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by Bruce Reid

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of February 5

‘Celine and Julie Go Boating’

Rivette tributes arrive at a rapider rate (if not a greater length) then the filmmaker’s own masterpieces. Film Comment reprints a classic 1974 interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum, Lauren Sedofsky, and Gilbert Adair on Celine and Julie Go Boating and Out 1. (“We began by elimination: we didn’t want to make a serious film; we didn’t want to make a film about the theater because we’d done that too often; we didn’t want to make a film about current events or politics. But we did have the desire from the very beginning to do something close to comedy, and even frankly commedia dell’arte.”) The same year and films feature in Sight & Sound’s reprinting of a magnificent interview with Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky that functions as Rivette’s clearest mission statement (“There is a persistent idea of a cinema partitioned off in tiers: first you look for a subject, then you write as detailed a script as possible, on the basis of which you find someone to put up the money, for which purpose you pencil in the names of certain actors opposite fully defined characters. Once you have got all the elements together, often compromising some of your original ideas in the process, comes another stage: the actual shooting. You shoot little bits here and there, as meticulously as possible, and then you stick them together, and you’re pleased if you end up with something that corresponds to what was described more or less in your two hundred typewritten pages. Personally I find all this a dreadful bore.”); and Rosenbaum, again, reviewing the films (rather Out 1: Spectre, all that was available to view at the time). (“And if the scepticism towards fiction in Spectre leads to transparent actions playing over a void, Céline et Julie is like a game of catch played over the same void, with the ball tossed back and forth remaining solid as long as it is kept in motion.”) While Out 1’s continued relevance, and relative monstrosity, is testified to by David Thomson’s account of introducing the film to a dozen Norwegian spectators (making, plus him, an audience of 13) this past January. (“There is something about Out 1 that admits, or permits, the lifelike habit of missing a few things here and there. After all, we can be making love to someone, or even murdering them, and not quite hear what they say or catch the expression on their face. Movies seem to be arrangements of attention, but Rivette was one of those directors who saw that in passing time some things could pass by, precious in the dark, not so much unnoticed as missed.”) At MUBI Evelyn Emile considers Love on the Ground’s many teasing references to who, ultimately, is the author (or dreamer) of the play-within-the-film we’re watching. (“Is this love or is it empty intimacy, powerful anxiety, fear of death? These are such violent and terrible things, as we know. But Rivette gives us no consolation. Even if one were to ask, ‘Am I dead or not?’ the verdict is spoken simply and with a smile: ‘That’s for you to decide.’”) While Kino Slang reprints two examples of Rivette’s criticism—on Truffaut at the start of his career and Ivan the Terrible as the “culmination” of Eisenstein’s—that in hindsight say less about the two men than they do about the writer whose work arguably surpassed them both. (“The whole film mounts toward this moment, and little by little sloughs off time in order to rejoin duration….”) And if that isn’t enough—for many of us, of course, it isn’t—the 1977 collection Texts and Interviews turns out to be available online, courtesy (but of course) of Rosenbaum. Many of these via David Hudson.

‘Catch-22’

“These heads and faces, offering such unequivocal, complete statements, are already disquieting in the isolation of the screen. What they offer is a seduction (even if that’s for an eight-month course of chemotherapy), an offer to unfold a whole world that’s a cure for the ills of this one. Although in the end there may be nothing beyond the unfolding process. Vivian Bearing suffers chemotherapy, and brings her own academic specialty, study of the Holy Sonnets of John Donne, to bear on her condition, but neither proves a cure. Jake Terrell tries to make the dolphins’ world his own, but at the end is left on the edge of his island paradise while the image burns out to white—another favorite Nichols device, exiting the stage by dissolving the film.” Richard Combs traces intimations of death and its vivid if ultimately powerless counterforce through the films of Mike Nichols; and wins Auteurist of The Week for building his argument primarily on Catch-22 and The Day of the Dolphin.

“The movie’s ravishing design is like a 3-D puzzle, and some pieces are deliberately out of place. Barry’s show seems only slightly smaller than the Folies Bergère, with about a hundred showgirls in lavish costumes, a full orchestra, even clowns for the act intervals, and yet the stars are living and traveling quite modestly…. The film is a maze of narrow stairways and walkways, people popping in and out of doors and glimpsed through windows—we are eavesdropping, looking through a keyhole, getting only part of the picture at any one time.” Staying at Film Comment, Farran Smith Nehme praises the effervescence and the mystery that Cukor and his collaborators pack into Les Girls.

“I went over to Oscar to make my pitch. ‘You may be right. I may not need it,’ I argued, ‘but [this action] affronts an audience as few other things do. How are they going to be reconciled to the character’s choice if we aren’t explicit enough?’ Oscar showed real irritation with me for the first and only time in the long weeks of filming: ‘How?’ he said. ‘Acting.’” David Simon shares an argument with Oscar Isaac—with Winona Ryder and director Paul Haggis as wary go-betweens—from the set of Show Me a Hero that proves, hard as Simon finds to admit it, sometimes writers need to defer to the story sense of actors. The dialogue in question hinges on a major spoiler for the miniseries; one reason Simon waited till the DVD release to share it.

Jesse Jackson leads the protest

From the More Things Change… Department, Esther Breger looks back at the outrage, sparked by People Magazine of all places, that surrounded the lack of diversity at the 1996 Oscars, which featured only one black contender out of 166 nominees. Leading to a protest by Jesse Jackson met with derision (from the Some Things Change Ironically Department) by Will Smith, among others. Via Joe Blevins.

