Sunday, December 8, 2019

Favorite Films of the Decade

When I look back on the last decade I am reminded by the number of films that left me astounded by their rigor, their boldness and their treatment of film language in a way that was as masterful and  inventive as any moment so far in the history of cinema.  Here are the ten films that continue to haunt me the most:

Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret (2011)
I have long been a fan of Paquin and here Lonergan gives her the space to show off her deep layers of talent.  The sprawling film is difficult and flawed but also infinitely more rewarding than most of the work currently coming out of the States.  It feels most akin to a French art film, something Desplechin or Assayas would attempt.
Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love (2012)
Here Kiarostami, one of the cinema's warmest practitioners, the lovely wise soul of Iranian cinema, is working in the middle of the Japanese metropolis.  Far removed are we (and he) from the wide open expanses of his classic earlier work.
Miguel Gomes' Tabu (2012)
Visually it is absolutely rapturous cinema, using modern black-and-white like the killer poetic weapon it can be when in the right hands (think Wenders' work with Muller or Dead man, again Muller).  And Gomes' style, in addition to his visual approach, is as free-wheeling and exciting as Godard can be in his most effective moments.
Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Assayas impresses so much that I am forced to reconsider his other work and perhaps consider him as a much greater filmmaker than I once thought.  Binoche and Stewart are perfectly cast and turn in as great of performances as at any point in their careers.  
Jean-Luc Godard's Goodbye to Language (2014)
It washes over you, drowns you until you feel overwhelmed by its intelligence, superior knowledge, its grappling with something you might not even be advanced enough yet to recognize.  But it is the small ideas that jut out (Plato's "Beauty is the splendor of truth") and the arresting images of the human body, dogs, water, and cinema spooling in back of a scene that penetrate deeply.
Hong Sang-soo's Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)
Hong's latest outing once again treads familiar territory - a doppelganger narrative, a filmmaker as main character and plenty of scenes of eating and drinking.  This installment especially benefits from Hong's ability to capture so many of those awkward but charged emotions we have all experienced during the early stages of courting.
 Kleber Mendonca Filho's Aquarius (2016)
I know nothing of Filho's work, not even if the filmmaker is male or female (although the unusually sensitive treatment of the central female character leads me to think it is the latter).  Filho is a graceful filmmaker, reminding me of Moretti in the artful, light way he glides through scenes.
Jim Jarmusch's Paterson (2016)
Like his great previous film, Jarmusch seems to be in an internal dialogue with the past and with art.  Whereas the excellent Lovers was with one of his favorite passions, music.  This time around Jarmusch seems to be most concerned with another of his primary artistic passions, poetry.
Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women (2017)
I often felt her work was admirably minimal without the heft or depth of a Bresson or Ozu.  But her latest feels different to me, saying a tremendous amount without saying much at all.  Reichardt uses one of cinema's greatest weapons, silence, to get underneath her themes and wonderfully rich characters and stories.
James Gray's Ad Astra (2019)
The mastery on display is pitched at such a high level from second one to minute 123 that you almost take it for granted.  But this is no ordinary work.  It is a film that aspires to be great, is great, and gives hope to all filmmakers coming in Gray's wake.
11-20
Manoel de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelika (2010)
Raul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon (2010)
Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (2011)
Celine Sciamma's Tomboy (2011)
Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013)
Bruno Dumont's Li'l Quinquin (2014)
Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights (2015)
Bi Gan's Kaili Blues (2015)
Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Assassin (2015)
Todd Haynes' Carol (2015)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Favorite (four), sixty-two

Just like in my other sixty-one posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

James Gray's Ad Astra
The first thing that struck me was that I think Gray actually set out to make a masterpiece.  The level of energy and attention he put into every moment are deeply inspired and remarkable.  The next thing that struck me was that Gray actually pulled it off.  He made what I would consider the most fully accomplished big-budget film to come out of the studio system in many, many years (possibly even since the late seventies and Alien or Close Encounters of the Third Kind).  

