Talking Female Directors in Wilmette / New Pieces in Cine-File and Time Out Chicago

arzner

This Saturday at 2:00pm I will be giving a talk about underappreciated female directors (a timely topic in light of Ava DuVernay’s Oscar snub) at the Wilmette
Public Library. Here is the description I wrote about the event for the Library’s “Off the Shelf” Newsletter:

Female directors only account for 3% of all the movies that have been made. Their work has often consequently been overlooked or downplayed in many official film histories. Yet a close scrutiny of the history of cinema reveals that women — from the silent era through today, in every national cinema around the world — have not only been present in all of the major historical movements but have been responsible for making significant contributions to them.

This talk will highlight the work of female directors from Germany in the Weimar era (Leontine Sagan’s Madchen in Uniform), classic Hollywood cinema (Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance), independent American film (Ida Lupino‘s The Hitch-Hiker), the French New Wave (Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7), the Danish “Dogme 95″ movement (Lone Scherfig’s Italian for Beginners) and more.

Wilmette Public Library  Wilmette logo with text
1242 Wilmette Ave.
Wilmette, Illinois 60091
847-256-5025

Hope to see you there!

In other news, at Time Out Chicago I discuss the Siskel Center’s ongoing 3-D series “Dial 3 for 3-D!!!” with special shout-outs to Hitchcock and Godard: http://www.timeout.com/chicago/blog/what-to-see-at-the-dial-3-for-3-d-series-at-the-siskel-center

I also have reviews of J.B.L. Noel’s mesmerizing 1924 documentary The Epic of Everest and an avant-garde shorts program featuring work by Luis Bunuel, Jean Vigo and Nobuhiko Ôbayashi at Cine-File: http://cine-file.info/list-archive/2015/JAN-15-3.html


Top 100 Films of the Decade, pt. 4 (#25 – #1): A Contest

Here is the entire list of my 100 favorite movies of the past five years. I have provided not only images but also capsule reviews for the top 25, some of which I wrote exclusively for this post. Don’t forget to let me know how many you’ve seen for a chance to win dinner and a movie on me and/or a copy of my book Flickering Empire.

UPDATE: The winners are Jake Cole, Daniel Nava and Dan Kieckhefer, all of whom have been notified via e-mail. Thanks for playing, everybody. We’ll do it again in five more years!

The Runners-Up (100-26)

100. Hugo (Scorsese, USA, 2011) – 8.1
99. The Rover (Michod, Australia, 2014) – 8.1
98. Marley (Macdonald, USA/UK, 2012) – 8.1
97. We are the Best! (Moodysson, Sweden, 2013) – 8.2
96. Our Children (Lafosse, Belgium, 2012) – 8.2
95. Oslo, August 31st (Trier, Norway, 2011) – 8.2
94. Le Havre (Kaurismaki, France/Finland, 2011) – 8.2
93. White Material (Denis, France/Cameroon, 2010) – 8.2
92. Laurence Anyways (Dolan, Canada, 2012) – 8.2
91. Land Ho! (Katz/Stephens, USA/Iceland, 2014) – 8.2
90. The Day He Arrives (Hong, S. Korea, 2011) – 8.2
89. Citizenfour (Poitras, USA/Germany, 2014) – 8.3
88. The World’s End (Wright, UK, 2013) – 8.3
87. Pretty Butterflies (Mereu, Italy, 2012) – 8.3
86. Spring Breakers (Korine, USA, 2012) – 8.3
85. Viola (Pineiro, Argentina, 2012) – 8.3
84. Prometheus (Scott, USA, 2012) – 8.3
83. Carlos (Assayas, France, 2010) – 8.3
82. Listen Up Philip (Perry, USA, 2014) – 8.4
81. Locke (Knight, UK, 2013) – 8.4
80. Snowpiercer (Bong, S. Korea, 2013) – 8.4
79. The Iron Ministry (Sniadecki, USA/China, 2014) – 8.4
78. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, USA, 2014) – 8.4
77. Bird People (Ferran, France, 2014) – 8.4
76. 13 Assassins (Miike, Japan, 2010) – 8.4

75. Frances Ha (Baumbach, USA, 2012) – 8.5
74. Road to Nowhere (Hellman, USA, 2010) – 8.5
73. Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas, France, 2014) – 8.5
72. Midnight in Paris (Allen, USA/France, 2011) – 8.5
71. Gloria (Lelio, Chile, 2013) – 8.5
70. Margaret (Lonergan, USA/UK, 2011) – 8.6
69. Aita (de Orbe, Spain, 2010) – 8.6
68. The Hunter (Pitts, Iran, 2010) – 8.6
67. Drug War (To, Hong Kong/China, 2012) – 8.6
66. Barbara (Petzold, Germany, 2012) – 8.6
65. The Comedy (Alverson, USA, 2012) – 8.7
64. Jimmy P. (Desplechin, France/USA, 2013) – 8.7
63. Force Majeure (Ostlund, Sweden, 2014) – 8.7
62. The Blue Room (Amalric, France, 2014) – 8.7
61. Cosmopolis (Cronenberg, Canada/Germany, 2012) – 8.7
60. Leviathan (Zvyagintsev, Russia, 2014) – 8.7
59. The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese, USA, 2013) – 8.8
58. Welcome to New York (Ferrara, USA/France, 2014) – 8.8
57. Exhibition (Hogg, UK, 2013) – 8.8
56. House of Pleasures (Bonello, France, 2011) – 8.8
55. Winter Sleep (Ceylan, Turkey, 2014) – 8.8
54. Poetry (Lee, S. Korea, 2010) – 8.9
53. Bernie (Linklater, USA, 2011) – 8.9
52. Upstream Color (Carruth, USA, 2013) – 8.9
51. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Resnais, France, 2012) – 8.9

50. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen/Coen, USA, 2013) – 8.9
49. The Grandmaster (Wong, Hong Kong/China, 2013) – 8.9
48. Twenty Cigarettes (Benning, USA, 2011) – 9.0
47. Nymphomaniac (Von Trier, Denmark/UK, 2013) – 9.0
46. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Takahata, Japan, 2013) – 9.0
45. J. Edgar (Eastwood, USA, 2011) – 9.0
44. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2010) – 9.0
43. Dormant Beauty (Bellocchio, Italy, 2012) – 9.1
42. Stray Dogs (Tsai, Taiwan, 2013) – 9.1
41. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Rivers/Russell, Estonia, 2013) – 9.1
40. Mr. Turner (Leigh, UK, 2014) – 9.1
39. The Skin I Live In (Almodovar, Spain, 2011) – 9.1
38. The Master (Anderson, USA, 2012) – 9.2
37. Bastards (Denis, France, 2013) – 9.2
36. The Babadook (Kent, Australia, 2014) – 9.2
35. Computer Chess (Bujalski, USA, 2013) – 9.2
34. Leviathan (Castaing-Taylor/Paravel, USA, 2012) – 9.2
33. A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg, Canada/Germany, 2011) – 9.3
32. Neighboring Sounds (Mendonca, Brazil, 2012) – 9.3
31. Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami, Iran/Japan, 2012) – 9.3
30. Film Socialisme (Godard, France, 2010) – 9.3
29. Jealousy (Garrel, France, 2013) – 9.4
28. The Immigrant (Gray, USA, 2013) – 9.4
27. The Strange Little Cat (Zurcher, Germany, 2013) – 9.4
26. Before Midnight (Linklater, USA/Greece, 2013) – 9.4