“It was supposed to be the Los Angeles mob, and I was the Al Pacino character, and Ted Danson, who was in it, was the Sonny, the James Caan character. He was the bad, bad boy, and I was the good boy, and Sam Wanamaker was our father. And it was… [Snorts.] Well, thank God nobody saw it. And thank God it didn’t become a series, because Ted went on to do Cheers, and I went on to do St. Elsewhere.” David Morse recollects the byways of his career—with sharp portraits of collaborators both pleasant (Donner, Hackman) and otherwise (Cimino)—with Will Harris. (If you’re familiar with the format for Harris’s Random Roles feature, this is actually Morse’s second round—the first was back in 2008—so only passing mention of such key works as The Indian Runner and St. Elsewhere, and much attention paid to the likes of Extreme Measures, Prototype, and (as quoted above) the TV pilot Our Family Business.)

“He was only fifty years old when he died. In his last days he began to talk about Mexico again. The resentment and the hurt were still there—he never seemed to have accepted his part of the blame for what happened. But there was also a wistful nostalgia, and a recognition that Mexico had changed his life as an artist for the better, despite all the dire consequences for his career. And to the end, he drew sketches of things he had seen in Mexico. For Eisenstein, Mexico never ended.” Peter Greenaway talks with David Ehrenstein about the inspiration behind his latest feature, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, and the future installments he has planned in this multi-part biopic (none of which, Ehrenstein notes, should please the homophobic conservatives currently setting the tone for Russia’s cultural climate).

From the set of ‘The Revenant,’ photo by Emmanuel Lubezki

“It’s a little bit scary how crazy I am! It could have been terrible. Everything could have gone wrong very easily… There were so many challenges every day. You become a creature of your own work. Sometimes you are God and sometimes you are a creature. And here you are just a creature surviving your own creation.” Features continue to come out burnishing the legend of the making of The Revenant: charmingly self-grandiose in Alejandro Iñárritu’s interview with The Talks; otherworldly beautiful when it comes to Emmanuel Lubezki’s location photography, shared with Sam Adams. (“That afternoon, we started playing with the actors and suddenly I said, ‘Why don’t we use fire?’ So we started playing with fire, me telling them to burn the walls of the dwelling. We asked for a little more, and suddenly the dwelling caught on fire. And the moment that the fire was real, and not organized by the effects people, it started to be more magical and more interesting. Then we got a gust of wind and we couldn’t control the fire anymore. The special effects guy said if we don’t shut it down, it’s going to burn the dwelling, we won’t be able to use it again. It doesn’t matter. Let it burn.”) Via Movie City News.

Obituary

Jacques Rivette, the least well known of the French Nouvelle Vague founders, was less prolific than his critic-turned-filmmaker colleagues Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Claude Chabrol, and Eric Rohmer but in some ways the most influential. He was the first of the “Cahiers du Cinema” writers to make a short film and the second to embark on a feature film (behind Claude Chabrol). In between he shot the first shorts by fellow critics Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. His debut feature Paris Nous Appartient was finally completed in 1960 but didn’t get distributed for two years, by which time Godard, Truffaut, and Chabrol had all but launched and defined the Nouvelle Vague, and Rivette’s subsequent films rarely received the distribution and attention of his contemporaries. Yet he kept the Nouvelle Vague spirit of invention and creative freedom alive with his youthful explorations and his collaborative methods; more than any other director of his time (including John Cassavetes and Robert Altman) Rivette treated his actors as collaborators, or maybe conspirators, in the mysterious process of filmmaking. That collaborative spirit reaches its zenith in his 13-hour Out 1, which was produced in 1971 but barely seen until 2015, when it was restored and re-released, making its official theatrical debut in a successful two-week run in New York City. It also informs Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), a mix of fantasy, comedy, and mystery thriller that has great fun deconstructing the nature of storytelling, and Pont du Nord (1981), a film about games and conspiracies played out on the gameboard of Paris. He won the Jury Grand Prize at Cannes for La belle noiseuse (1991), made a variant version called Divertimento (1992), directed Sandrine Bonnaire in the two-part Joan of Arc film Joan the Maid (1994) and the thriller Secret Defense (1998), had his most successful American release with the playful Va Savoir (2001), and retired after Around a Small Mountain (2009). Most of his films are still difficult to see in the U.S. (most have never been released on disc, and many of those are long out of print) but Criterion is finally bringing out their first Rivette film later this year and Kino has released Out 1 and Pont du Nord. He suffered from Alzheimer’s in his final years and passed away at the age of 87 last week.

Though it hasn’t been updated in a while, Order of the Exile is the official home base of all things Jacques Rivette in the U.S., while Catherine Grant provides an essential guide to writings by and about Rivette at Film Studies for Free. And, of course, as mentioned above there is the invaluable round-up from David Hudson at Keyframe.

Jacques Rivette, with Jane Birkin

British actor Frank Finlay earned an Oscar nomination starring as Iago opposite Laurence Olivier in the 1965 Othello, became a sex symbol in Britain for playing Casanova (1971) in the Dennis Potter-scripted mini-series and Peter Manson in the mini-series A Bouquet of Barbed Wire (1976), and became an international star playing Porthos in Richard Lester’s comic swashbucklers The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974). He was a founding member of the National Theater Company and was a busy stage actor from his debut in 1954 to his final stage appearance in 2008. Along with scores of TV roles over the years, he appeared in the films A Study in Terror (1965), playing Lestrade to John Neville’s Sherlock Holmes, The Molly Maguires (1970), Cromwell (1970), Stephen Frears’ debut feature Gumshoe (1971), The Wild Geese (1978), playing Lestrade again in Murder by Decree (1979), Lifeforce (1985), and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002). His death, at the age of 89, was reported on his official website over the weekend. More from The Telegraph.

