Monday, March 6, 2017

Favorite (four), part thirty-nine

Just like in my other thirty-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 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.

Jim Jarmusch's Paterson
Another strong entry from one of my favorite filmmakers currently at work, after what felt like a slight drop in quality between Ghost Dog and Only Lovers Left Alive.  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.  In fact, there is so much in common, formally and narratively, between the two films that they seem to form a couple relationship within his body of work.  The greatest strength of Jarmusch has always been his ability to distill and condense.  Like the best poems, his work conveys so much with so little.    

Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
I was frustrated by the backlash against La La Land.  And I was confused by the critical preference for Moonlight.  Sure, Chazelle's film had the more robust budget.  But I felt like his film also had far more filmmaking rigor than Jenkins' and that Chazelle's formal approach in general was much clearer and achieved at a significantly higher level.  And when I hear someone compare Moonlight's color palate to the incredible work Doyle and Wong Kar-wai achieved together I really don't see it at all.  

With that out of the way, I was looking forward to rewatching Demy's film, cited as a key influence on La La Land.  I remembered Demy's work with color as among the most impressive in film's history and it was as brash and beautiful as I remembered.  The pinks, purples, and splashes of bold colors of Demy's cinema certainly find their way into some of the clothes and onto some of the sets of La La Land (most noticeably in Emma Stone's apartment and her roommates' outfits).  What I did not remember though is just how bittersweet and powerful the final minutes of Cherbourg are.  Rewatching it now, if you felt it like I did, it seems that the secret behind the emotional power of some of La La Land's final exchanges is Chazelle tapping into the same cinema magic Demy was onto for Cherbourg's last moments.  Both films explore unrequited and both get deep rewards for staying on the other side of happily ever after.

Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons
I know nothing at all about the filmmaker and it was the first of his films I have seen.  What impressed most was the film's study of class and the way it examines the idea that there are other things in life of far greater value than money.  Yamanaka also infuses the film with a similar strain of poetry that seems to exist in the other great works of Japanese cinema. 

Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But...
For the first time since February of 2016, I am back to working my way through the work of Ozu in chronological order.  This one I had seen before and I had very fond memories of and re-watching did not disappoint.  And, it was instructive to watch it in relation to what immediately came before it.

Ozu seems to be using "tatami" shots now in almost every shot but I wouldn't say all aspects of his signature style are present.  There seem to be far more quick cuts than we find in the later Ozu, when he begins to move to very long takes.  There also seems to be far more movements of the camera, primarily tracking shots to follow characters walking, but there is also a backwards tracking movement to introduce the dad at work that seems very reminiscent of Vidor's The Crowd.

Ozu's under-recognized sense of playfulness is really at the fore as is his unusually strong ability with his child actors.  Without a doubt, this is also his most complex film emotionally to date, as he delves into some very rich but tricky terrain as the two boys try to reconcile what they come to learn about their father.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

I Was Born, But... (1932)

For the first time since February of 2016, I am back to working my way through the work of Ozu in chronological order.  This one I had seen before and I had very fond memories of and re-watching did not disappoint.  And, it was instructive to watch it in relation to what immediately came before it.

Ozu seems to be using "tatami" shots now in almost every shot but I wouldn't say all aspects of his signature style are present.  There seem to be far more quick cuts than we find in the later Ozu, when he begins to move to very long takes.  There also seems to be far more movements of the camera, primarily tracking shots to follow characters walking, but there is also a backwards tracking movement to introduce the dad at work that seems very reminiscent of Vidor's The Crowd.  

Ozu's under-recognized sense of playfulness is really at the fore as is his unusually strong ability with his child actors.  Without a doubt, this is also his most complex film emotionally to date, as he delves into some very rich but tricky terrain as the two boys try to reconcile what they come to learn about their father.

 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Favorite (four), part thirty-eight

Just like in my other thirty-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.

Kleber Mendonca Filho's Aquarius
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.  Most remarkable aside from the fully felt Clara is the way the filmmaker so effortlessly moves through time and the way quick cuts are used to show sexual actions and waves of Clara's thoughts and memories. 

Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way
It's been 20 or so years since I first saw this in a bad print at the New Beverly.  It's much stronger than I remember, Bridges and Heard quite impressive and the whole thing in much the same vein as Night Moves.  It is one of the more important final bookends to the American New Wave, artistic with an A list crew and disheartened that the utopic future for America envisioned by the youth at the time had clearly failed.  
Mikio Naruse's Floating Clouds
I have very little experience with Naruse's work, this being either only the first or second film I have ever seen from him.  I'm not a fan of his almost wall-to-wall music and I wish he were more similar to Mizoguchi and Ozu in his sense of restraint.  But I admire his ability to go the distance with the material, never becoming sentimental even when it would have been more palatable and more commercial to do so.  He is gifted with time, effortlessly gliding back and forth between the past and the present, and emotionally he is more engaged with reality than the cerebral Mizouchi and the distant Ozu.  

