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My 2014 Discoveries

January 4, 2015

Top 35 (2013/14 not included):

35.  Involuntary (2008, Ruben Östlund)
34.  Les maîtres fous (1955, Jean Rouch)
33.  Love at Large (1990, Alan Rudolph)
32.  You Instead (2011, David Mackenzie)
31.  Above the Law (1986, Corey Yuen Kwai)
also Yes, Madam (1985)
30.  NY Export: Opus Jazz (2010, Henry Joost/Jody Lee Lipes)
29.  Sorcerer (1977, William Friedkin)
28.  Unfinished Business (1941, Gregory La Cava)
27.  High School (1968, Frederick Wiseman)
26.  Berlin Express (1948, Jacques Tourneur)
also Appointment in Honduras (1953)
25.  Bachelor Mother (1939, Garson Kanin)
24.  The Apple (1998, Samira Makhmalbaf)
23.  Hud (1963, Martin Ritt)
also The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)
22.  Pushover (1954, Richard Quine)
21.  Shanghai Express / Blonde Venus (1932, Josef von Sternberg)
20.  Citizen X (1995, Chris Gerolmo)
19.  Fireworks (1947, Kenneth Anger)
18.  Outrage (1950, Ida Lupino)
also Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951)
17.  La Vie des morts (1991, Arnaud Desplechin)
16.  Hercules and the Captive Women (1961, Vittorio Cottafavi)
15.  China 9, Liberty 37 (1978, Monte Hellman)
14.  Vampire’s Kiss (1988, Robert Bierman)
13.  Come Back to the Five and Dime (1982, Robert Altman)
12.  Go Get Some Rosemary (2010, Ben Safdie/Joshua Safdie)
11.  Dragnet (1954, Jack Webb)

10.  We’re Going to Eat You (1980, Tsui Hark)
09.  Les passagers (1999, Jean-Claude Guiguet)
08.  The Chase (1966, Arthur Penn)
07.  Border Incident (1949, Anthony Mann)
06.  Lone Star (1996, John Sayles)
05.  Violent Saturday (1955, Richard Fleischer)
also Armored Car Robbery (1950)
04.  Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925, Ernst Lubitsch)
03.  Out 1, noli me tangere (1971, Jacques Rivette/Suzanne Schiffman)
02.  Humanity and Paper Balloons (1937, Sadao Yamanaka)
01.  Tokyo Twilight (1957, Yasujirō Ozu)

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My 2013 in Film

February 21, 2014

I’ll keep it brief here because I have nothing to actually say. First up are the best new-to-me films that I saw in 2013. These do not include movies from 2012-2013. Why? Because [reasons]. The end of the ranking got really awkward as I tried to cram movies into it, so I opted to have a bunch of categories to give said movies mention despite their exclusion. I’m cool like that, my mum tells me. After all this are my 2013-premiere favourites as they sit for now (having not seen virtually every major film: The Immigrant, Stray Dogs, Under the Skin, and so on), including performances I dug, and notes on the year’s cinematography because apparently that is of particular interest to me (?). The only pieces I wrote all year were this Bastards review and this one on James Gray. What else? Breaking Bad and Bunheads destroyed all other TV, Gone Home was more moving than any film, and the only book I can recall finishing is The Invention of Morel. Music is cool too I guess.

  • Best Animated: Perfect Blue (1997, Kon)
  • Best Horror: The Exorcist III (1990, Blatty)
  • Best Australian: Dead Heart (1996, Parsons)Clay (1965, Mangiamele), Crawl (2011, China), One Night Stand (1984, Duigan)
  • Best Documentary: Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (2003, Wang), Public Housing (1997, Wiseman), Nostalgia for the Light (2010, Guzmán), Bovines (2011, Gras)
  • Best TV film: Someone’s Watching Me! (1978, Carpenter), Something to Remind Me (2001, Petzold), Homecoming (2005, Dante)
  • Best Short: Never Weaken (1921, Newmeyer), The Professional Man (1995, Soderbergh, also TV)
  • Best Ad/Music Video: The Work of Director Jonathan Glazer
  • Further Best Musical: At Long Last Love (1975, Bogdanovich), Cabin in the Sky (1943, Minnelli)
  • Further Best Western: The Indian Fighter (1955, De Toth), Decision at Sundown (1957, Boetticher), Tennessee’s Partner (1955, Dwan), The Hanging Tree (1959, Daves), Apache (1954, Aldrich), Ride in the Whirlwind (1966, Hellman)
  • Further Best Action: Hard Target (1993, Woo), Drive (1997, Wang), Police Story (1985, Chan), U.S. Seals II (2001, Florentine), Torque (2004, Kahn)