Bob Elliot, half of the legendary radio comedy team Bob and Ray, also brought their deadpan comedy to stage, TV, and movies, where the he and partner Ray Goulding did their two-man act for the films Cold Turkey (1971) and Author! Author! (1982). After Goulding’s death in 1990, Elliot appeared solo in the film Quick Change (1990) and played the father of his real-life son Chris Elliot’s character in the sitcom Get a Life (1990-1992). He passed away at the age of 92 from throat cancer. Peter Keepnews and Richard Severo for The New York Times.

Seattle Screens

The Framing Pictures panel of film critics—Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, and Kathleen Murphy—reconvenes on Thursday, February 11 at 7pm (rather than the regularly scheduled Friday) in the screening room at Scarecrow Video (5030 Roosevelt Way N.E.). You can keep up with the series through the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

The new season of Silent Movie Mondays begins at the Paramount on Monday, February 8 with Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925). It’s the only presentation in the four-film series screened with a recorded soundtrack, featuring the score composed by Chaplin himself. The rest of the series, titled “Silent Treasures,” includes King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) on Monday, February 15; Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913), an unfinished feature with an all-black cast that was recently rediscovered and restored, on February 22; and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), shown in a version significantly edited down from the original epic presentation with a score composed and performed by Stewart Copeland, accompanied by the Seattle Rock Orchestra.

‘Lime Kiln Club Field Day’

Matthew Barney’s three-part epic screen opera River of Fundament opens on Friday, February 5. Each act is presented as a separate event but series tickets for all three films are also available. Schedule of screenings and more information at SIFF here.

Iraqi Odyssey, Switzerland’s official submission for the 88th Academy Awards, plays four days only at NWFF beginning Friday, February 5. Showtimes and more details here.

The Automatic Hate, an independent feature by Justin Lerner, plays Friday through Sunday at NWFF. Screenings include a Q&A with producer Lacey Leavitt, moderated by Seattle filmmaker Megan Griffiths. More here.

Next week, SIFF Cinema begins the series “Witches Brew,” presenting four features on the theme of witchcraft and the supernatural followed by a sneak preview of The Witch with filmmaker Robert Eggers in attendance. The screenings are free for SIFF members. Details here.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 29

“Mann himself thinks that he has turned his back on Cooper. What he’s really done, perhaps, is to liberate Cooper from himself. Hawkeye’s and Cooper’s admiration for the Mohicans’ way of life—their blend of pragmatism and chivalry, and their genius at warfare, hunting, and navigating their environment—emerges stronger than ever in Mann’s version of the tale.” Michael Sragow praises Michael Mann’s “iconic and iconoclastic” take on The Last of the Mohicans; this inaugurates a series of articles on films related to works published by the Library of America, so more attention than usual is spent on the film’s relationship to its source novel, and Mann’s own disdain for Cooper’s “whitewash of land grabs and cultural imperialism.” Via Matt Fagerholm.

‘Last of the Mohicans’

Gilda is not meant to be clear. It is meant to plunge the audience into an atmosphere so emotionally claustrophobic that even Johnny’s voice-over can’t provide escape or enlightenment. In fact, his voice-over drops away in the final section of the film, so that Johnny’s feelings about Gilda in the last scenes are never revealed. Most noir voice-overs provide backstory and explanation. Not Johnny’s. There are some things that are buried too deep. The only characters in the film who have any perspective are the washroom attendant and the police detective. The leads have none.” Sheila O’Malley revisits Gilda, with particular focus on the understated (thus underappreciated) direction of Charles Vidor and the dazzling entrance of Rita Hayworth—not just in the film, but into legendary stardom.

Steven Mears compares the climaxes in two versions of The Letter, Bette Davis’s famous reluctance to bring cruelty to the moment coming off as “pillow talk” next to Jeanne Eagels’s roaring take on the material. Also at Film Comment, Marc Walkow’s account of how the Lady Snowblood films came to be made makes you regret we’ve never gotten to see Meiko Kaji play the scene, which might have been definitive.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 22

Illustration by Jeremy Sorese

“That an indelible character in a children’s cartoon is a composite of 1980s gay life, bold women with gravelly voices, the AIDS crisis, independent film, Hollywood, Baltimore, and the tragic premature deaths of two exceptionally creative men shouldn’t surprise us. The best characters originate in artists’ complicated lives. And Ursula was surely one of the best.” Nicole Pasulka and Brian Ferree trace the gay, drag, and distinctly Baltimore influences behind The Little Mermaid’s exhilarating villain, her look inspired by Divine, her personality determined by the lyrics and coaching of actors by writer Howard Ashman. Via Longform.

“The Coens’ comedy is apt to swerve or pivot or shade into increasingly darker perplexities, intimations of the uncanny, or sheer bottomless terror in the face of existence, thus temporarily leaving humor in the rear distance. So the comedy of these scenes is counterpointed by the beautifully austere expanses of landscape out the window and the hypnotic rhythm of wheels hitting the seams in the asphalt at fifty miles per hour—da-dum da-dum da-dum. And again, on the drive back, there’s the dissolution of perspective and reason by the oncoming snow in the headlights, an invitation to nothingness.” Writing on Inside Llewyn Davis, Kent Jones magnificently captures the beauty and dreadful meaningless that battle for the heart of every Coen brothers’ film, and how essential music is to replenishing their faith.

