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That’s not Art, that’s Smut!

Sex sells, as the saying goes, and movie producers, distributors and exhibitors have known this since pictures began to move.

In That’s Sexploitation, filmmaker Frank Henenlotter and exploitation legend David Friedman celebrate the freewheeling culture of sexploitation, the sensationalistic underground of independent filmmakers and studios who cashed in on promises of carnal thrills and forbidden spectacle, specifically naked flesh (mostly female). These are the films that sprung up between the cracks of the production code and studio restrictions and, as the moniker suggests, they aimed straight for the lurid and the tawdry.

But not all films that sold themselves with the promise of erotic thrills and taboo-busting presentations of sexuality were a matter of pure exploitation. American movies started taking on adults themes once again in the fifties while films from the more permissive Europe blurred the lines between art and erotica as they explored sexuality with both a maturity and a more graphic explicitness. In other words, people got naked and shared bed right on the screen. “That’s not smut, that’s art,” was the implicit argument, even if it was the sex that the exhibitors marketed.

Here are ten films from the heady days of the sexual revolution to the present that smudge the line between art and exploitation. Sex may be the subject, the subtext, or the motivation, but promise of steamy spectacle and erotic delights was used attract patrons that normally might not otherwise attend such fare and give them the cinematic equivalent to the time-honored justification for purchasing Playboy magazine: “I get it for the articles.”

‘Contempt’

Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)
Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)
Here are two examples of marketing skin to attract audiences to challenging films from European intellectual filmmakers. Contempt (1963) is an unlikely meeting between nouvelle vague legend Jean-Luc Godard’s anti-Hollywood sensibility and the showman aesthetic of (uncredited) producer Joseph E. Levine in an international co-production about the clash between art and commerce, the politics of artistic integrity and compromise and the dissolution of love. To meet his producer’s demands, Godard added an opening bedroom scene and inserted pin-up style nude shots of star Brigitte Bardot. Wouldn’t you know he actually makes them work as a comment on the very process of filmmaking compromise? Blow-Up (1966), the English-language debut of Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, is an existential murder mystery starring David Hemmings as a jaded fashion photographer who may have taken a picture of murder and Vanessa Redgrave as the mystery woman of his photograph. Set in swinging London, full of mod fashions, free love, a score by Herbie Hancock and an appearance by the Yardbirds, it’s a timepiece by way of Antonioni’s brand of contemporary alienation and it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It was also the first mainstream movie to show female pubic hair (however fleetingly) and that was a bigger selling point for a lot of the patrons.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Get your Oscar flick fix without leaving the house

By the time the Oscars air on March 2, most moviegoers will not have been able to get to theaters to see all the nominees. But thanks to the era of DVD, Blu-ray, streaming video and movies on demand, those who really want to cram for Hollywood’s big night can catch up on a bunch of the films at home.

Some of the front-runners still require a theater trip (more on that later), but for those of you who want to order in and prep for your office pool from the comfort of your own couch, it’s possible to cover a lot of ground.

Jared Leto in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’

The biggest talkers

“Dallas Buyers Club” picked up six nominations, including best picture and best original screenplay, but its best chances are in the acting categories, where Matthew McConaughey is a front-runner for best actor and Jared Leto is up in the supporting actor category. The two already took home Golden Globes for their performances. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.

“Captain Phillips” also received six nominations, including best picture, adapted screenplay, and actor in a supporting role for Barkhad Abdi, a non-actor who made a vivid debut in the role of a Somali pirate. Star Tom Hanks was overlooked for his equally strong performance. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.

Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” earned Cate Blanchett her sixth Oscar nomination and she is a wonder as a Blanche DuBois in contemporary San Francisco. That would make fellow nominee Sally Hawkins (up for best supporting actress) the film’s Stella. It’s available on Blu-ray, DVD, VOD, and On Demand.

Continue reading at Today.com

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.

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Ten Great Disc Debuts for 2013

We know that DVD and Blu-ray are losing sales ground to digital and streaming, but the epitaphs for physical media are premature. Every year sees another crop of restorations and revivals rolling out in superb and sometimes lavish editions.

Of course there are the upgrades, the previously available classics in newly-restored editions and state-of-the-art digital remasters, but what excites me are the debuts, the films that have never been on disc before and the personal discoveries of films that, while not exactly unknown, have been largely forgotten because of their unavailability.

Here are my perfectly subjective picks for the top ten disc debuts: the greatest classics, rediscoveries, and revivals that made their first appearance in 2013.