I have always admired Gray's intelligence and earnest approach to the craft.  He emerged essentially in a generation of his own immediately on the heels of the 80s and early 90s American independent explosion that introduced us to the Coen brothers, Jarmusch, Van Sant, Spike Lee, Hartley and Tarantino.  In comparison to his predecessors who all preferred their cinema post-modern, flamboyant and ironic, Gray's approach was classic, invisible and sincere.

Although I have long been a fan, there seemed always to be something slightly missing from Gray's films.  If I had to identify it, I would say they were too restrained or his style so invisible that they never rose to the heights of the great films he deeply admired.  Ad Astra almost goes too far in the other direction.  The mastery on display is pitched at such a high level from second one to minute 123 that you almost take it for granted.  But this is no ordinary work.  It is a film that aspires to be great, is great, and gives hope to all filmmakers coming in Gray's wake.

Agnes Varda's Vagabond
Varda is one of my almost completely blind spots within the Nouvelle Vague.  Of course I have seen Cleo and only recently The Beaches of Agnes.  I had heard for a long time about Vagabond but knew it was heavy and wanted to see it when I could take it on (in).  Its structure is incredibly surprising.  I did not really catch on to how it was put together until probably 30-45 minutes in.  In the way it begins and continuously looks back it seemed to have influenced both Twin Peaks and perhaps even some of Dumont (Li'l QuinquinL'Humanite).  Bonnaire's performance is full of power and the whole things gets under your skin.  But Varda has this strong yet feathery touch that keeps it exactly where it needs to be rather than turning it something cloying or overwrought.  

Abel Ferrara's Pasolini
It reminded me of the unique power that Ferrara's cinema can have.  With very short, efficient brush strokes, he is able to craft deeply affecting moments.  Here it is the scene in a park where a man performs acts on a band of young men or even in a political assassination he very quickly passes over us.  Ferrara is an original and masterful at taking on the heavy burden of genre and and deftly and casually re-purposing into something that is so clearly his.  He did it with the crime film (specifically The Funeral or 'R Xmas), the bar/club film (Go Go Tales), the vampire film (The Addiction) and now here with the biopic.  

Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
I still am not all that familiar with Fassbinder's work with this only being the third or fourth of his films that I have seen.  But of what I have seen this one impressed me the most.  It is unusually artful in its framing and exquisitely attuned to the evolving feelings between a new couple.  It is restrained, uncompromising and rigorous in all of the best of ways.



Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ad Astra

Ad Astra impressed me more than any American film since The Tree of Life.  It is everything I ever hoped James Gray would make one day, and more.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Favorite (four), part sixty-one

Just like in my other sixty posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Kirill Serebrennikov's Summer
A film that could have just as easily been called Les Inrockuptibles is full of the musical obsessions and spirit at the core of the French magazine.  No surprise therefore that it ended up at the very top of the magazine's 2018 year-end list of best films of the year.  Its rigorous, bold filmmaking is impressive, as is the heart it creates around its three main leads.  The substitution of unrequited, restrained love for 80s Soviet politics is also impressively smart.  I question the choice of using the three animated moments of fantasy - "Psycho Killer", "The Passenger" and "Perfect Day" - as they undermined the effectiveness of the rest of the film for me.  But otherwise it was a surprisingly powerful effort from a filmmaker I look forward to continuing to watch.

Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood
Of all of Tarantino’s films I have seen to date, this one felt the most personal.  It’s the work where his nearest and dearest obsessions are most at center and where all of his talents can flourish.  What is most impressive is his decision to wrap the story around the Sharon Tate murder.  It allows Tarantino more effectively than ever to merge his B-film aspirations with the art film world he loves and reveres.  


