Thursday, February 6, 2014

Highlights of Recent Online Criticism

Here are a few of the best recent examples of film criticism I've read which are available online.

First, Michael Koresky's The Long Day Closes: In His Own Good Time discusses one of my all-time favorite films ever since seeing it in 1993 at the San Francisco Film Festival, followed by a Q&A with Terence Davies. Koresky, in his piece for the Criterion Collection, captures what makes this uniquely magical and moving film so endlessly fascinating. The photo below is from the amazing Tammy sequence near the end of the film.

Adrian Martin's Dust of Time: Tabu, for Fandor, looks at the strategies by which Miguel Gomes subtly critiques the legacy of Portuguese colonialism and how the film's low budget led to its marvelous second half becoming a silent film within the film.

And Dream Lovers: Alain Guiraudie by Jonathan Romney in the current Film Comment nicely summarizes Guiraudie's career in conjunction with the recent retrospective of his films and the release of his latest, Stranger by the Lake. Below is a still from Guiraudie's casually homoerotic breakthrough film That Old Dream That Moves.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Best Films of 2013

Following is my list of the best new films seen for the first time in 2013.  Some of the best films released in 2013 are films I first saw at the New York Film Festival in 2012 (Abbas Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love, Raul Ruiz's Night Across the Street and Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha). Although I saw them again in 2013 when they had theatrical releases, I am not including them on this list.  Also, I have not yet seen a couple of 2013 releases that might have made the list (Ralph Fiennes's The Invisible Woman, Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street and Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises).

Here are my favorites in roughly preferential order (I am updating frequently as I remember earlier omissions):

1. Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-Liang)
 2. A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhang-ke)
 3. Norte (The End of History) (Lav Diaz)
4. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
 5. Museum Hours (Jem Cohen)
 6. Drug War (Johnnie To)
 7. Bastards (Claire Denis)
8. Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski)

9. Student (Darezhan Omirbaev)

10. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
11. Gebo and the Shadow (Manoel de Oliveira)
12. Post Tenebras Lux (Carlos Reygadas)
13. Viola (Miguel Piñeiro)
14. At Berkeley (Frederick Wiseman)
15. What Now? Remind Me (Joaquim Pinto)
16. Gravity 3D (Alfonso Cuarón)
17. Paradise: Hope (Ulrich Seidl)
18. Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)
19. The Grandmaster (Wong Kar-Wai)
20. Jealousy (Philippe Garrel)
Runners-up: Manakamana (Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, Nebraska (Alexander Payne), Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen), Her (Spike Jonze), The Unspeakable Act (Dan Sallitt), Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen), Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch), Nobody's Daughter Haewon (Hong Sang-Soo), Ilo Ilo (Anthony Chen), Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley), The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer), Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener), The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola), This Is Martin Bonner (Chad Hartigan), Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan), and Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche).
Two outstanding shorts from the New York Film Festival:
Redemption (Miguel Gomes)
The King's Body (João Pedro Rodrigues) 
Two great made-for-TV movies or miniseries:
Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh)
Top of the Lake (Jane Campion)
And some of the best revival films seen in 2013:

Mauvais Sang (Leos Carax)

 Manila in the Claws of Light (Lino Brocka)
Batang West Side (Lav Diaz)
Many outstanding Chinese documentaries or semi-documentaries at MoMA, including:
Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (Wang Bing), Oxhide II (Liu Jiayin), Old Dog (Pima Tseden),
24 City (Jia Zhangke), and Disorder (Huang Weikai)
Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles at Anthology Film Archives)
Sylvia Scarlett, A Life of Her Own and The Actress (George Cukor at Walter Reade Theater)
Slightly Scarlet, Rendezvous with Annie and While Paris Sleeps (Allan Dwan at MoMA)
Germany Year Ninety Nine Zero, France/Tour/Detour/Deux/Enfants, various Godard trailers and
     shorts (Jean-Luc Godard: The Spirit of the Forms at Film Society of Lincoln Center)
Donkey Skin (Jacques Demy at Film Forum)
Far from Vietnam (Alain Resnais, Jean-Luc Godard, William Klein et al.) (MoMA)
All I Desire (Douglas Sirk) and Forty Guns (Sam Fuller) (Barbara Stanwyck at Film Forum)
Tokyo Twilight and A Hen in the Wind (Yasujiro Ozu at Film Forum)
Equinox Flower (Ozu and His Afterlives at Walter Reade Theater)
Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky at BAM)
Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky at Film Forum)
Chocolat and Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis at MOMI)
The State I'm In (Christian Petzold) and Longing (Valeska Grisebach) (Berlin School at MoMA)
Sans Lendemain (Max Ophuls) and Only Yesterday (John M. Stahl) (Views from the Avant-Garde)
The Lusty Men (Nicholas Ray) (NYFF Retrospectives)
2013 was a great year for films new and old, and 2014 (with new films from Wes Anderson, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lisandro Alonso, Alain Resnais, Manoel de Oliveira and many others expected) should be as well.
Film Forum will have complete Hitchcock and Truffaut retrospectives beginning in February, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center has the films of Alain Guiraudie at the end of January. The Museum of the Moving Image begins its third edition of First Look on January 10. Film Comment Selects promises a rare Raul Ruiz, and that festival is followed by Rendez-vous with French Cinema and New Directors/New Films, as the annual New York cinephile cycle begins anew. I can't wait.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bergman's Dreams

