Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Favorite (four), eighty-five

Just like in my other eighty-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 a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Steven Knight's Locke
Knight wrote Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things, both of which I like quite a bit.  This time he writes and directs and takes a huge gamble by focusing the entire movie on Tom Hardy in his car driving.  Hardy's talent as an actor, particularly his voice and gestures, keep our attention and enable a film that could easily feel thin in its theatricality, to take on additional dimensions.  

Tony Richardson's The Border
A film that fits in with its mood and style with the end of the cycle of the American New Wave.  Reminiscent of films like Cutter's Way and Out of the Blue that use naturalistic means to examine a decaying American Dream.

Claire Denis' Both Sides of the Blade
Although I have not rewatched most of Denis' films, I have seen the following at least once - ChocolatS'en fout la mortJ'ai pas sommeilUS Go HomeNenette et BoniBeau travailTrouble Every DayVendredi soirL'intrus35 rhumsLet the Sunshine InHigh Life and Both Sides of the Blade.  It seems that her work can be divided into at least two categories, films that make for fairly comfortable viewing (for instance, I place NenetteVendredi35 and Let the Sunshine into this category) and work that is as up there with some of the cinema's most harrowing.  In this latter category, to begin with I would list J'ai pas sommeilTrouble and Both Sides of the Blade.  It isn't gratuitous, there is a fearlessness at times with the way that Denis films the body and her ability, like Lynch, to burrow into raw and deeply disturbing situations involving her characters.  I am thinking about the long murder sequence involving Dalle or almost any moment with Camille or nearly second Colin is on screen.    

William E. Badgley's Here to Be Heard: The Story of the Slits
A must see for anyone into post-punk that wants to learn more about this seminal group.  Interesting to see that even people who leave a mark on music history sometimes have to move on to a life that has little to do with his or her art.   


Sunday, September 25, 2022

Reel Adventures - RW Norton Art Gallery - Chinatown

On Friday night, I was part of launching the first-ever film club at RW Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport. The first film we showed at what will be a periodic film club was Chinatown. Here is the talk I gave that night:

I wanted to welcome everyone. My name is Jeffrey Goodman. I know many of you but for those of you who I don’t know - I’ve made a few movies, spent a considerable amount of time watching and thinking about film, and my hope for tonight is to share at least one thing about the cinema that stays with you.

I wanted to thank Lewis and Ruth Norton and Emily Feazel who have been open to the idea of a film club from the first day it came up and who have been instrumental in making tonight happen.

I have a short 5-7 minute talk I'd like to share, then we'll do another round of trivia and then I’ll come back to try to answer any Chinatown or film-related questions you might have.

And just before I begin, I’m curious how many of you had never seen Chinatown before this event? Raise your hand if you could. (It was probably half the room!)

Last Tuesday, French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard passed away at the age of 91. Godard is considered a massive figure in the history of cinema and his contributions would take hours to discuss. But if I were to single out the one thing he should most be remembered for, it is his efforts to get people to accept and view the medium of cinema as an artform that at times could be just as artistic as ballet, painting, classical music, sculpture or any of the other high arts.

And so it seems fitting that we’re here tonight at Norton's for its first-ever film club.

If, as Godard says, certain films are more than mere entertainment then there should be some sort of gain in looking more deeply at them.

So, Chinatown.

It is a film I would claim is of high artistic value. All of its components – hair, make-up, wardrobe, set design, framing, lighting, locations, sound, score, casting and camerawork – are overseen by master crafts people working together to make us believe we are in another time and place.

In fact, that is one of the most challenging aspects of film. Making something that we believe. And hiding all the thousands of pieces that go into making a finished film. One effective way of hiding the apparatus in film is what I’d like to focus on for the next few minutes and it’s the long take.

As all of you know, film is made up of a bunch of pieces, or “cuts” that are edited together to tell a story. The average number of cuts in a film is about 1,050. If films average 1,050 cuts and the average film is 120 minutes long, then there is on average a cut every 8.75 seconds.

What the long take does is attempt to illustrate a moment visually in a longer timeframe than normal without resorting to a cut. Filmmakers use long takes for many reasons but often it is to preserve the illusion that what it is in front of us is actually taking place rather than fabricated by a countless number of crafts people.

There have been several very famous long takes in the history of cinema. There is the three minute long take as Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco enter the Copacabana nightclub in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, the nearly 4 minute opening sequence in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film Rope in which Hitchcock attempts to make us believe that we are watching an entire film without a single cut.