The Top 25:

25. The Wind Rises (Miyazaki, Japan, 2013) – 9.5

thewindrises

Legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki brought down the curtain on his estimable career when he announced that The Wind Rises, a biopic of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi and his first film aimed squarely at an adult audience, would also be his last. As seen by Miyazaki, Jiro’s life plays out against the moving backdrop of 20th century Japanese history, including such key events as the 1923 Kanto earthquake, the tuberculosis epidemic (represented by Jiro’s doomed romance with his tubercular wife Nahoko) and, of course, World War II. This latter aspect engendered controversy when some among the left in Japan condemned Miyazaki’s refusal to condemn Jiro for designing fighter planes during the war (though the fact that the film simultaneously alienated Japanese conservatives for being “anti-Japanese” is surely an indication that he was doing something right). Miyazaki instead chooses to portray Jiro as an apolitical dreamer caught in the jaws of history; the way the character’s fantasy life is placed on the same plane as reality — as evidenced by his repeated encounters with his hero, a famous Italian engineer — results in something mature, beautiful and profound, and adds up to a kind of self-portrait on the part of the director. Also, if you want to know why good old-fashioned hand-drawn animation feels more personal than its digital counterpart, look no further than here.

24. This Is Not a Film (Panahi/Mirtahmasb, Iran, 2011) – 9.5

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Chris Marker concludes his extraordinary 1993 documentary The Last Bolshevik by noting that, in the silent era, Russian director Alexander Medvedkin cried the first time he spliced two shots together and saw the result run through a motion picture projector. Marker then poignantly adds “Nowadays television floods the whole world with senseless images and nobody cries.” The antiquated notion of a movie inspiring someone to cry — not just over its content but due to the miracle of its construction — is unexpectedly resurrected in Jafar Panahi’s lo-fi-by-necessity This Is Not a Film. There was nothing in any film to first play Chicago in 2012 more moving or more profound than the scene where Panahi, under house arrest, concludes a lengthy description of his proposed next movie, one that he will probably never be able to make, by asking, “If we could tell a film, then why make a film?” There are tears of frustration in his eyes when he asks this question. Against all odds, This Is Not a Film ends up triumphantly providing the answer by refusing to exist as something that “can be told.” See it and weep for yourself. Full review here.

23. Timbuktu (Sissako, Mauritania, 2014) – 9.5

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Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako follows up Bamako, his great 2006 indictment of the World Bank and western capitalism, with an equally damning indictment of third-world religious extremism. This lightning-in-a-bottle masterpiece, based on real events that occurred in 2012 but which seem even more prescient following the rise of ISIS, concerns the occupation of the Malian city of Timbuktu by militant Islamist rebels. Sissako’s eye-opening film intertwines several narratives, all of which dramatize the clash between foreign “jihadists” and the moderate Muslim natives of Mali, most prominent among them the story of a cattle farmer (Ibrahim Ahmed) whose wife is coveted by the region’s new extremist ruler. Like last year’s A Touch of Sin, this vital movie offers a keyhole through which viewers can peer into an authentic dramatization of pressing global issues that goes way beyond mere news headlines. What really elevates Timbuktu to the status of essential viewing, however, is the way Sissako brings to his story the point of view of poetry — most evident in a stunningly composed scene of conflict between the cattle farmer and a fisherman, and an exquisitely lovely montage sequence involving a soccer match played without a ball. More here.

22. The Ghost Writer (Polanski, UK/Germany, 2010) – 9.5

Ewan McGregor

With this, his 19th feature film, Roman Polanski earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first director to supervise post-production of a major motion picture from jail. Unfortunately, the brouhaha surrounding l’affaire Polanski overshadowed this superb return to form, a meticulously crafted political thriller. Comparisons between The Ghost Writer and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island are instructive, as both are influenced by Alfred Hitchcock but in radically different ways; Scorsese is the modernist, Polanski the classicist. In Scorsese’s film, every aspect of the movie is aggressively stylized as a way for the director to comment on the subject matter (expressive camera movements, bold colors, intentionally fake-looking digital backdrops, crazy editing rhythms). In Polanski’s film, the visual components are just as aesthetically developed but are less self-conscious and more pressed to the service of, not really the story per se, but more what I would call Polanski’s themes; this is most obvious in Polanski’s rigorous color scheme (in particular the suppression of red) and the set design of Pierce Brosnan’s beach-front home, which is best described as a modern-art nightmare. Both movies finally aren’t about “story” at all; Shutter Island centers on the question of whether violence is inherent in human nature. The Ghost Writer is a query into the dark heart of our new global society and how the major players on that stage use, betray, victimize and discard one another.

21. The Turin Horse (Tarr/Hranitzky, Hungary, 2011) – 9.5

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I’m no expert on Hungarian director Bela Tarr, who announced this would be his final film, but from the handful of his movies I’ve seen this strikes me as one of the best and most essential. The Turin Horse begins with a narrator recounting the anecdote about Nietzsche going mad shortly after witnessing a horse being flogged in Italy. The film is a fictionalized version of what happened to the horse and its owner in the six days following their encounter with the philosopher, which reminds us that people who constitute even the smallest footnotes in history have their own stories and their own points-of-view. This is simultaneously more straightforward and more abstract than Tarr’s masterpiece Satantango; unlike the earlier film, it focuses relentlessly on two characters (a cabman and his daughter) instead of an ensemble cast and proceeds in linear fashion instead of a chronology that doubles back on itself. What remains the same is the use of epic long takes, in which entire scenes unfold with elaborate camera movements and little to no editing. The images themselves — decaying walls, wrinkled faces, and leaves and dirt constantly swirling in the air — take on the thick, tactile textures of a charcoal drawing. Aiding them is a wonderfully hypnotic musical score, where strings and an organ play a repetitive, circular motif. The result is a mesmerizing and unforgettable experience. More here.

20. Under the Skin (Glazer, UK, 2013) – 9.6

undertheskin

I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve spoken to who were turned off by Jonathan Glazer’s mind-blowing horror/sci-fi/art film, starring Scarlett Johansson in her finest performance to date, seemingly because it deviates too much from what they expect from a horror, sci-fi, art or Scarlett Johansson film. Johansson daringly inhabits the role of an alien succubus who cruises contemporary Glasgow in a van at night — picking up, seducing and killing young men (most of whom are portrayed by non-actors initially filmed against their knowledge via hidden digital cameras). While having the alien function as a kind of mirror that reflects the basest instincts of men, Glazer’s movie may feel like an unusually cruel statement about humanity but this is more than counterbalanced by the director’s highly distinctive approach to constructing sound and image, which is so original that I felt exhilarated for days after first seeing it. I am especially fond of the seduction sequences, which imaginatively depict the alien’s victims willingly sinking into an inky black void, and Mica Levi’s otherworldly string-based score. Full review here.