“Ashburn’s calm response to yet another below the belt jab from Mullins is one of the funnier moments in The Heat, a modern riff on the 1970s police procedural that destroys all traces of a plausible plot in favor of controlled chaos. It also represents Feig’s ongoing examination of how women’s bodies are compartmentalized and diminished not only by men, but also by each other.” Glenn Heath Jr. does a good job showing how body language is a key element in Paul Feig’s comedies, and the key indicator of his characters’ struggles and ultimate triumphs. Though reference to The Heat as a “sophomore effort” makes me realize that Feig’s first two features are being tossed to Shyamalanesque obscurity.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 15

“When they first met, Coogler mistakenly assumed Jordan had already played starring roles. ‘I talked to him, and I just knew there was a movie that he had made—that he carried—that I hadn’t heard of,’ says Coogler. ‘And he was like, Nah.’ Jordan buckles over laughing and hits the director on the shoulder. ‘His was the first one!’ says Jordan.” Their winning streak is likely to hit pause unless Ryan Coogler can shoehorn a role into Black Panther—Achebe, maybe?—for Michael B. Jordan; But the camaraderie and respect the pair display for one another in Rembert Browne’s dual profile makes clear the partnership is far from over.

Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan

“With each message received, the needle on the speedometer rises; we are cruising at well over 100 miles per hour. I like speed. But not without my own hands on the wheel.” Sean Penn’s interview with Mexican drug lord El Chapo is no great shakes, the kind of intelligent but unenlightening questions a smart neophyte would ask, and that an experienced criminal like Chapo has no trouble deflecting. But Penn’s much derided introduction, solipsistic even as it tries to show off its concern (genuine, I’m sure) for the wider world, overlong without ever quite rambling, makes for a hell of a self-portrait of one of our more curious, socially committed actors.

“We may feel that Highsmith’s interest in Jonathan Trevanny is mostly about how the puppeteer Ripley yanks on his strings. But Wenders portrays Ripley’s victim… as a tragic figure, a hero for whom we are actively rooting in his struggle against the forces unleashed by the reprehensible caprice of his American friend. How can we not side with a character played by Bruno Ganz at his most radiantly handsome, an actor who can manage to perform the deceptively simple but in fact challenging feat of making a mild and fundamentally decent family man both interesting and charismatic?” Francine Prose praises Wenders’s The American Friend as something “deeper than crime, than noir,” and if it’s not quite Highsmith it compensates by being the director’s most complicated take on his love/hate relationship with America.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of January 8

“Fogelson knows early in development what the sell of a movie is, and he shapes the film accordingly. He’s an optician, swapping out the lenses in his refractor and inquiring, “Clearer now? Or now?,” until the image is crisp. When STX was negotiating with the owners of UglyDoll, a line of mischievous, misshapen plush dolls, for the rights to make an animated movie, Fogelson told his staff that he could already see the tagline over ‘a cute-looking version of that one-eyed character: ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.’ How do you not want to see that? There are so many good and easy ways to make you care about creatures who know they’re not attractive.’” Tad Friend profiles start-up studio STX and its chairman Adam Fogelson, who’s betting on the success of mid-range hits rather than the all-or-nothing blockbusters that dominate the majors’ slate. But whether he’s changing a movie’s elusive villain into the hero to attract a big-name star or bonding with Jackie Chan over the changes necessary to make a film more successful, Fogelson comes off very much as more of the same, if on an admirably smaller scale.

Sam Jones as Flash Gordon and Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan

Adam Smith’s history of Flash Gordon glosses over some details—such as Sam Jones’s falling out from the project—that are probably more interesting than they come across. But Mike Hodges talks amusingly about what it’s like to step in at the last minute on a De Laurentiis super-production that had been designed for Nic Roeg, and Brian Blessed turns out to have been cast exactly the way you’d hope he was: by threatening to kill the filmmakers if he wasn’t.

In the course of nearly 30 years living in Japan, Pico Iyer has seen his appreciation of Ikiru go from enthusiasm to dissatisfaction with its Western attitudes back around to an appreciation for how thoroughly Kurosawa portrayed the Japanese soul, which turns out not to be the exclusive bailiwick of Ozu.

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Parallax View’s Best of 2015

Welcome 2016 with one last look back at the best releases of 2015, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Soren Andersen

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Spotlight
3. The Revenant
4. Ex Machina
5. Chi-Raq
6. Steve Jobs
7. Kingsman: The Secret Service
8. Goodnight Mommy
9. The Martian
10. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
(more at The Seattle Times)

Sean Axmaker

1. Clouds of Sils Maria
2. Carol
3. Phoenix
4. Taxi
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Spotlight
7. 45 Years
8. Mustang
9. Jauja
10. Ex Machina
And ten more that almost made the list: Brooklyn, Experimenter, Girlhood, Inside Out, It Follows, Love & Mercy, The Martian, Queen & Country, Sicario, Timbuktu
Also lists at Village Voice Film Poll and Keyframe

David Coursen

(alphabetical)
About Elly (Asghar Farhadi, Iran)
Chi-Raq (Spike Lee,US)
Leviathan (Russia, Andrey Zvyagintsev)
Love and Mercy (Bill Pohlad, US)
Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, US)
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, US)
Taxi (Jafar Panahi, Iran)
Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania)
The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, Ukraine)
Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
Honorable Mention: Carol (Todd Haynes, US)

