Thursday, April 29, 2010

2008: Tulpan (Sergei Dvortsevoy)

2008: Tulpan (Sergei Dvortsevoy) 
This will be the final year I'll tackle.  I wasn't able to see enough last year to confidently put together a post.  But I will do one more post tomorrow, wrapping up the countdown and discussing a little about where we go from here.  

Tulpan, in terms of its bravura filmmaking, could be seen as the rural counterpart to my 2007 entry.  If I had to guess, the film probably has less than 100 cuts.  However, it covers a lot of ground.  It's one of these rare films that pushes my understanding of what's possible in the medium and forces me to reconsider the directions in which I'd like to go.  In fact, if somebody said that I have an endless amount of time and money to do my next project, I would love to take the Mungiu or Dvortsevoy approach.  To me, in terms of sheer technique, this is the most exciting filmmaking I have seen in many, many years. 

What's most inspiring to me about Dvortsevoy's approach is the way he's able to meld a virtuosic spirit with the most quotidian of subjects. It's as if Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick suddenly took on neorealism. The approach feels completely groundbreaking and new to me.  And when I watch certain scenes, of course the birthing of the lamb is the first come to mind, I feel like the approach is able to produce unprecedented effects and emotions.

Some people bemoan the death of cinema.  But incredibly brave filmmakers like this will continue to open up new doors and directions. I for one continue to believe that the medium is still very young, and that we are only starting to see all its great possibilities.  

Other contenders for 2008: From this year , I still have some things to see.  These include: Stephen Daldry's The Reader, Andrew Stanton's Wall-E, Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum, Olivier Assayas' Summer Hours, Abel Ferrara's Chelsea on the Rocks, Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata, Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale, Hirokazu Kore-ada's Still Walking, and Ole Christian Madsen's Flame & Citron.  At some point, I'll need to revisit Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler as I struggled a little with it the one time I saw it.  But from this year, I really like Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Lorna's Silence.  I loved Megumi Sasaki's Herb and Dorothy and Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum.  And my closest runner-up is Gus Van Sant's Milk.

4/9/10 I watched Claire Denis' 35 Shots of Rum.  The style is absolutely sublime, and I thought Denis sustained poetry and nuance as well as I have ever seen her do.  Perhaps slightly too elusive at times but overall just really powerful stuff for me.  

12/18/10 I watched Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale.  It's an ambitious work, and at times, Desplechin almost feels like he's inventing a whole new kind of film.  It's modern and moves from lyrical moments to pretty intellectual highs with stylistic ease.  Desplechin is wonderful with actors and a real talent, but here I thought he could have benefitted from subtracting some things.  Not every subplot is satisfying, and the final feel of the film was a bit blurred as a result of its overreaching.

12/19/10 I watched So Yong Kim’s Treeless Mountain.  It’s all one piece -- the colors, the texture, and the mood.  And it’s all done in an incredibly deliberate and artful way.  But I never felt very much, and it all felt a bit claustrophobic to me, with its insistence on filming almost everything in extreme close-up.  

12/23/10 I watched Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata.  Kurosawa's lightest and most accessible work I've seen.  It's great to see the director working outside of genre and in territory that's already been masterfully done by Kitano (Fireworks) and Yang (Yi Yi).  Restrained but lyrical with the best final scene I've seen all year.  A wonderful film.    

12/25/10 I watched Kristopher Belman's More Than a Game.  As somewhat of a former athlete, I'm a sucker for this type of story, and much of this side of Lebron James' rise was unfamiliar to me.  I was inspired by the friendship and obstacles these young guys had to overcome.  And I was moved by Coach Jones' struggle.  Not always the most well-made doc, but a story worth telling.

12/28/10 I watched Wendy Keys' Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight.  Glaser is an interesting person, who was unknown to me before the film.  But the film never finds a terribly riveting way to present him, and I found myself questioning why I was spending this much time with him.  

12/28/10 I watched Antonio Campos' Afterschool.  Clinical and carnal, feels like an American Dumont or Noe.  Air-tight in its calculations and from a distance.  But suspect whenever it approached anything human and more realistic.  