Bruno Dumont's Li'l Quinquin
Although when it came out I was a fan of  L'Humanite, Dumont' 1999 film, this is the first work of his that I have seen since.  There were several moments that surprisingly are laugh out loud funny and Dumont proves himself adept in a number of areas I would not have expected from him, including young love and a Bunuelian approach to the church.  The artsy procedural fits Dumont perfectly, as it also does Lynch, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Carey Fukunaga.

Leo McCarey's Duck Soup
I had forgotten how relentlessly funny much of it is.  It has such a wonderful child's sense of play and humor and made me, for most of the film, feel like I was on the winning side of some great prank call.  I haven't seen all of The Marx Brothers' films but I would be surprised if they ever topped it.  



Wednesday, September 4, 2019

2019


6/14/19 I watched Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.  Although the period interests me musically a little less than Scorsese’s other Dylan doc, I have to commend Scorsese for bringing a structure and style to the piece that felt fresh, informative and contemporary.  Some of the footage is absolutely remarkable, whether it’s Dylan and Ginsberg communing at Kerouac’s grave or McGuinn and Dylan harmonizing at the end.  I have a new appreciation for this Dylan period and feel once again that late Scorsese may excel more in the form of documentary than in narrative.

8/23/19 I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.  Of all of Tarantino’s films I have seen to date, this one felt the most personal.  It’s the work where his nearest and dearest obsessions are most at center and where all of his talents can flourish.  What is most impressive is his decision to wrap the story around the Sharon Tate murder.  It allows Tarantino more effectively than ever to merge his B-film aspirations with the art film world he loves and reveres. 

9/21/19 I watched Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die.  A bit of a throwaway film for me for one of my favorite working directors.  Yet I can still see what motivated him to make it and the metaphor of the cultural ignorant and consumerists to zombies is impactful.  

9/22/19 I watched James Gray's Ad Astra.  The first thing that struck me was that I think Gray actually set out to make a masterpiece.  The level of energy and attention he put into every moment are deeply inspired and remarkable.  The next thing that struck me was that Gray actually pulled it off.  He made what I would consider the most fully accomplished big-budget film to come out of the studio system in many, may years (possibly even since the late seventies and Alien or Close Encounters of the Third Kind).  

I have always admired Gray's intelligence and earnest approach to the craft.  He emerged essentially in a generation of his own immediately on the heels of the 80s and early 90s American independent explosion that introduced us to the Coen brothers, Jarmusch, Van Sant, Spike Lee, Hartley and Tarantino.  In comparison to his predecessors who all preferred their cinema post-modern, flamboyant and ironic, Gray's approach was classic, invisible and sincere.  

Although I have been a fan, there seemed always to be something slightly missing from Gray's films.  If I had to identify it, I would say they were too restrained or his style so invisible that they never rose to the heights of the great films he deeply admired.  Ad Astra almost goes too far in the other direction.  The mastery on display is pitched at such a high level from second one to minute 123 that you almost take it for granted.  But this is no ordinary work.  It is a film that aspires to be great, is great, and gives hope to all filmmakers coming in Gray's wake.

11/28/19 I watched Martin Scorsese's The Irishman.  It has been a shockingly strong year for three of the most established American filmmakers.  I would never have expected 2019 to produce quite possibly my favorite Quentin Tarantino film, my favorite James Gray film and one of my favorite Martin Scorsese films.  It gives hope for the future of cinema, American cinema, and is a powerful reminder that great works of art find a way to get made in spite of trends, economies and expectations.  

Scorsese's latest work is different than anything else he has done.  It pulls back on style and showmanship and in so doing produces two of his richest and most emotionally affecting characters to date (Frank and Russell).  The final thirty minutes or so, in particular, allow the film to enter into heavy, deep territory that I would normally equate with Dreyer or Ozu but not Scorsese.  