Bob Cumbow

(in no intending order)
Phoenix
Brooklyn
Ex Machina
Spotlight
Sicario
Slow West
Carol
The Big Short
Bridge Of Spies
Jauja
Also: The Walk, Mr. Holmes
Endings: PhoenixCarol
Disappointments: SpectreThe Hateful 8
Surprises: Mission Impossible: Rogue NationPredestination
Guilty Pleasure: San Andreas
Actors: Nina Hoss (Phoenix), Ronald Zehrfeld (Phoenix), Rooney Mara (Carol), Saorise Ronan (Brooklyn), Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina), Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina), Emily Blunt (Sicario), Mark Rylance (Bridge Of Spies), Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes)
Director: Christian Petzold (Phoenix)
Music: Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies; Carter Burwell, Carol; Howard Shore, Spotlight; Alan Silvestri, The Walk; Andrew Lockington, San Andreas

John Hartl

45 Years
Spotlight
Brooklyn
Sicario
Trumbo
Carol
Ex Machina
Bridge of Spies
Inside Out
99 Homes
A second 10: The Walk, Joy, Timbuktu, Love & Mercy, Phoenix, Tab Hunter Confidential, Rosenwald, I’ll See You in My Dreams, The Big Short, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.
Most miraculous restoration: The Apu Trilogy.

Robert Horton

1. 45 Years
2. Son of Saul
3. Bridge of Spies
4. Experimenter
5. It Follows
6. Clouds of Sils Maria
7. Ex Machina
8. The Assassin
9. Spotlight
10. The Duke of Burgundy
The second 10, just missing: The droll Swedish film A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence; Mad Max: Fury Road, maybe not as good as the fanboys say, but definitely good; the straightforwardly lovely Brooklyn; Viggo Mortensen in the magical Jauja; Bone Tomahawk; Mississippi Grind; the devastating documentary The Look of Silence; The Hateful Eight; the pictorially astonishing The Revenant; and—why not—Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
(via Seattle Weekly)

Richard T. Jameson

1. It Follows
2. Clouds of Sils Maria
3. Spotlight
4. Bridge of Spies
5. Room
6. The Assassin
7. 45 Years
8. Son of Saul
9. Jauja
10. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Close and by all means a cigar: Bone Tomahawk, Brooklyn, Blackhat, Mad Max: Fury Road, Phoenix, Ex Machina, Sicario
Pix: Saiorse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Brooklyn; Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, 45 Years
(via Framing Pictures)

Jay Kuehner

1. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien)
2. Carol (Todd Haynes)
3. Horse Money (Pedro Costa)
4. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)
5. The Kindergarten Teacher (Nadav Lapid)
6. Heaven Knows What (Benny and Josh Safdie)
7. The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher)
8. Arabian Nights (Miguel Gomes)
9. Phoenix (Christian Petzold)
(via Keyframe)

Moira Macdonald

(in alphabetical order)
45 Years
Brooklyn
Carol
Diary of a Teenage Girl
Grandma
Inside Out
Room
Shaun the Sheep Movie
Spotlight
The Third Man/ Tales of Hoffmann
(more at The Seattle Times)

Brian Miller

Favorite moments at Seattle Weekly

Kathleen Murphy

(in no intending order)
Brooklyn
Phoenix
Clouds of Sils Maria
45 Years
It Follows
Room
Son of Saul
Jauja
Bone Tomahawk
Mad Max: Fury Road / The Assassin
(via Framing Pictures)

Bruce Reid

1. Experimenter
2. Taxi
3. It Follows
4. The Hateful Eight
5. Welcome to New York
6. Blackhat
7. Clouds of Sils Maria
8. Timbuktu
9. Queen and Country
10. Maps to the Stars

In my absolute favorite scene of the year Stanley Milgram sits and reads from Speak, Memory the famous opening line of how we’re all our lives suspended between oblivions. Behind him two assistants lower lab equipment into a crate with the professional solemnity of undertakers.

In my second favorite scene a figure loping down a road, dressed in a ridiculous, baggy frog costume complete with bulging eyes, is revealed to be the last-act badass whose coming has been threatened throughout the movie.

One of those films made the list below; the other, Miike’s entertainingly unhinged Yakuza Apocalypse, didn’t quite. But both show off the quality that marks my favorite movies: an apparent legibility that, looked at more closely, resists any definitive reading. The ending of Milgrim’s most famous experiment is framed (literally, through a window that carves another screen inside the screen we’re watching) as a death; but one of the movie’s many points is that lives carry on, quite fulfillingly, after their supposed defining moments have passed. And when the muppet suit comes off there’s another surprise, and a further bad guy to confront.

We’re always told that movies, capturing real people moving through real environments, tend away from the mysterious and toward the concrete in a way that the other arts aren’t hampered. Except the camera’s eye can make even concrete glow with mysteries. I fell in love with the films above for the way they tracked down hallways in prisons and apartments, refusing to distinguish between the two; for the expertly timed closing of a piano lid; for the anxious way its actors clutched fishbowls, and the nonchalance with which they grasped cameras; for clouds roiling down a mountaintop, which you’d think would be beyond a director’s control; for a skyscraper flickering in a dying woman’s eyes. But it’s not just pianos and hallways, fishbowls and clouds and cameras, or even flicker. It never is.