In alphabetical order:

‘Pierre Etaix’ – Celebrated in one of the Top Disc Releases of 2013

Collections:

French Masterworks: Russian Émigrés in Paris 1923-1928 (Flicker Alley) presents of the American home video debut of five silent classics from Film Albatros, a French studio founded by Russian artists: The Burning Crucible (1923), Kean (1924), The Late Mathias Pascal (1926), Gribiche (1926), and The New Gentlemen (1928). The Late Mathias Pascal, a fabulist epic directed by Marcel L’Herbier (also released separately on Blu-ray), and Jacques Feyder’s sophisticated romantic comedy-turned-political satire The New Gentlemen are the crown jewels of the set but all entertaining and revealing examples of the sophisticated filmmaking coming out of France in the twenties. Each are mastered from 2009 restorations from La Cinématèque Français and feature newly-recorded original scores. DVD.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Parallax View’s Best of 2012

Welcome 2013 with one last look back at the best releases of 2011, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Sean Axmaker

1. Holy Motors
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Margaret (2011 in NY and LA, didn’t screen elsewhere until 2012)
5. Cosmopolis
6. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
7. The Master
8. The Turin Horse
9. Tabu
10. This is Not a Film

Ten more: Amour, Barbara, Deep Blue Sea, Django Unchained, Hyde Park on Hudson, I Wish, The Kid With a Bike, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Magic Mike

My greatest cinematic events of 2012
Hands down the cinematic experience of 2012 for me was the American premier of the complete restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) with live accompaniment by Oakland East Bay Symphony conducted by Carl Davis. The density of Gance’s ideas, the frisson of his images and experiments in cinematic expression, and the complicated perspectives on the legacy of Napoleon have a weight that is undeniable. And watching the full 5 ½ Napoleon with a live orchestra in a magnificent theater elevates the film to a cinematic experience without parallel, and that experience electrifies the storytelling and imagery.

Local (Seattle) Event: Joe Dante’s The Movie Orgy, one-night-only at Grand Illusion. It was a perfect marriage of film and venue: the tiny, independent house with a storied history and an audience of regulars, and a scrappy compilation movie with some surreal moments and a climax that manages to bring over dozen films into the same narrative universe, if only for this moment. And hey, don’t crowd me, man.

Other published Top Ten Lists: MSN, Village Voice, Fandor

Best of Home Video lists: Top Ten Disc Debuts, Top Five Blu-rays, Top Five TV on Disc Releases, Top Five MOD Releases and Notable Achievements for 2012

Sheila Benson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. Rust and Bone
2. Amour
3. Argo
4. Lincoln
5. Holy Motors
6. The Master
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
8. Life of Pi
9. Quartet

David Coursen

(the first nine in alphabetical order, the last as the film of the—um—year)
Holy Motors, Hugo, Lincoln, Margaret, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Rust and Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, Tabu, Take this Waltz, and La Rabbia: the Rage of Pasolini (“a film released, in what must have been an infinitely less compelling form, in 1963, but listed this year by the National Gallery of Art as a “Washington Premiere” in a form so imbued with greatness it triggered a private pre-New Years Pasolini epiphany”).

Jim Emerson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. Holy Motors
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
3. The Deep Blue Sea
4. Lincoln
5. Amour
6. Tabu
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. The Turin Horse
9. This is Not a Film
10. The Master

John Hartl

Technically, Kenneth Lonergan’s remarkable Margaret may not have qualified as a 2012 film (a few people saw it in 2011), but the years he spent in the editing room paid off in this story of a high-strung teenager (Anna Paquin) who causes a horrendous traffic accident. The writer-director’s unique focus on responsibility–and its limits–led to the creation of the year’s most haunting and original film. Almost equally affecting were Michael Haneke’s wrenching account of an older couple facing the end of their relationship, Amour, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, about an American personality cult spinning out of control. Among the most playful new movies: Wes Anderson’s tale of romantic runaways, Moonrise Kingdom, and Richard Linklater’s stranger-than-fiction Jack Black vehicle, Bernie. The latter, like Ben Affleck’s self-assured Argo, Steven Spielberg’s painstaking Lincoln, and Kathryn Bigelow’s vigorous Zero Dark Thirty, is based on fact. Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games took a popular young-adult book and made something majestic of it. Northwest filmmaker Jon Garcia’s The Falls, a perfectly cast love story about 20-year-old Mormon missionaries, was the best of several strong gay films.

A second 10: Rust and Bone, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Keep the Lights On, Barbara, A Royal Affair, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Queen of Versailles, Any Day Now.

Robert Horton

(as published at Everett Herald)

1. Margaret
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. This Is Not a Film
5. Lincoln
6. The Turin Horse
7. The Master
8. Bernie
9. Searching for Sugar Man
10. To Rome With Love

For the second 10: The Secret World of Arietty, Wreck-It Ralph, The Deep Blue Sea, Cosmopolis, Django Unchained, Holy Motors, Elena, Moonrise Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises, The Grey.