The Irishman is of great interest as a dialogue with Scorsese's entire body of work.  Seeing Robbie Robertson's name in the end credits can't help but recall The Last Waltz and Robertson's numerous other collaborations with Scorsese through the years.  While Frank's efforts to get through to a stubborn Jimmy Hoffa powerfully evoke Keitel's efforts to do the same for De Niro in Mean Streets.  And there are many other reverberations of Scorsese's earlier work flowing underneath and alongside the unfolding of his latest work, with of course memories and similarities to Goodfellas perhaps the strongest. 

The Irishman also feels like it is in conversation with Coppola's first two Godfather films.  The final shot forces a comparison to the final shot of Coppola's 1972 work.  And I can't help but see The Irishman as Scorsese's quest to achieve the same reverence and consideration consistently granted to Coppola's early achievements.  Many people revere Goodfellas but almost no one considers it to have the same emotional weight or impact as Coppola's early outings.       

Surprising also is the amount of real life that seeps in.  It is perhaps the Scorsese narrative film with the most factual events interlaced into the story as we see clips of John and Robert Kennedy and Castro and Cuba.  Although given the amount of Scorsese's recent documentary output, perhaps it is a logical new development in his work.  And I could not help but see the oldest daughter-father relationship in The Irishman as a possible echo of Scorsese's own life and strained personal relationships.

In the spirit of Gertrud or Rio Lobo, The Irishman is a late great film and suggests exciting new possibilities for Scorsese and his future work.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Favorite (four), part sixty

Just like in my other fifty-nine posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Martin Scorsese's Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story
Although the period interests me musically a little less than Scorsese's other Dylan doc, I have to commend Scorsese for bringing a structure and style to the piece that felt fresh, informative and contemporary.  Some of the footage is absolutely remarkable, whether it's Dylan and Ginsberg communing at Kerouac's grave or McGuinn and Dylan harmonizing at the end.  I have a new appreciation for this Dylan period and feel once again that late Scorsese may excel more in the form of documentary than in narrative.

Hong Sang-soo's The Day After
Although I prefer Hong's films in color, he proves yet again with this work that he is unusually comfortable in his skin and knows how to use his repetitive style and approach to great effect.  The more I watch his films the more I feel he is like an Erik Satie of cinema.  It's like he keeps hitting the same key on a piano until suddenly, somehow, through repetition it just begins to sound different.  Also, Hong once again impresses with his use of ellipses and the way he is consistently able to transcend budgetary limitations and lack of action to leave the viewer in an elevated emotional state.  For instance the final scene of this work which I found particularly masterful and affecting. 

Claire Denis' Keep It for Yourself
A wonderful early work by Denis that shows off her incredible eye, ear, and like Jarmusch, incredible feel for the outsider.  It is essential Denis that deserves to be seen and talked about. 

Mervyn LeRoy's Heat Lightning
A noir that stands out the most because it never quite allows you to know what it is or where it is going.  Everything about it just seems a little off, from the gas station location to the actors' faces to the way the camera moves.  I am not sure if it would be considered pre-code but it has a sense of being on the edge and pushing Code boundaries like the other great pre-code cinema I have seen to date.

Friday, April 19, 2019

A Story of Floating Weeds (1934)

It has been nearly six months since my last post on Ozu.  Actually more than anything it took me a little while to track down today's entry.  But when I saw it was part of the library of Criterion Channel's new streaming service I jumped at the chance to see it.

Stylistically it feels very close to Ozu's previous work, A Mother Should be Loved.  It is full of many of the signature aspects of the Ozu style - ellipses, empty frames, long takes and tatami shots.

Among the few stylistically new touches that jumped out at me was Ozu's use of the tatami shot on an approaching train.  The effect was unlike any I have seen to date of a filmed, approaching train.  It almost gave a 3-D sensation to the movement.

Speaking of movement, this might be the first of Ozu's films that I would characterize as containing the Ozu rhythm, the slow, hypnotic drone of scene progression, unconcerned whether audiences follow or boredom takes over.