Andrew Wright

1. Mad Max: Fury Road
2. Blackhat
3. Carol
4. The Hateful Eight
5. It Follows (Reviewed for the Portland Mercury)
6. Bridge of Spies (Reviewed for The Stranger)
7. Tangerine (Reviewed for The Stranger)
8. Bone Tomahawk
9. Creed
10. Sicario

Lists of lists:

Village Voice (poll and lists)
Roger Ebert.com
Variety
Keyframe Best Feature Films of 2015
Keyframe Daily Lists and Award 2015 Index

Polls
Film Comment
Indiewire Poll
Roger Ebert
Sight and Sound
Time Out London

Other lists
2015 additions to the National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1925
New York Times Year in Culture

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December 18

Chantal Akerman

I had no time to peruse any of the new Senses of Cinema before passing it along, but with a dossier on Akerman featuring articles by, among others, Nicole Brenez, Yvonne Rainer, and Bérénice Reynaud; another clutch of articles on the Legacy of Pasolini; looks at the early history of Australian animation and the malignant vibrancy of Luciano Tovoli’s cinematography for Suspiria; Quentin Tarantino initiated into the journal’s Great Directors pantheon; and an interview with Weerasthakul, it’s hard to imagine it doesn’t provide some of the best writing on cinema you’ll read going into this holiday season (aka, when all the blogs stop posting anything but 10 Best lists and revisionist/deconstructed/reconstructed takes on every Christmas movie from It’s a Wonderful Life to Eyes Wide Shut).

Speaking of lists, the one most worth reading this time every year is out again—the National Film Registry’s 25 selections for preservation. Yes, as Daniel Eagan reports, the committee is small enough to have considerable individual clout, and there are political and populist mandates they clearly have to juggle in their choices. But at a time when so many of the same films keep popping up as one of the best of the year, any list that includes Preston Sturges, George Pal, Douglas Sirk, Thom Anderson, Su Friedrich, and Tony Scott—not to mention Frankenheimer doing science-fiction, Curtis Hanson doing noir, and William Greaves doing whatever Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One could be classified as—only reminds you that cinema is vaster than you could even dream.
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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December11

Charlotte Rampling

“I sat down and said something sincere and clumsy about how I knew she was going through a hard time and that I was concerned about blundering into things I shouldn’t touch. ‘If you do that, I will stop you,’ she replied. ‘If you ask anything I don’t like, I’ll step around it and go on. I can take care of myself.’” Mary Gaitskill ably defends Charlotte Rampling’s notorious privacy as her right even in a profession synonymous with tell-all confessionals; then rather less convincingly argues that the actor’s unique appeal owes mostly to her skill at portraying “the natural representation of real people.” Possibly NSFW due to a Helmut Newton portrait (hey, it was the ‘70s).

“In conversation with his high-school mentor Roger Hill, he declared that opera directors should be unobtrusive presences, serving the conductor, the performers, and, above all, the composer. The man who helped to originate conceptual staging, with his historically displaced productions of Macbeth and Julius Caesar, felt that such radical transpositions had no place in opera. In a sense, he may have been captive to his early operatic memories, to the lingering Gilded Age milieu in which he got to know the art. On his home turf, however, Welles handled music with freewheeling brilliance.” The only strange thing about last week’s excellent Orson Welles piece by Alex Ross is that one of our best music critics had no comments to make about Welles’s use of music or even his films’ inherent musicality. Turns out that discussion had merely been carved out for a separate, equally fine article.

“Still, this judgment [that Harold Lloyd is the most complacently ordinary of the early comedians] needs to be complicated, because only a profoundly and uniquely imaginative artist—by definition, an outsider—can take on his shoulders the burden of synthesizing the entire society around him and fashioning an archetype from it that will play in Peoria.” Phillip Lopate finds the virtues of Speedy precisely in the everyday-man archetype that Lloyd’s detractors find so off-putting—and in the matchless string of terrific gags, of course.

Dan Callahan takes stock of William Dieterle’s career, and finds a talent probably too eager to fall into the boring solemnities of big studio biopics, but one who managed more to achieve more than a few delights along the way; and, in The Last Flight, at least one “triumphant” masterpiece.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December 4

Tilda Swinton

The new issue of cléo has arrived, organized around the theme of grace. Which makes a natural fit for Sophie Meyer’s praise of Tilda Swinton’s “unboundaried possibility” (“It’s not that she brooks no contradiction. She embodies contradiction and pushes us to do the same, to be all the clones in one flesh.”) and Colleen Kelsey’s appreciation for Catherine Deneuve’s vampiric turn in The Hunger (“Even when she strikes—well-appointed in jewelry or black leather gloves and without pausing to put out her cigarette—the victim finds herself absorbed not in the killing, but in the shadow show of Miriam’s grace and sexuality.”). Not to mention Julia Pennauer assessing the gender-flipped stoner comedy Smiley Face, and Anna Faris’s remarkable performance therein (“She pays tribute to the stoner comedy’s dissident tradition while problematizing its male-homosocial conduct—and she’s really funny.”). Elsewhere Sarah Gadon—academic buzzword alert!—frets over the agency of female characters in Rome: Open City (“Pina proves to be one of the most contradictory female characters in neorealism, as she is the only woman to achieve hero status.”), and Kiva Reardon interviews Geraldine Chaplin about playing love scenes in her latest film Sand Dollars (“[I]n my house in my village in Switzerland we have a picture of me in the garage all dolled up from years ago—the gown, flowers. The kids from the town come and say: “Let’s see the picture of Geraldine when she was a princess!” That was when I was princess and now I’m the old bag! That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”).