12/29/10 I watched Pablo Larrain's Tony Manero.  Quite the dreary affair.  Exquisite camerawork, at times, and some wonderful performances, but oppressive with seemingly little to no reason.  

12/30/10 I watched Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles. Linklater keeps things buoyant, and it all has a pretty charming and harmless spirit.  And McKay, at times, bears a remarkable resemblance to Welles himself.  Just felt a bit incomplete to me.  Welles' lack of doubt made it hard for me to fully connect to him, and I wasn't always sure what to do with Efron.   

1/2/11 I watched Oliver Assayas' Summer Hours.  Assayas brings a realism and vitality that I greatly admire.  And the acting and characters are all incredibly satisfying.  But Assayas seems unwilling to stop and give any one moment too much weight and importance.  While this might be the secret behind his cinema's energy, it also diminishes its weight ultimately.  And isn't it strange that the family would allow a big party to be held at the home, as a new owner buys it and prepares to take it over?

1/4/11 I watched Tim Disney's American Violet.  It's a pretty traditional David v Goliath story, but there are some moments where this smaller budget indy acquits itself well.  I enjoyed Will Patton and Anthony Mackie, as always.  And newcomer Nicole Behaire does a pretty fine job, too.  Just wish it was a little more imaginative in terms of its use of music, and some of its directorial approach.  

1/7/11 I watched Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler.  Of the Aronofsky I've seen, it's the one I like the most so far.  But I still find him to be someone that enjoys causing the audience pain.  And his esthetic, at times, the jump cuts and ugly cinematography, really don't do it for me.   

1/8/11 I watched Gerardo Neranjo's I'm Gonna Explode.  The film the most influenced by Pierrot Le Fou that I've ever seen.  And when it's really riffing on one of my all-time faves, I think it's at its strongest.  But it neither has Godard's wisdom, incredible sense of humor, nor formal inventiveness.  Plus Maru has nowhere near the beauty of Anna Karina. And so its energy wanes about halfway in.

1/13/11 I watched Lance Daly's Kisses.  Had a lot of heart, but the filmmaking, and most of everything else, felt pretty thin to me.  

1/14/11 I watched Lisandro Alonso's Liverpool.  As incredibly beautiful as it is painfully slow.  An art film with a big ole capital A, the kind that would have Pauline Kael turning over in her grave.  

1/19/11 I watched Steve Jacobs' Disgrace.  A tough movie for me to get a handle on, not really sure what the filmmakers were hoping to say.  At times, I felt it was entirely nihilistic, while other moments made me think there was a sliver of hopeful outlook within these rough circumstances.  All in all, a little mixed on it as the characters' motivations seemed unfounded in any reality I could fully recognize.    

1/22/11 I watched Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York.  I'm in a huge minority, someone that has always struggled with Kaufman's work, and it's not really a different story here.  I admire his quirky outlook and his unique modernism, but emotionally and intellectually I just end up frustrated.  The acting's quite impressive though and so are some of Elmes' visuals.

1/30/11 I watched Hirokazu Koreeda's Still Walking.  The third of the director's films I've seen, and he continues to be among my favorite of all the contemporary Asian directors.  He's definitely a humanist, and there are moments that carry a tremendous power.  Not perfect, I particularly found a little fault with the saccharine nature of some of the score.  But all in all a memorable effort from one of the few directors still carrying Ozu's torch. 

2/12/11 I watched Joe Swanberg's Nights and Weekends.  It was my first experience with a Swanberg film, and I certainly liked it much more than I expected.  The writing at times was very sharp, and I liked how uninhibited and intimate it could be.  It also captured feelings and things about life in one's twenties that seem rare on screen.  But I don't like Swanberg much as an actor, and there's something smug about his overall tone and approach.  

3/24/11 I watched Abel Ferrara's Chelsea on the Rocks.  Made with Ferrara's typical deceptively unpolished style,  a strong documentary from the ever probing auteur.  The material is perfect for Ferrara as he's able to filter the seediness of the Chelsea into his own debauched yet weirdly humanistic perspective. Certainly not for everyone, but fans of Ferrara will feel his work continues to evolve and excel.  

