Saturday, December 28, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-four

Just like in my other twenty-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 finally 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 someone else as well.

Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color
Kechiche works in Dardennes territory favoring close-ups, handheld camerawork, and a naturalism of image, look, and performance.  The performances, specifically those of Adele and Emma, rank alongside the greatest the medium has ever given us, that is if great acting is an actor's ability to walk someone else through his or her emotional experience in a given moment.  Kechiche uses sex like Noe or Dumont uses violence.  The sex is unsettling but the most direct and purest means for Kechiche to achieve what he is after - the most honest cinematic look yet at the harrowing emotional experience of coming out.  What we are left with is a masterful film, a masterpiece, the cinema of the Dardennes taken to the next level - an emotional highwire accomplished with only the most rigorous difficult technique.

Michelangelo Antoinioni's Blow Up
Antonioni gives sixties ennui and youthful alienation his masterful cinematic talents in this gloriously modern film.  Antonioni particularly excels in set design, the studio space at the center of the film is endlessly evocative, camera placement and movement, his camera hovers and sees in ways that continually feel new and uninhibited, and sound, the lack of music and reliance on ambient sound for most of the film add immeasurable effect to the entire experience.  A unique, landmark film wearing its age well and another example of Antonioni's special and great talent.   

Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life
I had not seen the film in almost twenty years and had no real memory of it.  What struck me first is just how well made it is - brilliantly plotted, masterfully cast and performed, and of course emotionally affecting of the highest order.  Sure it is manipulative and sure it is very much a Hollywood film.  But is also very human and universal and as a result very life-affirming.  I am left imagining what role American film might play in today's mainstream psyche if only Hollywood still had this much talent behind their films and this much desire to connect rather than escape.

Nicolas Philibert's Etre et avoir
Less disciplined and rigorous than Wiseman, Philibert still impresses with the unique moments he is able to capture.  Watching for instance a young boy realize there are numbers beyond those he already knows feels like something the cinema has never quite captured before, the awakening of a young mind.  Overall the film is a very warm, patient look at an extremely gifted and giving teacher.  




Saturday, November 23, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-three

Just like in my other twenty-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 finally 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 someone else as well.


Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali
Ray's film contains a world of truth and heft rivaling any I know on film, yet quite unlike anyone else's world as well.  Warmer than Ozu, closer to a documentary-like realism than Renoir, and probably a little more alive than either, Ray does not shy away from death or difficulty and captures the buoyant feelings of innocence and happiness masterfully.  A humanist film containing so much life and truth and a work full of heart.  Ray offers a spirituality so often lacking in cinema and a poetic approach to the world and the medium both rewarding and renewing.  

Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl
Another film full of heart reminding me at times of Bujalski, early Carax, and early Hartley.  Gregory is a lovable, vulnerable, goofy young man and Forsyth gives many of his scenes wonderfully effective space, warmth, and playfulness.  Less austere than some of his other work, the narrative looseness characteristic of Forsyth really works in his favor here.  One of the best narrative capsules I have seen of the early eighties and an extremely surprising gem of a movie.  

George Stevens' The More the Merrier
I imagine there have been great studies done on the correlation between viewer state of mind and a response to a work of art.  Even though I pride myself on having a fairly good first response rarely shifting significantly one way or another upon subsequent viewings, I have had occasion where I completely change my opinion.  Here is such a time.  I am not sure how I could have ever made comments to the contrary as I find this to be one of the most wonderful, moving romantic comedies ever made.  The chemistry between Arthur and McCrea is downright dangerous and Coburn is the lovely force, both funny and wise, keeping the fires stoked.  A new favorite and a lovely film I hope others get to savor soon.  It brought me the exact pleasure I needed on a glum Saturday.

Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career
Armstrong demonstrates a great poetry of feeling and image in this restrained, challenging story.  The chemistry coming off the screen from Davis and Neill is intoxicating, and although Davis' decisions run counter to where we want the story to go, Armstrong delivers a wonderful statement on artistic sacrifice.  Up there with the greatest of all filmed illustrations on the artist life and the life one must lead at times to be true to one's self even if it means resisting the temptations of a physical and emotional connection.

