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by Jay Kuehner

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

Parallax View’s Best of 2014

Welcome 2015 with one last look back at the best releases of 2014, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Sean Axmaker

My list this year is light on foreign movies, largely because I didn’t get out to as many festival screenings as I have in past years, and because many of the foreign language films placing highly on other lists have not opened in this corner of the world.

1. Boyhood (Richard Linkater, US)
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, US)
3. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)
4. Gone Girl (David Fincher, US)
5. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, UK)
6. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, US)
7. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
8. Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)
9. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia)
10. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, Iran/US)
And because this film turns it up to 11. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon Ho, US / South Korea / France / Czech Republic) – high concept science fiction thrillers are always best when serving as metaphors for sociopolitical commentary. Amiright?

More honorable mentions (in alphabetical order: Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, Sweden), The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, US), The Immigrant (James Gray, US), John Wick (Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, US), Locke (Steven Knight, UK), A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor, US), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, US), Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, US), The Strange Little Cat (Ramon Zürcher, Germany), We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodyson, Sweden), What Now? Remind Me (Joaquin Pinto, Portugal)

Other published Top Ten Lists: Village Voice Film Poll, Keyframe
Also: Best of 2014 on Blu-ray and DVD

Sheila Benson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. Birdman
2. Foxcatcher
3. Mr. Turner
4. The Immigrant
5. Two Days, One Night
6. Leviathan
7. Nightcrawler
8. Force Majeure
9. Get on Up
10. Winter Sleep

Jim Emerson

(as presented at Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap)
1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
3. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
4. Calvary (John Michael McDonaugh)
5. The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)
6. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
7. Happy Valley (Amir Bar-Lev)
8. Gone Girl (David Fincher)
9. The Immigrant (James Gray)
In a realm of its own, circling above the calendar year considerations: A Summer’s Tale (Eric Rohmer, 1995; first US release, 2014)

Robert Horton

(as published in Seattle Weekly)
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
3. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
4. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
6. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier) and The Rover (David Michôd) (tie)
8. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)
9. The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)
10. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)

Other published Top Ten Lists: Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap

Richard T. Jameson

1. Under the Skin
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. The Homesman
5. Two Days, One Night
6. American Sniper
7. Birdman
8. Mr. Turner
9. Ida
10. The Better Angels

Jay Kuehner

(as published on Fandor)
1. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
2. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Ben Russell and Ben Rivers)
3. Jealousy (Philippe Garrel)
4. The Strange Little Cat (Ramon Zürcher)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
6. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
7. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)
8. Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
9. Story of My Death (Albert Serra)
10. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
11. Like Father, Like Son (Kore-Eda Hirokazu)

Moira Macdonald

(as published in The Seattle Times)
(in alphabetical order)
Birdman
Boyhood
Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Life Itself
Like Father, Like Son
Love Is Strange
Mood Indigo
Selma

Brian Miller

(as published in Seattle Weekly)
1. Birdman
2. Boyhood
3. Ida
4. Whiplash
5. Frank
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
7. Force Majeure / Gone Girl (tie)
8. National Gallery
9. Snowpiercer
10. The Homesman

Kathleen Murphy

1. Under the Skin
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. The Homesman
5. Ida
6. Mr. Turner
7. American Sniper
8. Two Days, One Night
9. A Most Violent Year
10. Force Majeure

Other published Top Ten Lists: Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap

Andrew Wright

1. Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong)
2. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
3. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
4. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
6. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
7. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
8. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
9. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
10. Cold in July (Jim Mickle)

Lists of lists:

Village Voice (poll and lists)
Roger Ebert.com
Keyframe Best Feature Films of 2014
Keyframe Daily Lists and Award 2014 Index

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

Other lists
2014 additions to the National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1924
New York Times Year in Culture

‘We Are Mari Pepa’: New Life for the Coming-of-Age Genre

‘We Are Mari Pepa’

