2006: L'enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
I saw La promesse and Rosetta in theaters when they first came out. I was lukewarm on both and then ignored the next ten years worth of Dardenne releases. But finally after some prodding and encouragement from friends, I caught up with L'enfant, The Son, and Lorna's Silence. I tell you all this to explain that I've done a complete about-face on these directors and now consider their work one of the most interesting things going right now. I haven't gone back and revisited their earlier work yet, but I would assume I would have a much more favorable reaction to it now, too.
More than anything, I respect that the Dardennes, like Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao-hsien, have a real formal system guiding their work. It's conceived with great thought and then executed with laser precision. The three later films I mention above all feel very Bressonian to me, though I can't concede quite yet that the Dardennes' heights of transcendence are on the same level as the great French director.
But I greatly admire the level of restraint they exhibit throughout their work. I also respect the lively, real performances the Dardennes are able to elicit. They came up making documentaries, and their ability to create a "real", fictional world is far superior to most.
For the moment, the brothers might be just a notch below Bresson, but the chase sequence in this one rivals, and maybe even surpasses, the great heist scene on the train in Pickpocket. I'm excited to see whatever they do from here. I truly think they're among today's masters.
Other contenders for 2006: From this year, I still have some things to see. These include: Jafar Panahi's Offside, Hou Hsiao-hsien's Cafe Lumiere, Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain, Spike Lee's Inside Man, Pedro Almodovar's Volver, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, Abbas Kiarostami's Roads of Kiarostami, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others, and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. I really like Stephen Frears' The Queen. And my closest runner-up is Hou Hsiao-hsien's Three Times.
11/23/10 I watched Shane Meadows' This Is England. Meadows has energy, verve, and a very good way with his actors. Stephen Graham, in particular, is spot-on and incredibly dangerous every moment he's on screen. Meadows can be a little overwrought at times for my taste. And I'd prefer a little more shape to his storytelling. But all in all, a pretty enjoyable flick.
11/26/10 I watched Emanuele Crialese's Golden Door. Gainsbourg is incredibly compelling, and it's a nice tale about a part of Ellis Island entry that I've never heard. Moving, at times, though the the flights of fancy didn't always completely jell for me.
12/17/10 I watched Pedro Almodovar's Volver. It's a complex tale about regret, artfully delivered by Almodovar. Some of it might be a little messy and slack, but Cruz delivers a weighty performance that makes it all pretty worthwhile.
12/31/10 I watched Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others. The director does a very fine job of going into expected places, and coming out of them with unexpected solutions. He's at his very most successful in the film's final moment. This idea of doing things for others, selfless, without expecting acclaim or recognition and no matter the consequences, affected me pretty deeply. A bit too clean, and Hollywood neat at times in its formal approach. But definitely a story patiently, and very intelligently told.
1/25/11 I watched Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. It's a bit too elusive for my taste, and Weisz didn't completely captivate me as I would need to be from her role. But Mansell proves once again that he's among the most talented composers in the world, and Jackman actually impressed me more than ever.
11/26/11 I watched Tsai Ming-liang's I Don't Want to Sleep Alone. Tsai's cinema is remarkably consistent from film to film, thematically, rhythmically, and formally. No one does loneliness and modern alienation, post-Antonioni, as well as Tsai. And there's a repressed sexuality about his work that's as strong in its charge as Lynch, Cronenberg, or anyone else.
7/28/12 I watched Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin's loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies. Borderline boring doc about an extremely interesting group. Never goes into what made these guys who they were, and after awhile the surface approach becomes frustrating.
8/9/12 I watched Stephen Kijak's Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. What I liked most is the fact that the filmmakers don't shy away from Walker's darkness. The film is granted nice access to Walker, and I certainly left with somewhat of a better understanding. Could have gone deeper and could have explored Walker's quip about "imbibing". But all in all a worthy doc if you're interested in learning a little more about Scott Walker.
11/23/12 I watched Ha Yoo's A Dirty Carnival. There's a visceral energy and an angle of originality that make this gangster epic of immediate interest. The lead character sucks you in and this world of violence without guns at first feels all the more disturbing. But a little too much of everything by the end had me more worn down than inspired.
6/9/13 I watched Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. Up to now, I have been skeptical of Coppola's approach - wall-to-wall hipness masking a questionable amount of depth. And the same issues could certianly be raised here. Yet I found her style fitting this time around, allowing us to feel Marie's listlessness and difficulties in an effective way that a more traditional, period piece may not have given us.
11/26/15 I watched Martin Campbell's Casino Royale. It is the first time I have seen a Craig-starring Bond film and he is quite good. First of all he might be the strongest actor of all of the Bonds and he just exudes the unusual mix of charm and guile I have come to think of with Bond. The big difference is his Bond is a little more violent, a little more hands-on, more often full of visible scratches and bruises than boyish and dapper. This Bond is a bit at the end of his line and Campbell/Craig seem to have a good thing going on. The movie is non-stop action and although not always artful it is very good entertainment.
11/14/16 I watched Bong Joon-ho's The Host. It is an impressively large-scaled South Korean production that Les Inrockuptibles consider very highly. It might have a lot to say about government, media, and the frenzies created around potential threats and viruses. Unfortunately it is tough for me to take seriously, beyond its slick spectacle, as well done as it may be.