I am sharing this beautiful video essay on the theme of dreams in the films of Ingmar Bergman, recently posted at Criterion's website by Michael Koresky and Casey Moore.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Venezia 70 – Future Reloaded

Having just returned from Venice myself (the city, not the festival), I discovered a collection of 70 very short films (approximately 90 seconds each) by directors who have had films shown at the Venice Film Festival during its 70-year history. From this group of films collectively called Venezia 70 - Future Reloaded I have chosen 8 by some of my favorite directors, 5 of whom will have new films at the upcoming New York Film Festival.

Jia Zhang-ke
Wang Bing
Lav Diaz
Apichatpong Weerasethakul
João Pedro Rodrigues
Hong Sang-Soo
Nicolás Pereda
Catherine Breillat
They range from various forms of documentary to avant-garde to humorous narrative, but I am very interested in how great directors can compress their essential cinematic style into such a short format.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

NYFF 2013 -- Documentaries and Revivals

 Manakamana (Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez)
What Now? Remind Me (Joaquim Pinto)
 Providence (Alain Resnais)
Manila In the Claws of Neon (Lino Brocka)

The New York Film Festival has announced a large selection of documentaries and revivals to play alongside the Main Slate discussed previously. The two most interesting documentaries, both prizewinners at the recent Locarno Film Festival, are Manakamana, the newest film from the Sensory Ethnography Lab that made last year's Leviathan which is set entirely inside a mountain cable car in Nepal, and What Now? Remind Me, an intimate personal diary film by gay Portuguese director Joaquim Pinto.

There are a number of great revivals, including Lino Brocka's gritty Manila In the Claws of Neon, Alain Resnais's exquisite Providence, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's first feature Mysterious Object at Noon, Cy Endfield's politically charged film noir Try and Get Me, two great Nicholas Ray films, They Live by Night and The Lusty Men, and Leos Carax's first two films, Boy Meets Girl and Mauvais Sang.

Monday, August 19, 2013

NY Film Festival 2013

The main slate of the 2013 New York Film Festival was announced today, with a record 35 films screening this year. Recalling the films from Cannes which I was hoping to see at the NYFF, I can't think of any that didn't make it into this year's program. I think Kent Jones, the new head of the Festival Selection Committee, and Dennis Lim, the Film Society's new Cinematheque programmer, are having a very positive influence on the direction of the festival in its 51st edition. Among my must-sees in this year's lineup are the following:

 Norte, the End of History (Lav Diaz)

Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-Liang)
A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke)
Like Father, Like Son (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Nobody's Daughter Haewon (Hong Sang-Soo)
The Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
Bastards (Claire Denis)
Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
Near the top of my list is Tsai Ming-Liang's Stray Dogs, which will have its world premiere this month at Venice. I couldn't find any stills yet but the trailer looks very powerful. Apichatpong Weerasethakul has tweeted his love for this film, which makes me even more enthusiastic.
The festival's Special Presentations, Retrospectives and Views from the Avant-Garde programs are still to be announced.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dwan and Ozu

On the surface, Allan Dwan and Yasujiro Ozu seem like they could hardly be more dissimilar as filmmakers, yet both of them had long, prolific careers stretching from the silent era to the early 60s and developed distinctive visual styles within the very different conditions of their respective film industries. They are receiving simultaneous, overlapping retrospectives at Film Forum (Ozu) and MoMA (Dwan), necessitating a lot of picking and choosing and shuttling back and forth between the two venues for the next several weeks. I have previously seen almost all of Ozu's films, which have become widely available recently via Criterion and Hulu, but I've seen only a handful of Dwan's films so far.

Dwan's early sound films (Man to Man and Chances) have been revelatory, and I look forward to many more opportunities to explore the full range of his career. Dwan is very fond of tracking shots to situate characters in relation to their locations, as was Ozu in his silent period. While Dwan generally seemed to use the tracking camera to follow his characters' progression through space, or to move from a medium shot to a closer view, Ozu, in addition to following characters' movements, often used tracks to follow a row of stationary people or objects (a coatrack or a row of students' desks), lending a bit of dynamic observation to a still setting. While Ozu continued to refine and minimize his style, reducing and finally eliminating camera movement as his career progressed, Dwan (on the evidence of just a few of his hundreds of films) seems to have maintained a fairly consistent visual rhythm across a wide variety of genres, studios and production circumstances. I'm eager to see more of Dwan's 50s color films produced by Benedict Bogeaus and photographed by John Alton. A comparison with Ozu's late color films may be instructive.

This happy accident of New York repertory programming is an opportunity, increasingly rare these days, to sample and compare a large portion of two major directors' work.