  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-two

Just like in my other twenty-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 finally 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 someone else as well.


Agnes Varda's Cleo de 5 a 7
More masterful than I remember from my first viewing more than twenty years ago, Varda's work separates itself from many of the early New Wave films by eschewing genre and delivering a film with a focus entirely on character.  Varda's camera glides and records capturing a realness of faces and of Paris.  And what we are left with is, as a capsule of its time, a film as valuable as Breathless, 400 Blows, and any of the other key Vague work from the early sixties.  

Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession
My first time with this well-known Sirk, and it certainly is as loony as I heard whisperings of.  But Sirk gives it tragic depth and keeps the emotion swirling and somehow manages to transform seemingly insane form (garish music and color) and content (plotting that no one in their right mind would ever consider plausible) into something uniquely wonderful.  Although I still prefer Written as it seems perhaps a little more restrained in its content and outlandish in its form, Magnificent deserves a place all its own. 

Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar
Feverish with Ray's unique emotionalism and spatial mastery on grand display.  Crawford is as powerful as ever, and this western is a world all its own.  It's pulp, melodrama, and baroque art.  It's no wonder this film enjoys such a major reputation;  it's a wonderful piece of work by a great filmmaker. 

Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis
If Renoir is correct that every filmmaker is simply trying to improve upon the same film each time out then the Coen brothers finally get an aspect of their work right that I feel they have fallen short on the last few times out, the film ending.  Whereas I felt they missed the mark in No Country and A Serious Man with their abrupt, oft kilter final moments, ILD's final moments bring everything together in a masterful, fresh way that keeps the Coen's work feeling very modern and daring.  One of their very funniest films and also one of their most accomplished.  




Thursday, November 7, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-one


Just like in my other twenty 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 finally 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 someone else as well.

Mark Cousins' The Story of Film: An Odyssey: 1895-1918 The World Discovers A New Art Form
The first installment of the fifteen part documentary is far more subjective than I had anticipated and a little quirky.  Cousins does not cover the films we would expect and does not seem interested in re-telling the history of film.  He seems to want to tell the history of film from his perspective rather than an academic and accepted view.  I am excited for the installments to follow and expect to be exposed to some new information (even here the fact that Hollywood was initially dominated by women) and some films hitting my radar for the first time.

Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley
My first theatrical experience with a Wiseman film is also my best theatrical experience of the year so far.  Wiseman combines Renoir's humanism with Ozu's patience to offer up an exhaustive and meticulously observed look at a contemporary public university.  We take away a great deal from participating in some of the student discussions as well as from our access to a number of administrative cabinet meetings.  Nothing feels put on.  This is demanding, unadorned, naked filmmaking of the highest order that places demands with its style and four hour length but offers reaffirming sentiments on cinema and life for all willing to go along. 

Vincente Minnelli's Two Weeks in Another Town
A mature, daringly dark, modern film full of strong and combative feelings about Hollywood.  Perhaps its tacked-on ending is part of that commentary but it feels unsatisfying when compared to the rest of the work.  Highlights include the incredible elevator shot and a very subtle use of slow motion as Douglas, his ex, and her new man ride up together.  If you have a thing for Contempt like I do, you will likely dig it viewing it as the Godard's long lost mate.  


Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz 
In my opinion a highly underrated film by the master that is of interest first to see what Hitch can do when the Hays code is no longer around.  There's a brutality at work and a graphic punch that feels like new territory for the director.  It also features some fantastic set pieces (including most of what's set in Cuba), some typically expressive Hitch camerawork that De Palma had to have seen, and yet another complex and emotive Hitch score.  The ending admittedly lets the film down a little but that's only because much of what comes before it is so entertaining.  Like Marnie, a Hitch deserving of more eyes and of more people talking about it.  


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty

Just like my other nineteen 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 finally see, but only very few have stayed with me. This series is my filter for those (and hopefully one or two will be good to someone else, too).