Deceptively sumptuous given its scruffy punk milieu, We Are Mari Pepa (Somos Mari Pepa) breathes unexpected life into the naturally jaded (but hormone-riddled) body of youth/skate/band/buddy flicks. Samuel Kishi Leopo’s debut is utterly faithful in its depiction of the torpor and hope that doggedly accompanies teenagers everywhere, while limning a distinctly Mexican portrait of Jalisciense life over the course of a formative summer. Flush with teen spirit–that unassailable combination of insouciance and defiance—the film ultimately yields to the more wistful moods exacted by the reality of growing up. The symbolically slammed bedroom door separating youth from senescence, the modern from the traditional, the unrepentant two-chord blast from the venerable canción unspooling on vinyl, is gradually left ajar by Leopo’s rather keen sense of nostalgia.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Mystery, Acumen, Divination: On a few of the epiphanies and lulls of the last year

‘Costa da Morte’

Measuring films in calendar years and hierarchical lists feels a bit like ranking friends or, worse, rating relationships (Noah Baumbach’s Zagat history of a former romance rather drolly makes the point)—even if the impulse to canonize serves us well historically. And Godard did it. Now receding from view, 2013 may not have been revelatory in the vintage sense, but increasingly the cinema landscape feels like a terrain to be inhabited and traversed, paused in and coursed over. There are epiphanies and lulls, to be experienced in turn, contingent upon the curiosity of the imaginatively agile wanderer. At the very least, film years should me measured against Hong Sang-Soo’s given output. A few associative notes from the trip, then …. as 2014 brings us the “awards season” to remind us where we’ve been.

In April, at the Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival, sunk into the labyrinth of the infamous Teatro San Martin, Galego filmmaker Lois Patiño apologizes for the projection image quality of a work-in-progress entitled Costa Da Morte (Coast of Death) which he’s presenting along with some fine shorts that evince a young director working in a formal capacity—the long shot—in spectacular fashion. There is a visual splendor recalling Burtynsky, while the intimacy of the eavesdropping sound channels Galician fishermen’s folk tales of shipwrecks and daily catches

Continue reading at Keyframe

Review: ‘Mouton’

‘Mouton’

Some mysteries aren’t meant to be solved, and Mouton (no, this isn’t another film about sheep) from first-time directors Gilles Deroo and Marianne Pistone, is the latest in a budding field of beautifully irreducible tales—blessed with the imprimatur of Locarno’s Opera Prima award—that refracts its subject through a prismatic approach to narrative. This shape-shifting is derived from a reflexive consideration of any given scene’s formal capacity to cast an expansive repertoire of unforced meanings. Mouton may be, pace its characters, about the “same old, same old,” but the familiar isn’t necessarily excluded from infinite re-imagining. At the very least, the moving image can’t resist being eventful, no matter how pragmatic or mundane, and certain filmmakers are constitutively invested in this dimension of film that Bazin deemed the “factual hallucination” of the image.

The eponymously named “Sheep” (a nickname presumably owing to his easily swayed nature) is first glimpsed nervously pacing a courtyard beyond a carefully framed window pane, his destiny debated in a foregrounded bit of exposition that sees his alcoholically unfit mother losing legal custody of the boy, in spite of her professed love.

Continue reading at Cinemascope

Parallax View’s Best of 2013

Welcome 2014 with one last look back at the best releases of 2013, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Sean Axmaker

1. Her (Spike Jonze)
2. Blue is the Warmest Color / La vie d’Adèle (Abdellatif Kechiche)
3. Something in the Air / Apres Mai (Olivier Assayas)
4. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery)
5. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
6. Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
7. Drug War (Johnnie To)
8. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (dir: Alain Resnais)
9. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
10. Byzantium (Neil Jordan)

Twelve more: Bastards / Les Salauds (Claire Denis), Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler), Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron), Mud (Jeff Nichols), Night Across the Street (Raul Ruiz), Museum Hours (Jem Cohen), Short Term 12 (Destin Creton), Stoker (Park Chan-wook), Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley), The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

Best festival film I saw in 2013 without a release: What Now? Remind Me (Joaquim Pinto)

Other lists: Village Voice, Cinephiled, Senses of Cinema

Sheila Benson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Gravity
3. Captain Phillips
4. Fruitvale Station
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. All Is Lost
7. Philomena
8. The Great Beauty
9. American Hustle
10. The Confessing Stone

Jim Emerson

(as published on Cinephiled)

1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Nebraska
3. Mud
4. All Is Lost
5. The Act of Killing
6. This Is the End
7. Behind the Candelabra
8. The Stranger By the Lake
9. The Great Beauty
10. Gravity