I won’t digress too far on this. But films used to only be made on film. And the magazines that went on the film cameras at most could hold a 1000 feet of film or about 11 minutes. Therefore, until digital cameras came about, it was technically impossible to film an entire movie in one long take.

There are very complicated, highly choreographed long takes where the camera is moving around a large amount of space without a cut and then there are other more modest long takes like this one I am about to show you from Chinatown. This long take in Chinatown lasts a minute or nearly 7x longer than your average shot.

(Showed one minute long take from Chinatown.)

And cut.

So my parting words are this:

I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of watching films by lifting the curtain somewhat on how movies achieve their magic. I believe the opposite in fact - that if you learn more about how movies are made, know more about what you are watching, you will ultimately feel deeper enjoyment for the entire experience.

That is my hope from these Reel Adventures we have just begun.

I really appreciate everyone coming out, hope you’re having fun so far and I look forward to the opportunity to do more of these in the future.



Thursday, July 14, 2022

Favorite (four), eighty-four

Just like in my other eighty-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 a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Sara Driver's Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years 0f Jean-Michel Basquiat
It's the type of documentary that would be hard to imagine an outsider being able to make.  Driver is able to tap her network as well as lived experience to gather extraordinary footage of Basquiat and the NYC art world in the late seventies to early eighties.  For any fan of Basquiat or anyone just curious to learn a little more about the man and the unique era that inspired his work.  

Frederick Wiseman's High School II
Yet another powerful and important film from Wiseman.  While watching it, and I have never had this exact thought before, I couldn't help but think about the void that will be left when Wiseman is no longer making films.  No one in American film consistently examines our country, our people, our successes, our failures as deeply as Wiseman.  And no one takes the American dream to task, dissecting its shortcomings, in as profound and as important of a manner.  He is a giant in our country's cinema and among American artists in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Victor Nunez's Ruby in Paradise
What jumps out at first view is to think about the historical context in which it was made.  It was the height of American indy cinema and "auteurs" working overtime to emphasize their personal style.  Spike, the Coen brothers, Jarmusch, Hartley, Tarantino all came to the medium with heavily mannered approaches.  In fact, it is hard for me to think of an indy filmmaker, at that time, who was working in a more naturalistic way.  

Perhaps it's the fact that Nunez was 48 when he made Ruby.  Whatever the reasons, Nunez distinguishes himself from the rest of the abovementioned filmmakers by his careful attention to place and character and his subdued use of music, sound, and any other aspect of cinematic style.    

Jeremiah Zagar's Hustle
I will be the first to admit.  When it comes to sports films, I am willing to ignore and let slide stylistic elements I normally can't get past.  If you are like me and can be moved by Hollywood sports films like HoosiersCreedEddie the Eagle or The Way Back, this Sandler vehicle will most likely hook you in.  It is the type of underdog story and story of redemption that Hollywood can really deliver. 


 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Favorite (four), eighty-three

Just like in my other eighty-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 a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Arnaud Desplechin's La vie des morts
It's a film I have been wanting to see for more than 25 years that did not disappoint when I finally was able to track it down.  Before even making his first feature, Desplechin demonstrates his very special ability working with an ensemble of some of France's greatest actors.  And already so much of Desplechin's style is there - the edginess of the editing, the natural and almost laconic warmth and intimacy of the moments and his comfort in depicting the youth, particularly the females of his generation.

Frederick Wiseman's City Hall
In his most recent outing, Wiseman focuses on Boston and Mayor Marty Walsh who seems determined to make his city better for all the people.  It is a fascinating look at the countless sides of city government.  Wiseman uses Walsh and the work his team is doing to suggest that our country would be far better off if the US government looked to Boston as a model to work towards.

Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell
In the way she straddles the line between fact and fiction, Polley's "documentary" reminds me of Scorsese's Rolling Thunder Revue.  Polley should be commended for the film's originality, its bold approach to piecing together the past and the sheer result of the recreated footage her team put together.  It should serve as a lesson to all documentaries and the abundance of tawdry recreated footage used to fill in their story gaps.  

Gregory La Cava's Unfinished Business
A film that on the surface impresses by never going where you expect it.  In the way it feels like a romantic comedy dressed up like a drama, it reminded me of Cukor's Holiday.  La Cava puts it all together with great restraint and confidence and I can't ever recall liking Montgomery more than his performance here.  



