Archive for December, 2009

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My November in Review

December 1, 2009

This is my first go at one of these monthly recaps, in which I present the ten best films (of any year) I watched in that time, for the first time. I’ll also list some runners-up because I saw so damn many this month, some greats I rewatched, and a list of the very worst I suffered through.

Number of films watched in total: 83
*

10. ‘Can Go Through Skin’
Esther Rots | Netherlands | 2009 | 94 mins

Rots’ highly subjective camera is so effective, and Rifka Lodeizen’s performance so brazenly honest,  that all intimate moments here feel as if they are our own. That it is Rots’ debut feature film makes it all the more remarkable. The healing process depicted over the course of the film -the anxiety, dips into insanity, visions of revenge -is so delicately handled and with such complexity, not to mention symbolised with no heavy hand in the surroundings. Beautiful.
*

9. ‘Songs From the Second Floor’
Roy Andersson | Sweden | 2000 | 98 mins

Perhaps I was impatient while watching Andersson’s latest You, the Living (2007), which I had found somewhat tediously twee, because I greatly admired this very similar work from the start of the decade. Andersson evokes Tati in humour and mise-en-scene, albeit bleaker in its view of life and far more stilted in terms of moving figures. Each perfectly composed static image is an artwork.
*

8. ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort’
Jacques Demy | France | 1967 | 120 mins

Demy betters his lovely The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) with this brighter, more delicious and ambitious musical. The staging here is magnificent, right from the opening sequence of a silent dance on a moving transporter bridge set to West Side Story-style jazz. Demy seems to have total control of the town in which this show is mounted; the spaces are wide open, and there’s activity in every background layer. The narrative threads and characters are many, but they are juggled eloquently and fluidly. And of course, the songs are delightful.
*

7. ‘In the Company of Men’
Neil LaBute | Canada/USA | 1997 | 97 mins

Comedy of this caliber is terribly rare. It’s so black most people would find it immoral and downright depressing. You know, the good kind of comedy. Here’s a premise that Hollywood could take and do the usual with, but LaBute remains coldly cynical to the end. It could read as a sort of allegory for American capitalism, but just as a character study it reaches von Trier-level brilliance. Aaron Eckhart will never top his performance here.
*

6. ‘Tokyo Sonata’
Kiyoshi Kurosawa | Japan | 2008 | 120 mins

I kept getting this confused with Departures (2008), even after having seen that Oscar-winning piece of mediocrity. The two are actually totally different. Takita’s film was a simple, sentimental story of life and death, whereas Kurosawa’s is a grand study and critique of the current Japanese milieu: values, patriarchy, economy. The amount of thematic and narrative content undertaken is staggering, and yet it’s so elegantly brought together. The film takes a surprising turn past the half-way mark, altering the tone markedly before returning to its quiet, collected former state by the moving denouement.
*

5. ‘Nénette et Boni’
Claire Denis | France | 1996 | 103 mins

Denis’ cinema is endlessly beguiling, challenging, poetic, funny, erotic, disturbing. She largely does away with traditional narrative devices; her films move in their elliptical nature towards more ambiguity. She and DP Agnès Godard capture moments that are impossible to imagine being faked for the camera. One such glorious moment in Nénette et Boni has Valeria Bruni Tedeschi shyly twisting in delight as her future husband Vincent Gallo stares at her with beautiful, benign blue eyes -underscored by God Only Knows.
Ahh, cinema.
*

4. ‘Vive L’Amour’
Ming-liang Tsai | Taiwan | 1994 | 118 mins

This was actually the last of Tsai’s features that I had to see, and I would place it somewhere near the top of his wholly impressive oeuvre. Again, Tsai’s modernist mise-en-scene evokes an unmistakable feeling of loneliness and displacement, without losing that wonderfully odd sense of humour. And this premise of lost souls (at first unwittingly) sharing an unleased apartment calls for both, and delivers. Equal parts delightful and heartbreaking.
*

3. ‘Death By Hanging’
Nagisa Ôshima | Japan | 1968 | 117 mins

There’s actually so much in this film it’s difficult to briefly comment on, or even remember all that it touches on. A brilliantly surreal black comedy that becomes increasingly complex in narrative and moral exploration. Formally it matches the discourse in execution; the blocking inside that claustrophobic setting is remarkably confident while mirroring the ebbs from slapstick chaos to taut near-seriousness.
*

2. ‘Deep End’
Jerzy Skolimowski | UK/West Germany | 1971 | 90 mins

Romantic and sexual obsession obviously fascinate Skolimowski, the themes being more than present in the two others of his I’ve seen. Deep End shares Four Nights With Anna‘s focus on naive, puppy love; a love that grows beyond mere infatuation and becomes something uncontrollable for lack of experience, something that even corrupts. Sex inhabits every frame and every facet of this masterful film, and the mise-en-scene captures it wonderfully. So good that at times you can practically feel the heat, and the cold, throughout. The film is also very funny, so much so that it’s not even black comedy to me.
*

1. ‘Harakiri’
Masaki Kobayashi | Japan | 1962 | 133 mins

Oh, that rare feeling of delirious excitement when you know you’ve just seen an incredible film. Kobayashi’s eye for composition is perfect, alternating between objective symmetry and expressionistic odd angles with utter precision. The result is a recurring display of  building suspense and relief. The story is flawlessly told in that typically Japanese form, past events revealed to certain characters (and us) at times in which they achieve maximum impact. You may know where it’s going, but it matters not, for it is nonetheless totally satisfying.

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Runners-Up

Yella (2007, Petzold)
Café Lumière (2003, Hou)
Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977, Jost)
Boy Meets Girl (1984, Carax)
The House of Mirth (2000, Davies)
Unknown Pleasures (2002, Jia)
I Can’t Sleep (1994, Denis)
U.S. Go Home (1994, Denis)
O Sangue
(1989, Costa)
*

Best Rewatches

Gosford Park (2001, Altman)
Wings of Desire (1987, Wenders)
Hot Fuzz (2007, Wright)
*

Worst

The Day of the Jackal (1973, Zinnemann)
The Lion in Winter (1968, Harvey)
Becket (1964, Glenville)
*

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