Leo McCarey's Ruggles of Red Gap

The Hollywood happy ending has become an almost absolute, an artificial emotional high that a filmmaker must provide the audience before turning the lights back on.  It is troubling and says as much about the American psyche as McDonald's or Hummers.  But what if there was a time when it is was not obligatory but instead the optimal way to bring a story to a close.  I have seen my fair share of movies, and most of my favorites tend to eschew the happy ending for something else altogether.  But rarely, if ever, have I seen a movie like Ruggles that without its happy ending would simply lose everything, its reason for being, its internal logic, and its deeply lasting effect.  Of everything I have ever seen, I consider this the quintessential happy ending.  Now if Hollywood were only taking its lessons from Ruggles, we may still be at the center of the most important and profound artistic medium of the last 150 years.   

Blake Edwards' Breakfast at Tiffany's
Hepburn is pitch perfect as the irresistibly dynamic yet damaged Holly Golightly.  Edwards brings it all a real touch of class - exquisite wardrobe, painterly colors, patient cutting, and a smooth camera that glides around almost never calling attention to itself.  There's more depth and truth here than I recalled from my first viewing nearly twenty years ago.  And a sadness emanating from Hepburn/Golightly that is all too similar to several of the women I have met in my life.    

Malik Bendjelloul's Searching for Sugar Man
An incredible story is at the heart of the doc, and at times, it almost seems so incredulous I was waiting for the movie's great rabbit to come out.  Rodriguez's outlook on his life is probably the most affecting ingredient of all.  I just wish the filmmakers spent more time talking to other American musicians and delving into the mystery of how someone this talented got completely lost and buried in the shuffle.  

Raoul Walsh's The Horn Blows at Midnight
Walsh proves, like Hawks, that he was very capable in a variety of different genres.  His visual gags perhaps lack timing, seeming on occasion to overstay their welcome, but he keeps everything tonally even, snappy, and makes an unusually fun farcical comedy.  And Benny is just absolutely wonderful.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

TCM celebrates its 20th

Prepping the DVR and really looking forward to the program TCM is unveiling in early September. Here is the schedule of events in case it hasn't hit your radar yet (it just only hit mine):

http://turner.tekgroup.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=6436


Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Last Lullaby on television

Pretty cool.  I just found out today that my film, The Last Lullaby, is available starting today until 9/29 on Comcast Xfinity On Demand. Here's the link via the internet (http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/The-Last-Lullaby/8316156493918229112/movies#filter=vod&episode=8316156493918229112) or it's available on the On Demand screen on the TV.


Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), The Kinks, 1969

The vast majority of The Kinks' discography remains one of those items in my life, like that city I must go to or that dish I must taste, that I know will have great rewards the day I finally take the plunge. To me, that's one of the great joys in this life, knowing certain untapped resources are still out there, waiting for when I desperately need something to lift me out out of the empty, humming place where I sometimes find myself.

Admittedly I do not have enough exposure yet to know where I would place Arthur within The Kinks' body of work. Instead I will just lay out a few reactions to it. People often talk about The Kinks and their concept albums. But seldom has the "concept" of a concept album been as clear to me as it is here. Every song hangs on the same themes - the flawed Brtish dream, working class powerlessness, general class inequities. With a quick description, I would say it combines the expansive soundscapes of the Beatles with the lyrical incisiveness of Dylan. Though not as catchy as the Lennon/McCartney factory, I haven't ever come across a more adept mixture of pointed words and dense, Bacharach-esque orchestration.

It feels like Davies is pushing for a masterpiece, and I know many people who feel like he gets there completely with Arthur. I cannot say I am always in it.  But when I am, like in the absolute jammer, Brainwashed, or in that heroic break during Mr. Churchill Says, I get what some of my peers must be experiencing all the way through.

Many people complain about the long jam at the end of Australia, but to me it feels like the necessary pause after the verbal barrage Davies has unleashed over the first twenty or so minutes. And if I were listening on vinyl, it seems like a glorious way to end side one, which is exactly where it is positioned. For the most part musicians have lost this effect, the decision of how to end Side A and begin Side B. It is a lost artform, a lost consideration, and it got me thinking, is there anything else along these lines that artists in other mediums have forever had to abandon.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ill Communication, Beastie Boys, 1994

When seeking a hit of artistic adrenaline, this album is one of my first stops.  Although I tend towards a diet of art that is typically spare, natural, and clean, every now and then I want to gorge myself on just the opposite.  Here, Side A is particularly speedy, boasting some of the Beasties' greatest tunes ("Root Down", "B-Boys Makin' with the Freak Freak", "Sabrosa"), it starts in fifth gear and through a flurry of dance-rap, funk, and punk, it keeps it up for the next 23 minutes.

