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Tag Archives: The Social Network

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

thisisnotafilm

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

timbuktu

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

undertheskin2

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

something

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

tabu4

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

stranger

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

mysteriesoflisbon

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

lilquinquin

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

StrangeCaseofAngelica

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.

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Author Interview: Laurence Knapp

In the past six years that I’ve taught film studies at the college level, I’ve been lucky to count some renowned scholars and authors among my colleagues. One of my fellow professors at Oakton Community College, Laurence Knapp, is the author of, among other books, the groundbreaking study Directed by Clint Eastwood (McFarland & Company), and the editor of the brand new David Fincher: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi), an essential read for Fincher fans. I recently sat down with Larry for a wide-ranging talk about his new book, particularly as it relates to Fincher’s evolution as a filmmaker, the “auteur theory,” and his expectations for the much hyped Gone Girl, which opens in wide release today.

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MGS: How does one go about editing a book of interviews?

LK: My approach to a book of interviews is much like a documentary film. The essence of documentary is to find the right archival material that fits and that forms a narrative. So when I’m looking for interviews, I’m looking for interviews that dovetail together and form a narrative line that allows you to observe the filmmaker in his or her various stages of development. But, at the same time, you become conscious of certain themes or details that either the reporter brings up or that the director keeps mentioning. Most of the time it’s reporters. I read an interview for Gone Girl that was published in Playboy. And, most of the interview, the questions involved his upbringing, California . . .

MGS: George Lucas living down the street . . .

LK: George Lucas, starting out with Korty Films, and doing all these other things, and then Propaganda Films. So a good portion of the interview repeated all that same material that is in the book. But what’s interesting, when you read the earlier interviews, Fincher, the person — and just the sort of idiosyncratic childhood he had — that’s not the focus. It’s more like this idea of Fincher as the Phantom of the Opera or something. (Chuckles) Like this weird, dark figure who somehow or another made Alien 3 and Se7en and The Game. And it’s not until Fight Club that I feel like Fincher is starting to express himself more and share some of his ideas and views of the world and how he approaches filmmaking . . .

MGS: With Fight Club, you think?

LK: With Fight Club, yeah, I feel like he’s more willing to own it and to promote it because he’s very skittish being interviewed. Again I was reading these Gone Girl interviews and he seems so much more comfortable joking, and also he shares even more personal details that even I was unaware of in some of these recent interviews. It’s peculiar how this works with a filmmaker and his or her interaction with the media. It’s actually much more dynamic than you think. And you can actually create a documentary-like chronology that tells a story that merits the form of a book.

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MGS: I was impressed by how diverse the interviews were. I felt like each interview brought out another side of him in a way. Was that something you were trying to do? For instance, there was one interview around the time of Panic Room where the guy who’s interviewing him is very laudatory of the film and then Fincher seems to turn around and really criticize it. He’s very self-deprecating and I feel like he’s almost doing that because the guy is praising him.

LK: The one from the Independent. You know, that’s the other thing that’s interesting about the book: I noticed that a lot of the British press understands and appreciates Fincher long before the American press. Lately, I’ve noticed journals like Empire and some other British periodicals to be a better source of material than the American publications. You still have Film Comment but . . .

MGS: Which he’s on the cover of right now.

LK: And I read the latest Film Comment interview with Amy Taubin, who’s in the book . . .

MGS: With the Fight Club interview from the Village Voice . . .

LK: And she’s a wonderful writer, and a critic as well. But I mean, is there really a go-to, somewhat-sophisticated film magazine that enables a journalist to conduct a lengthy and informative interview?

MGS: No, I think Film Comment is it for the United States. Sight & Sound I think is still good and he’s actually on the cover of that right now too.

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LK: Yeah, I mean, I did intentionally pick things that work together and that I think emphasize different parts of Fincher. And again, people think, “Oh, all you did was collect a bunch of interviews.” But it actually is sometimes harder to try and figure out how to arrange that in a way that makes sense as a book than to just write my own critical piece about something.

MGS: I think he comes across in the book as a complex and fully rounded person. The interview for the Guardian was the one that I think the British Film Institute hosted where he’s in front of an audience and he’s cracking jokes throughout the whole thing. And I thought, “This is so different from every other interview,” because he’s got an audience and he’s trying to entertain them. As a teacher, I recognized that right away. That’s what you do when you have a crowd: you try and charm them.

LK: Absolutely.

MGS: You make them laugh so you know that they’re paying attention, which you don’t have to do in a one-on-one interview. That one interview kind of stuck out for me from all the others because he seemed so much more charming.

LK: Let me privilege your view of Fincher: I think that Zodiac allowed him to get out of his shell somehow. That was a pivotal film for him.

MGS: Zodiac was for me what Fight Club was for you. I saw Se7en when it first came out and I really liked it. Then I saw Fight Club and I liked it but I thought there was something a little dubious about it as a social critique. I liked it cinematically but I thought, you know, making fun of people for shopping at IKEA . . . I thought it worked cinematically and thought it worked as a homoerotic dark comedy about guys beating each other up. I liked it but I didn’t think it was a serious film. And then I missed Panic Room but when I saw Zodiac, I said, “Oh my God, this guy’s a genius.” So I thought he made a quantum leap with that film. And then I liked Benjamin Button a lot. I thought it was almost underrated. And then The Social Network is my second favorite. I think that’s a masterpiece as well.