Ozu sets the rhythm immediately with a slow fade in (which also feels a little new to Ozu's work).  He then immediately jumps into a slow montage of people-less shots that, like A Mother Should be Loved, once again shows shows that Lang's M might have more than impressed Ozu.

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Sunday, January 6, 2019

Favorite (four), part fifty-nine

Just like in my other fifty-eight posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Jean-Paul Civeyrac's A Paris Education
It's unfortunate that it is shot on digital black-and-white because if it had the cinematography of Garrel's Regular Lovers it would find a place in my small pantheon of truly cherished works.  But even as is it's pretty special.  It captures some of the poetry of Paris and what the formative years feel like at the fac.  That is, time as your captive and endless amounts of it for sitting around among peers, taking walks and formulating dreams for undoing the previous generation's misguided efforts and hopes.  The end has a narrative device so brilliantly utilized by Demy in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Kazan in Slendor in the Grass, Rohmer in My Night at Maud's and to perhaps a slightly lesser degree Chazelle in La La Land.  And even though the device is familiar, Civeyrac uses it in a way that feels fresh and new.  By fast forwarding with Etienne, it is not a particular romance that he is forced to reckon with but an entire view of the world and of himself.     

Matt Wolf's Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell
One of those documentaries that immediately convince you to go out and dig into the work of the featured artist.  Prior to watching the film, I had only heard one song by Russell and now I am very curious to spend more time seeing what he was all about.  He strikes me as part Scott Walker, part Mark Hollis and perhaps part Nick Drake.    

Alice Rohrwacher's Happy as Lazzaro
The first film I have seen from the young Italian filmmaker is impressive.  The best way I can describe it is a welcome concoction of Kiarostami's feel for the land, Lynch's ability for rupturing time and early Van Sant's poetic sense for the rough and marginal.  Based on this film, Rohrwacher is full of talent and tough to categorize.  I am very excited to see what she does next.          

Amy Scott's Hal
Another documentary, like the recent one I saw on Arthur Russell, that makes you immediately want to dig further into the subject's body of work.  As a long time fan of Ashby, Shampoo for instance might be in my all time top ten, I have always been curious to learn more about the filmmaker.  Having seen this doc, which I cannot recommend highly enough to any fan of Ashby, I now can't wait to go back and watch all seven of his films from the seventies.   


Sunday, December 30, 2018

My Top Sixteen Films of 2018

It was a strong year of discovery for me.  Like most years, many of the high points were from the past, but I also was really moved and struck by a few films that came out in 2018.