Like Tarantino, the Beasties are one of our great practitioners of post-modern missile command, more often than not eschewing an introspective style for something that instead uses blended forms to grab our attention.  Some artists almost want to bore you, force you into stimuli time out, to ensure their point is made.  I think the Beasties, like Tarantino, start from the opposite place.  As long as they hold your interest, they feel they're doing their job.  And if some way, somehow you learn something on top of that, well then all the better.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Remain in Light, Talking Heads, 1980

Bouncy and modern, Remain in Light is widely regarded as a masterpiece, one of the most accomplished albums of the eighties and the pinnacle creation for one of America's most adventurous New Wavers.  The team of Eno/Byrne hit the trifecta with this album.  They make us feel.  They make us think.  And they also remember to entertain us.  A headphone album chock-full of fascinating soundscapes which will hold its luster and avant-garde posture happily ever after.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Reckoning, REM, 1984

The first impressions are of something a little less contemplative and perhaps even less lyrical than Murmur.  The mystery that Stipe and the gang cultivated early in REM's career never again seemed so evident. Even the sequencing, the first three songs could all be singles, suggests an attempt at warding off any journalistic attempt to grace the album with masterpiece status.  Reckoning is the shy one, sitting in the corner full of things to say, yet doing its darndest to divert attention at every opportunity.


Monday, May 20, 2013

2013

5/19/13 I watched Dave Grohl's Sound City.  In this his directorial debut, Grohl reveals himself as adept storyteller and comfortable behind the controls of a vast amount of cinema's stylistic toolkit.  The story possesses that raison d'etre at the heart of most great docs.  Some of the music at the film's heart does not fully do it for me, but I think Grohl's film falters most as he works to weave subtext and a larger frame around the story.  It's a very entertaining doc that would have hit harder with a little more suggestion and a little less exposition.

8/5/13 I watched Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station.  There are many things to admire here.  Jordan's performance is pretty fantastic and Coogler does certain things surprisingly well, for instance, the way he puts together the climatic moment on the platform or the way he opens the film.  He has an unobtrusive way of using the camera and a natural feel for propelling story forward.  Yet when I compare this to the 25th Hour or Do the Right Thing, two films of which it reminds me a great deal, I cannot help but feel it lacking in parts.  Granted, it was made for probably less than 1/10th of either of them, but I also think it has some pacing issues and cannot seem to figure out how to end itself.  I also wonder if the whole thing would have been much stronger if the initial flashback had not been there.  This technique works wonderfully in certain noirs, especially in a film like Carlito's Way, but here it lets too much of the important air out.

9/27/13 I watched Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips.  Hanks brings it and proves once again he can inject humanity into these big budget action films like no other.  And Greengrass keeps the lines taut at all times in a way that merits admiration.  I just wish he was not afraid to add some space to his work to ask us to think as much as he asks us not to breathe. 

9/28/13 I watched Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley.  My first theatrical experience with a Wiseman film is also my best theatrical experience of the year so far.  Wiseman combines Renoir's humanism with Ozu's patience to offer up an exhaustive and meticulously observed look at a contemporary public university.  We take away a great deal from participating in some of the student discussion as well as from our access to a number of administrative cabinet meetings. Nothing feels put on, this is demanding, unadorned, naked filmmaking of the highest order that places demands with its style and four hour length but offers reaffirming sentiments on cinema and life for all willing to go along.

9/28/13 I watched Joel and Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis.  If Renoir is correct that every filmmaker is simply trying to improve upon the same film each time out then the Coen brothers finally get an aspect of their work right that I feel they have fallen short on the last few times out - the film ending.  Whereas I felt they missed the mark in No Country and A Serious Man with their abrupt, oft kilter final moments, ILD's final moments bring everything together in a masterful, fresh way that keeps the Coen's work feeling very modern and daring.  One of their very funniest films and also one of their most accomplished. 