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LK: That’s my second favorite as well. But with Zodiac, I feel it’s his art film without him fully recognizing that, you know? ‘Cause I swear the film is really about just . . . time.

MGS: Time is the subject. Time and obsession.

LK: Time is what defines the obsession.

MGS: Exactly. It’s about the impact of time on obsession.

LK: And I love the ending. I love (Robert Graysmith) walking in there and he’s expecting this epiphany with — who’s the guy working in the hardware store?

MGS: Arthur Leigh Allen.

LK: Arhtur Leigh Allen. And there’s nothing. There’s no shared eyeline that causes him shivers. It’s just this empty experience that doesn’t give him any sense of . . .

MGS: Any closure.

LK: Anything.

MGS: The first time I saw Zodiac, I didn’t recognize its greatness. My wife showed it to me. I thought, “It’s pretty good,” but the ending of it bothered me. I mistakenly thought Fincher’s point-of-view was Graysmith’s point-of-view. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it and about six months later I watched it again and I took away the opposite message. I thought, “Oh my God, there’s so much critical distance between Fincher and the lead character.” At the end, that scene in the hardware store hit me like a ton of bricks. Arthur Leigh Allen asks Graysmith, “Can I help you with anything?,” and Graysmith says, “No.” And it’s such a profound moment because Allen is speaking as a hardware-store clerk but when Graysmith replies, “No,” it’s as if he’s saying, “There’s nothing you can say or do that’s gonna help me in any way, that’s gonna bring me any peace.” So I think the film is really critical of its protagonist in a way that is fascinating. ‘Cause it’s really about the three guys who are obsessed with the case. And, of the three, I think Mark Ruffalo’s character has the healthiest attitude: he’s able to separate his work life and his personal life. And, of course, Robert Downey, Jr.’s character goes off the deep end. (Chuckles) It destroys him.

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LK: Yeah, I think the film is being critical and somewhat dispassionate towards the three protagonists. And I think it’s very clever to have the bookend with the victim at the end, and the idea that the only thing that persists is the trauma. It’s never resolved.

MGS: Which is kind of a recurring theme in Fincher’s work.

LK: Always.

MGS: “Films that scar.”

LK: Films that scar! And bleed.

MGS: Which, by the way, it was nice to finally read that interview from 1996, Mark Salisbury’s “Seventh Hell.”

LK: You know, that piece is so important in Fincher scholarship. It really is the first major profile of Fincher that gives us insight into that stereotype of him as the “dark” film director. And “films that scar” gets quoted all the time. It’s like that has to be there. And Mark is a very nice fellow, very easy to work with. But, yeah, I think that film is also critical of narrative in general, how genre is expected to function (what is Zodiac — serial killer film? biopic? newspaper film? cop film?), and also American history. And, as I mention in the introduction in that book, I feel that it is one of the most Gen X of films. How we all feel about what’s happened to this country since we came of age in the late 70s. We’ve always had this weird feeling that there’s no ending and there’s no real coherent chain of events or point to anything. And, by the way, that theme is repeated in Benjamin Button.

MGS: Exactly. And that’s his other film where time is really the subject.

LK: A little bit more explicitly with the prologue. But it works, it’s fine. But if you think about Zodiac, I think I mention in the introduction that it’s L’avventura meets Silence of the Lambs. That it just feels like a meditation. And I feel like he’s recreating the feeling that some of us had who were born in the 60s of how things once existed. And I don’t think he’s really done that with any other film.

MGS: No, he hasn’t. And I think that’s because it’s his own childhood — not only the time but the place. Ultimately, Zodiac is about identity because the act of trying to solve these unsolved murders is how Graysmith has chosen to try and make sense of the past and his own life and to try and give them meaning. The more time goes by, the more obsessed he becomes.

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LK: It is a generational statement about the late 60s. But I love the fact that you adore the film even though you were born in the mid 70s. When I watch Zodiac, it has that feeling I had when I was 10 or 11. The (Baby) Boomers always sort of present the 60s as the golden age when everything made sense but what Fincher’s saying is the opposite. It’s like with the Manson killings and Zodiac — that’s when things started to get weird.

MGS: The dark side of the counterculture, the randomness and the meaninglessness of it.

LK: And the serial killer does not become a cultural icon until that period. Suddenly the serial killer is not some nameless, faceless thing but part of our world, a pop figure of horror and dread that cannot be easily identified or apprehended. Zodiac ushers in such figures as the Son of Sam.

MGS: That’s what’s so unsettling about the film. All of the murders occur in the first 26 minutes and yet the film goes on for another two hours and 20 minutes!

LK: And it’s also authentic because they never figured out who did it.

MGS: Exactly. So, on the other hand, it has to end that way.