John Ford's The Lost Patrol
What I was most struck by, aside from Ford's signature ability to bring out the haunting poetry in natural landscapes, is a certain modern quality to the work.  McLaglen's physicality towards the end does not feel too much different than Pacino in the latter stages of Scarface and the fact that Ford almost never cuts to the opposition gives the film artful restraint that really helps create the effective, ominous atmosphere he sustains throughout.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Before Hollywood, The Go-Betweens, 1983

Bouncy, jangly, and very far removed from the baroque and epic songwriting of 16 Lovers Lane.  In fact, if I didn’t know any better I would think they were two entirely different bands.    Certain albums shift into a different gear at some point in their sequencing.  Here that magic stretch happens from “Ask” to “Cattle and Cane”.  Not that the entire album is not top-notch but songs 3-5 are otherworldly, somehow more connected and more memorable than the other sections of the album.  The Go-Betweens never cracked my US mainstream.  They never even cracked my radar until years after they had disbanded and I was reading about them while I was living in France.  But for any fan of early REM, hours of sophisticated songs of beauty await.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Top Seventeen "Films" of 2016

Either I have lowered my standards or it was simply a more satisfying year.  Largely I think that's because I was willing to work harder to dig out the things I really wanted to see.  Whether it was at the movies or streaming on Amazon, Fandor, Filmstruck or Netflix, here were my high points.  