Other lists: Indiewire

Robert Horton

(as published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Something In the Air
2. All Is Lost
3. Gravity
4. Blue is the Warmest Color
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. The Unspeakable Act
7. Nebraska
8. The Act of Killing
9. Amour
10. Like a Rolling Stone

Other lists: Indiewire, The Herald

Richard T. Jameson

1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Gravity
3. Nebraska
4. Blue Is the Warmest Color
5. her
6. American Hustle
7. Like Someone in Love
8. Enough Said
9. All Is Lost
10. Fruitvale Station

Other lists: Cinephiled

Jay Kuehner

(as published on Indiewire)

1. Leviathan
2. The Act of Killing
3. Something In the Air
4. In the Fog
5. Neighbouring Sounds
6. Bastards
7. A Touch of Sin
8. Viola
9. Centro Historico
10. Nana

Other lists: Senses of Cinema

Moira Macdonald

(as published in Seattle Times)

Here are my favorite movies of 2013, in alphabetical (and numerical) order.

12 Years a Slave
56 Up
Before Midnight
Enough Said
Gravity
Her
Much Ado About Nothing
Nebraska
Philomena
Stories We Tell

Brian Miller

(as published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Her
2. The Great Beauty
3. Gravity
4. Before Midnight
5. All Is Lost
6. Nebraska
7. Stories We Tell
8. The Act of Killing
9. (tie) In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter / Cutie and the Boxer

Kathleen Murphy

(as published on Cinephiled)

1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Gravity
3. Blue Is the Warmest Color
4. All Is Lost
5. Nebraska
6. Stories We Tell
7. Bastards
8. Her
9. Blue Jasmine
10. The Wind Rises

Andrew Wright

1. Upstream Color
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. All is Lost
4. The Act of Killing
5. Frances Ha
6. Gravity
7. You Will Be My Son
8. Mud
9. Her
10. We Are What We Are

Lists of lists:

Fandor List of Lists
Indiewire
Village Voice Film Poll 2013
Cinephiled
Senses of Cinema

Polls (no individual lists)

Film Comment
Indiewire
Sight and Sound
The Dissolve
The A.V. Club

Other lists

Keyframe: The Year in Film
2013 additions to the National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1923

See the 2012 Seattle Film Critics Wrap at the Frye, with Robert Horton hosting Kathleen Murphy, Jim Emerson, and Andrew Wright, after the jump below.

Keep Reading

Expansive Views at Telluride’s 40th

On the occasion of its 40th anniversary, Telluride, the venerable film festival tucked away in this remote Colorado mountain village bucked tradition and did the seemingly unthinkable: it expanded. Adding an extra day to its program and a new theater (a 500-seat beauty named in honor of Werner Herzog) to its venues, the festival could be seen as not necessarily outgrowing itself but rather becoming more accommodating. The logic for audiences was that with more time and space to navigate the program (whose slender catalogue fits in a back pocket), the packed houses and epic queues would be diffused to a level more commensurate with a holiday weekend of moviegoing than an arduous pilgrimage to cinephile mecca. Of course there was talk of the festival as having lost some of its rigor on account of breaking one hit too many, and slumming it millionaire style. But leave it to a new film (12 Years a Slave), by the British Steve McQueen—a tale of slavery in the United States with no trace of kitsch, featuring robust performances from actors unfamiliar to the multiplex—to bust all assumptions.

’12 Years a Slave’

It was Telluride that had not long ago ceremoniously proselytized on behalf of the Turner Prize-winning artist as emerging director, trotting out McQueen for a presentation of the bracing (circa 2008) Hunger, its rawness since mitigated by time and Shame‘s lack of manifest anguish. Were audiences now embracing McQueen at large? Was slavery a subject that American audiences were eager to countenance? “It’s about examining ourselves,” said McQueen at a town symposium with his ensemble cast, “and people may be more ready to examine history.”

Continue reading at Fandor’s Keyframe

Terror Incognita: Julia Loktev on The Loneliest Planet

Hani Furstenberg and Gael García Bernal

Despite the elemental grandeur of its setting and the irony of its title, The Loneliest Planet (2011) hinges neither on the cruelty of nature nor of civilization, but on the betrayals endemic to interpersonal relationships. A deceptively minimal and decidedly haunted pastoral tour that follows a couple of affianced Americans trekking through the rugged beauty of Georgia’s Caucasus, the ambitious third feature by Russian-born, US-bred director Julia Loktev channels a series of oppositions—the distant and the intimate, nature and culture, man and woman, action and reaction—into a terse, pared-down narrative that flirts with allegorical implication while remaining viscerally grounded. Walking and talking constitute the film’s nominal action, but it is silence, a certain existential incommunicability, that prevails.

