Wednesday, December 13, 2017

My favorite directorial feature film debuts

I was so impressed by Get Out, it got me thinking about my 10 favorite directorial feature debuts.  Here's where I landed:

Funny Ha Ha
The Traveler
L'Enfance Nue
The 400 Blows
Jour de fete
They Live by Night
Boy Meets Girl
Killer of Sheep

Monday, November 27, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-seven

Just like in my other forty-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.

Jean Rouch's Chronicle of a Summer
I have long known that Godard was a big fan of Rouch but this is the first of his films I have seen.  It is extraordinary.  It breaks the fourth wall in more sophisticated and interesting ways than Godard ever did and serves as the template for the docu-style Godard would take into Masculin Feminin and several of his other films from the period.  A number of the scenes are magical including the long take of Marceline walking as the camera moves farther and farther away from her and the moment when the father imparts mountain climbing lessons to his more risk-averse daughter.

Paul Fejos' Lonesome
I wish Paul Schrader were here.  I've heard him list off on a number of occasions the things that cinema does particularly well and I always thought his list quite astute.  But one thing he may or may not have mentioned that I think the medium does unusually well is restraint.  When the cinema holds back from giving the audience what it craves for an extended amount of time and then finally delivers, the result can be incredibly powerful and moving.  I'm thinking of Fellini's restraint from using a close-up until the very end of Nights of Cabiria or Marker's sudden burst of movement in La Jetee or the emotional restraint Bresson exhibits throughout the entirety of Pickpocket until its very final moments.  Here, the restraint has to do with sound and as with the very best examples of restraint, when it finally breaks or gives in, it comes as a complete shock.  The first time the two characters spoke in Lonesome I did not know what to think.  I have seen a good number of films but I have never gone into a silent film expecting to hear two characters speaking to one another 30 minutes in.  But Fejos does not stop there.  He dazzles with color, he dazzles with montage and then when it is time for him to bring it all to a close, he does that gloriously as well.

Agnes Varda's The Beaches of Agnes
Although I still do not know Varda's cinema well at all (to date, I have only seen this and Cleo), I am very interested in tracking down more of her work.  Her cinema feels like some gourmet confection - inventive, sophisticated, quirky and most impressively, light.  I have seen a few other filmmakers go down this path of personal essay or stream of conscious autobiography (Marker and Godard, particularly).  But neither is able to articulate their personality and give you a feel for who they might be as a person better than Varda does here.

Billy Wilder's Avanti!
It is the work of a great artist, later in career, working at a time when a youth style has taken over that is so different and foreign it threatens to immediately render the director archaic or a fake depending on the approach he chooses.  Aside from his nod to 8 1/2 (and perhaps to all of the new generation's emphasis on style) in the film's prelude, Wilder confidently and intelligently chooses to stay "classic" and the film derives its power by this bold stance.  It is like Dreyer post Nouvelle Vague giving us the UFO that is Gertrud or Bresson adding color but perhaps nothing else that is stylistically new to his oeuvre in 1983.  Of course, also giving Avanti! its charge is the effect of classic elements in the hands of a master - deeply felt acting (I can't remember ever liking Lemmon better), an intricately designed narrative and long scenes, built and captured slowly, eloquently and artfully.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-six

Just like in my other forty-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.

Abbas Kiarostami's The Traveler
In its one track pursuit and its tunnel focus on the young main character, it feels like a black and white predecessor to Where is the Friend's Home?.  It is quintessential Kiarostami in its lyricism, its softness, its feel for the land and its rhythms.  A couple of scenes, like the photography session in the schoolyard, rank as Kiarostami at his most inventive and most cinematic.  Kiarostami would later become a little more rigorous with his filmmaking, longer takes, less music, but already in this, his first film over an hour, he announces himself as a great, new humanistic force.

Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn
Herzog is in the Hollywood system as much as I have ever seen but comes through, for the most part, true to form.  Herzog finds in Bale another perfect embodiment for his distorted heroism and proves once again that he can bring out the jungle of the jungle better than anyone who has ever worked in the medium.  The movie falters towards the end when it seems Herzog is trying to grasp at some sort of Hollywood convention but otherwise the film finds a unique, compelling voice inside a well-worn genre.  

Lewis Milestone's Hallelujah, I'm a Bum
Having read that one of my favorite critics, Jonathan Rosenbaum, rated it in his best 100 films of all time, I was extremely curious to see it.  It is exactly the type of film Rosenbaum tends to champion.  It is not stylistically flashy nor even terribly entertaining; however, it tackles complex subject matter and it does so with an intelligence and narrative skill of a very high order.  I may not always agree with Rosenbaum, but it is hard for me to argue with this film deserving attention and great respect. 