LK: He’s offering us a different view of how American civilization has functioned. That maybe we are — these last 30 or 40 years — in the beginning of the Great Decline, and this is what signaled it. And that’s why (Fincher) can’t let it go. He always goes on about his dad being oblivious of Zodiac’s threats — “You mean, you want me to ride the bus while there’s some crazed killer threatening to kidnap a school bus and kill all the kids?” But think about that, what kind of effect that has on somebody. It’s like, “Well, then there’s no one who can protect me or restore order.” I’m always glad when a film like that doesn’t find its audience. It really signifies how daring and creative it is, that he really is not concerned that he is leading the audience down a blind alley.

MGS: It didn’t find its audience right away.

LK: It never really did.

MGS: It seems like there’s a cult developing around it.

LK: Very few of my students mention it. If I bring it up, they don’t know it that well. But when you compare it to a film like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I just feel like, with that film, Fincher is playing it safe with a franchise. He’s just protecting his interests. And you can tell the difference.

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MGS: I agree wholeheartedly. I had the opposite reaction to Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that I had to Zodiac. The first time I saw it, I really enjoyed it. I watched it a second time and I thought it was kind of tedious. It was like I got nothing out of watching it again.

LK: What else ya got, man?

MGS: So, what exactly do you think makes a David Fincher film a “David Fincher film?” I think he’s an unlikely candidate for a book in this Conversations with Filmmakers series in a lot of ways. He doesn’t fit the popular notion of an auteur. Unlike the other American directors who came up in the early-to-mid-90s, he doesn’t write his own scripts or put himself in his films, and he even says he hates giving interviews. Directors like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith use their personas to market their films in a way that is more like what Hitchcock did.

LK: Well, they are celebrity auteurs and enjoy the attention. In fact, I think Kevin Smith enjoys speaking to film nerds or comic-book freaks at Comic-Con more than he does making films — although I just watched Cop Out and kind of liked it. The difference? Why Fincher stands out for me? Very simple: form equals content. Of all of them, no one understands film like David Fincher. David Fincher is your old-line, camera-as-pen auteur. He speaks through the plastic medium. Fincher uses mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing, and sound better than any of them. He is concerned with that more than he is with building a cult of celebrity or a cool profile with fans or the press. You get the sense that that’s what he is wholly concerned with: film as an aesthetic object. And also as a social one. He has a knack for picking material that resonates with his generation or with the audience at any given time.

MGS: Which is probably most true of Fight Club and The Social Network. Those were zeitgeist films.

LK: Although Gone Girl looks like it might be a shrewd . . . we’re both kind of careful with this because we’re not sure what it is yet — but, judging from the book, as soon as I started reading it, I’m like, “Oh, I know why he picked this.” And I like the fact that everyone’s really bugged out because it’s written by a woman who has the nerve to say that women can be frightening and dangerous. I’m like, “Here we go. This might be the female Fight Club.”

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MGS: Some people have said the book is misogynist, which is ironic because I don’t think anyone would say that if it had been written by a man.

LK: Well, we are now — and Fincher is hip to this, this is the Gen-X thing — we are the first generation in which men and women are fairly equal. So there’s a lot more anxiety about what the roles are and how you’re supposed to conduct yourself. And I felt that really is what made that book compelling and that’s what attracted him to the book — the whole guise of the “cool girl” as a way of merely satisfying what she presumes the man wants her to be. And, for Gen X, I think we’ve navigated these very rapid changes in how couples function and how they communicate. And so it’s almost like this is more of a Gen Y thing than Gen X, because they have so much trouble with dating and having meaningful relationships. And knowing exactly who they are because they’re so broadcast, through social media, this whole idea of who they are, constant representation and re-representation on their terms. And it’s kind of an extension of that in the book with the whole Amazing Amy series and how she’s presented and how she has this sort of mediated view of herself. It’s part of her pathology. So even there I’m thinking, this is pretty timely and, again, this is Gen X. Boomers would not come up with this. They’re all about female liberation and equality — Women’s Lib and the feminists. But this is what happens when you pretty much have parity. All of a sudden, you look at each other and go, “What the hell? What’s next?” I think this could be extremely timely. Or it could piss the shit out of some people too. Because this is a dirty secret, this is the sacred cow, that women are just as despicable as men.

MGS: Of course.

LK: And one of the most sexist things is to assume that women are innately more refined or more settled or just more functional than men. That’s not true. They’re just as bad in a different way. And that’s what I feel like (Gillian Flynn) is bringing out. She has the guts to do it. Let’s face it: that main character, I mean, she makes the Kevin Spacey character in Se7en look like a pre-schooler. This is Fight Club for women. Because in Fight Club, the male psyche is all about frustrated desire and blunt-force trauma and self-destruction. A woman relies more on psychology and manipulation — not punches to the face and exploding office buildings. So I feel like this is very organic, it fits in with everything else Fincher has done and I’m actually looking forward to it regardless of how it turns out. This is a very savvy moment for Fincher. But again this, to me, as opposed to the Kevin Smiths and the Quentin Tarantinos, who spend more time trying to generate an adolescent fanbase, I feel like with Fincher, he is that old-school artist who’s like, “Here’s what I made. Here’s what I painted. Here’s what I staged and shot. Now you do the rest and interpret it.”