19. Something in the Air (Assayas, France, 2012) – 9.6

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Olivier Assayas’s autobiographical quasi-sequel to his autobiographical Cold Water is one of the most detailed and convincing portraits of the late Sixties/early Seventies counterculture I’ve ever seen in a movie (from France or anywhere else). It is a vividly imagined evocation of the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll” era that impressively manages to avoid the cliched treatment you might expect of its subject. From France to Italy to England, Assayas’ mise-en-scene is lovingly detailed throughout, as if each shot were meticulously recreated from one of the director’s highly personal memories, but it’s the faces of the actors that ultimately give the film its throat-catching power: these remarkable young people register on screen with the delicacy, beauty and physical immediacy of the “models” of late Bresson. One can only hope that Assayas will keep this adventures-of-Gilles series going and turn it into an Antoine Doinel-like cycle of his own. More here.

18. Tabu (Gomes, Portugal, 2012) – 9.6

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This lyrical and entrancing black-and-white movie, which boasts an intriguing two-part structure, announced the arrival of a major talent in the person of 39-year-old Portuguese writer/director Miguel Gomes (who had worked as a film critic and made just two features previously). The first half, entitled “Paradise Lost,” concerns the death of Aurora (Laura Soveral), an old woman and compulsive gambler suffering from dementia in contemporary Lisbon. The second half, entitled “Paradise,” flashes back to Aurora’s youth when she was the beautiful wife of a colonialist-farmer, living on “Mount Tabu” in Africa, and having an affair with Ventura, another Portuguese ex-patriate and the drummer in a rock-and-roll band. I loved everything about this movie: its dreaminess, its eroticism, and its extended poetic reflections on time and memory. And this is not to mention that it also pays homage to F.W. Murnau’s classic 1931 film of the same title and features a bitching Portuguese-language cover of The Ronnettes’ “Be My Baby.” Oh yeah! Full review here.

17. Shutter Island (Scorsese, USA, 2010) – 9.6

shutter

The closest Martin Scorsese has come to making a straight-up horror film is also the best thing he’s done since Goodfellas in 1990. Forget all the talk about the narrative twists and turns, which aren’t any more implausible or predictable than what you will find in Alfred Hitchcock’s best movies. Shutter Island is crucial cinema because of the raw and ferocious emotions at its core, in particular the palpable guilt, fear and paranoia of Leonardo DiCaprio’s FBI man Teddy Daniels. These emotions all coalesce in the film’s ingenious finale, which critic Glenn Kenny has aptly compared to Vertigo and rightly referred to as a “perfect note of empathetic despair.” Once the mystery plot has given up its surface secrets, Shutter Island still repays multiple viewings as a brilliant character study. And the baroque visuals, which clearly show the influence of Scorsese’s idol Michael Powell, are never less than a treat.

16. In the Shadows (Arslan, Germany, 2010) – 9.7

shadows

Tragically unknown in the U.S., German director Thomas Arslan’s crime thriller recalls the heyday of Jean-Pierre Melville in its portrait of a taciturn thief known only as “Trojan” (Misel Maticevic), a career criminal who emerges from prison only to immediately embark on a new heist job. Meanwhile, both the cops and a former gangster-nemesis plot to bring about his downfall. Arslan’s mastery of the heist picture here is every bit as impressive as his mastery of the Eric Rohmer-style intellectual rom-com in his superb earlier film A Fine Day (2001). Every element of this minimalist movie fits together with the precision of a Swiss watch and yet, after In the Shadows has marched inexorably to its finale, the conclusion still manages to surprise in its supremely cool irony. Arslan could hold up his original screenplay next to anything Quentin Tarantino’s ever written and say, “Suck my dick.” It’s that good.

15. Inherent Vice (Anderson, USA, 2014) – 9.7

inherent-vice

When I first saw Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson’s shaggy-dog stoner-detective comedy based on Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same title, I felt that the director was surprisingly mismatched to the source material. A second viewing, however, has convinced me of just the opposite: the strengths of novelist and filmmaker perfectly compliment one another to create the most ideal Pynchon adaptation anyone could have asked for. Anderson, after all, has a tendency to focus on character psychology at the expense of plot (his recent films have increasingly alienated general audiences because of their narrative gaps and ambiguities) while Pynchon, by contrast, privileges plot over character — his sense of characterization has always skewed towards the cartoonish and iconographic in order for him to better hurtle his characters down insanely elaborate narrative rabbit holes (each of his novels offers a seemingly never-ending series of conspiracy-theory plots). What’s remarkable about Inherent Vice is the way the Anderson has been able to remain extremely faithful to the book while also creating something that feels as deeply personal as his other work. He achieves this by making subtle but crucial changes to the novel: notably by turning the love story between Joaquin Phoenix’s P.I. Larry “Doc” Sportello and Katherine Waterston’s hippie beach-bum Shasta Fay Hepworth into the emotional center of the story, and by making far more explicit the notion that conservative cop Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) is Sportello’s doppelganger; the poignant final scene between the two men perfectly encapsulates Pynchon’s counterculture/”straight world” dichotomy while also recalling the all-male love/hate story climaxes of There Will Be Blood and The Master.

14. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Ceylan, Turkey, 2011) – 9.7

anatolia

Is there a contemporary director with a keener compositional eye than Nuri Bilge Ceylan? This haunting drama, a journey to the end of a long Turkish night, concerns the efforts of police officers, a prosecutor, and a doctor to lead a confessed murderer to the rural site where he allegedly buried his victim. The movie’s mesmerizing first two thirds feature gorgeous landscape photography that captures the Turkish countryside in stunningly composed long shots illuminated primarily by the yellow headlights of the police convoy. But Ceylan merely uses the “police procedural” as a pretext to investigate what might be termed the soul of his country. The final third, which takes place the following morning at an autopsy in a nearby town, reveals Once Upon a Time in Anatolia‘s hidden moral center (the dialogue exchanges between the doctor and the prosecutor take on an increasing symbolic importance) and establishes this as one of the key movies of modern times. More here.