9/29/13 I watched Hong Sang-soo's Nobody's Daughter Haewon.  My third or fourth film by the South Korean and the first I have seen in a theater.  I like him as one of the closest practitioners of Rohmerian cinema.  But in this one his technical specs (ie video rather than film) and the presence of more Rivette than usual left me a little more lukewarm on this work. 

11/23/13 I watched JC Chandor's All Is Lost.  For what it is, it is fairly absorbing but I found Redford's lack of greatness evident and the ending flat on both an emotional and aesthetic level.

11/30/13 I watched Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color.  Kechiche works in Dardennes territory favoring close-ups, handheld camerawork, and a naturalism of image, look, and performance.  The performances, specifically those of Adele and Emma, rank alongside the greatest the medium has ever given us, that is if great acting is an actor's ability to walk someone else through his or her emotional experience in a given moment.  Kechiche uses sex like Noe or Dumont uses violence.  The sex is unsettling but the most direct and purest means for Kechiche to achieve what he is after - the most honest cinematic look yet at the harrowing emotional experience of coming out.  What we are left with is a masterful film, a masterpiece, the cinema of the Dardennes taken to the next level - an emotional highwire accomplished with only the most rigorous difficult technique.

12/29/13 I watched David O. Russell's American Hustle.  Bale shines and proves again he is one of the very most talented of all his peers.  But O. Russell's tone grates.  There is entirely too much irony lurking around to make us care much about the characters or any of the situations in which they find themselves. 

1/18/14 I watched Spike Jonze's Her.  As a criticism on technology, it leaves much to be desired. Neither deep enough to be piercing or entertaining enough to be significantly subversive, I continue to struggle with Jonze's work.  There's a sweetness here that is appealing but the underlying irony or jokester in Jonze always seems nearby.  I loved the wardrobe and art direction but the rest left me pretty indifferent. 

1/19/14 I watched Stephen Frears' Philomena.  Frears is a director I almost always like.  He is versatile, invisible stylistically behind the camera yet uncommonly consistent and felt as an emotional filmmaker. This is mainstream art cinema that is all too rare - harmonious, moving, and craft of the highest order.  

1/27/14 I watched Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street.  I guess it is entertaning if you find someone who never stops talking worthy of your time and attention.  But it seems to offer no analysis, no contemplation and by the end you may feel like I do, used like one of Jordan's many women. 

5/25/14 I watched Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive.  Certainly Jarmusch's most interesting film since at least Ghost Dog.  It echoes and adds to so many other strands in his work, doing for Detroit what Mystery Train did for Memphis, doing for the vampire genre what Dead Man did for the western, and channeling Young, Mueller and other shades of Jarmusch in intimate ways that deepen the auteur's unique legacy and footprint in world cinema.  There is not much humor making it the director's darkest and most disturbing work but it also rewards in what struck me as the deepest work to come from Jim since Depp was chasing William Blake.  

5/31/14 I watched James Gray's The Immigrant.  I like Gray and probably feel as close to his sensibility and approach as any filmmaker currently at work.  But at times I find his work overly reverent of its influence and admiration and cerebral to the point of stifled emotionality.  I respect the intellectual thrust behind his latest work but found it only mildly affecting.  And interestingly enough with Savides' death, I find the visual power of his work significantly dwarfed compared to the desired effect and previous visual power of some of his earlier films.  In short, I was sure Jarmush's latest was shot on film but it turns out it was filmed on HD whearas with Gray's latest I was convinced it was HD when it was actually shot on film. 

1/31/15 I watched Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida.  Pawlikowski channels Bresson and achieves a film of remarkable quiet, restraint, and austerity.  Everything seems flawlessly executed even if the heart sometimes seems so far from the proceedings as to leave it all feeling incredibly frigid and distant.

2/23/15 I watched Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess.  Parts Godardian, parts Jarmusch, certainly the most elusive and dense of Bujalski's films so far.  I am a huge fan of Bujalski and I can find merit in this one even if the ugly aesthetic (I know that is part of everything Buajalski is expressing) kept me at a greater distance than I wanted to be. 