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David Fincher: Interviews can be ordered from amazon.com here.

Last (Grouchy) Thoughts on Oscar

Even though I voted against it in my Oscar pool, I kept secretly hoping all night that The Social Network might somehow win Best Picture, especially after Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scored an upset win for their excellent original score. But as soon as Tom Hooper’s name was called for Best Director, the game was over and I realized why “the Facebook movie” never really had a chance – its main rival, The King’s Speech, was a middlebrow entertainment that plays like a virtual checklist of Oscar’s favorite qualities: true story, period piece (set against the beginning of the second World War no less), a cast of British acting royalty and a main character who overcomes a physical handicap (especially since Colin Firth didn’t, as my friend David Hanley points out, go “full retard”).

Lovers of The Social Network can take solace knowing that the list of movies that have never won Best Picture Academy Awards is more illustrious than the list of those that have. Like many great American films before it, David Fincher’s zeitgeist movie was too edgy, too hip, too relevant. Or as Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker might say: “Winning Best Picture isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Losing Best Picture.” Fans of David Fincher who don’t agree shouldn’t worry though. The man will win an Oscar someday, probably fifteen years from now for a film that isn’t as brilliant or innovative as Zodiac or The Social Network.

P.S. – A big thank you to Judi Marcin for throwing the best Oscar party ever. You deserve a little gold statue.


Top Ten Films of 2010

It may not have been as strong of a calendar year as 2007, which I’m convinced will go down as one of the all-time great movie years alongside of 1939 and 1960 (but that’s a subject for another post); 2010 was still a good year for the movies. I would go so far as to say it offered an embarrassment of riches for Chicago-area cinephiles – provided, that is, one knew where to look. The only films I really wanted to see but missed were Tuesday, After Christmas, the latest buzzed about film of the Romanian New Wave, which received a scant few Chicago International Film Festival screenings, and the full five and a half hour cut of Olivier Assayas’ Carlos, which turned up for a few Music Box screenings before being supplanted by the much shorter, and ostensibly more audience friendly, theatrical cut. But with so much good cinema fare playing only in limited runs or at “alternative” venues, a few things are bound to slip through the cracks. Having said all that, I’d like to give a special shout out to The Chicago International Film Festival for having a more impressive line-up than usual and the enterprising programmers at the Music Box, the Siskel Center and Facets, who continued to go above and beyond the call of duty in bringing the best of contemporary world cinema to the Second City.

Below is a list of my ten favorite new films to first play Chicago in 2010 (even though some debuted elsewhere last year), as well as fifteen runners-up.

The Top Ten (in preferential order):

10. White Material (Denis, France/Cameroon) – The Music Box. Rating: 8.2

The peerless Isabelle Huppert combines sinewy physical strength with psychological complexity as Maria, the French owner of a coffee plantation in a nameless civil war-torn African country. As violence escalates, Maria presses on running her business, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that the world around her is descending into chaos. No characters are spared the harsh eye of director Claire Denis in this disturbing drama – not Maria’s fractured family, the government troops, nor the rebel soldiers (including a fair number of child soldiers) led by Isaach de Bankole. This isn’t a masterpiece on the order of her earlier Beau Travail but no one else except Denis, who spent her childhood in Africa and has now made three films there, seems willing to perform the necessary task of providing a moral reckoning of France’s colonial past.

9. Around a Small Mountain (Rivette, France, 2009) – Siskel Center. Rating: 8.3

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Jacques Rivette’s supposed swan song, which some allege was completed by his longtime screenwriter Pascal Bonitzer, is a charming, wise, deceptively simple film that clocks in at a very atypically brief 84 minutes. The story concerns an Italian businessman (Sergio Castellitto) who becomes involved with a low-rent traveling circus, presided over by a mysterious Englishwoman (Jane Birkin). But plot is really only an excuse for Rivette and Bonitzer to explore the nature of performance and how art and life are inextricably bound. Delightful scenes of jugglers, acrobats and clowns performing are intercut with the main story until it becomes unclear where the performance ends and life begins. If it is Rivette’s last movie, it is a fitting farewell indeed. Full review here.

8. Carlos (Assayas, France/Germany) Music Box. Rating: 8.4

French writer/director Olivier Assayas posits the international terrorist as rock star in this electrifying biopic of Ilich “Carlos the Jackal” Ramirez Sanchez. Multilingual, made-for-television and shot in many different countries, this insanely ambitious epic is a perfect reflection of the “global” character of cinema in the 21st century – even as it sticks closely to the “rise and fall” formula of a Warner Brothers gangster film of the 1930s. The highlight is an hour long scene depicting Sanchez’s takeover of OPEC headquarters in 1975, a set piece that puts most contemporary Hollywood action movies to shame. If the film’s inevitable downward spiral denouement can’t sustain as much interest, no matter. This is still essential stuff.