13. Norte, the End of History (Diaz, Philippines, 2013) – 9.7

Norte

Lav Diaz’s monumental Norte, the End of History, a 4-hour-plus transposition of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to the contemporary Philippines, is easily one of the most important films of the 21st century. Diaz, a profoundly modern filmmaker, reminds us why Dostoevsky’s 19th-century novel will always be sadly relevant — because pretentious and confused young men will always come up with half-baked philosophical theories to justify their supposed moral superiority. Diaz’s real masterstroke, however, is to essentially split Dostoevsky’s protagonist into three separate characters: Fabian (Sid Lucero) is the chief Raskolnikov figure, a law-school dropout who commits the horrific and senseless double murder of a loan shark and her daughter; Joaquin (Archie Alemania), a family man and laborer, is falsely accused of the crime and sentenced to a lengthy prison term; Eliza (Angeli Bayani), Joaquin’s wife, must consequently roam the countryside and look for odds jobs in order to provide for her and Joaquin’s young children. By having Dostoevsky’s themes of crime, punishment and redemption correspond to three characters instead of one, Diaz retains the Russian author’s trademark first-person psychological intensity while also offering a panoramic view of society that more closely resembles that of Count Tolstoy. Please don’t let the extensive running time scare you: like Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day, another favorite work of art that Norte resembles, not a minute of screen time here is wasted. More here.

12. Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, USA, 2012) – 9.8

zero

Has it ever been less intellectually fashionable to love a movie that was so critically and commercially successful? Or, to put it another way, has there ever been a case where the vociferous objections of cultural commentators generated way more noise than anything film critics had to say in shaping how the dialogue about a movie played out in the public arena? I saw this astonishing film, director Kathryn Bigelow’s best, three times in the theater, then several more times on Blu-ray, and felt shaken to the core after every viewing. It depresses the hell out of me that I know some smart cinephiles, even some who liked The Hurt Locker, who nonetheless stayed away from this dark and brooding meditation on the cost of our “invisible war” out of fear that it would be an example of spiking-the-football propaganda (to borrow a phrase from President Obama). Remember, folks: torture isn’t morally wrong depending on whether it does or does not get results for those who practice it. It’s morally wrong, period (as Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal do actually show). Jessica Chastain, who puts a human face on — and provides an emotional center for — the very public and global story of the decade-long manhunt around which these debates swirled, gives a performance that is nothing less than phenomenal. The final, ambiguous close-up of her face, tears streaming down her cheeks, haunts me to this day. Full review here. More thoughts here and here.

11. Stranger By the Lake (Guiraudie, France, 2013) – 9.8

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Alain Guiraudie’s film begins on a beautiful sunny day in an idyllic lakeside park populated by frolicsome gay men, and ends a little over an hour-and-a-half later on a note of existential terror as a single character stands alone in the nearby woods engulfed in pitch-black darkness. In between, sex and death are inextricably intertwined as one of the “cruisers” commits murder while another witnesses the act but doesn’t report it, mainly because of his sexual attraction to the killer. Adventurous viewers will find many dividends to be paid from the way the rigorous construction of the Hitchcockian-thriller elements meets a fascinating, near-ethnographic view of a very specific queer subculture, but I also can’t help but see it as a sly cautionary tale: who hasn’t been guilty at one time or another of rationalizing the obvious, potentially dangerous faults of a person to whom one is physically attracted? While much ink has been spilled about the movie’s Hitchcock connection and the explicitness of the sex scenes, there hasn’t been enough discussion about just how funny this is. My favorite example of Guiraudie’s humor is the pesky police inspector-character, who could’ve almost stepped out of one of Claude Chabrol’s daffier efforts, repeatedly popping up at the most inopportune moments. More here.

10. Mysteries of Lisbon (Ruiz, Portugal, 2010) – 9.8

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The great Chilean director Raul Ruiz passed away in 2011 at the age of 70 and, shortly thereafter, his final masterwork turned up in U.S. theaters. This four-and-a-half hour distillation of a six hour made-for-television miniseries is the most fitting swan song one could imagine: an adaptation of a 19th century novel about a fourteen-year-old orphan whose investigation into his origins opens up a Pandora’s box of stories (and stories-within-stories) that make it feel like Ruiz’s magnum opus. The theme of the film is creation, whether it’s the construction of narratives or of self-created identities (my favorite narrative threads concern the intertwined destinies of an assassin who transforms himself into a nobleman and a gypsy who becomes a priest), which is perfectly captured by a restless camera that is constantly tracking around the characters in semi-circular fashion. This movie has a little bit of everything in it — Orson Welles, Charles Dickens, Carl Dreyer, Jorge Luis Borges and Luchino Visconti — while also remaining uniquely and supremely Ruizian.

9. The Social Network (Fincher, USA, 2010) – 9.8

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Another groundbreaking, digitally-shot time capsule from David Fincher’s astonishing post-Panic Room mature period. Every aspect of this movie works — from the terrific rapid-fire dialogue of Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay (which recalls the heyday of Hollywood screwball comedy) to the sterling ensemble cast (notably Jesse Eisenberg as motor-mouthed Mark Zuckerberg, Justin Timberlake as the Mephistophelean Sean Parker, and Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, the man they both screw over and the movie’s true emotional core). But it is Fincher’s mise-en-scene, which for many reasons could have only been achieved in the 21st century, that turns The Social Network into an exhilarating roller-coaster ride. To what extent does this film about the origins of Facebook define our time? Who cares? It’s a film for all time. Full review here.

8. Life Without Principle (To, Hong Kong, 2011) – 9.9

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Johnnie To’s 2011 masterpiece, one of the very best movies in his long and prolific filmography, depicts three interlocking crime stories about money-mad characters (the most prominent of whom is a lovable, low-level triad portrayed by the brilliant Lau Ching-Wan) scrambling to get ahead in the current global financial crisis. Short on action but long on delightful cat-and-mouse style maneuverings, this absurdist dramedy succeeds as both nimble, expertly clever storytelling (a set piece involving a young banker selling a high-risk investment to an elderly customer is worthy of Beckett) and as a prescient sociological analysis. In an ideal world, anyone wanting to make a crime thriller in Hollywood would be forced to watch this. Full review here.

7. Li’l Quinquin (Dumont, France, 2014) – 9.9

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Bruno Dumont’s dark comedy/mystery miniseries begins with the unforgettable, borderline-surreal image of a dead cow being airlifted out of a WWII bunker by helicopter in a small town in northern France. Local police soon discover that the corpse of a woman has been stuffed inside of the cow and begin a criminal investigation. Ingeniously, Dumont shows these events not primarily from the perspective of the cops but rather through the eyes of the town’s children, specifically the titular character (Alane Delhaye), an altar boy who has a potty mouth, the face of a pugilist and a penchant for firecrackers. “Li’l Quiquin,” son of a local farmer, has a girlfriend, the symbolically named Eve (Lucy Caron), and by allowing the plot to unfold mainly from the semi-comprehending vantage point of these semi-innocent characters, Dumont essentially splits the duality inherent in the childlike cop-protagonist of his earlier Humanite into two separate realms: that of the town’s adults and that of the town’s children. The tension Dumont creates between these worlds handsomely pays off about half-way through the series when themes of racial and religious intolerance are introduced: one way Dumont bends the television format to his advantage is by using his expansive running time to show how prejudice is the result of social conditioning that can pervade an entire community (and the fact that one scene takes place during a Bastille Day celebration indicates that Dumont means for his location to function as a microcosm of France as a whole). If we are living in a “golden age” of television, as countless cultural critics believe, Li’l Quinquin is proof positive that this golden age is not restricted to America alone. Full review here.