Thursday, March 31, 2022

Favorite (four), eighty-two

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

Andrew Horn's Doomed Love
An incredibly unique American independent film that, simply watching it, seems to have had a massive influence on Hal Hartley and his hyper-mannered style.  I cannot recall a filmmaker achieving a more consistent lyrical quality in his or her work using less means than Horn employs here - painted sets, painted props, a handful of actors and not a single shot of the outside world.

Frederick Wiseman's Public Housing
Wiseman captures many sides of poverty and race in Chicago and begins to draw the characters and world that David Simon would only a few years later craft into his masterful series The Wire.  There are so many memorable scenes in this work that only further attest to the fact that Wiseman has a process and a temperament that enable him to reflect truths about certain sides of the American experience that no other filmmaker has been able to match.

Wim Wenders' Reverse Angle
There's a period of Wenders' work form 1974-1985, from Alice in the Cities to Tokyo-Ga, that is among my favorite of any director's films.  Sure, it didn't hurt that Wenders had Robby Muller alongside him for almost the entirety of the run, framing the world in poetic ways arguably as well as any cinematographer in the history of the medium.
 
John Scheinfeld's Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?
I always loved Nilsson's song in Midnight Cowboy but I had never delved into the rest of his work which I can now begin to tell you is surprisingly rich and rewarding.  A fascinating portrait for anyone like me that loves Dylan, Scott Walker, Rufus Wainwright and countless other singer-songwriters.   


Monday, February 21, 2022

Favorite (four), eighty-one

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

Robert Bresson's Les anges du peche
In a rare case, Bresson emerges in his first feature already a masterful filmmaker.  His style is not yet fully formed, that would not happen until his third feature, but his understanding and command of the medium's power are fully present.  

Although I imagine there is a way to view the film, being that it was made in 1943, as a film of resistance, I experienced it at face value as a film of faith.  As such, it demonstrates faith as well as anything I have seen on film.  Bresson finds the cinematic tools to make us understand certain beliefs, such as sacrificing worldly materials to attain a true spiritual state, that in less skilled hands would leave us unmoved and unenlightened.  I experienced the film not only as a film about faith but as an indication of Bresson's faith in the medium of cinema to plumb the depths of human experience and to emerge with emotions of a deep spiritual and intellectual revelatory power.

Jean-Claude Biette's Trois ponts sur la riviere
I know more about French film than I know about almost anything else. And though I was aware of some of Biette's work, particularly Loin de Manhattan and Le champignon des Carpathes, this is the first of his movies I have seen.

Biette has a great feel for capturing spaces in a precisely realistic way, like a college student's apartment in Paris or a bookstore in Porto, Portugal.  Similarly, his dialogue and the way he lets his actors move around and express themselves, reinforces a directorial desire to adhere closely to the way these types of moments unfold in real life.  In fact, it seems that Biette's quest to remain accurate and truthful give the film one of its most unique qualities, its willingness to show certain glances or moments without the need to explain them.  I am thinking, for instance, of the way Claire stares from her hotel window at the Brazilian guest, the brief scene suggesting it is normal for attraction to occur without ever being acted upon.  

I can only guess at the reasons for it but like Rivette's Out 1Le Pont du Nord or even La bande des quatre, Biette includes, with the character of Frank, a subplot of noirish overtones.  Like in the abovementioned Rivette works, the subplot feels more artificial and more difficult to believe than one typically experiences in regular genre films while the foregrounded story, that of Arthur and Claire, feels far more real than most movies.

Josh Swade's Ricky Powell: The Individualist
Highly recommended for fans like me of the Beastie Boys.  Chances are, again like me, that you know less than 10% of the massive contribution Powell made to the early hip hop era and to the Beasties from their early career all the way until the completion of Ill Communication.   
 
Lee Man-hui's Homebound
Not only my first experience with a film by Man-hui but also probably the first Korean film I have seen that came out before 2000.  To summarize it in broad strokes, it feels like a Sirkian melodrama filmed in a more natural New Wave manner.  Yet, Man-hui gives it certain touches that make it distinctive and take it into territory that is neither Sirk nor New Wavish.  I am thinking about some of the ways Man-hui uses sound and music to draw the character of the military husband.  And, the institutional pressures, marriage in this case, feel even more oppressive than we typically experience in one of Sirk's films.    