3/31/15 I watched Destin Daniel Cretton's Short Term 12.  I went in perhaps with unfairly high hopes as most of what bothers me about contemporary American cinema was in evidence.   These elements include a somewhat hip and twee score, surface humanism mixed with surface edge and characters lacking the dirt and grime necessary for convincing they inhabit the worlds presented. 

4/1/15 I watched Jem Cohen's Museum Hours.  A very foreign American film equal parts Godard and Jarmusch that I appreciated even if I was never fully inside it. 

4/8/15 I watched Hirokazu Koreeda's Like Father, Like Son.  Much feels overly familiar and in not the best of ways but to that Koreeda imparts his playfulness, warmth and what I think is a humanistic outlook and feeling even if it is a humanism that is perhaps too simple at times. 

4/15/15 I watched Alain Giraudie's Stranger by the Lake.  An example of what I would call "pure cinema" - zero music, almost no close ups, long takes, wide shots, fluid edits and camera movements.  The ending again proves that the French might understand the power of the final five minutes better than anyone.  And the way Giraudie uses sound further supports France's claim to that title as well.

9/28/15 I watched Yann Gonzalez's Les Rencontres d'apres minuit.  Something darker and more irritated seems to be present in French cinema right now.  Between this film, the Giraudie above and the Kechiche from the same year, it seems clear that there is an interest in pushing the audience and their comfort level around sex in a very focused manner.  This film feels like a mash up of Fassbinder, Lynch and porno cinema.  Though I found it far less impressive than the two other works, I admire its confidence in charting a pretty fresh and unique world and staying within it for the duration of its run time.  

11/8/15 I watched Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin.  I will give Glazer uncompromising and sustained but this cinema of extreme, red-lined at icy, is cold to the point of closing me off from it.  

1/4/16 I watched Marina Zenovich's Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic.  Some new information for me on Pryor but overall a bit of a formally uninspired work.  

6/4/16 I watched 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.  

7/23/16 I watched Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin.  Hints at Shotgun 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 are unusually strong.

3/10/17 I watched Douglas Tirola's Hey Bartender.  A nice fairly harmless look at the revival of the craft cocktail movement.  

4/7/17 I watched Shane Meadows' The Stone Roses: Made of Stone.  Gave me a greater glimpse into the group and the status they once had and the influence they still exert.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Favorite (four), part nineteen


Just like my other eighteen 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 finally see, but only very few have stayed with me. This series is my filter for those (and hopefully one or two will be good to someone else, too).


Jerry Schatzberg's Scarecrow
Zsigmond gives it great space and brings a real strength to much of the framing.  Its assets - its looseness, authenticity, and the freewheeling nature Schatzberg is able to capture quite often - leave its engine running a little cold at times.  But there's a Pialat depth and a heaviness of feeling that more than make for any lack of narrative drive.  When people start talking about the great character studies the American cinema produced in the seventies, I would comfortably and certainly throw this one into the mix. 

Alexander Mackendrick's The Man in the White Suit
A great little film I never knew much about.  Alec Guinness is wonderful as the vulnerable scientist.  And Mackendrick keeps things suspenseful, fun, and heartfelt.  One of those films that will be great fun to watch for years to come.  

Frank Borzage's The Mortal Storm
Sure it may be an extremely well-made film that makes you think more than it makes you feel.  But it is also frightening and communicates the horrors of fascism as well as anything I have ever seen.  Borzage's film seems like it might have been one of the main things Tarantino saw as he put Inglourious Basterds together.  Featuring some terrific set pieces (like IB), Borzage builds suspense by working through the characters rather than through music or any other cinematic manipulation.  Borzage who was known for his melodrama impresses here with an extraordinary sense of restraint.

Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty
I was quite impressed by the filmmaking which I found incredibly complex yet elegant and modern.  Bigelow maintains some increasingly rare sensibilities - a noticeable respect for framing, film as negative, and camera movement more as dance than prizefight.  I feel it only falters from greatness in its final act, becoming questionably plausible on certain major plot points and pretty lazy with certain emotional ambitions.  And although I am in the minority, I like Chastain's look but continue to question the depth of her abilities. 