6. The Strange Case of Angelica (De Oliveira, Portugal, 2010) – 9.9

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The Strange Case of Angelica sees Manoel de Oliveira returning to the same theme as his previous film, the superb Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl, but where the earlier movie was one of his lightest and most purely entertaining, Angelica tackles “the unattainability of the ideal” in the slow, deliberate and weighty style we’ve come to expect from the master. This 2011 drama is adapted from a script that Oliveira originally wrote in the 1950s about Isaac, a young photographer haunted by the image of the title character, a deceased woman he is asked to photograph on behalf of her wealthy parents. Pretty soon he is, in the words of John Keats, “half in love with easeful death.” (It doesn’t help Isaac any that when he first spies Angelica through his camera, she opens her eyes and appears to come to life, thus making this story a parable about cinema as well.) This is full of the director’s usual digressions on science, art and history but it also features a new twist in a number of charming fantasy sequences involving CGI that, appropriately for someone who began working in the silent era, recall nothing so much as the primitive “illusionism” of Georges Melies. A beautiful, complex, deeply spiritual and essential film. More here.

5. A Touch of Sin (Jia, China, 2013) – 9.9

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Mainland China’s greatest contemporary filmmaker, Jia Zhang-ke, made what is arguably his most vital film to date with this angry, occasionally shocking work of social criticism, in which four loosely connected stories are used to show how the collaboration between the Chinese Communist government and big business is wreaking havoc on the lives of ordinary Chinese citizens. Each story culminates in an act of tragic violence (all of which were apparently based on real events) while also paying deft homage to the “honor killings” that permeate the wuxia classics of yesteryear (beginning with King Hu’s A Touch of Zen, from which Jia’s movie derives its punning English-language title). Shot by Jia’s longtime cinematographer, the great Yu Lik-Wai, these stories unfold in long shot/long take tableaux that dazzle with their cinematic sophistication while also reinforcing the notion of tragic inevitability suggested by the circular narrative structure. Out of all the films I saw in 2013, this is the one that I suspect will be of the most interest in a few decades time when future cinephiles want to know what the year was like. Full review here.

4. Holy Motors (Carax, France, 2012) – 10

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Leos Carax’s first feature film after a 13-year absence was this funny, strange, joyous, heartbreaking, beautiful and difficult to describe experience — an exhilarating, hallucinatory journey concerning a man named Oscar (the great, ridiculously expressive Denis Lavant) who finds himself, for reasons never explained, embodying eleven different avatars over the course of one long day. Whisking him from one “appointment” to the next is an elderly female chauffeur named Celine (an enchanting Edith Scob), and their warm-hearted bond perfectly balances out the moodier aspects of Carax’s eulogy for what he sees as the end of our era of “large visible machines.” Out of all the great movies I’ve seen in the 2010s, none has struck me as more deeply personal (nor more embarrassingly private — it was dedicated to Carax’s girlfriend, the actress Katarine Golubeva, who committed suicide shortly before production began, an event that is symbolically recreated in the film). Although Carax may not care about aggressively courting critics or even audiences, he still believes, like a child, that movies are magic. I defy you to watch this film and not believe it too. Full review here.

3. Boyhood (Linklater, USA, 2014) – 10

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Richard Linklater delivered his magnum opus with this 12-years-in-the-making intimate epic about one Texas boy’s life from the ages of six to 18. No mere gimmick, Linklater’s strategy of shooting an average of just 3-to-4 days per year has resulted in a profound meditation on the concept of time, as viewers are asked to observe not only the protagonist (Ellar Coltrane) grow and change over the years but also the actors playing his sister (Lorelei Linklater) and parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) — and are consequently invited to think about the passage of time in their own lives in the process. Linklater’s masterstroke was his decision to de-dramatize the material; many younger filmmakers could learn a thing or two from this film’s lack of external, dramatic action. In place of “plot,” he serves up a series of low-key but universally relatable scenes that movingly capture the essence of what it means to “grow up” in 2 hours and 46 minutes. Or, as Ethan Hawke put it in an interview, “What (Linklater)’s saying is that life doesn’t have to be hyperbolized. What we actually experience is good enough.” As always with this Linklater, there’s a great deal of humor and heart, but the film’s ingenious central conceit pushes Boyhood into the realm of a game-changer. Full review here.

2. Certified Copy (Kiarostami, Iran/France/Italy, 2010) – 10

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Who could have guessed that austere Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami would end up doing his best work by shooting a warm, gentle and wise comedy in Italy with French superstar Juliette Binoche? An English writer (opera singer William Shimell) and a French antique store owner (Binoche) meet at a lecture given by the former on the topic of his new book — the qualitative difference between original works of art and their reproductions; she invites him on a tour of a nearby Tuscan village, during which time they converse about life, love and art. Midway through the film, they begin to play-act that they are a married couple for the benefit of a café owner who is under that mistaken impression. Only the longer the “couple” carries on the act, the more it seems as if they really are married and perhaps they were merely play-acting to be strangers in the beginning. I still don’t know how “original” this brilliant cinematic sleight-of-hand is or how much it intentionally “reproduces” Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Luis Bunuel in general (acknowledged most obviously by the presence of Bunuel’s longtime screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere). But I do know this film is a genuine masterpiece, one that has already proven to be endlessly rewatchable. More here.

1. Goodbye to Language (Godard, France, 2014) – 10

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In Jean-Luc Godard’s 1996 film For Ever Mozart, the director poses the question, “In the ‘I think, therefore I am,’ is the ‘I’ of ‘I am’ no longer the same as the ‘I’ of ‘I think’ and why?” Goodbye to Language seeks to answer this Cartesian inquiry with a resounding “no” by offering a philosophical meditation on the fractured nature of identity in our era of mass communication. In his astonishing first feature in 3-D, the now-84-year-old Godard pointedly shows, through an almost impossibly rich tapestry of stereoscopic images and sounds, how language and technology have conspired to create barriers that separate humans not only from each other but also from themselves (“Soon everyone will need an interpreter to understand the words coming from their own mouths,” is one characteristically epigrammatic line of dialogue.) The film is split into three parts: “Nature” (a section demarcated by a title card reading “1”), which focuses on Josette and Gedeon (Héloïse Godet and Kamel Abdelli); “Metaphor” (a section demarcated by a title card reading “2”), which focuses on Ivitch and Marcus (Zoé Bruneau and Richard Chevallier); and a short third part (beginning with a title card reading “3D”), which introduces a third couple–Godard and his longtime collaborator Anne-Marie Mieville, who are not seen but whose voices are heard on the soundtrack. The real “star” of Goodbye to Language, however, is not a human at all but rather Godard’s mixed-breed dog Roxy, who is frequently depicted alone, frolicking in nature, commanding both the most screen time and serving as the subject of some of the film’s most dazzling stereoscopic effects. The shots of Roxy’s handsome snout in the maw of Godard and cinematographer Fabrice Aragno’s homemade 3-D-camera rig, which convey an overwhelming feeling of love for the animal on the part of his owner/director, are so rapturously beautiful they may make you want to cry. The film ends by juxtaposing the sounds of a dog barking with that of a baby wailing on the soundtrack, thus linking Roxy not only to nature but, implicitly, to a state of unspoiled innocence that humans possess only prior to learning to speak. Godard’s poetic use of 3-D in Goodbye to Language, the best such use of the technology in any movie I’ve seen, puts this groundbreaking work in the class of his (and the cinema’s) great achievements. Full review here.