      

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

2022

 2/6/22 I watched Felicity Morris' The Tinder Swindler.  Fairly compelling story on Netflix told in a thrown together manner.  

6/12/22 I watched Jeremiah Zagar's Hustle.  I will be the first to admit.  When it comes to sports films, I am willing to ignore and let slide stylistic elements I normally can't get past.  If you are like me and can be moved by Hollywood sports films like Hoosiers, CreedEddie the Eagle or The Way Back, this Sandler vehicle will most likely hook you in.  It is the type of underdog story and story of redemption that Hollywood can really deliver.    

9/1/22 I watched Claire Denis' Both Sides of the Blade.  Although I have not rewatched most of Denis' films, I have seen the following at least once - Chocolat, S'en fout la mort, J'ai pas sommeil, US Go Home, Nenette et Boni, Beau travail, Trouble Every Day, Vendredi soir, L'intrus, 35 rhums, Let the Sunshine In, High Life and Both Sides of the Blade.  It seems that her work can be divided into at least two categories, films that make for fairly comfortable viewing (for instance, I place Nenette, Vendredi35 and Let the Sunshine into this category) and work that is as up there with some of the cinema's most harrowing.  In this latter category, to begin with I would list J'ai pas sommeil, Trouble and Both Sides of the Blade.  It isn't gratuitous, there is a fearlessness at times with the way that Denis films the body and her ability, like Lynch, to burrow into raw and deeply disturbing situations involving her characters.  I am thinking about the long murder sequence involving Dalle or almost any moment with Camille or nearly second Colin is on screen.   

9/2/22 I watched Jordan Peele's Nope.  I was a huge fan of Get Out, much less so of Us and I would rank this one a distant second behind Peele's debut.  Peele has important ideas that he explores around race and even around the cinema's history.  While his dialogue at times is as sharp and cool as Tarantino's, he lacks Tarantino's ability at creating cinematically affecting visceral moments.  Peele also could have really benefitted from someone this time out editing and paring the whole thing down.

9/14/22 I watched Barney Douglas' McEnroe.  McEnroe is one of the great talkers and that part of the documentary is enjoyable even if there is very little new that emerges.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Favorite (four), eighty

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

Sidney J Furie's Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York
Someone close to me when they were in their early thirties made the comment that they had already seen and read almost every great work and so there was no longer much of a need to seek out undiscovered movies or albums.  The seeking muscle had been quenched.  

I don't think the above statement is all that uncommon of a sentiment for people coming out of the rich discovery phase of their teens and twenties.  But I also feel it inhibits many rewarding future discoveries, particularly of works that are a bit more hidden and unknown.

Take Furie's 1975 film Sheila Levine Is Dead and Living in New York.  It was made during the period that is arguably the group of movies I have seen the most of and know the most about.  Yet not only had I never seen Sheila, I hadn't even heard about it.  

What grabbed me the most while watching Sheila is the freedom of the acting.  Furie frames the three leads at a generous distance and leaves many of their moments with unadorned direction and unbroken takes.  The acting felt brave, as though Furie was giving them an unusual amount of support and space to express themselves.   

Claire Denis and Serge Daney's Jacques Rivette, le veilleur 
This dream of a documentary consists mostly of Denis filming the great film critic Daney talking with the great filmmaker Rivette.  It is by far the most thorough portrait of Rivette I have experienced to date and ranks as one of the most enlightening documentaries I have ever seen on a filmmaker.  

Hong Sang-soo's The Woman Who Ran
I will admit the presence of Kim Min-hee immediately elevates a Hong film experience for me and she is the center of this 2020 work.  Hong has a particularly clear vision here - tell the story of Min-hee's character by filming her in long discussions with three different people from her life.  As an observer to these three (four if you count the ex-boyfriend) interactions, the viewer slowly comes to know her.  It is Hong doing what he does best, using simple means to get at complex characters and emotions.
 
Patricia Mazuy's Peaux de vaches
An extremely interesting first feature that impresses with its toughness and an ability throughout to subvert expectations of where a certain scene is headed.  It is this concoction of elements that seem recognizable - the physicality of Cassavetes, the ominous tone of The Night of the Hunter and Out of the Blue and the feel for provincial life reminiscent of Pialat.  While it has all of this.  To Mazuy's credit, in the end it feels like none of the above.  