Maurice Pialat's La maison des bois
It is very possible that within one of the cinema's greatest bodies of work this little seen seven part series for television is Pialat's greatest achievement.  It is certainly his most humanistic film and the work that most clearly grants him the title as Jean Renoir's closest French cinema successor.  All of it is remarkable, its characters, its Frenchness, its patience, its rigor.  And Pialat, time and time again, gives us moments that are so alive and so rich, and that surprisingly make us feel as if we are seeing them on film for the first time.  
Zachary Treitz's Men Go To Battle
The kind of imaginative lo-fi work that makes me rethink my normal skepticism around low budget digital filmmaking.  It feels like the cinematic equivalent to something Will Oldham might author.  It is quiet and earthy and comfortable just being pure and unadorned.  The acting is tremendous, and its restraint from using much light or music refreshing.  As strong of an American micro-indy as I have seen since Blue Ruin  
Bi Gan's Kaili Blues
Gan's ability to move a camera is startling.  Almost every shot is magical in the way it uses both space and time.  The locations are consistently among the most interesting and cinematic I have seen in a very long time.  Meanwhile, Gan's choreography of the long take immediately announces him as one of the next great filmmakers in the tradition of Hou Hsiao-hsien or the Romanians.  To read that Gan was in his twenties when he made this film is beyond comprehension. 
Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman
Spike is totally in his element and his passion and talent come through in ways that I haven't seen in his work in more than twenty years.  I found it messy, uneven and raw, as in akin to an early draft that still needed an editor's touch.  But I also thought it the closest American film I have seen in the 21st century to the spirit of the daring and uncomfortable batch of great indies that first burst on the scene in the early to mid eighties.   
Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women
I have never been much a fan of her work.  Having seen Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek's CutoffI often felt her work was admirably minimal without the heft or depth of a Bresson or Ozu.  But her latest feels different to me, saying a tremendous amount without saying much at all.  Reichardt uses one of cinema's greatest weapons, silence, to get underneath her themes and wonderfully rich characters and stories.
Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym
Perhaps my favorite of all of the Wiseman films I have seen to date.  Wiseman is pure cinema, devoid of non-diegetic music and devoid of anything that feels put on, forced, unnatural or basking in cinematic artifice.  Aside from feeling so human and so real, what impressed me the most about this work were its rhythms.  You could close your eyes and be mesmerized for almost 120 minutes by the musical sounds of its voices, words and movements. 
Luis Bunuel's The Phantom of Liberty
One of Bunuel's most free-flowing and "liberated" films is pure sexual and unpredictable fun.  There are a number of all-time great moments but for me it was the unconventional dinner party and the final sequence at the zoo.  Bunuel's key themes are all there - anti-establishment, anti-Catholic church, surrealistic flights of fancy - but the contemporary setting gives them a lightness and impact that I have rarely felt while watching his other work. 
Alice Rohrwacher's Happy as Lazzaro
The first film I have seen from the young Italian filmmaker is impressive.  The best way I can describe it is a welcome concoction of Kiarostami's feel for the land, Lynch's ability for rupturing time and early Van Sant's poetic feel for the rough and marginal.  Based on this film, Rohrwacher is full of talent and tough to categorize.  I am very excited to see what she does next.            
Robin Campillo's BPM (Beats per Minute)
I knew going into it that it was Les Inrocks' favorite film of the year and their taste is often closely aligned with my own.  What struck me most, aside from its performances, was its shape.  Campillo is able like Kechiche with Blue Is the Warmest Color or Bonello with Saint Laurent to avoid classical scene shape without seeming unstructured.  His modernism is not abrasive, loud or jarring.  It is immersive, fluid and welcoming.
Matt Wolf's Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell
One of those documentaries that immediately convince you to go out and dig into the work of the featured artist.  Prior to watching the film, I had only heard one song by Russell and now I am very curious to spend more time seeing what he was all about.  He strikes me as part Scott Walker, part Mark Hollis and perhaps part Nick Drake.    
Cy Endfield's The Sound of Fury
I did not know what to expect, having never seen a film from Endfield.  But I knew the film had a pretty big reputation and was curious to see what it was all about.  It has elements of Lang's Fury that place it in an interesting cinematic context (Endfield certainly has much of Lang's dark, venomous abilities) and offer some historical clue to some of what Endfield may be up to, using noir to lodge an attack on WWII atrocities.  What struck me most is how far Endfield goes into the darkness.  You cringe numerous times as you feel Howard splintering apart, first into violence and then into adultery and alcoholism.  This is uncomfortable noir, spewing out in all directions, unconcerned with softness or any commercial sentimentality.
Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth
I thought I had seen Hartley's debut, but it turns out I never had.  It has to be one of the most stylistically assured debuts in the history of cinema.  Hartley's films are heavily musical, rhythmic in their mood and editing, but not in the way Hollywood uses wall-to-wall music to provide most of the surface emotion.  Hartley's music is his primary tool for carving out his special cinematic world.  While there may be no known adjective, it is as distinctly "Hartleyian" as David's world is Lynchian.  The acting, the locations, the framing, the almost Bressonian dialogue delivery combined with 80's Godard unique feel for the ellipsis immediately announce a very singular auteur.  This is a startling debut.  
Claire Denis' Let the Sunshine In
Perhaps most remarkable about Denis' films, aside from the fact that they are always top shelf, is that they consistently feel modern.  As she advances in her career, her work never feels regressive with respect to her own filmography or retro with regards to the history of the medium in general.  Denis and Binoche are a potent combination.  They are two of our most daring artists, repeatedly willing to defy labels, classification or emotional signposts in their venturing.  When the end credits roll, it is clear once again that Denis is writing the book on film grammar today.  It is precisely the little touches like this that keep us moving forward and remind us, once again, that she is one of the greatest filmmakers at work today.      
Elaine May's A New Leaf
The first May film I have seen in its entirety, and it immediately made me want to go watch her entire filmography.  Her style is loose and modern while still feeling intimate and restrained (I know, some of those words seem to be in direct conflict with one another!)  Perhaps it's her ability to achieve such lived-in, natural performances from her actors that makes her work vibrate so or maybe it's the fact that she never feels to be following any known framework or genre.  Her output as director is limited, but if her debut film is any indication, it ranks up there with the highest shelf of American filmmaking in the seventies and that's no small statement.