Top 100 Films of the Decade, pt. 3 (#50 – #26): A Contest

Part three of my top 100 films of the half-decade list. Don’t forget to let me know how many titles you’ve seen in the comments section below for a chance to win dinner and a movie on me and/or a copy of my book Flickering Empire.

50. Inside Llewyn Davis (Coen/Coen, USA, 2013) – 8.9

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49. The Grandmaster (Wong, Hong Kong/China, 2013) – 8.9

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48. Twenty Cigarettes (Benning, USA, 2011) – 9.0

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47. Nymphomaniac (Von Trier, Denmark/UK, 2013) – 9.0

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46. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Takahata, Japan, 2013) – 9.0

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45. J. Edgar (Eastwood, USA, 2011) – 9.0

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44. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Weerasethakul, Thailand, 2010) – 9.0

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43. Dormant Beauty (Bellocchio, Italy, 2012) – 9.1

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42. Stray Dogs (Tsai, Tawian, 2013) – 9.1

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41. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Rivers/Russell, Estonia, 2013) – 9.1

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40. Mr. Turner (Leigh, UK, 2014) – 9.1

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39. The Skin I Live In (Almodovar, Spain, 2011) – 9.1

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38. The Master (Anderson, USA, 2012) – 9.2

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37. Bastards (Denis, France, 2013) – 9.2

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36. The Babadook (Kent, Australia, 2014) – 9.2

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35. Computer Chess (Bujalski, USA, 2013) – 9.2

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34. Leviathan (Castaing-Taylor/Paravel, USA, 2012) – 9.2

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33. A Dangerous Method (Cronenberg, Canada/Germany, 2011) – 9.3

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32. Neighboring Sounds (Mendonca, Brazil, 2012) – 9.3

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31. Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami, Iran/Japan, 2012) – 9.3

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30. Film Socialisme (Godard, France, 2010) – 9.3

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29. Jealousy (Garrel, France, 2013) – 9.4

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28. The Immigrant (Gray, USA, 2013) – 9.4

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27. The Strange Little Cat (Zurcher, Germany, 2013) – 9.4

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26. Before Midnight (Linklater, USA/Greece, 2013) – 9.4

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To be continued tomorrow . . .


Top 100 Films of the Decade, pt. 2 (#75 – #51): A Contest

Here’s part two of my top 100 films of the half-decade list. Don’t forget to let me know how many titles you’ve seen in the comments section below for a chance to win dinner and a movie on me and/or a copy of my book Flickering Empire.

75. Frances Ha (Baumbach, USA, 2012) – 8.5

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74. Road to Nowhere (Hellman, USA, 2010) – 8.5

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73. Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas, France, 2014) – 8.5

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72. Midnight in Paris (Allen, USA/France, 2011) – 8.5

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71. Gloria (Lelio, Chile, 2013) – 8.5

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70. Margaret (Lonergan, USA/UK, 2011) – 8.6

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69. Aita (de Orbe, Spain, 2010) – 8.6

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68. The Hunter (Pitts, Iran, 2010) – 8.6

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67. Drug War (To, Hong Kong/China, 2012) – 8.6

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66. Barbara (Petzold, Germany, 2012) – 8.6

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65. The Comedy (Alverson, USA, 2012) – 8.7

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64. Jimmy P. (Desplechin, France/USA, 2013) – 8.7

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63. Force Majeure (Ostlund, Sweden, 2014) – 8.7

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62. The Blue Room (Amalric, France, 2014) – 8.7

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61. Cosmopolis (Cronenberg (Canada/Germany, 2012) – 8.7

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60. Leviathan (Zvyagintsev, Russia, 2014) – 8.7

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59. The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorsese, USA, 2013) – 8.8

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58. Welcome to New York (Ferrara, USA/France, 2014) – 8.8

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57. Exhibition (Hogg, UK, 2013) – 8.8

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56. House of Pleasures (Bonello, France, 2011) – 8.8

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55. Winter Sleep (Ceylan, Turkey, 2014) – 8.8

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54. Poetry (Lee, S. Korea, 2010) – 8.9

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53. Bernie (Linklater, USA, 2011) – 8.9

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52. Upstream Color (Carruth, USA, 2013) – 8.9

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51. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Resnais, France, 2012) – 8.9

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To be continued tomorrow . . .


Top 100 Films of the Decade, pt. 1 (#100 – #76): A Contest

Okay, if Pitchfork can do it with albums, I can do it with movies. Now that the decade is half over, I will be posting a countdown of my top 100 favorite films (in order of preference) that received their world premieres between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2014. The list will be spread across four blog posts. I will be posting 25 titles per day, each accompanied by an image, over the course of the next four days — culminating in my posting capsule reviews of the top 25 movies on Tuesday.

This is also White City Cinema’s first official contest. Here’s how it works: you count up the number of films you’ve seen and post that number as a response to each of the four lists. On Monday, I will calculate who’s seen the most movies out of the top 100. The person who comes in first wins both a copy of my book Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the U.S. Film Industry as well as dinner and a film on me (airfare to Chicago not included). The first runner-up will also receive a copy of Flickering Empire. Good luck!

100. Hugo (Scorsese, USA, 2011) – 8.1

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99. The Rover (Michod, Australia, 2014) – 8.1

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98. Marley (Macdonald, USA/UK, 2012) – 8.1

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97. We are the Best! (Moodysson, Sweden, 2013) – 8.2

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96. Our Children (Lafosse, Belgium, 2012) – 8.2

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95. Oslo, August 31st (Trier, Norway, 2011) – 8.2

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94. Le Havre (Kaurismaki, France/Finland, 2011) – 8.2

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93. White Material (Denis, France/Cameroon, 2010) – 8.2

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92. Laurence Anyways (Dolan, Canada, 2012) – 8.2

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91. Land Ho! (Katz/Stephens, USA/Iceland, 2014) – 8.2

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90. The Day He Arrives (Hong, S. Korea, 2011) – 8.2

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89. Citizenfour (Poitras, USA/Germany, 2014) – 8.3

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88. The World’s End (Wright, UK, 2013) – 8.3

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87. Pretty Butterflies (Mereu, Italy, 2012) – 8.3

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86. Spring Breakers (Korine, USA, 2012) – 8.3

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85. Viola (Pineiro, Argentina, 2012) – 8.3

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84. Prometheus (Scott, USA, 2012) – 8.3

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83. Carlos (Assayas, France, 2010) – 8.3

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82. Listen Up Philip (Perry, USA, 2014) – 8.4

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81. Locke (Knight, UK, 2013) – 8.4

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80. Snowpiercer (Bong, S. Korea, 2013) – 8.4

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79. The Iron Ministry (Sniadecki, USA/China, 2014) – 8.4

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78. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, USA, 2014) – 8.4

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77. Bird People (Ferran, France, 2014) – 8.4

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76. 13 Assassins (Miike, Japan, 2010) – 8.4

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To be continued tomorrow . . .


