between the behavior shown and the religious tone introduced via voiceover commentary is gradually and inevitably resolved. Bas-Fonds screens once more, on Saturday, February 19 at 4 pm.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2010 Manhattan One-Week Premieres

I might still catch a first-run 2010 movie or two, but I think I'm ready to make a ten-best list. This list is for films that played at least one week in Manhattan for the first time in 2010 - which, as I complain every year, is a pretty arbitrary grouping. But I'm in no position at all yet to make a list of 2010 international releases.

(I exclude films that were made too long ago to feel contemporary.)

1. The Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Løve)
2. The Exploding Girl (Bradley Rust Gray)
3. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat)
4. Mid-August Lunch (Gianni di Gregorio)
5. Between Two Worlds (Vimukthi Jayasundara)
6. Audrey the Trainwreck (Frank V. Ross)
7. Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz)
8. Anton Chekhov's The Duel (Dover Kosashvili)
9. Barking Water (Sterlin Harjo)
10. How Do You Know (James L. Brooks)

Honorable mention: Animal Kingdom (David Michôd). And I'll add two others that could go up or down after another viewing: Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham) and Unstoppable (Tony Scott).

Special category for a uniquely confusing film: Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky). In the unstable transition period following this film's challenge to my aesthetic system, I can imagine putting it in any of the categories above or below.

Films with a lot going for them, in alphabetical order: Another Year (Mike Leigh), Around a Small Mountain (Jacques Rivette), The City of Your Final Destination (James Ivory), Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos), Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé), The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski), Hadewijch (Bruno Dumont), The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet), Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek), Open Five (Kentucker Audley), Soul Kitchen (Fatih Akin), The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira), Sweetgrass (Ilisa Barbash & Lucien Castaing-Taylor), True Grit (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen).

Films with something going for them, in alphabetical order: Ajami (Scandar Copti & Yaron Shani), All Good Things (Andrew Jarecki), The Anchorage (C.W Winter & Anders Edstrom), Breaking Upwards (Daryl Wein), Delta (Kornel Mundruczó), Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold), George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (George A. Romero), I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino), Inspector Bellamy (Claude Chabrol), The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko), Lourdes (Jessica Hausner), Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Jean-Francois Richet), Mundane History (Anocha Suwichakornpong), Ne change rien (Pedro Costa), Tirador (Brillante Mendoza), Women Without Men (Shirin Neshat).

Films that mostly didn't work for me, in alphabetical order: Alamar (Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio), Daddy Longlegs (Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie), Due Date (Todd Phillips), Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl (Manoel de Oliveira), Everyone Else (Maren Ade), Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy), The Fighter (David O. Russell), Get Low (Aaron Schneider), Greenberg (Noah Baumbach), Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (Serge Bromberg & Ruxandra Medrea), I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra & John Requa), The King's Speech (Tom Hooper), Leaving (Catherine Corsini), Lebanon (Samuel Maoz), Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 (Jean-Francois Richet), The Milk of Sorrow (Claudia Llosa), Mother (Bong Joon-ho), Our Beloved Month of August (Miguel Gomes), Outside the Law (Rachid Bouchareb), Red Riding: 1980 (James Marsh), Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong), Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese), The Social Network (David Fincher), Somewhere (Sofia Coppola), Spring Fever (Lou Ye), Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine), Vincere (Marco Bellocchio), Welcome (Philippe Lioret), White Material (Claire Denis), Wild Grass (Alain Resnais), Winter's Bone (Debra Granik), You Wont Miss Me (Ry Russo-Young).

A lot of directors I admire placed films in the last category, which must mean that I'm an unusually fickle sort of auteurist.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mister Cory

I wrote a piece on Blake Edwards' Mister Cory (my favorite Edwards film, along with The Tamarind Seed) for issue #7 of Undercurrent. Basically, I expanded two sentences from the middle of my review of the film for Jaime Christley's Unexamined Essentials.

Friday, January 14, 2011

2010 Wrap-Ups at MUBI

I made two contributions to MUBI's 2010 wrap-ups: an item in this compilation of present/past fantasy double features; and a top-five list of "new old movies" seen in 2010.

My Girlfriend's Wedding and Pictures from Life's Other Side: Union Docs, January 15, 2011

Sorry about the short notice, but tomorrow, January 15, I'll be participating in a discussion of Jim McBride's films at Union Docs in Williamsburg after a 7:30 pm screening of McBride's documentaries My Girlfriend's Wedding (1969) and Pictures from Life's Other Side (1971). Jed Rapfogel of Anthology Film Archives will lead the discussion.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hideko Takamine

I put up a few words at the Notebook in commemoration of the great actress Hideko Takamine, who died on December 28.