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 20

The restoration of most (long story short, the three-hour reissue version, not the original six-hour serial) of Otto Rippert’s 1916 Homunculus has Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell joining in on a lengthy post. Thompson offers the background, placing the film in the context (visually and narratively) of the early experiments in fusing expressionism and cinema. (“For Expressionist filmmakers, elements of the supernatural or the legendary could motivate highly stylized mise-en-scene. In contrast, these 1910s films often used relatively realistic mise-en-scene. Location shooting, straightforward period costumes, and skillfully executed trick photography introduced the fantastic elements into the milieu of a concrete, seemingly everyday world.”) While Bordwell looks at the film itself, finding a provocative, wide-ranging film where even the element that seems the most dated—the mannered title performance of Olaf Fønss—is part of a larger, more elegant design. (“It’s now clear that by focusing just on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) we have limited our sense of the wide-ranging visual discoveries of German cinema. Homunculus belongs with the splendid string of films that includes Der Tunnel (1915), Algol (1920), I.N.R.I. (1920), and the outstanding pair of 1919 films by Robert Reinert, Opium and Nerven.”)

“He was a romantic who had a special way of visually enfolding the lovers in his movies that is almost Frank Borzage-like, and he glorifies very different women in what must be the best close-ups of their careers: look at some of the close-ups of the melancholy Sylvia Sidney in Behold My Wife! and then look at the close-ups of the wised-up Joan Bennett in 13 Hours by Air and see how Leisen gives them the same glamorizing treatment without ever losing what makes them so individual.” Dan Callahan joins the small but devoted list of fans who feel Mitchell Leisen’s visual intelligence, humanity, and consistency of vision make him a far greater talent than his seeming perpetual ranking as not one of the best but tops among the rest.

“You could marvel that it took Chabrol so long to get around to making an anti-Vichy film. But you could also note that he had been gunning for the Vichystes all along and just hadn’t been so blunt before. In fact, Story of Women should feel very familiar. He had made this movie at least twice before.” David Kalat traces the almost clockwork evolution—three films each made and set about a decade apart—that led to Chabrol’s indictment of the Vichy regime.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 13

“While Lime’s high ground, as it were, is meant to be ironic (the film hints as much early on when the porter at Martins’s hotel [Paul Hörbiger], with a weak grasp of the English language, gestures towards hell above and heaven below), the manner in which he is brought down to the restricted domain of the camera at eye level, to be trapped and destroyed, doesn’t necessarily suggest a better view.” Martin Zirulnik revisits The Third Man, and finds a movie careful to articulate its horizontal and vertical spaces—and to make clear how little even the purportedly clear-eyed Harry Lime perceives the real, desperate Vienna kept to “the margins of the screen.”

‘The Third Man’

“In its very human focus, the “Rocky” series is, oddly, the closest analogue that American cinema has produced to François Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel cycle. But, whereas Doinel’s fictional life was defined, as any self-mythologizing Frenchman’s would be, in terms of his relationships with a series of stunning women, Rocky must measure himself always in his workplace: the ring. Across four decades, we’ve witnessed a full-blown, epic saga of a man perpetually considering, but never achieving, retirement.” With Creed soon to arrive as a presumed handing over of the reins, Andrew Bujalski looks back over Sylvester Stallone’s career-making creation Rocky Balboa, six movies charting the writer/director/star’s savvy growth of his character from loveable loser to definitive winner to old, alone, and surrounded by death.

Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin’s close reading of a scene from Nuit et jour shows how Chantal Akerman could make even the smallest, most seemingly conventional gestures resonate. Via Mubi.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 6

Bill Murray

“You know, being famous is obviously not a Devil’s deal. I love the opportunity to work. It’s the thing I do best. I’m a much better person when I’m working. I’m at my absolute best, because it’s the ultimate terror. It’s the ultimate terror that I will not arrive, the ultimate terror that I am not. You know? That I am not.” No point expecting an objective portrait of Bill Murray from Mitch Glazer, who’s written for the man for years, including his recent Rock the Kasbah and his upcoming, much-anticipated Christmas special. But who wants one of those, when Glazer ably demonstrates even one of Murray’s oldest, closest associates can be befuddled and dazzled by the man, being dragged along to spontaneous adventures down the streets of Morocco, Cuba, and Charleston, South Carolina.

Dennis Lim’s David Lynch: The Man from Another Place is one of the more anticipated film books of the season, and two excerpts do a good job showing why. In the New Yorker Lim discusses the inherent incomprehensibility of Lynch’s narratives as one of his great strengths. (“It is not uncommon for artists to believe that their art should speak for itself. But Lynch’s aphasia is born of a protectiveness that verges on superstition. Words for him are not just reductive; they are anathema to his view of art as fundamentally enigmatic. He says often that his films should leave “room to dream.” To decode a film, to proffer interpretations, to divulge the source of an idea—all these simply mean less room and fewer possible dreams.”) While Criterion samples the book’s take on Mulholland Dr., which Lim finds fitting into as much of a literary tradition as a cinematic one. (“If the film resonates long after these questions have been answered, it is because they are somewhat beside the point. Much more than an enigma to be cracked, Mulholland Dr. takes as its subject the very act of solving: the pleasurable and perilous, essential and absurd process of making narrative sense, of needing and creating meaning.”)

“In 1921, Wanderwell set off for Europe on a tramp steamer. He advertised in London for “A good-looking, brainy young woman who is as clever a journalist as her appearance is attractive,” warning that “she must forswear skirts—and incidentally marriage—for at least two years, and be prepared to ‘rough’ it in Asia and Africa.” Most important, she must “learn to work before and behind a movie camera.” Wanderwell saw motion pictures as a way not only to finance his expedition but also to document it for posterity.” Daniel Eagan recounts the nearly forgotten career of Aloha Wanderwell, neé Idris Hall, who made some of the most popular travelogue silents both in collaboration with her husband and, with even more accomplished cinematic technique, on her own after his mysterious death.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 30

‘The Golem’ (1920)

“The Berlin of the 1920s, Paris and New York—these were cities of poverty and excess. Night clubs, cabaret, drugs, sex and alcohol jostled dangerously against poverty and radical politics. These were cities with one foot in the future and another in the medieval, Grimm forests of these country’s recent past; as a barbarous, magical life which slumbered in the recesses, ready to burst forth.” Which cocktail set the stage for expressionist film sets, Owen Vince argues, The Golem, Caligari, and Metropolis all serving up fractured reflections of the “real” world that found their fulfillment in the same Nazis that would eradicate their decadent designs. Via David Hudson.