7. Everyone Else (Ade, Germany/Italy) – Gene Siskel Film Center. Rating: 8.5

Everyone Else announces the arrival of a major new directorial talent in Maren Ade, the film’s young female writer/director. In only her second feature film, the chronicle of the end of a love affair between a young German couple vacationing in Sardinia, Ade shows she knows a thing or two about human nature and the mysterious machinations of a relationship in irreversible decline. Reportedly inspired by Ingmar Bergman, whose relationship dramas traverse similar psychological terrain, I found this more devastating and more cinematic than Ade’s ostensible models. I can’t wait to see what she does next. Full review here.

6. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Weerasethakul, Thailand) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 9.0

“Facing the jungle, the hills and vales, my past lives as an animal and other beings rise up before me.” So begins the latest film by Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul, one of the world’s most exciting young directors. Fully deserving of its Cannes Palm d’Or, Uncle Boonmee is a masterful tone poem that expands on the spiritual themes of Joe’s earlier work to encompass a graceful, feature-length meditation on dying and death. Shot entirely in the jungles of rural Thailand, the cinematography is appropriately lush and the dense sound mix creates an impressively immersive experience. I suspect the experimental aspects of this film may drive some viewers up the wall but I could have watched it go on forever; I emerged from the theater as relaxed and refreshed as I typically feel after watching a film by Yasujiro Ozu. More here.

5. Wild Grass (Resnais, France) – The Music Box. Rating: 9.3

Alain Resnais’ alternately sublime and ridiculous study of fantasy and obsession represents a return to the “wildness” of his early films and, for my money, is also his best film in decades. I really admire the way Resnais takes the premise of a generic romantic comedy (a typical meet-cute involving his regular players André Dussollier and Sabine Azema) and continually undercuts the audience’s desire to “identify” with these characters. Is Dussollier a stalker? Did he actually kill a man in the past? Why does Azema express interest in him as soon as he loses interest in her? The most obvious example of the film’s surrealist/satirical bent is its first false ending, complete with Sweeping Romantic Gesture and Twentieth Century Fox theme music. This is followed by the “real” ending, a cosmic punchline so bat-shit crazy that it nearly caused me to fall out of my chair from laughing so hard. I also loved the candy box colors and near-constant use of crane shots. Now what the hell’s wrong with Sony Pictures Classics that they won’t release a blu-ray, hmmmm?

4. Shutter Island (Scorsese, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 9.5

The closest Martin Scorsese has come to making a straight horror film is also the best thing he’s done since Goodfellas in 1990. Forget about the narrative twists and turns, which aren’t any more implausible or predictable than what you’ll find in Hitchcock’s best movies. Shutter Island is a great film because of the raw, ferocious emotions at its core, in particular the palpable guilt, fear and paranoia of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels. These emotions all coalesce in the film’s ingenious finale, which critic Glenn Kenny has aptly compared to Vertigo and 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 unusually baroque visuals, which clearly show the influence of Scorsese’s idol Michael Powell, are never less than a treat.

3. The Ghost Writer (Polanski, UK/Germany/France) – Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema. Rating: 9.6

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 Shutter Island are instructive, as both are influenced by Alfred Hitchcock but in radically different ways; Martin 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 color schemes, 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 theme; 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 perhaps 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.

2. The Social Network (Fincher, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 9.8

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’s 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. A film that defines our time? Who cares? It’s a film for all time. Full review here.

1. Certified Copy (Kiarostami, Iran/France/Italy) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 10

I’ve heard Abbas Kiarostami’s latest masterpiece described as both a comedy and a metaphysical horror film. Certified Copy, which seems to be both a curve ball and a true-to-form puzzle film from the master, is great enough and slippery enough to accommodate both descriptions simultaneously. I still don’t know if this is a story about the characters played by Juliette Binoche and William Shimmel engaging in some extreme form of play-acting or if the film instead posits a kind of mutable reality in which their identities are constantly morphing in accordance with the demands of a mischievous narrative. And that’s how I like it. Binoche continues to look more radiant with each passing year and Shimell (a professional opera singer but amateur thespian) is pitch-perfect as her foil. More here.

The Fifteen Runners Up (in alphabetical order):

35 Shots of Rum (Denis, France) – The Music Box. Rating: 7.7

Black Swan (Aronofsky, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 7.6

The Chaser (Na, S. Korea) – Facets Cinematheque. Rating: 7.1

Chicago Heights (Nearing, USA) – Gene Siskel Film Center. More here. Rating: 5.8

Heartbeats (Dolan, Canada) – Chicago International Film Festival. More here. Rating: 7.5

Hereafter (Eastwood, USA/France/UK) – Wide Release. Rating: 7.3

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Stern/Sundberg, USA) – Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema. Rating: 7.5

Lebanon (Maoz, Israel/Lebanon) – The Music Box. Full review here. Rating: 7.7

Life During Wartime (Solondz, USA) – The Musix Box. Rating: 6.7

On Tour (Amalric, France) – Chicago International Film Festival. More here. Rating: 6.6

A Prophet (Audiard, France) – Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema. Rating: 7.0

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Wright, USA/Canada) – Wide Release. Rating: 7.4

The Town (Affleck, USA) – Wide Release. Full review here. Rating: 7.0

True Grit (Coens, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 7.4

Winter’s Bone (Granik, USA) – Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema. Rating: 6.9

Anyone reading this should feel free to post their own favorites in the comments section below.