Talking Flickering Empire on WGN / New Pieces at Cine-File and Time Out Chicago

My book Flickering Empire is in stock at amazon.com and is now shipping. On Tuesday night, January 20, I will be appearing with my co-author Adam Selzer on WGN Radio’s “Pretty Late with Patti Vasquez” to talk it up. For those of you in the greater Chicago area, you can hear it by tuning your radio dial to 720 AM between 11pm and 2am.

I will also be celebrating the book’s release by running a little contest right here at White City Cinema. Over the next four days I will be posting a list of my top 100 favorite films of the past five years. I’ll be asking readers to respond by telling me how many of those films they’ve seen. The two responders who have seen the most titles on the list will each win a copy of the book. Stay tuned for more info.

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In other news, I interview Ben and Kat Sachs for Time Out Chicago. Read these erudite folks talking about the philosophy behind their programming banner, Beguiled Cinema, and about the unique filmmaking style of Dan Sallitt (whose work they are presenting at Film Row Cinema tonight):

http://www.timeout.com/chicago/blog/interview-ben-and-kat-sachs-of-beguiled-cinema

I also have four new reviews at Cine-File: I call Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language and the double feature of Sallitt’s Honeymoon and All the Ships at Sea “Crucial Viewing,” and I recommend Ruben Ostlund’s Force Majeure and Samantha Fuller’s A Fuller Life. You can read my capsule reviews for each (and find info pertaining to venues and showtimes) here:

http://cine-file.info/list-archive/2015/JAN-15-2.html


My New Film Blog at Time Out Chicago and Other News

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I am excited to announce that I have been asked to write a film blog for Time Out Chicago. I will typically be writing one short article per week related to Chicago’s local film scene. My first post, about the innovative “Facets Kids App” (for which you may remember I directed the official Kickstarter video last October), went up today. You can read it here:

http://www.timeout.com/chicago/blog/facets-releases-app-for-childrens-movies

Tomorrow morning, Time Out will also be posting an interview I conducted with local critics Ben and Kat Sachs about their Beguiled Cinema programming endeavor, which will play host to a double-feature screening of films by Dan Sallitt at Colubmia College’s Film Row Cinema tomorrow night. All of the info you need pertaining to the screening will be in Time Out tomorrow but, as this event should be considered unmissable for local cinephiles (it is a rare chance to see the work of an unheralded master of independent American cinema on the big screen), I thought I should give you a heads up today. My reviews for the Sallitt films in question (1998’s Honeymoon and 2004’s All the Ships at Sea) will also appear tomorrow at Cine-File.info.

You can buy tickets for the Dan Sallitt double feature here: http://chicagofilmmakers.tix.com/Event.aspx?EventCode=709982

Check out the awesome official event poster by PJ Macklin:

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The Last Ten Movies I Saw

1. Inherent Vice (Anderson)
2. All the Ships at Sea (Sallitt)
3. Honeymoon (Sallitt)
4. Leviathan (Zyagintsev)
5. One More River (Whale)
6. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Helander)
7. Inherent Vice (Anderson)
8. The Impatient Maiden (Whale)
9. Permanent Vacation (Jarmusch)
10. Goodbye to Language (Godard)


Filmmaker Interview: Samantha Fuller

Samantha Fuller, daughter of maverick American filmmaker Samuel Fuller, makes an exceedingly promising directorial debut of her own with A Fuller Life, a fittingly unconventional documentary portrait of her father. I interviewed her via e-mail in advance of its Chicago premiere this weekend (it will screen at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Saturday, January 17 at 6:45 and Monday, January 19 at 6:00). My review of the film will appear soon either on this website or in Cine-File Chicago but let me just say for now that A Fuller Life is both a must for Fuller fans and an ideal introduction to his work for the uninitiated. You can find more info about the screenings on the Siskel Center’s website.

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MGS: I know you conceived this film as a way of celebrating your father’s 100th birthday. I’m curious about your choice of only having the subjects read excerpts from his autobiography, A Third Face. How did you arrive at the decision to create the film in this unique way and did you ever consider making a more traditional documentary (i.e., with conventional interview segments)?

SF: Yes, the film was intended as a centennial celebration of my father’s life. See, as a child, he had always told me that we would have a big party when he turned 100, and I took him up on that. It didn’t matter that his body wasn’t present, since his spirit never left us. By having our guest readers speak his words, it served as a vehicle to bring his voice back to life. In this way, he felt very present during the entire process. My father’s films were quite unconventional, so there was no way I was going to make a conventional documentary about him. The film was entirely shot in his office. A place humorously called “the shack,” where nothing much has changed since his death in 1997. The participants loved that idea and read parts of his autobiography surrounded by rows of his favorite books, stacked scripts, film memorabilia, his beloved typewriter and of course a big fat cigar placed at their side. The actors were interviewed after reading their segment. The interviews will be featured on the DVD supplements.

MGS: How did you decide which segments from A Third Face to use? Also, did the subjects have any choice in which excerpts they read or did you assign the texts to the readers?

SF: I wanted to tell my father’s story chronologically, respecting the flow of his autobiography. The film is intended to reflect on his gusty life, brimming with multiple hard-hitting stories. It wasn’t easy deciding which segments to use, since every one is a good story in itself. I chose the ones that would give a sense of the life he lead. In the case that the audience is left wanting more, they can always pick up A Third Face and enjoy a real page turner. A Fuller Life is basically structured in three parts: the first section leads us through his youth, and his time as a young crime/freelance reporter. The second part describes his experience on the front lines of the Infantry during WWII, and how he survived major battles in North Africa, Sicily and D-Day. We witness the liberation of the Falkenau camps in Czechoslovakia through his words and his camera lens. The third, focuses on his career in Hollywood and how he successfully managed to combine work and family. The passages were assigned in a way that I trusted the readers would relate to most. Not once did any of them question my choice since I believe that they were indeed connected to the part of the story that they were telling.

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MGS: One of the things I loved about the use of different narrators was how they all delivered your father’s prose in a different style, which made the film very dynamic. Each segment was like a different song on a beautifully constructed mix-tape: some of the readers were matter-of-fact while others, notably Bill Duke, were incredibly dramatic. It was also very refreshing to hear a couple of female voices in the mix (Jennifer Beals and Constance Towers). Was there much rehearsal and/or discussion beforehand about how the texts would be read?