Nica (the fiery-maned Hani Furstenberg) is strikingly revealed in the first frame, bouncing naked and cold in a washbasin, as Alex (Gael García Bernal, bearded and becalmed) rushes to her relief with buckets of hot water. Though hewing closely to her characters, Loktev discloses little of them beyond gesture and immediate surroundings, a visual strategy that intimates the fundamental inscrutability of other people that was the lesson of Tom Bissell’s “Expensive Trips Nowhere,” the short story that inspired the film’s cautionary conceit. Staying as guests in a small village while seeking out a guide for their mountain trek—the negotiations proceeding without the aid of translation or subtitles, Loktev emphasizing those inevitable confusions intrinsic to travel abroad—the couple, clearly as infatuated with each other as with their upcoming adventure, loiter in their post-Soviet surroundings, doing handstands, having sex, drinking in the disco. This pre-journey idyll establishes an innocuous tone that is destined to be disturbed, but Loktev’s rigorous immediacy eschews easy portent. Her stark editing scheme offers legibility, but not necessarily insight—an aesthetic of detachment that may in fact be a deeper form of engagement, privileging intuition over understanding.

Continue reading essay and interview with Julia Loktev at Cinema Scope

BAFICI 14: Reviens Vite

There’s a certain poetic justice to the unxpected trajectory—provided by the 14th Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Cinema—of America’s preeminent film critic, who, having been recently laid off from his long-standing post (34 years!) at The Village Voice, now materialized at a festival symposium half a world away to discuss his labour of love. J. Hoberman was busy for a couple of days as a guest of honour for the BAFICI publication of a Spanish-language anthology of his work, as well as presenter of the festival screening of Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963), but one can only hope that the man was able to take an actual day off, ambling Buenos Aires’s parilla and petrol-fumed avenidas at will. At the critical symposium, a forum which is usually about as illuminating as director Q&As, Hoberman nevertheless struck a couple of salient points that I took as a cue to reading the festival, and by extension the state of cinema, at large. One, the possibility that the imminent degeneration of film (call it the Death of Cinema) may paradoxically preserve it as a “destination” art akin to opera; and two, the notion that film and its attendant criticism might be compelling not by being genius, but by being awesome.

Los salvajes

Preeminence indeed: BAFICI has secured its reputation as the cinephile’s destination in South America for its curatorial prowess, its breadth of vision, its cultivation of native talent, and its sociability. Its sustainability is in some sense contingent upon its ambition: are there enough decent independent films a year to fill out the fest’s rigorous roster? Can the archives be perpetually mined but not stripped of valuables, so that the Focossection remains a rich sidebar for discovery or nostalgia? (Cue Ruth Beckerman’s formidable filmography, culminating with American Passages; Narcisa Hirsch’s unclassifiable experimental excursions; Gerard Courant’s serial portraiture of Le cinematon, Brazilian pornochanchado salvaged, like a Vik Muniz sculpture, in the Boca do Lixo homage, to name but a few of this year’s highlights.)

The question begs an equivocal response, but nevertheless it would be difficult to countenance the glib characterization of BAFICI as gordo. Excess has proven a virtue at BAFICI, but its condition relies so much on the quality of the new Argentine films showcased in competition—or out, as the case might be, as the official selection is often the subject of much haranguing, particularly among those excluded, and for good cause. So this year there was an abundance of homegrown films (in excess of 30), but the consensual hope was that both genius and awesome would be uncovered over in the competitive Cinema of the Future or International Competitions.

Continue  reading at Cinema Scope

Watching Movies in the Mountains and Enjoying the ‘ride: the 2011 Telluride Film Festival

My arrival by car to the high altitude, low attitude Telluride Film Festival is understandably, even fittingly, late, given the fest’s relative proximity to the expansive, vermillion grandeur of Monument Valley, otherwise known as John Ford country. Loiter there, however, and you’re liable to miss the festival’s opening night rollout of Werner Herzog’s latest doc Into The Abyss or the Dardenne brothers’ Cannes honoree The Kid With a Bike, which proved to be the weekend’s hardest ticket, by virtue of popularity or having been slotted into the town’s notoriously intimate venues. One kiosk board went so far to anoint it “the new 400 Blows”.