Now Playing: The Town and The Social Network

The Town
dir. Ben Affleck, 2010, USA

Rating: 7.0

The Social Network
dir. David Fincher, 2010, USA

Rating: 9.8

The bottom line: Hollywood done good.

Now playing in theaters everywhere is The Town, a love story/crime movie hybrid that confirms the filmmaking promise Ben Affleck showed with Gone, Baby, Gone, his auspicious directorial début from 2007. Also now playing everywhere is The Social Network, David Fincher’s second major masterpiece in the past four years (along with Zodiac in 2007), confirming the director as a uniquely American visionary in the midst of an astonishing mature period. Each film is crucial viewing for lovers of American cinema, as they both illustrate what Hollywood still knows how to do right, albeit in very different ways and to different degrees.

Ben Affleck is an interesting case – a talented actor who nearly self-sabotaged his career by starring in a long string of crappy action movies around the turn of the millenium. Then, in 2006, he poignantly played George Reeves, television’s original Superman, in the massively underrated Hollywoodland. It must have hit awfully close to home for the former Daredevil star to play Reeves as a washed-up has-been in tights begging to be taken seriously by the industry. Whatever the case, the delightful performance, a supporting role by any measure, earned Affleck the Best Actor award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival and set the stage for the actor’s reinvention. This notion was confirmed the following year with the release of Gone, Baby, Gone, a dark, brooding crime film indebted to the recent work of Clint Eastwood, which Affleck co-wrote and directed but did not star in. Gone, Baby, Gone had its share of plot contrivances but the narrative twists and turns led to a very welcome and satisfying finale; after returning a young kidnapping victim to her rightful but drug-addicted mother, Casey Affleck’s private detective character realizes the kid is in an even worse place than before. For me, the unexpected gravitas of this ironic “happy ending” and the moral questions it raised lingered long after the closing titles.

If there’s nothing in The Town quite as good as that, no matter. Affleck takes a serviceable Chuck Hogan cops and robbers plot and injects it with enough genuine human emotion, juicy performances and authentic sense of place to put most recent Hollywood fare to shame. Affleck directs himself this time as Doug MacRay, a Boston-bred career criminal who pulls off a bank job in the film’s opening scene, one that requires him to take as hostage the bank’s manager, Claire Keesey (the always reliable Rebecca Hall). Because MacRay and his cohorts are wearing masks, Claire doesn’t recognize him when she and Macray meet cute in a laundromat several days later. The budding relationship between the two, which provides MacRay with a glimpse into a way out of “the life,” gives the movie its heart. Unlike the cardboard cutouts populating most contemporary Hollywood action movies, here at last are two people we can care about.

As an actor, Affleck has never been better as MacRay, a blue-collar hood whose tough exterior masks a sensitive soul, but even he’s upstaged by Jeremy Renner as violent sidekick Jim Coughlin. Renner, so memorable as the cocky, adrenaline-junky Sergeant in The Hurt Locker, carves out a different but equally impressive character here. Coughlin unpredictably vacillates between quietly charismatic and live wire manic; with his heavy eyelids and thuggish charm, Renner resembles no one so much as Jimmy Cagney in his prime. The rest of the ensemble cast, including Pete Postlethwaite, Chris Cooper, Jon Hamm and Blake Lively, is fine too; Affleck as director gets a lot of mileage out of these actors in the film’s quieter moments, especially in shots where they simply listen and react to each other, moments that a lot of other narrative filmmakers couldn’t be bothered with.

Less successful is the mechanical way the plot grinds to a One Last Job climax, preceded by several scenes in which MacRay finds that his criminal brothers want to Keep Pulling Him Back In. But even these aspects seem to reflect the influence of Eastwood, an old hand at balancing human drama with the demands of commercial genre filmmaking. Towards the end of the film, Jon Hamm delivers the jokey throwaway line “It’s for you,” a direct crib from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but the film’s most important antecedents would appear to be minor Eastwoods like The Gauntlet and Blood Work, crime thrillers with more invested in their unlikely love stories than in any action set pieces. In the end, The Town is intelligent, modest, well-acted, emotionally moving and all around well-crafted. These are virtues that used to be a dime a dozen in Hollywood genre films of the 1940s and 1950s. Today, they’re so rare that to see them combined in one movie is almost enough to make you weep with gratitude.

When was the last time you saw a 21st century American film that felt like it could have only been made in the here and now? As much as I love The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Mulholland Drive, There Will Be Blood, The Hurt Locker, Before Sunset and even David Fincher’s own Zodiac, I’m not sure if any of those films couldn’t have been made elsewhere or in a previous era. The Social Network, by contrast, is so new and so prescient, it feels almost like a bulletin from the future. It tells the by-now familiar story of Mark Zuckerberg, the teenage wunderkind who founded Facebook from his Harvard dorm room and became the youngest billionaire in history. The fact that Zuckerberg’s life has been dramatized in a movie when the subject is still only 26 years old, is also, for better or for worse, emblematic of the times.