6/4/11 I watched Nash Edgerton's The Square.  I didn't care very much for the ending.  But Edgerton definitely shows skill at the genre and a real inventiveness at times both in terms of his plotting and filmmaking.  Will be interesting to see what he does next.

2/4/12 I watched Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day.  There is something really impressive about Hong's cinema, and he is perhaps the greatest successor to Rohmer that we have right now.  The use of the zoom was particularly masterful here.  But the film ends up being overly long and pretty unlikeable and cold by the time it comes to a close.  

11/27/15 I watched Marc Forster's Quantum of Solace.  After a very positive experience with Casino Royale, I had high expectations for this next film in the Craig/Bond series.  I have never been a fan of Forster's work though and this one proves in my mind yet again that he is neither a great builder of character nor an action director with any real inspiration.  

9/25/17 I watched Adam McKay's Step Brothers.  Some funny moments for sure although it does not have the shape or heart of the the very best comedies.  

11/17/17 I watched 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.

12/23/18 I watched Matt Wolf's Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell.  One of those documentaries that immediately convince you to go out and dig into the work of the featured artist.  Prior to watching the film, I had only heard one song by Russell and now I am very curious to spend more time seeing what he was all about.  He strikes me as part Scott Walker, part Mark Hollis and perhaps part Nick Drake.    

1/19/20 I watched Miguel Gomes' Our Beloved Month of August.  As much as I love Gomes' next two features, I never fully connected to this one.  It had a few stylistic bursts that were exciting and signaled to the greatness ahead but otherwise I had to push myself through to the end.

8/28/20 I watched Olivier Bohler's Code Name Melville.  A great documentary for anyone interested in the French crime film master.  Really insightful interviews from friends, fellow filmmakers and critics.  I particularly liked the following two comments:  1.  That what Melville made really were "urban westerns" 2.  That even though he admired American filmmakers like Wyler, that his style was more akin to Bresson than Wyler or any of Wyler's American contemporaries.

10/11/23 I watched Ryusuke Hamaguchi's Passion.  An early film from the great Japanese filmmaker.  For the first time, I see influences of Woody Allen, in the way he uses the Gershwin music, and I also see him working through other cinematic influences like Cassavetes.  It is an early work that shows how far he has come over the last 15 years.


  1. This is a most interesting choice Jeffrey, and at some point I will look at this again, as I didn't during my Cinema Village viewing find this as accomplished as you did. But again, this must be me, especially as you (as a director yourself) found this as exciting filmmaking. You capsule here is among the best I've read from you during this entire countdown.

    My Own #1 Film of 2008:

    WALL-E (Stanton; USA)


    The Last Mistress (Breilat; France)
    The Pool (Smith; USA/India)
    The Reader (Daldry; UK)
    Slumdog Millionaire (Boyle; US/UK/India)
    My Blueberry Nights (Kar-Wei; USA/Hong Kong)
    The Visitor (McCarthy; USA)
    Synecdoche, New York (Kaufman; USA)
    35 Shots of Rum (Denis; France)
    Flame and Citron (Madsden; Denmark)
    In Bruges (McDonagh; UK)
    Of Time and the City (Davies; UK)
    Summer Hours (Assayas; France)
    The Hurt Locker (Bigelow; USA)
    Tokyo Sonata (Kurosawa; Japan)
    Everlasting Delights (Troell; Sweden)
    Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Fincher; USA)
    Dear Zachary (Kuene; USA)
    Paranoid Park (Van Sany; USA)
    The Edge of Heaven (Akin; Turkey; Germany)
    Happy-Go-Lucky (Leigh; UK)
    Man on Wire (Marsh; UK)
    Rachel Getting Married (Demme; USA)
    Let the Right One In (Alfredson; Sweden)
    Were the World Mine (Gustafson; USA)
    Doubt (Shanley; USA)
    Goodbye Solo (Bahreni; Iran)

    I added some films here that were originally released in their countries in 2008, as there apparently won't be a 2009 wrap-up.

