Monday, December 12, 2022

Favorite (four), eighty-six

Just like in my other eighty-five posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only 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.

Jia Zhangke's Still Life
I am aware that Zhangke is highly revered in circles I admire but this is probably the first film of his I’ve seen in its entirety.  In its rigor - long takes and prominent film sound - it reminded me of 80s and 90s Hou Hsiao-hsien.  Its painterly lighting and framing of the highest order also recall the mastery of Hou.  Slow, thoughtful and with a touch of fantasy that yearns for something other than the every day grind of 21st century China, a great example of a great 21st century art film.

Billy Wilder's Five Graves to Cairo
One of Wilder's first American films, made before Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard.  Showing up on Rosenbaum's extended 1000+ essential films, it is not surprising that Rosenbaum was a fan.  He tends to champion films that take a more honest look at history and consistently places more importance on that aspect of a film than whether it is entertaining, moving or stylish.  I have never seen a mid-war propaganda film that was any more unflinching.  It seems so much of its time that you can still smell and taste the war on it.  

Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack
Reminds me of other films that play more as two halves than one whole - films like The Passenger, Tropical Malady and Mulholland Drive.  While the first half does a good enough job setting our world and the cast of characters surrounding Jack, it is the second part where Bogdanovich really impresses.  He uses silence and several inspired set pieces - the scheme to take down the senator, William's death, the kidnapping of Jack - to masterfully stretch time and remind us he could in moments rise to the level of the great filmmakers of his generation.   

Xan Cassavetes' Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession
It just so happens it is the second film I have seen in a row about a special period for the art film in the United States.  The previous film was Searching for Mr. Rugoff.  Both are worth a look but Jerry Harvey struck me as the more important figure and this work by Cassavetes felt far better shaped than Deutchman's tribute to Donald Rugoff.