Top 40:

40.  Sleepwalk (1986, Driver)
39.  Au Revoir Taipei (2010, Chen)
38.  Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974, Cimino)
37.  Art History / The Zone (2011, Swanberg)
36.  The Step (1985, Rekhviashvili)
35.  The Marrying Kind (1952, Cukor)
34.  That Old Dream That Moves (2001, Guiraudie)
also No Rest for the Brave (2003)
33.  The Sterile Cuckoo (1969, Pakula)
32.  Khrustalyov, My Car! (1998, German)
31.  Picnic (1955, Logan)
30.  Landscape Suicide (1987, Benning)
29.  Double Team (1997, Tsui)
28.  The Long Voyage Home (1940, Ford)
also Donovan’s Reef (1963)
and Two Rode Together (1961)
and The Quiet Man (1952)
27.  The Wife (1995, Noonan)
26.  The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (1943, Manning/Renoir)
25.  Duo Sang (1994, Wu)
24.  The Thief of Bagdad (1924, Walsh)
also The Big Trail (1930)
23.  Love is Colder Than Death (1969, Fassbinder)
also The American Soldier (1970)
22.  Raw Deal (1948, Mann)
also T-Men (1947)
and The Man From Laramie (1955)
21.  Le Grand Amour (1969, Étaix)

20.  Nighthawks (1978, Peck)
19.  Kamome Diner (2006, Ogigami)
18.  The Manxman (1929, Hitchcock)
17.  In the Family (2011, Wang)
16.  The Mortal Storm (1940, Borzage)
15.  Golden Eighties (1986, Akerman)
also Nuit et Jour (1991)
14.  Great Day in the Morning (1956, Tourneur)
13.  A Girl in Every Port (1928, Hawks)
12.  Crippled Avengers (1978, Chang)
11.  Applause (1929, Mamoulian)
10.  Running on Karma (2003, To/Wai)
also A Hero Never Dies (1998, To)
09.  Spetters (1980, Verhoeven)
also Flesh + Blood (1985)
08.  A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929, Asquith)
07.  The Ballad of Narayama (1958, Kinoshita)
06.  The Oyster Princess (1919, Lubitsch)
also The Wildcat (1921)
05.  Koridorius (1994, Bartas)
04.  The White Meadows (2009, Rasoulof)
03.  House By the River (1950, Lang)
also Die Nibelungen (1924)
and The Tiger of Eschnapur / The Indian Tomb (1959)
and Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922)
02.  The 8-Diagram Pole Fighter (1984, Liu)
also The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)
01.  The Heiress (1949, Wyler)
also Dead End (1937)
and The Letter (1940)
and Dodsworth (1936)
and The Little Foxes (1941)
and Detective Story (1951)

Best 2013 Premieres:

  1. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
  2. A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhang-ke)
  3. Blind Detective (Johnnie To)
  4. The World’s End (Edgar Wright)
  5. The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
  6. The Dance of Reality (Alejandro Jodorowsky)
  7. Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski)
  8. Bastards (Claire Denis)
  9. Top of the Lake (Jane Campion)
  10. Our Sunhi (Hong Sang-soo)
  11. Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon (3D, Tsui Hark)
  12. The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski)
  13. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
  14. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen)
  15. The Last of the Unjust (Claude Lanzmann)

Best scene:  Love dance — Tip Top (Serge Bozon)

Favourite Performances:

  • Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
  • Simon Pegg (The World’s End)
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini (Enough Said)
  • Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke (Before Midnight)
  • Michael Cera (Magic Magic/Crystal Fairy)
  • Dolph Lundgren (The Package)
  • Paulina García (Gloria)
  • Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle) suck it

Notes on 2013 Cinematography:

The uncategorisably unique achievements this year were Computer Chess (Matthias Grunsky) on vintage tube video (this year’s No)—infinitely fascinating to look at—and Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki, Arri Alexa/one scene 65mm) which wasn’t to my eyes one of the year’s best looking films, and raises some reactionary skepticism as to its faux-camera/lighting cinematographic “authenticity”, but is a technical marvel requiring probably the deepest involvement between cinematographer and post-production artists to date.