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Favorite (four), seventy-nine

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

Jean-Pierre Limosin's Abbas Kiarostami - Verites et songes
For many years I have minimized the benefits of YouTube, preferring to criticize the quality of the works available there that could not be found anywhere else rather than revel in finally being able to see certain things.  The French series of documentaries, Cineastes de notre temps and  Cinema, de notre temps, refute anything I may have thought or felt all these years.  The documentaries are difficult to see in the states yet are some of the most powerful documents of some of the medium's greatest directors.  I believe there are more than 50 documentaries in all ranging from Renoir to Moretti, Lang to Cassavetes and many, many others.

What makes the series special is evident when watching the one on Kiarostami.  It is not a history of Kiarostami's life or cinema but rather an attempt to spend some time with the filmmaker.  We hear him talk and see him interact with different people he has worked with and different people he runs into on the streets.  By the end, we are no longer grappling to understand how a man could create such extraordinary work because we have just spent time in his shoes, sitting in his chair, seeing and feeling the world as he experiences it.

Jerzy Skolimowski's Walkover
Skolimowski continues to be a filmmaker that intrigues me.  This is the fourth of his features I have seen, after seeing Le DepartMoonlighting and Essential Killing.  All four films are incredibly different in their style and subject matter although in each Skolimowski proves he possesses an unusually strong cinematic eye as well as exceptional feel for the effectiveness of a camera capturing movement on film.  Walkover exudes that very New Wave quality of youth meandering through a city trying to find purpose and place.  The final ten minutes, in particular, churn up heaps of cinematic energy and leave the viewer with an outlook on life that powerfully captures a new generation's desire to reject the ways of the past.   

Cy Endfield's Zulu
I've only seen three of his films but I feel completely confident in saying that Cy Endfield is a name that should be far more common and known in cinephile circles than it is.  Each of his films has a strong directorial presence and a position to the material that encourages contemplation without being distancing.  Although not my area of expertise, I can't think of a war film set up in remotely the same way as Zulu.  We remain in one location for the first two hours with very little in terms of plot advances as we get to know characters as they prepare for what is probably their final battle.   
 
Clint Eastwood's Pale Rider
A top shelf Eastwood western that impresses on numerous fronts.  It is mindful with its location work, its pacing, its framing.  It contains one of the most memorable performances in Eastwood's filmography with Michael Moriarty's work.  And it reminds one how effective Eastwood can be when he's offering the public certain mythologies like a God-like hero that will save us all from our fears and challenges.  


Sunday, January 9, 2022

Favorite (four), seventy-eight

Just like in my other seventy-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 a very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Jean-Luc Godard's Hisoire(s) du cinema
Is it possible to praise a film in which you grasp less than 10% of what the filmmaker is saying?  I would argue that it is.  Particularly with someone like Godard who can send shockwaves through your brain with some of his insights and with the lyricism he sometimes finds as he works sound and image together.    

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy
My first experience with the cinema of Hamaguchi and I am as excited about what he might do as I have been with any new filmmaker in a while.  Hamaguchi uses music like Hong Sang-soo and at first glance might simply seem like alt Sang-soo.  But Hamaguchi's world is not as distilled as the Korean filmmaker's.  Hamaguchi utilizes more locations, pushes deeper into more "taboo" places (sexuality, even homosexuality) and ultimately creates moments and cinema that because they feel less controlled feel more dangerous than the work of Hong Sang-soo.  Many people may call Hamaguchi the Japanese Rohmer but in his playfulness, even daring, he seems as close to Rivette as he does Rohmer. 

Jacques Becker's Edouard et Caroline
It's the ninth of his thirteen features I have seen and what impressed me more than anything is how modern the narrative construction still feels today.  The film consists of only two sets and bears more resemblance in its scope to many low-budget American indies than to the other films of Becker.  It seems to have lots to say about the importance of art in post WWII French society.  
 
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's Summer of Soul
One of these documentaries where the story is so great that it's astounding the footage has sat on the shelf for 50 years.  That in and of itself speaks volumes about the situation of race in this country.  Some of the performances are simply grand from Sly to Mavis Staples to The 5th Dimension. 


