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Tag Archives: Nick Alonzo

The Best Films of the Year So Far

All of these films first screened theatrically in Chicago in the first half of 2018. I’ve linked to my original reviews and podcast appearances where applicable and offer new thoughts on a few films I haven’t written about elsewhere. Enjoy.

20. Atoms of Ashes (Scrantom, USA)/Dancer (McCormick, USA)/Runner (Cooney, USA)

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Three astonishing debut shorts by young female directors, all of which received their Chicago premieres at local festivals (Women of the Now’s Anniversary Showcase, the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the Chicago Critics Film Festival, respectively). The future – of cinema, of everything – is female. I wrote capsule reviews of all three for Time Out Chicago: Atoms of Ashes here, Dancer here and Runner here.

19. The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing (Alonzo, USA)

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I enjoyed this no-budget absurdist/minimalist comedy so much that I wrote about it twice (for Time Out Chicago here and Cine-File here) then moderated a post-screening Q&A with the cast and crew following the World Premiere at the Nightingale Cinema.

18. A Fantastic Woman (Lelio, Chile)

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Not as rich as Sebastian Lelio’s previous film, the sublime character study Gloria, this is nonetheless well worth seeing for Daniela Vega’s fantastic lead performance.

17. Annihilation (Garland, USA)

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Oscar Isaac is miscast but thinking-person’s sci-fi done large is always welcome and, for my money, this is a clear advance on Ex Machina for director Alex Garland.

16. Satan’s Slaves (Anwar, Indonesia)

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I’m grateful that Cinepocalypse brought this Indonesian horror film to the Music Box. It’s superior to Hereditary if only because the “Satanic” elements seem deeply rooted in the culture and religion of the characters and not just shoehorned in because the director is a fan of Rosemary’s Baby.

15. Future Language: The Dimensions of Von LMO (Felker, USA)

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Not just a music doc but also an impressive experimental movie crossed with a highly personal essay film. My capsule review at Time Out Chicago here.

14. Have You Seen My Movie? (Smith, UK)

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A clever and stimulating found-footage doc comprised of clips from other movies . . . in which people are watching movies. I discussed this on the inaugural episode of Cine-Cast, the Cine-File podcast, here.

13. Ismael’s Ghosts (Desplechin, France)

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This is Arnaud Desplechin’s worst film but it features Marion Cotillard dancing to the original Another Side of Bob Dylan version of “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” which elevates it to the status of essential viewing.

12. Savage Youth (Johnson, USA)

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Fascinating true-crime tale acted to perfection by a terrific young ensemble cast. I reviewed it for Time Out Chicago here and interviewed director Michael Curtis Johnson for Cine-File here.

11. The Green Fog (Maddin/Johnson/Johnson, USA)

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A hilarious and ingenious “remake” of Vertigo, which consists only of scenes from other movies and T.V. shows shot in San Francisco — though this won’t make a lick of sense if you don’t know Hitchcock’s masterpiece like the back of your hand.

10. Loveless (Zvyagintsev, Russia)

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Andrei Zvyagintsev’s damning indictment of Putin’s Russia disguised as a dour melodrama. Smart, exacting filmmaking.

9. Bisbee ’17 (Greene, USA)

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No American film this year feels more relevant than Robert Greene’s innovative doc about the U.S. government’s shameful deportation of recently unionized workers, many of them immigrants, from the title Arizona town 100 years ago. Capsule review at Time Out Chicago here.

8. Claire’s Camera (Hong, S. Korea/France)

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This was dismissed or damned with faint praise as lightweight Hong in some quarters but those critics are dead wrong. I wrote a capsule review of this great comedy for Time Out Chicago here.

7. First Reformed (Schrader, USA)

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I wrote on social media that I greatly enjoyed Paul Schrader’s “Protestant version of Diary of a Country Priest.” When asked by a friend to elaborate, I expounded: “Bresson has always been Schrader’s biggest influence and that influence is more pronounced in First Reformed than ever before. Some of the elements that can be traced back to Diary of a Country Priest specifically: the clergyman coming into conflict with his superiors for leading too ascetic a lifestyle, the way he bares his soul in his diary, his stomach cancer, his alcoholism, his search for grace in a superficial, material world, the austerity of the visual style, the transcendental uplift of the final scene, etc.”

6. Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (Dumont, France)

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Bruno Dumont’s batshit-crazy electronic/metal musical about the childhood of Joan of Arc. I reviewed this for Cine-File here and discussed it on the inaugural episode of Cine-Cast, the Cine-File podcast, here.

5. The Woman Who Left (Diaz, Philippines)

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A companion piece to Lav Diaz’s earlier Norte: The End of History, this nearly 4-hour epic  — about a woman being released from prison after 30 years and searching for the man who framed her — has more intelligent things to say about “revenge” than all of Quentin Tarantino’s movies put together. Gorgeously shot in black-and-white and featuring a tremendous lead performance by Charo Santos-Concio (who came out of retirement to play the part).

4. Madeline’s Madeline (Decker, USA)

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A theater director asks a teenage actress to mine deeply personal emotional terrain – including the tumultuous relationship she has with her own mother – in order to workshop a new play. This wild and beautiful film, a quantum leap beyond Josephine Decker’s first two movies, cuts deep into the heart of the dubious emotional exploitation inherent in all director/actor relationships. Imagine Mulholland Drive from a truly female perspective and you’ll have some idea of what Decker is up to — but this exhilarating film looks and sounds like nothing else. Helena Howard should go down as a cinematic immortal for this even if she never acts in another film.