Film:

  • The World’s End (Bill Pope, 16mm/35mm): Rationally mixes gauges and spherical & anamorphic lenses, the lattermost causing the invaders’ blue orifice light beams to span the width of the ‘Scope frame for maximum stupefaction (and prettiness).
  • Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (Ian Lagarde, 35mm): Dat grain, dem blacks, dat painterly precision. Chilly.
  • Paradise: Hope (Edward Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler, Super 16): Pretty much the above but for the blacks, and the grain porn is twofold. SYMMETRY.
  • The Spectacular Now (Jess Hall, 35mm): Seriously, Panavision C- and E-Series lenses. Such lovely texture.
  • Inside Llewyn Davis (Bruno Delbonnel, 35mm): What a palette. Blurring software transforms grain into a RED-esque “bloom” as Delbonnel himself puts it. The jump from dailies to post-DI image must be staggering.
  • The Grandmaster (Philippe Le Sourd, 35mm): Soft, shallow focus. Dense elemental texture.

Digital:

  • Mother of George (Bradford Young, RED Epic): Long lenses oppress (a la The Yards) Adenike within the already insular Nigerian community of New York, her dilemma fully felt in suffocating isolation. The design touchpoint here is the Wong Kar-Wai of In the Mood for Love and 2046, they too fetishisations of lavishly textured garments and surfaces of bright colours thrown into darkness. Custom subverted as visual oppression.
  • Prisoners (Roger Deakins, Arri Alexa Plus): My goodwill started with its being a Hollywood flick that didn’t default to 2.35:1. Its refreshingly expansive frame finds a myriad of light sources and reflections amongst droplets of rain and bokeh, curiously busy at all depths. The highway emergency charge, and the candlelit vigil and its ensuing footchase are especially lavish setpieces.
  • Nebraska (Phedon Papamichael, Arri Alexa): I’m surprised, too! The trailer & Academy praise for its visuals to me indicated little more than a black-and-white-therefore-reputable fallacy, a shot-in-colour grey bore of adequate medium shots. But here it is, frequent long shots in deep focus, compositionally immaculate graphite drawings. In most cases these setups allow us to engage a character’s gait within the barren, wintry surroundings.
  • White House Down (Anna Foerster, Arri Alexa Plus): Refreshing in the midst of painfully overlit Hollywood movies. As well as being handsome, it smartly uses cameo lighting to direct one’s eye to faces in a shot that matter (as they will spout important bits of exposition) while others are draped in shadow, quite useful for a sprightly film so loaded with plot.
  • A Teacher (Andrew Droz Palermo, RED Epic): The revived Lomo lenses (see Starlet) warp bokeh and the world in line with the teacher’s irrational subjectivity.
  • Bastards (Agnès Godard, RED Epic): Not a noir painted with light to cast shadows, rather a smart use of digital’s sensitivity to near-eradicate its world of light. In all that murkiness, skin tones reign.
  • This is the End (Brandon Trost, RED Epic): Trost, a DTV & shorts DP and FX assistant miraculously landed Crank: High Voltage and Zombie’s great Halloween II in 2009, and has since made studio comedies look much better than they need to. In his best work to date, the RED diminishes all colours, conflating them into gold, ruptured beautifully by Trost with pink lens flares.
  • The Bling Ring (Harris Savides, RED Epic): The filmic loveliness of L.A. in Somewhere now the pearl-like sheen & eerie stillness of the city here, as fitting to its own subject, its increased ambivalence.
  • Legacy (Felix Wiedemann, Arri Alexa): Long-ass lenses and a soft palette recreate the 70s period look sans grain.

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My MIFF 2013

August 17, 2013
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I attended 19 actual screenings (bolded), 1 of which was a pairing of two shorts bordering on featurettes (italicised). That’s half the number I saw in 2012. The greyed out entries are those that played at MIFF this year but which I saw externally. Sorry for the lack of comments. The ranking:

  1. A Touch of Sin (2013, Jia)
  2. Stranger By the Lake (2013, Guiraudie)
  3. Passion (2012, De Palma)
  4. The Dance of Reality (2013, Jodorowsky)
  5. Computer Chess (2013, Bujalski)
  6. Everybody in Our Family (2012, Jude)
  7. Bastards (2013, Denis) I wrote a review here
  8. The Act of Killing (2012, Oppenheimer)
  9. Starlet (2012, Baker)
  10. Paradise: Faith (2012, Seidl)
  11. Omar (2013, Abu-Assad)
  12. Tip Top (2013, Bozon)
  13. Museum Hours (2012, Cohen)
  14. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear (2013, Côté)
  15. The Last Time I Saw Macao (2012, Rodrigues & da Mata)
  16. Viola (2012, Piñeiro)
  17. Stories We Tell (2012, Polley)
  18. Tiger Tail in Blue (2012, Ross)
  19. Leviathan (2012, Castaing-Taylor & Paravel)
  20. Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013, Hong)
  21. Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013, Rasoulof)
  22. A Field in England (2013, Wheatley)
  23. Gloria (2013, Lelio)
  24. Lesson of the Evil (2013, Miike)
  25. 3x3D (2013, Greenaway/Godard/Pêra)
  26. The Capsule (2012, Tsangari)
  27. Drinking Buddies (2013, Swanberg)
  28. The Past (2013, Farhadi)
  29. The Missing Picture (2013, Panh)
  30. Oh Boy (2012, Gerster)
  31. Cutie and the Boxer (2013, Heinzerling)
  32. Closed Curtain (2013, Panahi)
  33. Harmony Lessons (2013, Baigazin)
  34. Magic Magic (2013, Silva)
  35. Ginger & Rosa (2012, Potter)
  36. differently, Molussia (2012, Rey)
  37. Child’s Pose (2013, Netzer)
  38. East Hastings Pharmacy (2012, Bourges)
  39. In a World… (2013, Bell)
  40. Upstream Color (2013, Carruth)
  41. Prince Avalanche (2013, Green)
  42. A Werewolf Boy (2012, Jo)
  43. Blue Ruin (2013, Saulnier)
  44. Gebo and the Shadow (2012, Oliveira)
  45. Blancanieves (2012, Berger)
  46. Rhino Season (2012, Ghobadi)
  47. V/H/S/2 (2013, various)
  48. Stoker (2013, Park)
  49. Ilo Ilo (2013, Chen)
  50. Outrage Beyond (2012, Kitano)

I have not included the retro titles that I have previously seen, nor Paradise: Love which first played at MIFF last year.

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My June ’13 in Film

July 1, 2013

June ’13

  1. The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (Liu)
  2. A Cottage on Dartmoor (Asquith)
  3. Passion (De Palma)
  4. Before Midnight (Linklater)
  5. Picnic (Logan)
  6. The Man From Laramie (Mann)
  7. The Marrying Kind (Cukor)
    and to a lesser extent It Should Happen to You (Cukor)
  8. Two Girls and a Guy (Toback)
  9. Tennessee’s Partner (Dwan)
  10. Paradise: Faith (Seidl)
  11. I Hired a Contract Killer (Kaurismäki)
  12. L’argent (L’Herbier)
  13. Chronicle of a Summer (Rouch)
  14. Louisiana Story (Flaherty)
  15. Ruthless (Ulmer)
  16. Way Down East (Griffith)
  17. Lesson of the Evil (Miike)
  18. Leviathan (Castaing-Taylor/Paravel)
  19. After Earth (Shyamalan)
  20. Death Sentence (Wan)

vlcsnap-2013-06-30-21h07m31s239

Best rewatches:

The Village (Shyamalan)
Alphaville (Godard)

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My May ’13 in Film

June 1, 2013

May:

  1. Applause (Mamoulian)
  2. Great Day in the Morning (Tourneur)
  3. A Hero Never Dies (To)
  4. The Amazing Mrs. Holliday (Renoir)
  5. The Big Combo (Lewis)
  6. Only the Young (Mims/Tippet)
  7. Spring Breakers (Korine)
  8. Our Father (Haroun)
  9. Take Care of My Cat (Jeong)
  10. Murder a la Mod (De Palma)
  11. The Bed Sitting Room (Lester)
  12. The Act of Killing (Oppenheimer)
  13. Star Trek Into Darkness (Abrams)
  14. Bound (Wachowskis)
  15. Afternoon (Schanelec)
  16. Cabin in the Sky (Minnelli)
  17. Xiao Wu (Jia)
  18. Seconds (Frankenheimer)
  19. Angel Heart (Parker)
  20. City That Never Sleeps (Auer)

Best rewatch: White Nights (Visconti)

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2003 in Film: A Comprehensive

May 11, 2013

Firstly, about this little endeavour. I like making lists, but I’m usually hesitant in ranking all-time favourites and the like since memory eradicates a certainty in one’s opinion of a film seen many years ago, and one’s taste is hopefully always changing and expanding. Also I have the natural urge to want to tout those gems that are fading further into obscurity with each passing year, thus the standard top ten leaves me frustrated. So I thought I’d dedicate myself to yearly comprehensives, catching up with all I’ve missed, and perfunctorily ranking my favourites with no restrictions as per the number. Not only in this first instance did I discover a handful of new-to-me filmmakers, I finally had the incentive I needed to take on intimidating epics such as Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks. Overall it has been very rewarding to delve into 2003’s cinematic output. Why 2003 to start with? A mostly random choice, possibly on my mind for Johnnie To’s masterpieces viewed only recently.