'Pina'

On Main Street I witnessed a risible exchange – one not even the cine-literate Telluride is exempt from – in which a young man effusively intended to praise Herzog, only to mistakenly address Jean-Pierre Dardenne, who was calmly nonplussed. Telluride invites such confusion, playing the popular and the obscure, pitting a George Clooney tribute adjacent the magisterially bleak The Turin Horse (begging the question: how would you like to spend the next two and a half hours of your life?). Like its guest director Caetano Veloso – a totally welcome appointment in my opinion – the festival is decidedly august while resistant to claims that it isn’t edgy anymore. It’s fruitless to take sides or imply an Auteur-versus-Hollywood polarity, considering that the festival has historically been witness to much of the former’s transformation into the latter. But it does make sense to set an agenda that eschews the soon-to-be-released for the never-to-be-seen again, even if the modest Chilean Bonsai, with its punk Proustian attitude, never seems exactly antithetical to Alexander Payne’s project of familial folly (The Descendants).

It may be somewhat ironic that I’m competing with Colorado housewives for seats at the Dardennes’ film – where, oh where I wonder are these people when the film goes into theatrical release?! – but bless the Belgians’ expanding audience nonetheless. So I’m fated to watch Wim Wender’s Pina, in 3-damn-D no less, and fearing what may become of Café Muller’s sense of subversion in the hands of someone who’s lost his own anxiety at the prospect of a penalty kick. Some clever framing devices immerse us in Bausch’s production while affording some context from her resident dancers, and the 3-D elasticizes dance’s spatial dynamic, welcome or not, but there is little insight into the genesis of Bausch’s feverishly abstract, melancholic, and playfully choreographed theatre. An instructive aspect is cleaved open by the dance/film division: of how dance is powerfully suggestive and preempts the necessity of so much (film) acting, and how dancers are so often susceptible to bad acting. Bausch devotees may wonder just what this Wenders guy is contributing to a legendary artist’s aesthetic legacy, beyond exposure. Wenders fans, those of you who stuck it out into the ‘90s, may be chagrined by too many leaps into the unknown that aren’t padded with proper context (even if Bausch’s own elusive style would eventually solidify into an homage of itself).

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Spotlight: ‘Nana’

Consider it a triumph of the medium that soon we may not speak of “in-between-ness” or indeterminacy in cinema (let alone “slow” or “contemplative”), such attributes having become subsumed by and substantive of film itself, commonly deployed to a point of sufficiency. In which case a film such as Valérie Massadian’s Nana, recently awarded the Opera Prima award at the resurrected Festival del Film Locarno, might be received with the same fierce lucidity with which it was delivered, and rightfully so. Succinct and mysterious, taut and langourous, hermetic and expansive, Massadian’s pastoral fable strikes a memorably unnerving chord that only so much context can assuage. Unfolding predominantly in fixed takes around a country farmhouse in the director’s native Perche region, the film cedes its ostensibly observational approach to an unsuspecting, and rather hypnotic, centre of gravity: four year-old Nana (Kelyna Lecomte), whose fate is left agonizingly uncertain during an idyll of latent foreboding.

With a distancing mise en scène and a withholding narrative scheme, Nana might be opportunistically read as a provocation of sorts, an affront to certain orthodoxies of staging and routine viewing habits. Yet Massadian engages with her material in an utterly unaffected fashion that yields a becalmed but charged transparency, suggesting a wealth of drama within a paucity of incident. It is tempting to cite the director’s longstanding working relationship with photographer Nan Goldin as a point of aesthetic reference, although of little discernible influence beyond methodology. There are moments when the material world of Nana’s existence—a colourful quilt, toys on an upholstered chair, branches of a tree—is made nearly palpable: these are purely concentrated compositions that reflect Massadian’s work as a photographer. But it is through such materiality that a measure of time and sentience is made: the clarity of presentation suggests a strain of naturalism (associated with documentary) while resisting a hierarchy of visual importance (associated with fiction). From the perspective of Nana, which the film clearly privileges, the world is in a state of becoming, and many objects have equal claim to her attention. This visual and spatial “democracy” becomes increasingly effective as Nana is left to fend for herself in the absence of immediate care. Massadian’s very camerawork seems to be asking the question of whether the world is ever at the mercy of one’s fingertips, child or adult.