“‘The biggest crime here was not stealing the dough, because Mickey could’ve made the dough back. The biggest crime was they turned Mickey into a dog-and-pony show, and nobody wanted to have anything to do with him.’” For Mickey Rooney fans, which title I happily claim, his whirligig indomitability is a large part of the appeal, the sense that when Hurricane Mickey roared into a room everyone had to shut up and listen. All the more tragic then, as Gary Baum and Scott Feinberg report, that he spent his final years under the abusive thumb of his wife and stepson. Via Movie City News.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 23

Maurice Pialat on the set of ‘Van Gogh’

The Museum of the Moving Image’s retrospective of Maurice Pialat has been one of the most celebrated of this busy year. Julien Allen finds a director completely unclassifiable and incomparable, beating out his own path (and letting you damned well know how difficult that turned out to be) his entire career. (“His ten features (not counting the dozen or so shorts and one TV miniseries, La maison des bois) constitute from beginning to end a series of autobiographical portraits, throughout which the act of autobiography itself—of laying oneself open to the world—is deconstructed and filleted into its most basic elements.”) Richard Brody, on the other hand, sides with Desplechin that in fact Pialat has had the strongest influence on young French filmmakers, but finds the works no less remarkable. (“But those who want to be influenced also want a ready-made paradigm to adapt to their own uses, and Pialat—whose pugnacious naturalism burns with the flame of modernity—seems to promise them one: a template for non-nostalgic realism.”) And Craig Keller has been providing the invaluable service of transcribing notes originally included with Masters of Cinema’s UK DVD releases, including a series of interviews with Pialat—expectedly outspoken and provocative—that had never previously been translated; no group link, unfortunately, but all of the Pialat articles are clearly identified in his index of posts to the left. Via David Hudson.

That omnipresent, apocalyptic wind in Tarr’s The Turin Horse turns out to be a looped sample of some 19 seconds. Which leads Cristina Álvarez López to wonder, how apocalyptic a force can such a short repetitive drone evoke? And why didn’t anybody notice?

A new edition of the essential cinema studies text, Film Art: An Introduction, is forthcoming (with a perfectly chosen image from Moonrise Kingdom gracing the cover), but in the process of final editing, David Bordwell, Kristin Thompson, and Jeff Smith decided a chapter on the use of sound in Nolan’s The Prestige didn’t really fit in. Rather than waste their efforts, the article has been made available on Bordwell and Thompson’s website; where it’s another fine example of their making cinematic tricks of the trade graspable by the layman, without draining a drop of film’s magic.

“Maddin, who has been friends with Egoyan for over 25 years, opened by joking, ‘I’m really sick and tired of not being Atom Egoyan!’ When the friends were in their twenties, Egoyan was enjoying substantial early success. ‘You seemed to already have seven features when we were in our mid-twenties,’ said Maddin. ‘So annoying!’” At the Woodstock Film Festival, Canadian iconoclasts Guy Maddin and Atom Egoyan talked about resisting the lure of Hollywood to sell out (ok, that’s more Egoyan talking) and learning how not to care when critics drub your film (again, mostly Egoyan). Emily Buder offers the highlights.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 16

“He’s a conservative whose gravitas and charm can sway even the archest of liberals, a man who disliked horses but, more than any other figure, came to represent the entirety of Western ideals. Who avoided military service during World War II but became a hawkish supporter of Vietnam, and whose code of integrity was shadowed with racism, sexism, and thinly veiled bigotry, publicly stating his belief “in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to the point of responsibility” and calling the Native Americans “selfish” for refusing to hand their land over to white settlers. And yet:  He’s so difficult to resist.” Anne Helen Petersen, nonpareil at how public fantasies feed into the creation of stars’ images, tackles that great example of Hollywood myth-making, when the third time proved the charm and John Wayne became America’s actor. Via Matt Fagerholm.

“From the seven hundred hours of footage shot in Kharkiv, she said, the editors in London are fashioning a dozen or more movies, a TV series, and a user-directed internet narrative system. I asked her for an example of the kind of scene they had in the can. ‘A man telling his wife how he cheated on her,’ she said. ‘It lasts for five hours.’ It was, she emphasised, the genuine confession of a real transgression.” The filming of Khrzhanovsky’s Dau—from 2009 to 2011 on a massive set where the actors agreed to live, abandoning all modern amenities and be potentially filmed at any moment—is already the stuff of legend (and inevitable Charlie Kaufman comparisons). James Meek reports the postproduction, currently ongoing in a five-story London office building, is every bit as cloistered and lavishly financed, and continues to suggest this may be the rare movie(s) made critic-proof by the extraordinary tale of their making. Via Movie City News.

Matt Zoller Seitz makes a set visit to season two of The Knick, finding Steven Soderbergh completely in his element, literally behind the camera and knocking out ten hours of television drama in the time it can take a feature film to get off the ground. (In case you were wondering about the sincerity of that whole “retirement” thing.)

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