Sunday, January 2, 2022

All I Saw and Read in 2021

 I have posted this one or two other times in the past.  Here is all that I saw and read in 2021:


½ Betty Tells Her Story, Sylvie’s Love

1/3 Conversations With Friends

1/7 The Way Back

1/8 Richard Jewell

1/9 Rabbit, Run

1/10 Love Affair(s)

1/11 Before the coffee gets cold

1/13 Summer of 85

1/15 Wuthering Heights

1/18 Girl, Woman, Other

1/20 The Alchemist

1/23 The Outsiders

1/24 Tiger, Trivial Pursuits

1/31 One Hundred Years of Solitude

2/1 The Cost of Living

2/5 The Arbalest

2/6 Rounders

2/15 The Given Day, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

2/27 All The Light We Cannot See

3/1 Lovers Rock

3/3 The Society of the Crossed Keys

3/7 Corps a Coeur

3/13 David Bowie: The Last Five Years

3/14 The Gleaners and I

3/15 Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind

4/4 Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

4/10 The Midnight Library

4/11 Nothing but a Circus

4/15 Malice Aforethought

4/16 The Correspondence

4/18 I Am Not Your Negro

4/21 Giovanni’s Room

4/25 Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool

5/1 Jim Brown: All-American, The Disciple

5/4 Ham on Rye

5/8 Thomasine & Bushrod

5/13 Home from the Hill

5/15 Me and My Gal

5/16 Nomadland

5/31 Dons of Disco

6/2 Hooligan Sparrow

6/6 About Some Meaningless Events, Songs My Brothers Taught Me

6/16 Uncanny Valley

6/18 Parasite

6/20 A Screaming Man

6/21 Sound of Metal

6/30 The French

7/7 The Painter of Modern Life

7/15 Joji

7/20 Whereabouts

8/5 Kitchen

8/16 Mistakes Were Made (some in French)

8/19 My Mess Is a Bit of a Life: Adventures in Anxiety

8/21 Exterminate All the Brutes

8/22 Little Wars

8/29 Adolescentes

9/26 The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz

10/7 A Scandal in Paris

10/21 The Velvet Underground

10/23 Crimson Gold

10/24 Hill of Freedom, Le caporal epingle

10/27 There’s Always Tomorrow

10/30 The Yards

10/31 First Case, Second Case

11/1 Taking Father Home

11/2 Luxor

11/6 Test Pattern

11/7 Juvenile Court

11/10 Central Park

11/12 Passing

11/14 Near Death

11/15 Orderly or Disorderly

11/21 Ode, Remember My Name

11/23 Remember the Night, Who Killed Who?

11/24 Manuel on the Island of Wonders

11/25 Lovers of the Arctic Circle

11/26 The Little Richard Story, Elf

11/27 US Go Home

11/28 Cops

12/2 God’s Comedy

12/5 In the Same Breath, Out of the Blue

12/8 Gang of Four

12/12 The Metaphor, A Perfect Couple

12/13 To Sleep with Anger

12/14 The Chorus, The Argyle Secrets

12/15 Le ciel est a vous, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

12/16 Sweetie, Our Sunhi

12/17 A Letter to Elia, Annette

12/18 France, Summer of Soul, The Sparks Brothers

12/19 The Terrorizers, Zola, The Grass Is Greener

12/21 Wheel of Fortune and Fantasty, Travolta et Moi

12/22 HHH: Portrait of Hou Hsiao-hsien

12/26 Scattered Clouds

12/27 Cry Macho, The Dead Zone, Scene of the Crime, Our Daily Bread

12/28 The Corporation, I Knew Her Well, Alive in France, The Projectionist, Micki & Maude, Victor/Victoria

12/29 Lianna, Rendez-vous, Memoria, Deep Cover

12/30 Designing Woman, Edouard et Caroline, Sleuth

12/31 Drive My Car

*Additionally, I watched perhaps more TV than ever watching in its entirety The Plot Against America, Unbelievable, Unorthodox, The Crown, This Is Us, Killing Eve, Mare of Easttown, Queen's GambitSuccession, 100 Foot Wave and Hacks

Saturday, January 1, 2022

My Top Films Seen in 2021

Here are the films, new and old, that I saw and most admired in 2021.

Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold
It is the first film by Panahi that fully grabbed me.  I have also seen Offside.  Aside from Panahi's remarkable restraint with respect to sound, or in other words the film's almost complete absence of music and use of only minimal sound, what impressed me most was the depth and presence of Hossain.  The narrative structure of the film is also quite unique as it flashes back from the opening scene.  But until the end it is unclear how the beginning relates exactly in a linear manner to the rest of the film's proceedings. 
Frederick Wiseman's Near Death
A film that makes the case that it is Wiseman's fearlessness that could be his greatest asset, even more than his intelligence, rigor or his patience.  Once again, because of Wiseman's approach, the impact often hinges greatly on the ability of the subjects he selects to speak clearly and articulate in a manner that is compelling and engaging.  These speeches are the music of his films and the doctors and nurses in particular are responsible for some amazing passages.  This work also examines the staff's feelings about their profession in a way I have not seen before in a Wiseman film.
Chaitanya Tamhane's The Disciple
While the style of the film is cohesive and fairly rigorous, it is not the aspect of the film that gets to you.  What gets to you is the subject matter.  I can't recall a film that spends as much time or goes as far into the question of what it looks and feels like to be an artist in today's world - an artist that reveres the past and the loneliness of refusing to adapt or change with the times.  It is a tormented film that feels truthful in so many ways.   
Shatara Michelle Ford's Test Pattern
A highly effective indy.  I know nothing about the filmmaker but the two actors are strong and the direction is patient and efficient.  It is difficult material but the way the filmmaker sets it up in the beginning adds a sense of danger to the first 30 minutes.  Once we are caught up with the narrative Ford is still able to maintain the suspense by focusing on the couple and whether their relationship will survive the horrific events of the night before.  It reminds me of Sciamma's Tomboy in the way it successfully incorporates suspense elements of thrillers or mystery films in material that generally does not contain such characteristics. 
Charles Burnett's To Sleep with Anger
It only makes sense that because African-Americans have their own history and culture their story should be told using a style that is different and unique.  Burnett might be the first African-American filmmaker to bring that style to cinema.  I do not claim to have seen work by all of the African-American directors, but I can say that neither Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks Jr., Spike Lee, John Singleton, Carl Franklin, Antoine Fuqua, Barry Jenkins nor any of the other films directed by African-American filmmakers that I have seen to date bear a style as tailored and seemingly conceived to fit African-American stories as the work of Burnett.  

A broad statement but it can be seen in the way the sets look and the way the characters move, sweat and speak.  Burnett's style is naturalistic but mannered and accented in ways that make it feel even more capable of capturing the plight of the black experience in America.
Vincente Minnelli's Home from the Hill
A film that really would not even be on my radar if it weren't for Richard Brody and his Twitter feed that I follow.  Aside from Some Came Running, I have been lukewarm about every other Minnelli film I have ever seen (probably ten or so others).  And I can completely see why this one might miss for many, from the heavy presence of its score to George Hamilton's acting to the Sirk-like histrionics.  If you can get past those elements, it makes a strong case for Minnelli's greatness.  Look at the grace with which the camera moves around the scenes, Minnelli's careful, emotive framing and the space and time he allows himself (150+ minutes) to explore the characters, the story, the setting. 
Alan Rudolph's Remember My Name
Only the third film of Rudolph's I have seen so far and my favorite.  It meanders and never feels like it needs to make itself more conventional, comfortable or easy for those watching.  It inverts a story we have seen often and makes us realize how foreign a simple swap for a female in this type of story can make us feel.  Often I have read how Altmanesque Rudolph is as a filmmaker but this film seems to have influenced Altman (Short Cuts and The Player) rather than the other way around.
Douglas Sirk's There's Always Tomorrow
It's incredible to see Sirk working in black-and-white the same year he'd make one of the most color-forward films in history (Written on the Wind).  Sirk takes the leads from Double Indemnity and substitutes extramarital romance for murder.  In doing so, he is able to create the same level of suspense found in the best noirs and achieve something even more emotionally damaging as it all feels more rooted in reality - kids, family, profession.
Mitchell Leisen's Remember the Night
The first of what I believe were three films that Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray made together, all of which are excellent.  Preston Sturges wrote the script for this one.  Leisen impresses with the amount of emotional depth he is able to create, producing greater feeling by repeatedly choosing complex character moments over entertaining turns of plot.  He shows such restraint, and willingness to defy typical Hollywood narratives, that by the end he is able to deliver a final moment of Bressonian gravity and weight.  
Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy
My first experience with the cinema of Hamaguchi and I am as excited about what he might do as I have been with any new filmmaker in a while.  Hamaguchi uses music like Hong Sang-soo and at first glance his filmmaking might simply seem like alt Sang-soo.  But Hamaguchi's world is not as distilled as the Korean filmmaker's.  Hamaguchi utilizes more locations, pushes deeper into more "taboo" places (sexuality, even homosexuality) and ultimately creates moments and cinema that because they feel less controlled feel more dangerous than the work of Hong Sang-soo.  Many people may call Hamaguchi the Japanese Rohmer but in his playfulness, even daring, he seems as close to Rivette as he does Rohmer.  