    Assuming this is the final entry of the countdown, I want to thank you for this spectacular performance. We are all immeasurable enriched by your peerless insights, and magnificent personal anecdotes.

  2. Sam, thanks so much for the incredibly kind words! I will do one more post tomorrow as a wrap-up to the countdown.

    I would love to hear what you thought after revisiting this one. I definitely was very humbled and most impressed by its filmmaking.

    I appreciate all of your daily support. It's that sort of interaction that makes all of this tremendously worthwhile.

    Thanks, Sam!

  3. I have to go with Madsen's FLAME & CITRON. Knowing our shared love of noir, Jeffrey, and also how much you appreciated Melville's Army of Shadows, this is a movie that you should make a point of seeing. I seem to rate it higher than most others, but almost everyone I know that has seen has enjoyed it. I think it is a wonderful mix of the noir and war film - ala Army of Shadows - that holds its own as a thriller as well. The opening sequence always sticks with me as a spectacular piece of editing in order to set the stage. Of all the recent films that seem to be dealing with WWII resistance that have come out of late, I consider Flame & Citron to be the best of the bunch.

  4. I've not seen this one Jeffrey, but I'd be lying if I said that statements like "It's as if Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick suddenly took on neorealism." didn't pique my curiosity quite a bit! This sounds like a fascinating filmmaker, and I will add Tulpan to my ever growing list of gems to seek out. Obviously, another great write-up.

    My choice for this year would have to be a tie between a couple of films I consider to be two of the very best from the decade: Claire Denis' sublime 35 Shots of Rum, truly one of the most beautiful films I think I've ever seen, and Charlie Kaufman's endlessly intriguing Synecdoche, New York. In my best of the decade list I recently submitted for the poll over at Sam's site, I had the Denis ranked one spot ahead of the Kaufman, but in reality I love them equally. Two stunning achievements.

    I also really like from this year: Assayas's Summer Hours, Troell's Everlasting Moments, Aronofsky's The Wrestler, Garrone's Gomorrah, Spielmann's Revanche, Stanton's Wall-E and Laugier's Martyrs. Very solid year.

    I look forward to the wrap-up post Jeffrey, and echo Sam's sentiments that it's been an absolute treat and blast following along and getting your perspective on these great films through your always insightful write-ups!

  5. I also thought that I would add a notice to everyone that FLAME AND CITRON is available as part of Netflix's Watch Instantly and can be viewed on the computer or if you have the ability to run it to the TV (through a PS3, Xbox, or VGA cable to the TV) it works well that way. I don't know how many folks are Netflix members, but just thought I'd make it known... more people should see this one!

  6. Dave, yeah I absolutely loved ARMY OF SHADOWS! I will definitely make a point of checking this one out. It sounds fantastic.

    Thanks, Dave! Always great to have you here.

  7. Drew, I really appreciate the words! It's been a treat to dialogue with you here.


    I look forward to you seeing TULPAN and would love to hear your thoughts when you catch up with it. Thanks so much, Drew!

  8. Jeffrey, it has been great given your insight as a filmmaker. Your # 1 choice is again an unknown entity to me. My own #1 is "The Wrestler." I was never a fan of Rourke's but he did an amazing job in this film and actually appeared in two of my favorite films for the year, the other was "Killshot", a film that did not get much distribution and was dumped on the video market.

    The Reader
    Revolutionary Road
    Frozen River
    Iron Man
    Slumdog Millionaire
    Rachel Getting Married
    Vicky Christina Barcelona
    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

    Look forward to what you are up to next.

  9. John, it's been tremendous having you here. Your dedication to the countdown, along with Dave and Sam's, has been incredible, and I truly appreciate it.

    From your list, I still have much to see: KILLSHOT, FROST/NIXON, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, DOUBT, IRON MAN, RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, CHANGELING, and THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON. I liked FROZEN RIVER and VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA although just a little less than the ones I mentioned. And I struggled a little with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE the one time I saw it.

    Thanks so much, John! You've been tremendous.