Raul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon
Ruiz's film is a display of filmmaking "class" with every shot meticulously framed and every movement of the camera elegant and graceful.  The previous film (or two) of Ruiz's left me completely unprepared for the force and effect of this extraordinary achievement.  It might have been shot on digital but it leaves no doubt that a certain sort of classicism in filmmaking (beautiful acting, immaculate set design, repetitive, symphonic score) when done in the highest manner can reach the soul every bit (if not more) than any of the more contemporary techniques.
Todd Haynes' Carol
Haynes' latest, very mature and sophisticated, is more European in its textures and shape than American indy or mainstream.  It felt even more mysterious than its closest Haynes' counterpart Far from Heaven and is poetic and delicate in ways I have never experienced in his other work.  A great surprise and another chapter in the brilliant careers of both Blanchett and Burwell. 
Celine Sciamma's Tomboy
A very strong addition to the kid in peril genre that includes 400 Blows, Kes and Germany, Year Zero.  This one is incredibly unsettling, particularly for the way it takes the audience's experience with past movies and uses those memories of what could possibly happen to create an almost relentless tension.  The end credits mention Ferran and Lvovsky, which come of no surprise as influences and to help locate the cinematic world in which Sciamma is so effectively treading.   
Hong Sang-soo's Right Now, Wrong Then
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.  And the way the second narrative remixes the events that have come before has Hong working at the absolute height of his skill.
Damien Chazelle's La La Land
I was a big fan of Whiplash and interested in seeing this, Chazelle's next film.  After Whiplash, I sensed and hoped that Chazelle might be the type of filmmaker I have been waiting for, a sophisticated cinephile with enough mainstream appeal to succeed in imposing and protecting his cinema within Hollywood.  I was excited when I first discovered David Gordon Greeen, Andrew Bujalski, even Bennett Miller.  But, in truth, Gordon Green and Bujalski never seemed to have the sensibility to fully crossover.  They might get their chance to work within the system but it would be in the way the system wanted them to work and not the other way around.  Miller, in a similar way to Kenneth Lonergan, will probably succeed in continuing to make smart cinema in Hollywood, but it will almost certainly be a cinema devoid of style and without any internal dialogue or link back to film's history.  Meanwhile La La Land is truly bold cinema, a young auteur's willingness to go all in, cash in on his sophomore effort fully knowing that it really does not matter how daring he is because if he makes a film that connects he will be given additional chances.  If not, he will be back to making small-scale indy work as he grovels for Hollywood to give him another shot.  Chazelle gambles and emerges, in my eyes, as the most gifted new American filmmaker since the exciting new voices of the nineties, like James Gray and Tarantino,  I made a similar, now obviously irresponsible claim in '99 when O'Russell, Payne and The Wachowski Brothers all had breakout years.  But I have more trust this time around.  After all, one of Chazelle's main subjects of La La Land is how to preserve something that is under great threat of fading away.
Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret
Genre.  Novelistic.  Ambition.  Massive.  Pressure.  Huge, after the breakout success of You Can Count On Me.  I have long been a fan of Paquin and here Lonergan gives her the space to show off deep layers of her 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, and full of extraordinary moments bubbling with feelings and ideas.    
Satyajit Ray's The World of Apu
Ray takes a few years away from his trilogy before coming back and completing it with this film, and the style feels a little different than the first two movies.  This film has a slightly more elliptical quality and seems intent on drifting closer to poetry.  The ending of the film is one of the very strongest moments of the entire trilogy with Ray attaining that transcendent experience of the great neorealist works.  
Nanni Moretti's Mia Madre
It has been years since I have seen a new Moretti film, the last being 2001's The Son's Room.  But his work such as Palombella rossa and Caro diario both rate among my favorite films of the eighties and nineties.  Moretti is in top form with his latest outing creating something that is fairly small-scaled and intimate.  It is a work that seems to aspire and succeeds in being something that is appealing to look at and listen to, that will make you both think and feel deeply.
Jean-Pierre Melville's Le deuxieme souffle
Definitely one of these blueprint films that presented (and perhaps even introduced) so much of what would become conventions for the ambitious crime films of the next thirty years.  It takes its time, coming in a little over 150 minutes, and relies heavily on ambient sounds, featuring very little in the way of music.  Where there is music it is that moody minimal jazz that we will find again in Friedkin's French ConnectionKlute and Night Moves, to name but a few.  We see the two-gun shootout that would become trademarks of Woo and Tarantino.  We have the zoom and heavy reliance on location shooting that almost sum up the aesthetic approach of Friedkin in the French Connection.  And we have onscreen time stamping that shows up all over Scorsese's work and in seemingly every copycat crime filmmaker that would follow in its wake.  
Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A.
Fuller's strengths - his constantly roving, expressive camera and his hard-hitting sensibility are at the fore while his weaknesses, such as a heavy hand creating believable romance and intimacy are hardly, if at all, noticeable.  Clearly an influence on later great works such as Carlito's Way and an argument as good as any that the noir cycle did not end with Touch of Evil in 1958 but was still going strong well into the sixties with important and powerful entries such as this.    
Jacques Rivette's Le Pont du Nord
One of the real pleasures of being a cinephile is discovering a new link to a film that you already love.  In this case it's Carax's Boy Meets Girl and really to Carax's cinema in general.  Rivette's influence seems to be all over.  It's in the way that Carax uses the little seen areas of Paris, the way that he fixates on maps of the city, and in the countless quirky mannerisms of Lavant that run throughout Carax's body of work.  Also, of note is this strange relationship with genre that Rivette seems to have (and I guess Godard did as well, think Pierrot le Fou or Vivre sa Vie).  It's like they don't want to make pure art films but instead prefer adding these trivial crime subtexts to the real meat of their stories producing a formula that ends up being something like - - serious characterization + ironic treatment of genre = playful, thoughtful art.  What is interesting is how some of the New Wave filmmakers get at the poetry of the genre by having fun with it in ways that the original practitioners of the genre never achieved.  I am thinking particularly of where Truffaut ends up in Shoot the Piano Player, Belmondo's final moments in Pierrot and the remarkable last few minutes Rivette gives us between Pascale Ogier and Jean-Francois Stevenin.  And I've gotten all the way here and only begun to mention Pascale Ogier, the most interesting and most tragic early loss in all of French cinema, who in but a handful of films offered up everything that James Dean and River Phoenix did only to disappear all too soon. 
Arnaud Desplechin's My Sex Life... or How I Got into an Argument
Desplechin's second feature comes with a certain looseness that could belie a unique cinematic intelligence and a nearly unprecedented capturing of uninhibited femaleness.  It feels more akin to a novel in its shape and courage to let time unfold within its own disheveled set of rules.  "Tenderness is the fear of adulthood", Desplechin quotes Kundera, and this film might be as spot-on as any in the medium's history for capturing that very strange road from freedom to responsibility.   
Jean-Luc Godard's Sauve qui peut (la vie)
Godard returns after a twelve or so year departure from "traditional" narrative cinema with this absolute scorcher of a film.  I was surprised (although I do not know why since Godard remains perhaps my favorite of all) by its beauty, its playfulness, its ability yet again to tap into the zeitgeist of its time.  It is Godard as post-punk and it is up there with his extraordinary work from the sixties.  If anyone thinks Godard's importance ended with Week End, have a look. 