Jacques Rozier's Adieu Philippine
I watched a version on YouTube without subtitles so was unable to catch every word.  But, the film feels like the male version of Jules et Jim, or in other words, one male and two females.  I don't know Rozier's cinema yet but if this film is any indication he has the New Wave's keen interest and eye for youth, female beauty and the sea. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Top 10 films I most want to see

Les hautes solitudes (1974)
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Histoire(s) du cinema (1998)
The Traveler (1974)
Games of Love and Chance (2003)
The Devil, Probably (1977)
Love Streams (1984)
They All Laughed (1981)
Centre Stage (1991)
Triple Agent (2004)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-five

Just like in my other forty-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.

Jean Eustache's Mes Petites Amoureuses
I have long been a fan of Eustache's The Mother and the Whore but have had some difficulty tracking down the rest of his work.  And I just took a quick peek at Wikipedia and had no idea this was his only other feature.  I knew he had committed suicide young but never knew he only ever made just two features (and a good number of shorts).  This film is extraordinary, capturing a thing that I have never before seen captured on film.  The best way I can describe it is the very early awakening of the male interest in females.  It gets into the awkwardness but more than that it gets into the deep yearning and romantic creation that goes on in the head of many young boys.  There are a number of flat out brilliant sequences including Daniel's first imaginings while on a train and his encounter with the young girl Francoise in the neighboring town.

Werner Herzog's Stroszek
One of my favorite feelings as a cinephile is finding a film by a director whose work I only partially know and being inspired to track down the rest of their films.  Not only did Stroszek make me want to watch the rest of Herzog that I haven't seen yet but also get on a path to completion for Fassbinder.  Stroszek had so many things that I like but in particular I was moved by the emotiveness of Bruno S., the raw painterly quality of the camerawork, and the fact that it seemed a missing predecessor for a number of 80s movies I like a great deal including Stranger Than Paradise and the first two Leos Carax features.  And the final ten minutes have to go down as one of the greatest in the history of the medium.  They had the silent power of Anotonioni's The Passenger and embodied the absurd freewheeling nature of early Dylan better than any movie I have ever seen.

Howard Deutch's Pretty in Pink
I actually had never seen this before in its entirety and sure I'm being sentimental, and sure I'm being overly nostalgic, but I think Hughes captured (or formed?) the zeitgeist of that time better than anyone else in American film.  I felt real chemistry whenever Ringwald or McCarthy was on screen and believed the music, the clothes, the colors, the record stores, and pretty much every other great detail of the Hughes world.  

Werner Herzog's Cobra Verde
Not an easy film.  In its disjointedness, it felt reminiscent of something Welles might have made in the 50s or 60s.  And as a rougher and rawer Aguirre, it had me thinking about Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, a pure creation from a master filmmaker who seemed to no longer care if his audience was following.  Yet, the passion of Herzog pushes way past any financial limitations.  His pet theme of human greed comes through as well as in anything of his I have seen and the brilliant images by the sea in the final minutes serve as the perfect illustration for the preoccupations that led him to make this very amorphous work.   

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Recent Twitter post

7YoungerFilmmakersI'mMostInterestedIn (cut off at 50 yo)
Robert Mitchell
Mendonca Filho

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-four

Just like in my other forty-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.

Gordon Douglas' The Detective
I had never heard of this film until recently when I saw it was programmed as part of a series at the Paris Cinematheque focused on late 60s and 70s American cop movies.  Sinatra proves he was once again a double-threat as a singer and actor, very comfortable in front of the camera and believable in a number of roles.  Bisset was gorgeous, reminiscent of  Julie Christie during this period, but even sexier and with an even more dangerous sensuality.  And the film, though raw and uneven, goes deeper than most detective films and gives a real sense of the feelings and conflicted morality many people in the profession must face.  

Stuart Samuels' Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream
A very informative look at a special era in American cinema.  Great interviews abound from Hoberman to Rosenbaum, Barenholtz to Romero, Waters to Lynch.  I finished watching and now want to go watch all five movies that are its focus - El Topo, Pink Flamingos, Night of the Living Dead, The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Eraserhead.  

Terrence Young's Thunderball
Although not considered the best Connery as Bond film, of all that I have seen so far it is Connery at his most brash, his most handsome and at his toughest.  Yes, it has a bit of a bloated ending but there are so many other great moments that far outweigh its final minutes.