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Exquisite Delay: The 54th San Francisco International Film Festival + Tindersticks perform Claire Denis film scores

While Cannes assumes its privileged position in the cinematic cosmos, the extant film world lurks in relative shadow, an eclisse that nonetheless calls attention to more modestly proportioned proceedings. Still flashy in its own west coast (relaxed) way, the recently wrapped San Francisco International Film Festival – 54 and counting! – soldiered on in relatively familiar fashion and hit a sweet peak with an inspired musical program that would be the envy of any croisette flaneur.

Castro welcomes SFIFF

British ensemble Tindersticks play chamber pop that lends itself favorably to the Festival’s continually popular, if occasionally enigmatic, pairing of musicians with silent films at the city’s choicest venue, the historic Castro theatre (note to John Waters: no cuts in the ticket line!). Straying from the usual script, the Festival enlisted the band to perform pieces from their fruitful and cryptic collaboration with director Claire Denis, (a SFIFF regular) with whom the band, in various incarnations, has worked since Denis’ dreamy family drama Nenette et Boni (1996). ‘Worked’ is the operative term here, but it hardly conveys the depth of their engagement, so effectively have the band insinuated themselves into the textures of Denis’ radically dynamic oeuvre as to become generative of it. Along with cinematographer Agnès Godard, who has acutely penetrated and exposed the supple surface of Denis’ troubled world – from the latent desire lurking in bed sheets to the violence of dreamed dogs thrashing in snow on other continents – the band issue haunting and wistful treatments of Denis’ often opaque narratives in unsuspecting ways, discreetly eddying around already elliptical occasions (better to think of Denis’ stories in terms of thrust rather than plot) with repeated motifs tinkered out on vibes or plundered with bass, always restrained until loosed like the prevailing animal instincts onscreen.

Expecting a concert, then, would inevitably mislead. Here was the band playing song sketches to a tightly (and cleverly) edited sequence of passages – from what will likely become known as Denis’ ‘midcareer’ – with the practicality of musical instrumentation dictating a non-chronological approach, and favoring no one film. Langour and crisis intertwine like love and hate in Denis’ films – slightly indulged in Vendredi Soir, exaggeratedly in Trouble Every Day – and it’s curious to listen how the band fold this in to their compositions: a flute somehow signifying a portentous note to White Material’s imminent colonial collapse, a melodica riff bringing a sense of simultaneous levity and melancholy to 35 Rhums’ becalmed generational divide. Propulsion and stasis are key too, as a kinetic rhythm accompanies the film’s train montages, while apartment scenes are charmed with a childlike keyboard/melodica sigh, evocative of Denis’ Ozu homage while capturing some of Mati Diop’s beauty. With an unsensational sensitivity, the band converge the two strains like parallel tracks meeting, just as Denis manages to convey a sense of time passing both gently and tragically (Josephine’s romance and Rene’s death as versions of equally inevitable departure/loss).

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Parallax View’s Best of 2010

Welcome 2011 with one last look back at the best releases of 2010, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View.

Sean Axmaker

1. Carlos
2. Let Me In
3. The Social Network
4. White Material
5. Winter’s Bone
6. The Ghost Writer
7. Wild Grass
8. Eccentricities Of A Blond Haired Girl
9. Sweetgrass
10. Our Beloved Month of August

Runners up: Amer, The American, Alamar, Black Swan, Inception, Red Riding Trilogy, Somewhere, Vengeance

Best festival films I saw in 2010 without a 2010 theatrical release: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Poetry, Mysteries Of Lisbon

Best Unreleased film of 2007 finally getting an American release in 2010 (but still feels like a film from another era): Secret Sunshine

Most Impressive Resurrection/Restoration/Real Director’s Cut: Metropolis

Also see lists at MSN here and the Village Voice / LA Weekly poll. And the Best of DVD / Blu-ray 2010 is on Parallax View here.

David Coursen

A splendid year, in both quality and quantity.   These were all shown for the first time in the Washington, DC area in 2010.