The Social Network uses dark, lush digital images (the kind that only Fincher seems able to capture), wall-to-wall dialogue, hyperkinetic editing and a discordant techno score to paint a portrait of America in the internet age that’s as frightening as it is beautiful. Like Zodiac, it confronts the viewer with an endless, raging sea of information, which by design cannot possibly be processed in a single viewing. Much of this information comes verbatim from legal depositions given as Facebook skyrocketed in popularity and lawsuits were filed against Zuckerberg by former friends claiming he had either stolen the idea from them or swindled them out of stock shares.

The deposition scenes take place in the present and serve as catalysts for a series of flashbacks that may represent objective reality or may be scenes colored by subjective memory. The film’s greatness lies largely in its ambivalence towards Zuckerberg; we can never be entirely sure to what extent he might be a visionary genius and to what extent he may have opportunistically screwed over his friends. Or does the truth lie somewhere in between? The only thing we know for sure is that Zuckerberg’s grandiose ambitions were fueled mainly by his own social insecurity, a point driven home in the film’s final chilling scene.

The screenplay for The Social Network was written by the esteemed Aaron Sorkin and serves up delicious machine-gun paced dialogue for the film’s entire 2 hour running time. It helps that Jesse Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg. (Since playing the precocious teenage lead in The Squid and the Whale, Eisenberg has graduated to specializing in playing neurotic, motor-mouthed adults.) The film’s best scenes involve rapidly edited battles of meticulously phrased, rat-a-tat line delivery, especially the ones involving Justin Timberlake as Napster co-founder Sean Parker. Timberlake, a terrible musician, is absolutely riveting as the Satanically charming Parker, so much so that you may find yourself hoping he returns every time a scene involving him ends. According to the movie, Parker was broke financially in the wake of Napster lawsuits and yet somehow finagled his way into becoming a substantial Facebook stockholder after intellectually seducing and “informally advising” Zuckerberg. The movie’s key scene between the two of them is one for the ages: set in a garishly lit nightclub, Parker comes on like Mephistopheles while Dennis De Laat’s “Sound of Violence” reaches pulse-pounding levels on the soundtrack. The question arises: are these character portrayals accurate? My answer is who cares? If you want non-fiction, watch a documentary. Historical authenticity is not inherently valuable. What Sorkin and Fincher capture are larger truths about the world we live in, such as the disturbing fact that privacy, as Parker happily admits, is the relic of a bygone era.

Some critics have compared the film to Citizen Kane. This is due partly to the film’s multiple narrator/flashback structure and partly to the suggestion that Zuckerberg never got over a break-up with an early girlfriend – his very own Rosebud. Also, like Welles, Fincher is a true Hollywood maverick; his use of CGI is as impressive here as it was in Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The fact that the same actor, Armie Hammer, plays twin brothers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, is absolutely astonishing given how much screen time the brothers share and how seamless their interactions with each other are. And given how unnoticeable Fincher’s use of effects tends to be, we’ll have to wait until the supplemental material on the blu-ray release before understanding the full extent of how they’ve been employed here. I think the Kane comparisons are valid but I think comparisons to the German films of Fritz Lang might be even more fruitful. Like Lang’s relentlessly “third-person” point-of-view in Metropolis and M, what Fincher provides us with here is nothing less than an impressively detailed, panoramic view of society, one that we can understand from top to bottom – only the society in The Social Network exists partly in real space and partly in cyberspace. And then there’s the matter of that techno version of “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”


CIFF – Twenty Two Most Wanted!

Here is a wish list of the 22 films I’d most like to see turn up at the Chicago International Film Festival in October. The titles are a combination of films that played at Cannes in May, films that have been slated to play at the Venice or Toronto fests in the coming months and some serious wishful thinking.

22. The Housemaid (Im, S. Korea)
An erotic thriller in which a married man’s affair with the family maid brings tragic consequences. I would normally be skeptical of this, a remake of one of the best S. Korean movies of all time (Kim Ki-Young’s mind-blowing Hanyo from 1960), but this was made by Im Sang-Soo, director of the formidable The President’s Last Bang.

21. The Town (Affleck, USA)
Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone, Baby, Gone, was one of the great surprises of 2007: an effective genre piece boasting a terrific ensemble cast and some interesting sociological insights to boot. This sophomore effort is another crime thriller, starring Affleck and The Hurt Locker ‘s Jeremy Renner.

20. 13 Assassins (Miike, Japan)
A reunion between Audition director Takashi Miike and screenwriter Daisuke Tengan that promises to melt more brains – in the audience if not onscreen.

19. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, France/USA)
A 3-D documentary about the earliest known hand-drawn images. Werner Herzog, whose best films in recent years have tended to be documentaries (see Grizzly Man), will almost certainly do something interesting with the 3-D format.

18. Secret Reunion (Jang, S. Korea)
I know nothing about this except that it stars the enormously talented Song Kang-Ho, veteran of many great S. Korean New Wave movies. Recommended by my film fest savvy friend David Hanley.