Claude Chabrol's Que La Bete Meure
Chabrol's work does not have the playfulness of Godard, Truffaut, or even Rohmer, so I am not quite drawn to it in the same way.  But I like the way he uses his camera, moving through frames, capturing details, gestures, expressions gracefully and silently.  The locations and nature bring a warmth that balances out the cold, calculating nature of Chabrol's filmmaking approach.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Jean Pierre and Luc

I have seen a number of filmmaker's favorite film lists but of all the ones I have seen so far this one probably affected me the most.  I am a fan of the Dardenne brothers so it is not shocking that their list would align eerily close to my own (even if 10-15 films on their list are still blind spots for me).

But the Rossellinis, yes!  The Pialats and Bressons, yes!  And the Kiarostamis, are the Dardenne brothers reading my blog?

Sunday, August 6, 2017


Recently I was inspired by a list that had been circulating on my Twitter Feed where people had been naming their seven favorite films in a certain category.  I had seen #7Fav Film Noir lists, I think John Ford lists and maybe even John Carpenter lists.

Since I do like lists and am always trying to think about how my ratings of certain things change over time, I thought I would do a week or so of my #7Favs on Twitter.  I started with my two favorite periods of film, the French New Wave and the New Hollywood of the seventies, and then I went forward through the decades alternating French and American films.  

Here is where I ended up below:

The Tree of Life
Zero Dark Thirty
At Berkeley
La La Land
Only Lovers Left Alive

Film Socialisme
Blue is the Warmest Color
Saint Laurent
Goodbye to Language
Clouds of Sils Maria

Our song
Mulholland dr
Funny Ha Ha
Femme fatale
All the Real Girls
No Direction Home
No Country for Old Men

Under the sand
Va savoir
Etre et avoir
Les amants reguliers
Secret and the Grain
Love Songs
35 Shots of Rum

My own private idaho
King of new york
Carlito's way
Dead man

A Single Girl
A Summer's Tale
How I Got into An Argument...(My Sex Life)
Van Gogh

Blow Out
Stranger Than Paradise
Melvin and Howard
Blue Velvet
Sherman's March
The Thing
The Big Red One

The Green Ray
Boy Meets Girl
Mauvais Sang
Full Moon in Paris
A nos amours

McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Taxi Driver
The Godfather
Five Easy Pieces
Night Moves
The French Connection

Shoot the Piano Player
Pierrot Le Fou
Vivre Sa Vie
La jetee
Les cousins
Cleo de 5 a 7

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-three

Just like in my other forty-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.

Michael Ritchie's Downhill Racer
Ritchie is definitely a filmmaker that I am now far more curious about, having seen Smile (with him in person), The Bad New Bears and now this.  He has an auteur's deep feel for character and the freewheeling sensibility of Altman and Demme.  The soft shape of scenes and the way he slows down time during some of the races are what most affected me with this one.  I look forward to continuing to investigate more of his work, particularly The Candidate and Prime Cut.  

Michael Ritchie's The Candidate
Further proof of the Ritchie style being similar to Altman and his loose, freewheeling 70s work.  Redford puts in another confident, affecting low-key performance and the surrounding cast, particularly Boyle and Garfield, are unusually strong.  Ritchie surely deserves a much larger reputation.

Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man
Having recently been in Alaska,  I was especially interested in seeing this now even if it had been on my radar since first coming out.  Herzog's unique sensibility and world view really come through and his restraint and humanism were surprising given what I thought I knew about him.  It is far from Wiseman's world of documentary but it is still of great interest with a different type of rigor.  

Richard Rush's Freebie and the Bean
A movie that had never hit my radar until about a week ago even though it stars James Caan and Alan Arkin and was made during my favorite period of American film, the Seventies.  The Stunt Man was the only movie I had seen by Rush, and though it had a huge reputation, it never meant very much to me.  Freebie is a bit of a challenge, a loose, messy installment in the buddy cop movie that cares less for plot and narrative logic and more for feel and character.  It has great feel, for instance, for San Francisco and shows us areas of the city I don't feel I have ever seen before on film.  And it has great feel for character.  The bond between Freebie and Bean is deep and most remarkable is that Rush makes us feel the bond simply by having us hang out with them for a couple of hours.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-two

Just like in my other forty-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 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.