The best film is a tie:
Certified Copy-Kiarostami
Carlos-Assayas

The next seven, in roughly descending order:
A Prophet-Jacques Audiard
Somewhere-Coppola
The Social Network-Fincher
The Ghost Writer-Polanski
The Strange Case of Angelica-Oliviera
Red Riding Trilogy-in total, with James Marsh’s 1980 segment putting it on the list
The Kids are Alright-Cholodenko

And for the final entry, a pairing I couldn’t resist:
Police, Adjective-Poromboiu
Winter’s Bone-Debra Granik

John Hartl

Truth proved far stranger than fiction in many of 2010’s best films. My favorite was Craig Ferguson’s devastating documentary, Inside Job, which painstakingly demonstrates just how our economy was hijacked by greed and ideology. In Roman Polanski’s Ghost Writer, Pierce Brosnan gives a career-best performance as a politician clearly based on Tony Blair. In Doug Liman’s Fair Game, Naomi Watts is equally persuasive as Valerie Plame Wilson, a vulnerable spy whose marriage is nearly demolished in a political feud. James Franco wins this year’s versatility award for convincingly reincarnating two exceptionally different people: Allen Ginsberg in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s underrated Howl and a carefree rock climber in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Jesse Eisenberg deftly captures the drive and insecurities of Facebook’s billionaire chief, Mark Zuckerberg, in David Fincher’s The Social Network. The shameless wartime exploitation of the late Pat Tillman’s heroism is the focus of Amir Bar-Lev’s The Tillman Story, an excellent documentary that goes behind the headlines to suggest the personal extent of that loss. Jim Carrey’s excesses are tapped and artfully used in I Love You Phillip Morris, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s mostly true comedy about a con artist who is locked away in prison, but for how long? More fictional, but still quite strange, are Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, a brave portrait of a mid-life washout played by Ben Stiller, and Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling daring to play the walking wounded in an impossible marriage.

A second 10: The King’s Speech, Animal Kingdom, Cairo Time, Life During Wartime, Toy Story 3, Never Let Me Go, Shutter Island, Restrepo, Cell 211, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

Robert Horton

1. A Prophet
2. Winter’s Bone
3. Four Lions
4. Sweetgrass
5. The Ghost Writer
6. Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl
7. Mid-August Lunch
8. True Grit
9. The Kids Are All Right
10. Greenberg

See also indieWIRE here and Best and Worst lists at The Everett Herald.

Richard T. Jameson

In chronological order seen, but the first two have landed in the right place and there’s a non-chronological tie at 10.

The Ghost Writer
Winter’s Bone
Please Give
The Kids Are All Right
Un Prophète
The Social Network
Hereafter
Let Me In
Sweetgrass
The American / White Material / True Grit

See also lists at MSN and Queen Anne News.

Jay Kuehner

(as compiled for indieWIRE, originally published here)

1. Sweetgrass
2. White Material
3. Carlos
4. Everyone Else
5. The Strange Case of Angelica
6. Alamar
7. Change Nothing
8. Restrepo
9. The Anchorage
10. Daddy Longlegs

Kathleen Murphy

(as originally presented at the Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap)

1. The Ghost Writer
2. Winter’s Bone
3. Let Me In
4. Sweetgrass
5. A Prophet
6. The Social Network
7. Please Give
8. The Kids Are All Right
9. White Material
10. Black Swan

See also MSN here.

Andrew Wright

(as originally presented at the Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap)

1. A Prophet
2. Inception
3. True Grit
4. Red Riding Trilogy
5. Winter’s Bone
6. Hausu
7. The Ghost Writer
8. Four Lions
9. Greenberg
10. Let Me In

More lists:

Village Voice / LA Weekly Poll (and individual lists here)
indieWIRE Critics Survey
Movie City News list compilations (individual lists are here)
BFI 2010 Critics Poll

And the year in review from select publications in print and on the web

New York Times Year in Review
Los Angeles Times Year in Review
SF360 Top Ten Lists and Year in Film
The Onion AV Club
Slant Magazine
MSN Movies

At His Own Pace: A Short Talk With Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, director of “Alamar”