Miguel Gomes' Tabu
Clearly I am late to the party but there seems to be something very special right now happening in Portuguese cinema.  I already recently got on the bandwagon for Manoel de Oliveira and now I am starting to see what this Gomes guy is all about.  If Tabu is any indication, he might be one of the most gifted and bold filmmakers at work right now in the world.  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.  Gomes jumps all around chronologically, mixes silent cinema with voiceover and uses music and nature as well as the great Swiss one.  I can't wait to see more of Gomes' work.  He's exactly the type of filmmaker, in its current isolationist cinema culture, Americans are losing out on by not having more readily available.
David Simon and William F. Zorzi's Show Me a Hero
My most memorable viewing experience last year was seeing the entirety of The Wire for the first time.  I was astounded by Simon's ability to simultaneously juggle so many rich characters and the way he so gracefully glided around the different corners of the carefully detailed and observed world he had created.  Simon moves the focus from Baltimore to Yonkers but the result is similar, another microscopic study of a section of our community and a work that not only lodges itself deeply into our personal and moral fabric, but shifts us.  

David Lynch's Twin Peaks (TV show)
As a long time fan of Lynch I figured it was about time I sit down and watch the entirety of the two seasons of Twin Peaks.  I also wanted to make sure I was caught up when the new batch premieres in 2017.  Although not every moment is fully captivating, the show rises above any other I have seen in its casting, its fearlessness and the primal power of its greatest scenes.  Nothing topped the final episode for me but other unforgettable moments include Leland Palmer and Madeleine's final scene, Coop's Tibetan Method, and any scene that bears the threat of Leo coming home.
Jeffrey Dupre and Maro Chermayeff''s Soundbreaking
The access that the filmmakers had, most likely because of Sir George Martin's involvement, is extraordinary.  And the fact that they chose to tell the story thematically rather than chronologically gives the film a pulse and an entertainment quotient that Ken Burns' work never seems to achieve. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Impressions of La La Land

Yesterday I saw La La Land and uncharacteristically wanted to go ahead and share some thoughts:

I was a big fan of Whiplash and interested in seeing this, Chazelle's next film.  After Whiplash, I sensed and hoped that Chazelle might be the type of filmmaker I have been waiting for, a sophisticated cinephile with enough mainstream appeal to succeed in imposing and protecting his cinema within Hollywood.  I was excited when I first discovered David Gordon Greeen, Andrew Bujalski, even Bennett Miller.  But, in truth, Gordon Green and Bujalski never seemed to have the sensibility to fully crossover.  They might get their chance to work within the system but it would be in the way the system wanted them to work and not the other way around.  Miller, in a similar way to Kenneth Lonergan, will probably succeed in continuing to make smart cinema in Hollywood, but it will almost certainly be a cinema devoid of style and without any internal dialogue or link back to film's history.  Meanwhile La La Land is truly bold cinema, a young auteur's willingness to go all in, cash in on his sophomore effort fully knowing that it really does not matter how daring he is because if he makes a film that connects he will be given additional chances.  If not, he will be back to making small-scale indy work as he grovels for Hollywood to give him another shot.  Chazelle gambles and emerges, in my eyes, as the most gifted new American filmmaker since the exciting new voices of the nineties, like James Gray and Tarantino.  I made a similar, now obviously irresponsible claim in '99 when O'Russell, Payne and The Wachowski Brothers all had breakout years.  But I have more trust this time around.  After all, one of Chazelle's main subjects of La La Land is how to preserve something that is under great threat of fading away.  


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-seven

Just like in my other thirty-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.

Miguel Gomes' Tabu
Clearly I am late to the party but there seems to be something very special happening right now in Portuguese cinema.  I already recently got on the bandwagon for Manoel de Oliveira and now I am starting to see what this Gomes guy is all about.  If Tabu is any indication, he might be one of the most gifted and bold filmmakers at work.  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.  Gomes jumps all around chronologically, mixes silent cinema with voiceover and uses music and nature as well as the great Swiss one.  I can't wait to see more of Gomes' work.  He's exactly the type of filmmaker, in its current isolationist cinema culture, Americans are losing out on by not having more readily available.

Hong Sang-soo's Right Now, Wrong Then
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.  And the way the second narrative remixes the events that have come before has Hong working at the absolute height of his skill.

Terrence Davies' The Deep Blue Sea
Anyone who has ever been in an unbalanced relationship, where one party is clearly more committed than the other, will recognize themselves in Davies' film.  I don't have enough familiarity yet to know how this work compares with Davies' other films but Davies' treatment feels very real, nuanced and smart.  The acting is extraordinary.  I have never been a fan of Weisz but you feel every moment of her angst and Hiddleston is exuberant and brings tremendous energy whenever he is on screen.  Davies' approach is a bit arch and theatrical but his treatment here is nothing short of courageous and accomplished.

Jeffrey Dupre and Maro Chermayeff''s Soundbreaking
The access that the filmmakers had, most likely because of Sir George Martin's involvement, is extraordinary.  And the fact that they chose to tell the story thematically rather than chronologically gives the film a pulse and an entertainment quotient that Ken Burns' work never seems to achieve. 