FJ Ossang's Zona inquinata
About as great of a mix as I could ever imagine of Boy Meets GirlRepo Man, and Permanent Vacation.  Absolutely blew my mind with its formal beauty and uninhibited cinematic boldness.  
Amy Scott's Hal
Another documentary, like the recent one I saw on Arthur Russell, that makes you immediately want to dig further into the subject's body of work.  As a long time fan of Ashby, Shampoo for instance might be in my all time top ten, I have always been curious to learn more about the filmmaker.  Having seen this doc, which I cannot recommend highly enough to any fan of Ashby, I now can't wait to go back and watch all seven of his films from the seventies.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Mother Should be Loved (1934)

Apparently the film is missing its first and last reels.  But though compromised it still provides a number of interesting details about Ozu and his evolving style.

For the first time there are a number of long takes, the kind of which Ozu would become identified with in his later work.  There are also a number of long shots where it seems clear that Ozu is confident in taking a distant, observational vantage point.  The tatami shot seems more prevalent and more exaggerated than ever.  And his penchant for the ellipsis to portray the passage of time is more evident than it has been to date.  

Once again we find a number of references to film.  We see a poster for a Joan Crawford movie as well as a poster for Duvivier’s Poil de carotte.  Also interesting to note is a scene towards the end when Ozu employs a series of different tracking shots, one a long horizontal shot and another a backwards tracking movement.

Thematically the film along with I Was A Born, But… is Ozu’s strongest statement yet on the importance of the family bond.  In a way not dissimilar from the staggering footage of the father being mocked in I Was A Born, But…, Ozu finds a masterful way to communicate the power of family.  Here it comes from a housekeeper in a brothel explaining that if her bond with her son were stronger, she would never find herself in her current employ.

Lastly, as we will later find scattered throughout the work of another transcendental filmmaker, Robert Bresson, I was struck by Ozu’s use of empty frames.  I don’t know if he got the idea from Lang’s M, which came out only a couple of years before this film.  But the choice would become a signature aspect of the Bresson style and perhaps of the Ozu style which I will keep a watchful eye on as I continue to move forward through his work.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

My two most recent Spotify playlists

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/6nU4rwon6BPTiECPbiSkrJ?si=CzGU5eGoQvCS5TQBim_8xA

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/7GUjVmLOWX5I5Rm2oAON3r?si=5-JNSiCNRZuLOC_EuJxFbA


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Passing Fancy (1933)

The first time I am back to digging into Ozu's work chronologically since 6/12.  There is some familiar thematic territory, specifically to I Was Born, But... and a young boy's struggle with the way others view his underachieving father.  There are noticeable stylistic consistencies that he seemed to be moving more and more towards in his preceding films such as an increasing reliance on the tatami shot.  Still not as prevalent yet are the long takes that Ozu would emphasize later in his career.  And again, there is an allusion to Western culture as the young boy discusses honesty with his father by using the George Washington cherry tree story as his illustration. 