3. Phantom Thread (Anderson, USA/UK)

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PTA’s most perfect (though not greatest) film. I loved it as much as everyone and reviewed it for this very blog when it belatedly opened in Chicago in January. Capsule here.

2. 24 Frames (Kiarostami, Iran)

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Abbas Kiarostami’s final film — and final masterpiece — contains the most innovative use of CGI I’ve ever seen. Capsule review at Time Out Chicago here.

1. Zama (Martel, Argentina)

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Lucrecia Martel’s long-awaited return confronts colonialism and racism in 18th-century Argentina in a most daring and original way: by focusing on an entirely unexceptional man. It is also so radical and masterful in its approach to image and sound that it turns viewers into aliens (to paraphrase something Martel said to me in an interview, which you can read at Time Out Chicago here).

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More on THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING

I reviewed Nick Alonzo’s The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing for Cine-File Chicago (this is a different review than the one I recently wrote for Time Out Chicago). It has its World Premiere at the Nightingale Cinema tonight at 7:30pm. I will be moderating the post-screening Q&A with members of the cast and crew. Hope to see some of you there!

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Nick Alonzo’s THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING (New American)

The Nightingale (1084 N. Milwaukee Ave.) – Friday, 7:30pm

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.” So goes a 17th-century haiku by Basho that inspired the title of Nick Alonzo’s new comedy. This koan-like poem, which reminds readers of the importance of letting things happen (as opposed to making them happen), is fitting for our modern world where the notion of busy urban professionals consciously “unplugging” in order to undergo a “digital detox” has become a common occurrence. This also happens to be the story of Carl (Alex Serrato), the film’s poker-faced anti-hero who embarks on a solitary, Henry David Thoreau-style retreat into nature after a breakup with his longtime girlfriend Gloria (Alycya Magana). In contrast to Alonzo’s debut feature, SHITCAGO, which featured a deadpan protagonist encountering a strange menagerie of characters in the city, most of THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING is devoted to scenes of Carl alone in the woods in the suburbs—masturbating, exercising, writing in his diary, attempting to fish, etc.—scenarios out of which Alonzo gets a surprising amount of comic mileage. The incongruity of this city dweller alone in verdant nature is highlighted by the fact that he perpetually sports a t-shirt emblazoned with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover—the ultimate symbol of mass reproduction and popular culture—but Alonzo also posits Carl’s strange odyssey as a genuine, and genuinely poignant, desire for spiritual rebirth. At its best, the minimalist, black-and-white-shot SHITCAGO brought to mind early Jim Jarmusch and Chantal Akerman. THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING, a clear advance on its predecessor, might best be described as “stoner Apichatpong.” Alonzo and select cast and crew in person. (2018, 80 min, Digital Projection) MGS


Nick Alonzo’s THE ART OF SITTING QUIETLY AND DOING NOTHING

The following review of Nick Alonzo’s The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing, which receives its World Premiere at the Nightingale Cinema this Friday, appeared at Time Out yesterday. I will be moderating the post-screening Q&A with Nick after the screening.

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I’ll never forget the moment I realized that Nick Alonzo was a special filmmaker. Five minutes into his first feature, the no-budget, minimalist comedy Shitcago, the movie’s unnamed protagonist takes out his trash, pausing long enough to examine a strange stain on the side of a garbage can outside of his apartment before shrugging and heading back inside. This non sequitur is typical of Alonzo’s art: a wordless, deadpan, even mundane sequence that somehow also becomes inexplicably funny. For the few who saw it, Shitcago seemed to announce the arrival of an original and quirky self-taught filmmaking talent whose style felt not just confident but, curiously (considering he was still a college student in his early 20s at the time), fully realized. Alonzo’s second feature, The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing, which has its World Premiere at the Nightingale Theater on Friday, May 5, is a more ambitious film, narratively and aesthetically, that confirms Alonzo’s status as a director to keep an eye on.

The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing begins with the unforgettable image of a man masturbating beneath a blanket in the woods. He stops long enough to swat a mosquito on his face then, while writing in his diary shortly afterwards, expresses a fear of having contracted the zika virus. This impulsive young man, Carl (newcomer Alex Serrato), is a Chicagoan who has chosen to live in the woods indefinitely after having been dumped by his girlfriend, Gloria (actress/filmmaker Alycya Maganas), a tragedy revealed through flashbacks. The bulk of the narrative consists of Carl, armed only with a backpack containing a few meager supplies (matches, magic mushrooms, a book titled How to Survive in the Woods), attempting to commune with a “natural” world he is hilariously ill-equipped to deal with. Bolstered by beautiful cinematography of forest preserves in the near-suburbs (the vibrant greenery of which provides a dramatic contrast to Shitcago’s black-and-white cityscapes), an evocative score by Daniel Fromberg, a delightful animated sequence by Dominique Bloink and a surreal scene involving a person in a gorilla suit, this is microbudget cinema at its most idiosyncratic, personal and rewarding.

For more information about the World Premiere of The Art of Sitting Quietly and Doing Nothing visit the Nightingale’s website


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