17. Another Year (Leigh, UK)
I always like to see what Mike Leigh is up to. If nothing else, you know the performances will be very good.

16. Accident (Cheang, Hong Kong)
A new crime drama from producer (and possible ghost-director) Johnnie To, arguably the best genre filmmaker in the world.

15. Black Swan (Aronofsky, USA)
I found The Wrestler to be Darren Aronofsky’s best film by a wide margin so I’m eager to see what he does in this follow-up, a dark thriller about rival ballet dancers starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.

14. Poetry (Lee, S. Korea)
An elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease takes a poetry course in this highly praised drama from S. Korean director Lee Chang-Dong. Won Best Screenplay at Cannes.

13. Film Socialisme (Godard, France/Switzerland)
A Mediterranean cruise is the jumping off point for the latest edition of Jean-Luc Godard’s global newspaper. This outraged many at Cannes (and predictably found passionate admirers among the Godard faithful) where it was shown with “Navajo English” subtitles.

12. Hereafter (Eastwood, USA)
After Invictus, director Clint Eastwood re-teams with Matt Damon for a European-shot supernatural thriller.

11. On Tour (Amalric, France)
Mathieu Amalric, a distinctive actor who specializes in comically unhinged characters, directs and stars as the manager of a traveling burlesque show. This has been compared to the work of John Cassavetes and indeed it sounds a lot like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. A surprise Best Director winner at Cannes.

10. Hahaha (Hong, South Korea)
School of the Art Institute grad Hong Sang-Soo is one of the most prominent writer-directors of the S. Korean New Wave. His latest comedy won the top prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar and had critics grumbling that it belonged in the main competition.

9. Road to Nowhere (Hellman, USA)
Described as a “romantic noir,” this new film from Monte Hellman (director of the great Two-Lane Blacktop) is also apparently a movie-within-a-movie that he shot digitally with a newfangled still-camera. Hellman, returning after a too-long absence, has compared it to Last Year at Marienbad.

8. The Strange Case of Angelica (de Oliveira, Portugal)
This turning up is almost a certainty as the CIFF has shown 101 year old(!) Portugese master Manoel de Oliveira a lot of love in recent years, regularly screening his films since the late nineties. The Strange Case of Angelica premiered in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes where it found many admirers. Adding to the interest is the fact that it’s Oliveira’s first time working with CGI.

7. Tree of Life (Malick, USA)
Brad Pitt and Sean Penn play father and son (though probably don’t share screen time) in a drama set in both the 1950s and the present day. If the last couple films by the reclusive, secretive Terrence Malick are anything to go by, this will probably open in New York and L.A. on Christmas Day, then have its Chicago premiere in early 2011.

6. Carlos (Assayas, France)
A five and a half hour epic period piece about the true exploits of left-wing celebrity/terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” this would seem to be an abrupt about-face from Olivier Assayas’ last film, the sublime family drama Summer Hours. Originally made for French television, Carlos screened out of competition at Cannes where some critics claimed it was the electrifying highlight of the entire festival. Could conceivably play CIFF in one, two or three parts.

5. The Grandmaster (Wong, Hong Kong)
Wong Kar-Wai’s return to filmmaking in Hong Kong after taking a stab at an American indie (2007’s minor My Blueberry Nights) is a biopic of Bruce Lee’s kung-fu teacher, Ip Man. The all-star cast is headed by Wong’s favorite leading man, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who has said this will be a “real kung-fu film” with “many action scenes.” This is an intriguing prospect from the most romantic filmmaker in the world.

4. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong, Thailand)
The latest from another SAIC alumnus, Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul, who specializes in experimental/narrative hybrids. Joe made an auspicious debut with Mysterious Obect at Noon in 2000 and has only gone from strength to strength with each subsequent feature. Uncle Boonmee, a work of magical realism about the deathbed visions of the titular character, wowed ’em at Cannes where it converted previous skeptics and walked off with the Palm d’Or.

3. The Social Network (Fincher, USA)
Or “Facebook: The Movie.” If anyone can make a great film about the founding of a website, it’s David Fincher whose pioneering work with digital cinema in Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button established him as a Hollywood innovator and maverick in the tradition of F.W. Murnau, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick.

2. Certified Copy (Kiarostami, France/Italy)
More often than not, when a beloved auteur leaves his native country to make a film in International Co-production-land, the results are muddled and unsatisfying. That doesn’t seem to be the case with the shot-in-Italy, Juliette Binoche-starring Certified Copy, which has been hailed as a return to form of sorts for Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami. (He’s working in 35mm again after having spent most of the past decade experimenting with digital video.) This nabbed Binoche a Best Actress award at Cannes and was favorably compared in some quarters to Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece Viaggio in Italia.

1. The Assassin (Hou, Taiwan)
Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s long rumored martial arts film starring Shu Qi and Chang Chen. This is probably a pipe dream as news of the project was first announced years ago but reports of the film actually going into production have never materialized. Still, one must dream.


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