Sunday, January 6, 2013

My Top 10 (or so) Films for 2012

I watched fewer films this year than I have in a really long time.  Other life took the lead.  And I have always watched more older stuff, wanting to fill in the gaps, but this year I saw almost no new releases.

I still though had a few moments of incredibly satisfying discovery and wanted to share.  It's my hope that a few of these will be good to you, too.


Raoul Walsh's The Man I Love (1947)



















An extremely interesting noir, with a backbone that's as dark as can be even if devoid of any on-screen shootings, murders, or remotely graphic violence.  The mood is foggy, and Walsh's great tool here is restraint.   You feel the atmosphere building, at any moment ready to fall apart. The people are trapped, the outlook somber, and the effect all the more effective with no real catharsis ever offered.



Samuel Fuller's Park Row (1952)

 
A wound up, wonderful example of the physical cinema we've come to expect from Fuller.  It's abundantly clear this is a personal project for Sam.  He uses his camera like a weapon, thrusting it through spaces and spewing bile on all who stand in his way.



Manoel de Oliveira's The Strange Case of Angelica (2010)

















My first experience with a de Oliveira film so I can't frame it alongside the rest of his work.  But what I can say is I found it masterful - one of these late films by a great filmmaker that is deceptively simple (think Gertrud) where the formal simplicity belies a specificity and depth that are the true signs of greatness.  Most shocking to me was the vitality of the editing, always cutting away seconds earlier than expected, to produce a level of restraint so vital to the heavyweight feeling the film ends up producing.  I could go on and on about the brilliance of metaphor here, de Oliveira's wonderful visual tics, and a cinema that is as mannered as Hartley's but as weighty as Dreyer's, but I'll wait to elaborate on those things until I have the pleasure of seeing a few more from this great Portuguese filmmaker.



Martin Scorsese's No Direction Home (2005)

 

This should go down as one of the greatest of all Scorsese films and the single best doc on Dylan (Pennebaker, sorry).  It's moving, incredibly cinematic, and captures the great one at his absolute, creative peak.



Andre de Toth's Day of the Outlaw (1959)















Raw, dark, and artful - there's something absolutely uncompromising about De Toth's work here.  The tone almost makes you think you're watching a horror film, but the pacing and cinematography feel straight out of an European art film.  One of the most unique westerns I have ever seen and simply a key work of any genre.



Michael Curtiz's The Breaking Point (1950)















So many things at once - a family melodrama, an action-adventure flick, a noir of reckless abandon, and a great film.  Curtiz shoots it with such a wonderful sense of invention, every shot a little off and angular, immediately creating an atmosphere of complete unpredictability.  With a third act that can be felt strongly in Taxi Driver and so many cylinders firing, it's a complete mystery to me why this one doesn't come up more during discussions of the great noirs.



Michael Powell's The Edge of the World (1937)



















Perhaps the greatest of all films are those haunted by either life or death.  In this case, there's a cloud hovering over every moment suggesting the latter and a vitality in every frame leaning more towards the former.  Either way, this earthy, hefty film is among my favorite of Powell's work.



Tim Irwin's We Jam Econo - The Story of the Minutemen (2005)

















Great doc in just how intimate and close it puts you to the band. About as satisfying a portrait of a group as I have seen on film - between the long, un-cut performance footage to the fly-on-the-wall hang-outs with the band.


Howard Hawks' The Crowd Roars (1932)



















An early Hawks film I have been wanting to see for the longest time, I was finally able to catch up with it on TCM.  Already in 1932, Hawks proves himself adept at filming action, and there is a scene or two I would rank with the very greatest ever filmed by Hawks. The long sequence that begins with Cagney arriving at Indianapolis and ends with him at the diner illustrates the unique greatness Hawks possessed as storyteller. With just simple, direct, and fluid brush strokes, Hawks arrives at truth.  Profound, very human, and with all that is immaterial left behind.


King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937)



















I'll admit I'm a sucker for these types of weepies, and it doesn't hurt that Vidor was a real master.  Here he impresses by being so unafraid and uninhibited as he lingers in some VERY dark, uncomfortable places (like that hyper-disturbing scene at the soda shop).  Melodrama like we really don't see anymore and one of the better of its kind.