Emmanuel Mouret's Love Affair(s)
Mouret proves himself very adept at tackling the romantic comedy genre while finding ways to make it feel updated and modern.  His most interesting contributions to the genre come by way of his parallel narrators and the way he continually subverts our expectations all the way until the final seconds.  While I wish his use of music a bit more restrained, this is a strong new entry for French cinema, in the footsteps of Desplechin and Assayas and akin to Civeyrac.    
Jacques Becker's Edouard et Caroline
It's the ninth of his thirteen features I have seen and what impressed me more than anything is how modern the narrative construction still feels today.  The film consists of only two sets and bears more resemblance in its scope to many low-budget American indies than to the other films of Becker.  This film that seems Nouvelle Vague seven or eight years before the commonly recognized beginning of the movement also seems to have lots to say about the importance of art in post WWII French society.   














William Klein's The French
A fascinating look at The French Open and tennis in the early eighties.  I have certainly never gotten this kind of look into professional tennis, particularly from inside the locker room.  Klein takes a patient, unobtrusive, Wiseman-like approach, producing a gem of a "sports movie". 

Dennis Hopper's Out of the Blue
I should have seen this way before now.  It is a key film in the American New Wave and makes a case for being the final film of the cycle as much as any.  I never thought of Easy Rider, Hopper's first feature as director, as being much from an aesthetic point of view.  But this film possesses an incredible style - specifically its location work,  its graceful movements of the camera, its complex editing rhythms, and its sensitive use of sound.  Dark and disturbing like a David Lynch film but also with echoes of some of the seventies' stronger character work like Five Easy Pieces.    
Frederick Wiseman's Juvenile Court
Because Wiseman likes to leave his films unadorned - long takes, zero non-diegetic music and mostly a static camera - one of the main factors determining a work's impact is the quality of speeches (or conversations) his subjects deliver.  In his works, these speeches tend to be long and his subjects range from being highly intellectual and articulate to having difficulty putting forward coherent sentences.  The interactions Wiseman captures in his exploration of the juvenile court system are powerful and emotionally affecting, and the "speeches" in this work rate alongside his most effective films.

Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
One of the strongest qualities of Lee's work is the way he repeatedly uses the medium to talk about his anger with the treatment of African-American people in this country.  He sometimes finds dramatic ways to do it and he also often does it by having a strong comedic voice.  And regardless of the type of story Lee is telling, he gives it a flashy cinematic style that makes it all go down a little more easily.  

They say the flip side of anger is sadness.  This doc made for HBO might be the first Lee film I have seen (there are many and I can't claim to have seen them all) that embraces the sadness rather than the anger.  It is also the first Lee film that seems to background style and let the people and events stand for themselves.  As a result, it packs a weighty punch and stands up there with the greatest achievements of his career so far.  
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's Summer of Soul
One of those documentaries where the story is so great that it's astounding the footage has sat on the shelf for 50 years.  That in and of itself speaks volumes about the situation of race in this country.  Some of the performances are simply grand from Sly to Mavis Staples to The 5th Dimension.













Leos Carax's Annette
There is real exuberance and a supercharge in Carax's last two fims.  Partly I attribute it to the fact that I cannot think of anyone else in film right now where the work feels as much in an ongoing discourse with the history of cinema.  In the latest, David Lynch looms large.  You feel his influence on the way the young girl Annette looks, who can't help but make you think about the baby in Eraserhead.  You also see it in the way Carax stutters the lights in the beginning and the stylistic device he uses several times that is pure Lynch - the visual separation of body shots that I know you find in Twin Peaks but that I also seem to recall in Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr.  

Carax's cinema could always be looked at as a love letter to the medium and its endless beauty and possibilities.  So it only makes sense that Carax is channeling Lynch, one of the most liberated of filmmakers who continues to defy any claims of cinema's boundaries or imminent death.  

I settled on the phrase above "an ongoing discourse with the history of cinema" because Carax's rear view has always gone farther back than most of his peers who have a hard time citing anything film-wise released before Kubrick's 2001.  Carax in his latest is in a dialogue with the musical, the early Disney films, and as much with the first 50 years of cinema as the last 76.