The most miraculous and moving bit of cinema in 2003 was for me the opening of Abbas Kiarostami’s Five Dedicated to Ozu, a long take entitled Wood in which a piece of wood is prodded by waves along a beach as the camera tracks it. After some time, a small end of the wood breaks off and the camera frames both pieces as they meet and part until eventually one piece remains beached as the other drifts off into the ocean background. Kiarostami finally cuts when it escapes from view for a wave. It’s moving to me because, what for the title, I’d read into it a poetic allegory regarding the pensive familial-generational estrangement narratives for which Ozu was renowned: the parent pushed along by life, leaving behind its offspring. It’s miraculous because it occurs so perfectly, so delicately, in an unbroken and lengthy shot, surely unaided and unintentional (but who’s to say?). All it took was a titular nod to Ozu and I transferred all this emotion to it myself, proving the power of non-narrative cinema which traditionally leaves me cold. I was in awe by the time it cut at last. The following four long takes similarly deal in notions of line and movement but their meanings were more vague, or rather, less evocative for me.

If the Kiarostami had the finest opening of the year, Maren Ade’s The Forest for the Trees had the finest ending. It concludes an unbearably awkward comedy-drama of faux pas and desperate loneliness that makes the work of Ricky Gervais seem pleasant and mild in comparison. It’s essentially a return to the womb, and it breaks with the cruel realism of the rest of the film for an oddly blissful but heartbreaking note of poetic empathy. It turns a difficult film sublime. It also anticipates Ade’s later film Everyone Else in its similarly atavistic concluding motion.

In a banner year for South Korean cinema in terms of recognition, my reactions varied wildly, from the two greats listed, to the most gruesome or else unwatchably pointless films of the year (Oldboy and A Tale of Two Sisters).

The only other item of note is that Arrested Development first aired in 2003, and it turned out to be the funniest thing in the history of humour, or at least, since The Simpsons. Utterly brilliant television.

PTU (To)
Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai)
Running on Karma (To/Wai)
Los Angeles Plays Itself (Andersen)
Down with Love (Reed)
Crimson Gold (Panahi)
In the Cut (Campion)
A Talking Picture (Oliveira)
The Brown Bunny (Gallo)
The Story of Marie and Julien (Rivette)
Basic (McTiernan)
Wolfsburg (Petzold)
Dogville (Trier)
Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (Wang)
Looney Tunes: Back in Action (Dante)
Café Lumière (Hou)
Ana and the Others (Murga)
No Rest for the Brave (Guiraudie)
The Living World (Green)
Not on the Lips (Resnais)
Five Dedicated to Ozu (Kiarostami)
A Place Among the Living (Ruiz)
Coffee and Cigarettes (Jarmusch)
In Hell (Lam)
The Flower of Evil (Chabrol)
Ce jour-la (Ruiz)
The Same River Twice (Moss)
Memories of Murder (Bong)
A Good Lawyer’s Wife (Im)
Who Killed Bambi? (Marchand)
Cowards Bend the Knee or The Blue Hands (Maddin)
The Forest for the Trees (Ade)
Elephant (Van Sant)
The Missing (Lee)
Jesus, You Know (Seidl)
Ramblers (Yamashita)
The Company (Altman)
School of Rock (Linklater)
Vibrator (Hiroki)
Zero Day (Coccio)
Shara (Kawase)

I suppose orange represents all-time favourites, and on down to the minor recommendations in grey. There are plenty of movies I like that aren’t even listed, so don’t think the greys are exactly small fries.

Update (14/05/13): In the Cut jumped five spots, out of crimson and into red, for having read this terrific piece which resurfaced in my mind the film’s excellence.

Some awards, because fuck it.

Best Feature Debut: Ana and the Others (Celina Murga) or The Forest for the Trees (Maren Ade). At least, I think Ade is the more promising director.
Best Cinematography: In the Cut (Dion Beebe), for its tilt-shift ambiguity. PTU (Siu-keung Cheng) for framing, and stage-lighting on city streets!
Best Australian Film: Alexandra’s Project (Rolf de Heer), despite its final act. Also the year’s creepiest film, along with Who Killed Bambi?.
Most Difficult: S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine (Rithy Panh), or West of the Tracks for sheer length.
Worst Film: High Tension or Dreamcatcher, yeesh.
The Lurking Ambivalence Award: Dogville (Trier) or Elephant (Van Sant).

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Pakula in Soderbergh

May 6, 2013
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Klute (Pakula)

vlcsnap-2013-02-07-17h10m37s149

Solaris (Soderbergh)

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The Parallax View (Pakula)

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Solaris (Soderbergh)

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