Alamar

As for quiet revelations in cinema, witness the exemplary case of Alamar (d. Pedro González-Rubio), in which a beautiful Mayan fisherman in Mexico’s Banco Chinchorro reef gets temporary custody of his 5 year-old son Natan, born to an Italian mother, and together they fish, eat, play and take notice of the natural wonders around them. Drama is in the details: the casting of fish lines by hand, and the swift recoiling of a catch; diving deep with snorkels only and coaxing lobster from the sea floor; cleaning the boat bayside while crocodiles lurk perilously close by (!); a white egret settling in their sea-shack, only to disappear in the thicket, indifferent to a child’s plaintiff call. By end credits, nothing substantial has occurred, yet one can feel the briny air commingle with a profoundly sad sense of separation between a father and son. Are they fictional or real? Is the director making this up as he goes along? Such mysteries are part of Alamar’s subtle design, graceful and direct. Deservedly this little sleeper has picked up numerous awards on the festival circuit and now gets a run at SIFF Cinema.

I spoke briefly with the director at the 53rd San Francisco International Film Festival, where Alamar picked up the New Director’s prize.

How did such a simple but improbable film come about?

Pedro González-Rubio: I come from a documentary background, so the way to approach this adventure in fiction was to maintain the same spirit as my previous films. So the first thing I did was to go on location, to this place, and I told myself: “I’m going to shoot a film about a man who is going to die here, he’s going to spend his last days in this place, in order to return to an origin, to this ancestral type of life. Then I met Jorge. I’m a very intuitive filmmaker, and I’m driven by my first intuition. And my first sense with Jorge was that he was a character, but this interfered with my original idea having someone who will die here in this remote place. So I started digging into Jorge’s personal life, talking with him, spending time with him where he works—he works as a eco-tourist guide. And I learned about his family, his five year-old son, Natan, born to an Italian mother. And I began to think that this story of a man who will die here in Banco Chinchorro, well, he is this five year old man. These are his last days with his father, but it is a journey of initiation towards life. So that’s the only thing that changed, really: instead of talking about death, we are talking about life, a beginning.

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SIFF 2010: Like You Know It All

The Seattle International Film Festival is upon us again, that equally cherished and dreaded pre-summer ritual that entails queuing and going indoors just as the city is collectively preparing to spread its wings after another monochrome season of scarce daylight and, quite probably, enough drama already. Complain, however, that the fest is too long, and it will end all too soon. Moan that it’s too big, yet still lament the absence of your favorite director’s latest masterpiece (where oh where is Claire Denis’ White Material, or Eugene Green’s Portuguese Nun, or Joao Pedro Rodriguez’s To Die Like A Man?). As for the lines that still stretch down the alley behind the Egyptian theatre: haven’t we all waited longer for something far less tasty, like bad coffee for instance?

Cast your net wide at this audience-friendly (as opposed to industry-oriented) festival and something’s liable to turn up, perhaps something unexpected, just as in the fisherman Syracuse’s (Colin Farrel) catch in Neil Jordan’s improbable Irish fable Ondine; is she a mythic half-seal come to land to redeem the recovering alcoholic and his wheelchair-bound daughter? A Romanian drug runner fleeing a bust on open seas? Or, to take the whole enterprise at face value, is she a perfect narrative muse of a lingerie model who seductively chants Sigur Ros tunes to the ocean’s depths as Colin Farrel is consigned to channeling profound sympathy with his eyebrows alone? At the very least, the film boasts a smoldering, bruised palette in keeping with its nautical Irish milieu, lensed by the estimable Christopher Doyle who, it’s worth remembering, was once considered Wong Kar-Wai’s primary pair of eyes, and who delivered a master class in cinematography in typical rambling fashion at a past edition of SIFF. Has it really been that long?

Of course there is the wisdom that says it’s not the size of the catch but how you fish, an apt metaphor not only for festing but for filmmaking as well. Which is what makes Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s Alamar such an exemplary case; its protagonist is a beautiful Mayan fisherman in Mexico’s Banco Chinchorro reef who snares his fish by hand or spear, under the curious gaze of his tiny son Natan, born to an Italian mother and now thousands of miles away, surrounded by the vast sea, dwelling in a hut on stilts flanked by crocodiles and birds (one of which he proprietarily names ‘Blanquita’). Is this a fiction? A documentary? Or simply, as its director attests, just a “film” ? A genuine sleeper, graceful and direct.

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