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Lists

I know, only an older person could say this but I will say it any way.  Because really lists have always been important to me.  Even fifteen, twenty years ago that was the case.  A list that would open up new doors, take something newly discovered and add to it.  We do live in an increasingly busy world, more fragmented than it once was, and so lists probably have as much a place as ever to serve as signposts to help us find what we're looking for when we don't really know where to look to find it.

With that, I wanted to share this list by Elvis Costello.  It's one of the better lists of its kind that I have ever seen.  Costello obviously made a career out of his passion and here he shares 500 of his favorite albums.  Now that we have Spotify (among my very favorite of the newer technological amenities), all we have to do is plug in one of the 500 titles and see how it rolls over us.

Hope you find a few new gems.  I know I have.

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2000/11/elvis-costello-500-favorite-albums


Saturday, November 12, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-six

Just like in my other thirty-five 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.

Raul Ruiz's Mysteries of Lisbon
Ruiz's film is a display of filmmaking class with every shot meticulously framed and every movement of the camera elegant and graceful.  The prior film or two of Ruiz's that I had seen left me completely unprepared for the force and effect of this extraordinary achievement.  It leaves no doubt that a sort of classicism in filmmaking (beautiful acting, immaculate set design, repetitive, symphonic score) when done in the highest manner can reach the soul every bit (if not more) than any of the more contemporary techniques.

Celine Sciamma's Tomboy
A very strong addition to the kid in peril genre that includes 400 Blows, Kes and Germany, Year Zero.  This one is effective and incredibly unsettling, particularly for the way it takes the audience's experience with past movies and uses those memories of what could possibly happen to create relentless and nearly unbearable tension.  The end credits mention Ferran and Lvovsky, which come of no surprise as influences and reaffirm the cinematic world in which Sciamma is operating.

Jacques Rivette's Out 1
With my biggest commitment yet to Rivette's cinema (it is over 720 minutes long), I am beginning if not to like him more, at least to better understand his interests and style.  First his interests.  Rivette is fascinated by the process of being an artist and the steps by which one finds and makes its work.  He loves Paris, its architecture and infinitely picturesque locations.  He adores his actresses who seem to intrigue him more than his actors.  He likes communities.  In fact until now it hadn't occurred to me but the "13 plot line" could certainly be read as code for Cahiers and Rivette's yearning for a reformation of the gang.  As for style.  Rivette favors the long take, a handheld camera, and frames that allow the actors to roam both physically, and I suspect, emotionally.  Of course, much has already been written about Rivette's use of time and nowhere is it more evident than throughout the more than twelve hours of Out 1.  Rivette seems to possess if not a disdain then certainly an indifference to what is typically considered an acceptable duration for a film.  The same for his relationship to the conventional rules of narrative storytelling.  He rejects story arcs, traditional expectations of plot, and the entire notion of a beginning, middle, and end.  Watching Out 1, I realize finally that it is not Godard but actually Rivette who is the most unconventional of all the Cahiers filmmakers:  Godard's cinema plays within more known and accepted parameters of time and plot.  Rivette's cinema is challenging and frustrating because it defies convention and forces us into a space with very few recognizable cinematic landmarks from which to derive comfort and to which to cling.  On the other hand, his cinema's importance if one is willing to go with it is that it opens up new directions for the medium, shining light on areas previously considered prerequisites for the filmmaker (such as having a beginning, middle and end and coming in at 150 mns max) and proving there is still new cinematic language to discover and write and uncharted cinematic territory to explore.

Richard Price and Steven Zaillian's The Night Of
The closest television has come for me in terms of approach and execution and challenging the better cinema since 2014's True Detective.  The acting, particularly Ahmed's, was endlessly impressive and the way the two creators handled the final episode confirmed the subtlety, grace and amount of care I had felt since the beginning.  


Monday, October 24, 2016

Another interesting list from Les Inrockuptibles

This time it's their 100 favorite films so far of the 21st century (in four parts):

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/09/27/cinema/100-meilleurs-films-xxie-siecle-selon-inrocks-14-11865747/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/10/06/cinema/100-meilleurs-films-xxie-siecle-24-11869052/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/10/13/cinema/100-meilleurs-films-xxie-siecle-de-50-a-26eme-place-11871944/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/10/23/cinema/suite-fin-de-top-100-25-meilleurs-films-xxie-siecle-11873114/


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-five

Just like in my other thirty-four 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.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cemetery of Splendour
Of all the filmmakers currently hailed as top shelf artists, I have probably struggled the most with Weerasethakul.  His cinema is slow and visually modest and to date I have never quite found my way in.  But I think I am finally starting to get it.  At a time when mainstream cinema (and life) seem infinitely far from introspective art, the true artists probably feel they need to be even more extreme in their approach.  In Weerasethakul's case, this means no non-diegetic music, very long takes, almost no camera movements and almost no close-ups.  Weerasethakul forces us to stop in hopes that we will actually spend some time contemplating within the long quiet spaces he sets up and creates.  If the critical responsibility of art is to make us look at ourselves and our world, Weerasethakul is fully answering the call.  Joining the ranks of Ozu, Dreyer, Bresson, Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Weerasethakul is boldly continuing the legacy of transcendental filmmaking with each challenging film, each rigorous scene, and each extraordinarily disciplined frame he painstakingly offers to us.

Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin
Hints at Shogun Stories and suggests that Saulnier might be one of our cinema's great new genre moodmakers.  What impresses most is how much Saulnier accomplishes visually, rather than through verbal exposition, and his command of atmosphere and tone.  

David Simon and William F. Zorzi's Show Me a Hero
My most memorable viewing experience last year was seeing the entirety of The Wire for the first time.  I was astounded by Simon's ability to simultaneously juggle so many rich characters and the way he so gracefully glided around the different corners of the carefully detailed and observed world he had created.  Simon moves the focus from Baltimore to Yonkers but the result is similar, another microscopic study of a section of our community and a work that lodges itself deeply into our personal and moral fabric, and shifts us.  

Arnaud Desplechin's My Golden Days
I came in with massive expectations having followed Les Inrockuptibles' coverage of the film's debut at Cannes last year.  As with most of Desplechin's work, this one is ambitious, sprawling, novelistic and very modern in its construction and execution.  If Desplechin had only chosen a different actress, a different type of face for Esther, this one might rank at the very top of his films but as it stands it is entertaining, at times extraordinary, but only partially affecting.


  

Friday, June 24, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-four

Just like in my other thirty-three 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.

Richard Linklater's Before Midnight
I have never been a huge fan of Linklater's Before films nor really of Linklater's work in general.  But this time I was impressed by his formal rigor, the emotionality of the performances and Linklater's ability to tread on Rossellini's turf without seeming painfully out of place.

Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret
Genre.  Novelistic.  Ambition.  Massive.  Pressure.  Huge, after the breakout success of You Can Count On Me.  I have long been a fan of Paquin and here Lonergan gives her the space to show off deep layers of her 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, is full of extraordinary moments and bubbling with feelings and ideas.    

Eric Rohmer's A Tale of Winter
Rohmer again proves himself a master of his specific approach and style.  Like Bresson or Ozu, Rohmer is a director of transcendence.  Since his primary tools are reduction and refinement, when he decides in those rare moments to unleash it hits the viewer with a real force.  Like someone who whispers 95% of the time, when words are spoken at regular or louder volumes, the ear perks up and becomes unusually attentive.  Perhaps not Rohmer's finest but certainly another testament of his mastery and greatness.

David Lynch's Twin Peaks (TV show)
As a long time fan of Lynch I figured it was about time I sit down and watch the entirety of the two seasons of Twin Peaks.  I also wanted to make sure I was caught up when the new batch premieres in 2017.  Although not every moment is fully captivating, the show rises above any other I have seen in its casting, its fearlessness and the primal power of its greatest scenes.  Nothing topped the final episode for me but other unforgettable moments include Leland Palmer and Madeleine's final scene, Coop's Tibetan Method, and any scene that bears the threat of Leo coming home.




Saturday, April 23, 2016

2016

4/23/16 I watched Ken Burns' Jackie Robinson.  The first Burns' doc I have seen in its entirety proves to be an informative, moving portrait of the great man.  Burns' style is more commercial and mainstream than Wiseman's work but his command of the medium proves to be impressive.  

8/29/16 I watched Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special.  I have long had a hunch that Nichols might have a bigger reputation than he deserves, and really, aside from his debut, I have not been much of a fan.  The latest outing, more than any of his works yet, confirm that he may just be another Hollywood craftsman, without a strong approach or deep feel for craft.  

9/28/16 I watched David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water.  It is the type of well-crafted small scale crime film I tend to like and by and large I appreciated Mackenzie's approach to the landscape and his cast, as well as his overall restraint.  The ending takes us to a slightly unexpected place and the film is all the better for it.  At times it just felt a little too familiar and perhaps not as fresh as it could have been.   

11/18/16 I watched Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room.  The French are right yet again, Saulnier is quite the interesting young American filmmaker.  Here he seems almost giving us a new installation in the Corman school of exploitation film.  Saulnier is adept at mood and at keeping things lean, mean and entertaining.  

11/27/16 I watched Jeffrey Dupre and Maro Chermayeff's Soundbreaking.  The access that the filmmakers had, most likely because of Sir George Martin's involvement, is extraordinary.  And the fact that they chose the tell the story thematically rather than chronologically gives the film a pulse and an entertainment quotient that Ken Burns' work never seems to have.