Most interesting to me in this work is the humanism on display that we would end up associating as much as anything with Ozu.  It will be interesting to see if this becomes an integral and inseparable part of every work from this point forward.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-eight

Just like in my other fifty-seven posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Elaine May's A New Leaf
The first May film I have seen in its entirety, and it immediately made me want to go watch her entire filmography.  Her style is loose and modern while still feeling intimate and restrained (I know, some of those words seem to be in direct conflict with one another!)  Perhaps it's her ability to achieve such lived-in, natural performances from her actors that makes her work vibrate so or maybe it's the fact that she never feels to be following any known framework or genre.  Her output as director is limited, but if her debut film is any indication, her filmography ranks with the highest shelf of American filmmaking in the seventies.

Claire Denis' Let the Sunshine In
Perhaps most remarkable about Denis' films, aside from the fact that they are always top shelf, is that they consistently feel modern.  As she advances in her career, her work never feels regressive with respect to her own filmography or retro with regards to the history of the medium in general.  Denis and Binoche are a potent combination.  They are two of our most daring artists, repeatedly willing to defy labels, classification or emotional signposts in their venturing.  When the end credits roll, it is clear once again that Denis is writing the book on film grammar today.  It is precisely the little touches like this that keep us moving forward and remind us, once again, that she is one of the greatest filmmakers at work today.      

Elaine May's Heartbreak Kid
My second experience with May's work after watching A New Leaf a couple of days ago.  Richer and deeper in its study of character than May's debut, it proves again the bold and unique place she occupied within American cinema in the seventies.  Her style, though not entirely lacking, definitely seems much less important to her than the words, the acting, and the opportunity to burrow deep inside the skin of her cast.  May's power of observation and ability to capture small details is remarkable, whether it's the egg salad on Lila's face or the way Kelly absorbs the conversation when Lenny first confesses to her father that he's married. 

F.J. Ossang's Zona Inquinata
About as great of a mix as I could ever imagine of Boy Meets Girl, Repo Man, and Permanent Vacation.  Absolutely blew my mind with its formal beauty and uninhibited cinematic boldness. 

Friday, November 9, 2018

Favorite (four), part fifty-seven

Just like in my other fifty-six posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Noel Black's Skaterdater
One of the most powerful shorts I have ever seen.  It captures adolescence and Socal in the mid 60s and renders them as vivid as Lamorisse in The Red Balloon.

Frederick Wiseman's In Jackson Heights
Wiseman has so many strengths and areas of mastery.  What moved me the most in this work was his desire to dig deep into what it means to be an American today living in a diverse, melting-pot community.  Wiseman shows so many different colors, the positives and the negatives, the beauty and the ugliness, the promise and the despair.  He may very well be our most important cinematic artist, narrative or documentary, that we have ever had.  

Frederick Wiseman's Boxing Gym
Perhaps my favorite of all of the Wiseman films I have seen to date.  Wiseman is pure cinema, devoid of non-diegetic music and devoid of anything that feels put on, forced, unnatural or basking in cinematic artifice.  Aside from feeling so human and so real, what impressed me the most about this work were its rhythms.  You could close your eyes and be mesmerized for almost 120 minutes by the musical sounds of its voices, words and movements.

Jean Rouch's La punition
Rouch stays in the streets of Paris and poetically captures a day in the life of a young Parisian girl during her formative years.  Most interesting are the last five minutes as the film shifts tone and becomes an expressionistic solo.


My two most recent playlists

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/3CFnkJfsKefDbZbQ8XoHwz?si=paFTjMHfSbSofc9OEkcEWg

https://open.spotify.com/user/mynuitchezmaud/playlist/264esSQZGO4I98wHTRraeH?si=lQGS4UKfSvKcD7kTo7TglQ