Archive for August, 2010

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My January in Review

August 25, 2010

This is several months late, and my last in this format. Writing even this little on each became a bit much for I’m too lazy to jot down something right after viewing the films. They are not ranked this month, because I found that far too difficult to do.

Number of films watched in total: 78

‘Sebastiane’
Derek Jarman/Paul Humfress | UK | 1976 | 90 mins 

A film of such ambivalence. The featured soldiers are at once coarse and tender, cruel and playful. Their sexuality is not rigidly defined. The film’s subjective point-of-view shifts about as fluidly as its editing, disolving serene images together often in a slow motion display of transfixed beauty and sensuality. Its ancient world naturalism reminds one of Pasolini’s endearing works of the ’70s. I haven’t admired any Jarman film as much as this one.

‘The Crimson Kimono’
Sam Fuller | USA | 1959 | 82 mins 

Fuller provides all the demented, searingly scrutinised mid-20th Century Americana I need. Kimono starts as a decent pulpy noir and slowly forgets about its plot to focus on kitsch racial melodrama, then by the end somehow fuses the murder investigation with the social commentary/love story perfectly and to our complete surprise. And all in long takes with wonderfully loose and enjoyable characters.

‘The Dead’
John Huston | UK/Ireland/USA | 1987 | 83 mins

I’m fond of a few much earlier Huston pictures –Key Largo with its impeccable blocking, The Asphalt Jungle and its lack of histrionics, Reflections in a Golden Eye‘s bizarrely sexual nightime aura -but his last film is surely his richest. The man had considerable talent for crafting atmosphere, which certainly contributes to The Dead‘s wonderfully warm party ambience, and later its mournful conclusion. It’s like Gosford Park without the scathing screenplay and far less elaborately mounted. And what a refined colour palette!
*

The Scarlet Empress’
Josef von Sternberg | USA | 1934 | 104 mins 

I had seen The Blue Angel before this, but that film didn’t give me the same impression of Sternberg and Dietrich’s great feminist cycle as this did. And, since I’m writing this well after viewing it, I can say The Scarlet Empress remains the greatest of the one’s I’ve seen. It’s so very lurid; much juicier than I had expected. And as a fan of Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, which is extremely similar story-wise, I thoroughly enjoyed its tale of another real life royal figure. But Catherine the Great’s transformation is stronger than Antoinette’s, and Dietrich revels in every step of it. Yet this says nothing of Sternberg’s visual delights, of which there are countless.
*

‘The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice’
Yasujiro Ozu | Japan | 1952 | 115 mins 

I wrote something on this Ozu here.
*

‘Martha’
Rainer Werner Fassbinder | West Germany | 1974 | 116 mins 

Martha is, as with all Fassbinder, impeccably shot; compositions and camera movements deftly illustrating emotion. It’s a dark comedy of sadism in marriage that makes Bunuel’s Tristana seem quite ineffective in retrospect. Fassbinder was always careful not to mock his characters too much, though the ending takes this premise to the extreme, confirming it as a ludicrous cautionary tale.
*

‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’
Wes Anderson | USA/UK | 2009 | 87 mins 

This film’s images are so immaculately composed that finding a shot which would look decent enough in the crushingly wide frame of the accompanying picture above was absurdly difficult. Anderson’s delightful fastidiousness naturally carries over into the animation medium and none of his idiosyncrasies are lost. Although its superb artistry and rollicking yarn set it apart from every other commercial film of late, it’s Anderson’s dryly played yet reverent brand of familial perseverance that reminds us again why he’s one of the finest contemporary American auteurs.
*

‘I’m Going Home’
Manoel de Oliveira | France/Portugal | 2001 | 90 mins 

Oliveira is perhaps the most interesting discovery I’ve made this year; his utterly precise sense of composition, shot timing, and repetition displays a confidence that is not just comforting to watch but enhances the ironies of the material for a tone both dryly humourous and silently devastating. Although themes present in his work for a while now, Oliveria here zeros in on old age and one’s work, specifically how the former affects the latter. It’s beautiful.
*

‘Floating Clouds’
Mikio Naruse | Japan | 1955 | 123 mins 

With this I broke my Naruse virginity. And as one does with something new, I tried to categorise him amongst familiar filmmakers. This was not Ozu’s Japan, in which there is generally a strong sense of home, even when characters are leaving theirs to create new ones, but rather a displaced Tokyo filled with unsettled and miserable citizens. Granted, Floating Clouds details post-war living. And though his account of this struggling woman much closer resembles Mizoguchi than Ozu, it was Fassbinder that to my mind best compared. The characters tend to interact only when it involves material things (the bedding she steals, for example), always in a negative sense. And the leading man’s cruelty towards her is very Fassbinder-like indeed. However, Naruse lacks an expressive visual sense, it seems. Despite this, a subtle and expertly played picture.
*

‘Days of Being Wild’
Wong Kar Wai | Hong Kong | 1990 | 94 mins 

With this, only Wong’s second film, he found his style. Granted, it’s substantially more subdued than his following modern day-set pictures, and a trifle less experimental with form and narrative. His preoccupations with time, transient, lovelorn characters, shifting protagonist/narrator, and extreme colour-grading are all present. While very beautiful, the emotional pieces don’t quite transcend like those in some of his other films, but he was on his way. Mmm.

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Runners-Up

The Wind (1928, Sjöström)
Camera Buff (1979, Kieslowski)
À nos amours (1983, Pialat)

Une femme mariée (1964, Godard)
Ohayô (1959, Ozu)
Peking Opera Blues (1986, Tsui)
The Dust of Time (2008, Angelopoulos)
Invisible Waves (2006, Ratanaruang)
Praise (1998, Curran)
Quiet City (2007, Katz)

Best Rewatches

Mulholland Drive (2001, Lynch)
The Searchers(1956, Ford)

Worst

Modern Love (2006, Frayne)
Sherlock Holmes (2009, Ritchie)
Love and Other Catastrophes (1996, Croghan)
Van Diemen’s Land (2009, auf der Heide)
*