12/6/16 I watched Dexter Fletcher's Eddie the Eagle.  A feel good sports movie in the tradition of Rudy and Rocky.  The subject matter was perfect for this type of story and it is all done very efficiently and very effectively.

12/7/16 I watched Barry Jenkins' Moonlight.  Jenkins channels George Washington and Malick, achieving his greatest feat by putting us into somewhat familiar territory, the tough and rough inner-city, with a character who is almost completely unpredictable.  As a result, the audience is never comfortable and keeps interest, if nothing else, because it never quite knows what it is about to experience.  Unfortunately Jenkins' often ugly aesthetic (extra shaky cam, coarse lighting, turbulent jump cuts) asphyxiates rather than lifts when we desperately need something to offset all of the other ugliness.  Also as original as some of Jenkins' combinations are, there is still much that feels a bit too familiar and never rises above that familiarity, such as the final encounter between Black and his mom.   

12/13/16 I watched Denis Villeneuve's Arrival.  Probably the most interesting aspect is the way that Villeneuve works with time, shuffling it around and skillfully gliding around past, present, future.  Adams is wonderful as are some of the visuals and a few of the scenes.  But it seems like the filmmakers got lazy in the third act and the way that it resolves itself in the last thirty minutes felt muddy and a bit trite.    

12/17/16 I watched Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!!.  Confirms that Linklater is one of the very best at loose and breezy filmmaking.  The cast, mostly unknowns to me, were uniformly excellent and Linklater pulls out some fun, stylistic devices such as his inventive use of the split screen during the initial phone call between Jake and Beverly.  It has such a light touch that it risks being nothing more than a trifle, and it does register less deeply than some of the more serious filmmaking, but it deserves to be commended on its own terms.  

12/25/16 I watched Damien Chazelle's La La Land.  I was a big fan of Whiplash and interested in seeing this, Chazelle's next film.  After Whiplash, I sensed and hoped that Chazelle might be the type of filmmaker I have been waiting for, a sophisticated cinephile with enough mainstream appeal to succeed in imposing and protecting his cinema within Hollywood.  I was excited when I first discovered David Gordon Greeen, Andrew Bujalski, even Bennett Miller.  But, in truth, Gordon Green and Bujalski never seemed to have the sensibility to fully crossover.  They might get their chance to work within the system but it would be in the way the system wanted them to work and not the other way around.  Miller, in a similar way to Kenneth Lonergan, will probably succeed in continuing to make smart cinema in Hollywood, but it will almost certainly be a cinema devoid of style and without any internal dialogue or link back to film's history.  Meanwhile La La Land is truly bold cinema, a young auteur's willingness to go all in, cash in on his sophomore effort fully knowing that it really does not matter how daring he is because if he makes a film that connects he will be given additional chances.  If not, he will be back to making small-scale indy work as he grovels for Hollywood to give him another shot.  Chazelle gambles and emerges, in my eyes, as the most gifted new American filmmaker since the exciting new voices of the nineties, like James Gray and Tarantino,  I made a similar, now obviously irresponsible claim in '99 when O'Russell, Payne and The Wachowski Brothers all had breakout years.  But I have more trust this time around.  After all, one of Chazelle's main subjects of La La Land is how to preserve something that is under great threat of fading away.    

12/29/16 I watched Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea.  I was lukewarm at best on Lonergan after his debut but very high on him after Margaret, one of my very favorite viewings of last year.  He is deep and smart and unafraid to do character work that is almost completely free of style or irony.  For that, he is almost alone in today's Hollywood and has my respect.  For a while during Manchester, I thought that Lonergan was pulling off an American version of a Bresson film but then realized that he lacks the stylistic rigor of Bresson to pull off that coup.  But even without the rigor, this was a film that would have benefited greatly from another gear, from a push towards transcendence.  Lonergan never gives it another gear though and left me, as I am sure he did others, wondering why we had trudged through all of that for so little in return.      

1/19/17 I watched Anna Rose Holmer's The Fits.  The actress is quite impressive and it is all clearly in tightly controlled hands.  But I am not sure exactly what it was about and emotionally it did not really involve me all that much.

1/23/17 I watched Kleber Mendonca Filho's Aquarius.  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.  Most remarkable aside from the fully felt Clara is the way the filmmaker so effortlessly moves through time and the way quick cuts are used to show sexual actions and waves of Clara's thoughts and memories. 

2/8/17 I watched Paul Verhoeven's Elle.  Made me feel similar to how Cronenberg's Crash made me feel, distanced and ultimately numb by its deep nihilism.  I respect Verhoeven for staying his path and for putting something together that I never quite knew where it was going to go.  But I just wish it had some more real-life emotion in it.