David Lynch's Twin Peaks Season 3, Episode 1
David Lynch is one of my favorite filmmakers still at work.  And though I would not call myself die hard about Twin Peaks, I am a fan of both the first two seasons and the film.  So when Season 3 started, more than 25 years later, I had high hopes for it.  For it and Lynch who had also been away from screens for more than a decade, since Inland Empire.  When Episode 1 began last night, at first I thought "it looks strange".  First, it was the images, most likely video rather than the film of the first two seasons.  Then, it was the actors from the first two seasons, all weathered by time (25 years!) looking like the way Hollywood ages actors in a biopic or an epic but psychologically to an even different effect because this is actually how all of the actors look now.  I have no idea how this trip will end but when the two hour premiere ended last night, I felt once again Lynch's special talent and that he had succeeded in tackling the nearly impossible.  He had revisited a much beloved property 25 years later and gotten back inside its rhythm.  In a way, I feel like I am about to re-experience the way El Dorado and Rio Lobo played off of Rio Bravo, but this time Lynch-style.  

Eric Rohmer's The Marquise of O
The first period piece I have seen from Rohmer and it is a stunner.  What impresses most is the way that Rohmer uses his incredible talent for distillation to tell a story of transcendence and humanism in the unexpected backdrop of the late 1700s.  Rohmer proves that he learned much from Rossellini and the effects he is able to achieve do not feel terribly far removed from Rossellini's great La prise de pouvoir de Louis XIV.

Robert Culp's Hickey & Boggs
It feels like a more sensitive Walter Hill film with pretty good Hill-esque set pieces and that buddy thing that Hill really excelled at.  Cosby certainly proves he could have been a strong dramatic movie actor if he continued on that path and Culp makes some very interesting choices that add a moral and emotional weight to what could have been shallow genre fare.

Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I
It is a cult film that has buzzed around me for years but for some reason I am just now seeing it.  It features deep, committed performances and an explosive feel and timing for language.  Robinson may not have a highly identifiable style but this film feels like it must have been a key film for the musical New Wave practitioners and for Boyle's zeitgeist catching Trainspotting a decade later.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

What a program

I saw a lot of this but how did I not see it all?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-one

Just like in my other forty 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.

Josef von Sternberg's Anatahan
It has only been 20+ years since I first heard of the film and have been wanting to see it ever since.  It belongs in that special category of master director's final films and it has that same odd tone of finality of Dreyer's Gertrud and perhaps even Bresson's L'argent.  It is a mood film dripping with atmosphere and style and succeeds in throwing the viewer into its exotic land and bringing the strangeness terrifically alive. Sternberg excelled at this type of cinema that also includes Macao and Morocco.  

James Gray's The Lost City of Z
The film of Gray that has impressed the most so far is also the most revealing.  Treading in this territory is dangerous stuff.  How do you not immediately beg comparison to Apocalypse Now and Aguirre You don't.  What Gray does though is blend the epic and the chamber and in that way it feels different.  Herzog and Coppola's film were both always operating on a large canvas and their egos and talents had no problem sustaining an epic scope for their duration.  Gray's film fits what is seemingly his personality, something that is more cerebral and more measured than Herzog and Coppola.  What is most striking is that I have long known that Gray reveres the work of Coppola but never have I noticed their differences more than now.  Not only is Gray far more humble but he also struggles to reach the emotional shape of Coppola's best work.  I felt watching The Lost City that everything was of one piece - Ravel's music could not have been more perfect, sophisticated, difficult themes were borne out, Khondji's work seemed right (even if I have never been a huge fan of his) but Gray has trouble reaching the emotional heights of Coppola.  Lost City is an unusually ambitious and well executed American film in this current environment but without the emotional resonance of the films he most admires, it is difficult to call it great.  

Nicholas Ray's Wind Across the Everglades
Ray made numerous films that were haunted with very dark characters spiraling deep, and almost uncontrollably, into their own obsessions and struggles.  His visual sense of abstraction was among the greatest the medium has ever seen and his diseased tone potentially more unique and consistent than that of any auteur.  I have now seen early Christopher Plummer twice (here and in The Silent Partner).  His ability to tap the hysteria within his own compulsion is a perfect match for the sensibility of Ray and his talent simply remarkable.  It is a shame more people do not discuss this work as it is the rawest, most uncompromising Ray film I have seen to date.    

Warren Beatty's Reds
I was deeply impressed by Beatty's ability to handle a story of this size with such directorial grace and skill.  I found his performance to be as good or close to as good as his typical level but it was Keaton's acting that really got me.  I have never found her as affecting and as deep as she is here.  I could do without the Greek chorus device as I found it took me out of the story more than further embedding me.  But the rest of the style is quite beautiful from Storaro's cinematography to Sondheim's music.