SF: Thank you for using the word dynamic in your question, since that was indeed what I was aiming for. Once again, in the spirit of my father’s films, which were always loaded with TNT in a certain form. Bill Duke happened to be the first one to read, and his performance was striking. He really is the one who channeled my father’s delivery most. After him, I thought that we better tone the other readers down, in order not to turn the film into a Sam impersonation film. I asked the rest of the readers to channel my father in a more subtle way, a talent that they were able to provide. The shoot was mostly in one or two takes, it was quick and to the point. Nobody had to memorize the text since they had it in front of them while filming. My father loved powerful female characters, so it felt natural to include a couple strong women in the mix.

MGS: Perhaps the most tantalizing aspect of the film was the use of documentary and home-movie footage that your father shot himself. The home movie scenes were playful and poignant but the WWII footage (especially from the concentration camp) was harrowing. What are your plans for the rest of the “100 reels of 16mm film” that you describe uncovering in the prologue?

SF: I digitized approximately three hours of footage that my father shot on his 16mm Bell & Howell camera. Some great home movies, but mostly film from the European liberation after D-Day. Only ten minutes were utilized in A Fuller Life, which leaves plenty material to make another documentary, which I’m currently working on. This time, the film will solely target WWII. I also have over 200 letters that my father wrote to his family during that time. Highlights from his correspondence will be included in the film. The structure will be similar to A Fuller Life in the sense that an actor will be reading excerpts from the letters, his voice will be heard over the images.

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MGS: I’ve shown your father’s films in my Intro to Film classes and they’ve always gotten a very positive response (even though most of my students are unfamiliar with his life and work). If you had to pick a single film to use to introduce young people to the films of Sam Fuller, what would it be and why?

SF: I’m glad to hear that you are showing Fuller films in your class. There is so much to learn from them! The fact that most of his films were made with small budgets and tight schedules is encouraging to fellow filmmakers to go out and tell their stories. It’s difficult for me to pick a single film of his since I love them all, almost comparably to how one would love their siblings. But if I really had to pick just one that would introduce a new audience to his films and life, it would be the restored long version of The Big Red One. That is an autobiographical film about his experience as a Dogface in the U.S. Infantry during WWII. Sadly, he was never able to enjoy the release of the long version since it was completed after his death. Nonetheless, it is the version he had wished for, and it stayed true to his vision according to the script. The film deals with his grueling years in the army, yet is is layered with humor and emphases the absurdity of war. His character is named Zab, not Sam. Actually, there is a part of him dispersed into every character. It is his most personal film.

You can check out the trailer to
A Fuller Life via YouTube below:


Goodbye to Language as Narrative / A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

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I was fortunate to see two press screenings of Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language in 3D this week in advance of the review I’m writing for Cine-File. Including the screening I caught in Wisconsin last year, this means that I’ve now seen the film three times from three different perspectives: the front row, the back row and the middle row of the theater. (Each position has its advantages but I recommend sitting as far back as possible on a first viewing — the better to “take it all in.”) I also feel that, after three viewings, I have a much better handle on what Godard is doing with this movie than when I first wrote about it in November; although Goodbye to Language is loose and wild and full of intellectual provocations and poetic flights of fancy — and it is absolutely possible to enjoy the film purely by grooving on Godard’s audacious and experimental use of image and sound — I should also point out that it does tell something of a story, one that is artfully chopped up and sprinkled across the 70-minute running time along with all of the fragmented poetic and philosophical ruminations. Many critics writing about the movie, aided no doubt by the cryptic synopsis written by Godard for the press kit, have pointed out that it’s about “a man and a woman” fighting. A closer look at the film reveals that it’s actually about two different couples who happen to look and act very much alike and who paradoxically may be two versions of the same couple. I think Godard’s idea here is to offer a portrait of a male/female relationship as a metaphor for 3D cinema, or perhaps it’s the other way around — that he’s using the 3D image, which consists, of course, of two separate images captured by two cameras placed side by side, as a metaphor for male/female relationships.

Goodbye to Language is divided into two alternating sections: “Nature” and “Metaphor.” Every time the number “1” appears as a title card onscreen (the “Nature” section), it is followed by scenes depicting the relationship of characters named Josette and Gedeon. Every time the number “2” appears as a title card onscreen, it is followed by scenes depicting the relationship of characters named Ivitch and Marcus. (First-time viewers looking to distinguish the characters may want to note that Josette has a scar above her upper lip and Ivitch doesn’t, while of the two men only Gedeon appears to be of Middle-Eastern origin.) Similarities abound: the women in both sections mention having ties to Africa where, they suggest, they were witness to some sort of political violence; both women are also married to a German man (perhaps the same man, who appears in only one scene); both couples can be seen conversing in the nude in a living room while clips from classic movies play on television in the background; and there are almost identical scenes of both men sitting on the toilet and talking to the women about equality. There is only one scene in which all four of these characters appear in the same location at the same time, a scene set at an outdoor book market. We see shots from this scene scattered throughout the movie, with the same action occasionally being repeated but captured from different vantage points. In this scene, the German husband appears brandishing a gun and angrily confronts Ivitch while she is conversing with her former teacher Mr. Davidson, a man who bears a strong resemblance to Godard. The husband then shoots someone offscreen. Although we see the victim lying face down in a pool of blood, we never get a clear look at his face. Did the husband shoot the “boyfriend?” If so, was it Gedeon, Marcus or somehow both men at the same time?

There is also a third section of Goodbye to Language, a kind of epilogue that begins with a title card reading “3D.” This brief section depicts the relationship between Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Mieville, whose voices are heard on the soundtrack but whose faces are not seen (although I have my suspicions that the old man’s hands that can be seen dipping a paintbrush into a tray of watercolors may be those of JLG). There is also an exceedingly lovely shot in this section of two empty chairs facing a television monitor displaying only static, which may be seen as a kind of “in absentia” self-portrait of Godard and his longtime companion and most important collaborator (Mieville did not co-direct this film, as she occasionally has with other Godard works in recent decades, but her name does appear in the closing credits among the honor roll of writers — alongside Faulkner, Artaud, Freud, et al — who are quoted throughout the movie). Is Godard perhaps saying that the images of this “third couple,” whose relationship has successfully endured for over 40 years, is somehow a synthesis of the images of the two unhappy couples we saw earlier? I think only their dog Roxy (the film’s true star) knows for sure, and he’s not telling, but I stick by my initial assertion that this is Godard’s most optimistic work in a long time. My Cine-File review will appear next Friday, the same day that Goodbye to Language opens at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

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Speaking of Cine-File, my review of Ana Lily Amirpour’s misleadingly marketed and much-hyped “Iranian vampire western” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was posted there today. I’m not as high on it as a lot of folks but I think it’s an impressive and stylishly made first feature and I do recommend that you see it: http://cine-file.info/list-archive/2015/JAN-15-1.html


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