2/17/17 I watched Andrea Arnold's American Honey.  It is the first time I have seen one of Arnold's films.  I was definitely impressed by her ability to deliver strong performances and to capture some of the softness and poetry of the best of Gordon Green and Malick.  But she seems at times to go for more Hollywood emotion, like the scene where the two leads are sitting on top of the moving van as the music swirls and the rest of the sounds drops out.  It's times like this, and there are a number of them, where I am thrown out of her cinema to a point of almost no return.  

3/4/17 I watched Jim Jarmusch's Paterson.  Another strong entry from one of my favorite filmmakers currently at work, after what felt like a slight drop in quality between Ghost Dog and Only Lovers Left Alive.  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.  In fact, there is so much in common, formally and narratively, between the two films that they seem to form a couple relationship within his body of work.  The greatest strength of Jarmusch has always been his ability to distill and condense.  Like the best poems, his work conveys so much with so little.    

Friday, April 15, 2016

Favorite (four), part thirty-three

Just like in my other thirty-two 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.

Arnaud Desplechin's How I Got Into an Argument...
Desplechin's second feature comes with a certain looseness that could belie a unique cinematic intelligence and a nearly unprecedented capturing of uninhibited femaleness.  It feels more akin to a novel in its shape and its courage to let time unfold within its own disheveled set of rules.  "Tenderness is the fear of adulthood", Desplechin quotes Kundera, and this film might be as spot-on as any in the medium's history for capturing that very strange road from freedom to responsibility.  

Jean-Luc Godard's Sauve qui peut (la vie)
Godard returns after a twelve or so year departure from "traditional" narrative cinema with this absolute scorcher of a film.  I was surprised (although I do not know why since Godard remains perhaps my favorite of all) by its beauty, its playfulness, its ability yet again to tap into the zeitgeist of its time.  It is Godard as post-punk and it is up there with his extraordinary work from the sixties.  If anyone thinks Godard's importance ended with Week End, have a look.  

Todd Haynes' Carol
Haynes' latest is very mature and sophisticated, more European in its textures and shape than American indy or mainstream.  It felt even more mysterious than its closest Haynes' counterpart Far from Heaven and it is poetic and delicate in ways I have never experienced his other work.  A great surprise and another extraordinary chapter in the already brilliant careers of Blanchett and (Carter) Burwell.     

Ryan Coogler' Creed
I was in the minority when it came to Fruitvale Station, Coogler's calling card film.  But after seeing his entry into the Rocky franchise, I admit, "they were probably right, at least in seeing something.  And I was probably wrong, at least in seeing very little."  Although an informal sequel of sorts, Creed derives its greatest force from digging into the past, going behind and underneath the previous Rocky storylines that have embedded themselves so deeply into many of our lives.  I noticed this unique power of the prequel when I recently watched Mendes do it with Bond in Skyfall and I felt it again a number of times in Creed, most distinctly when Creed's trunks are passed on.




Monday, February 15, 2016

30 ans

My favorite cultural mag, Les Inrockuptibles, is celebrating its 30 year anniversary this week (I actually have copies of the first 500 issues which are among my very favorite of any of my possessions).  They have put together all kinds of articles and lists to celebrate, including polling each of their key staff writers to choose their 10 favorite movies of the last 30 years, their 10 favorite albums of the last 30 years, and their 10 favorite books of the last 30 years.  Here are the lists:

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/02/13/cinema/30-ans-des-inrocks-nos-meilleurs-films-sortis-depuis-1986-11805297/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/02/10/musique/nos-meilleurs-albums-depuis-1986-11804135/

http://abonnes.lesinrocks.com/2016/02/14/livres/30-ans-des-inrocks-nos-meilleurs-livres-sortis-depuis-1986-11805610/

And if I were participating:

Films
Le Rayon vert d'Eric Rohmer (1986)
Where Is the Friend's House d'Abbas Kiarostami (1987)
King of New York d'Abel Ferrara (1990)
Carlito's Way de Brian De Palma (1993)
Heat de Michael Mann (1996)
Dead Man de Jim Jarmusch (1996)
Mulholland Dr. de David Lynch (2001)
Les amants reguliers de Philippe Garrel (2005)
The Secret and the Grain d'Abdellatif Kechiche (2007)
At Berkeley de Frederick Wiseman (2013)

Albums
The Smiths - The Queen Is Dead (1986)
The Go-Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane (1988)
Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique (1989)
Talk Talk - Laughing Stock (1991)
PJ Harvey - Dry (1992)
Wu-Tang Clan - Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)
Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)
Tricky - Maxinquaye (1995)
Massive Attack - Mezzanine (1998)
Rufus Wainwright - Rufus Wainwright (1998)

Books (too many gaps still for the moment to have any input of import)