Richard T. Jameson

1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Lincoln
3. Django Unchained
4. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
5. The Turin Horse
6. Silver Linings Playbook
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. Cosmopolis
9. The Deep Blue Sea
10. The Sessions

Mooned by the misbegotten: Les Misérables, Rock of Ages

Other published lists: MSN

Jay Kuehner

(as published on Fandor)

1. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel)
2. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
3. Neighbouring Sounds/O som ao redor (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
4. In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo)
5. Two Years at Sea (Ben Rivers)
6. small roads (James Benning)
7. Viola (Matias Piniero)
8. O Gebo e a Sombra/Gebo and the Shadow (Manoel de Oliveira)
9. Vers Madrid/The Burning Bright (Sylvain George)
10. Arraianos (Eloy Enciso)

Moira Macdonald

(as published in The Seattle Times)

Anna Karenina
Argo
The Avengers
The Deep Blue Sea
Flight
I Wish
Lincoln
Margaret
Pina
Ruby Sparks

Ten more terrific movies, any of which might have slipped into my first ten on a different day: A Cat in Paris, Bernie, Liberal Arts, The Master, Middle of Nowhere, Moonrise Kingdom, A Royal Affair, The Sessions, The Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall, Smashed. OK, that’s 11. So be it.

Best 2012 movies that haven’t opened in Seattle yet (but I’ve seen them): Amour, Zero Dark Thirty

Kathleen Murphy

(as published at MSN Movies)

1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Lincoln
3. The Master
4. Amour
5. Holy Motors
6. Django Unchained
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. Silver Linings Playbook
9. The Deep Blue Sea
10. Cosmopolis

Bruce Reid

1. The Turin Horse
2. The Kid with a Bike
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Cosmopolis
5. The Master
6. Holy Motors
7. This Is Not a Film
8. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
9. Not Fade Away
10. The Loneliest Planet

Andrew Wright

1. Django Unchained
2. Holy Motors
3. Elena
4. Looper
5. Margaret
6. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
7. Argo
8. The Master
9. The Grey
10. Skyfall

Lists of lists:
MSN Movies (lists at end of gallery)
Village Voice (poll and lists)
Indiewire’s Criticwire
Movie City News
Fandor
Time Out London
Keyframe Daily Lists and Award 2012 Index

Polls (no individual lists)
Film Comment
Indiewire Poll
Sight and Sound

Other lists
2012 additions to the National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1922
New York Times Year in Culture

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

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Dossier ’79

[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]

It is appropriate that they just took “There she is, Miss America” away from Bert Parks. I too have been deprived of the opportunity to sing my same old song again. One could say rhetorically that after 1978 the movies had nowhere to go but up; but rhetoric is one thing and the art-industry’s capacity for self-degradation quite another. And ’79 did see a few films as empty, ugly, and offensively inept as any dreck of previous seasons: Bloodline, Prophecy, Nightwing, Sunburn, Love and Bullets, Ashanti, and the phenomenally successful Meatballsas drecky dreck as ever dreck was. But they didn’t taint the whole scene, didn’t seem the dominant alternative to excellence. If only one or two films suggested a radical breakthrough into new zones of artistry or film consciousness, nevertheless an astounding number of movies managed to be lively, personal, nonderivative. François Truffaut may have made an utterly superfluous Antoine Doinel compendium like Love on the Run, and Federico Fellini wasted his time on Orchestra Rehearsal, an only half-good idea for a movie done with about a third of the zest and invention we’d expect of him. But good men like Blake Edwards and Peter Bogdanovich seemed to have got better; at least they were getting more credit for the beauties and intelligence of their work than they had in years. Whatever they had must have been catching because even hacks and/or poseurs like Ted Kotcheff, Peter Yates, William Friedkin, Sydney Pollack, and Arthur Hiller signed their names to very agreeable movies (North Dallas Forty, Breaking Away, The Brinks Job, The Electric Horseman, and The In-Laws, respectively). Going to the movies got to seem more like a pleasant pastime again instead of a masochistic compulsion.

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Slap Shots (1977)

[Originally published in Movietone News 57, February 1978]

I felt a little off-balance throughout film year 1977, and it took me most of that time to figure out why. Even eccentric filmwatchers fall into patterns of expectation, and my Platonic Ideal of eccentricity was taking a beating. Too many of the big, heavily financed productions the freewheeling freelance looks forward to trashing turned out to be not bad films at all. By reverse token, the year was virtually devoid of sleepers—the unexpected, born-to-be-lost-in-the-shuffle beauties like Gumshoe, Bad Company, Charley Varrick and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia the enterprising commentator looks forward to saving for posterity and, in the meantime, directing a few adventurous viewers toward. Just why there were no sleepers is hard to say. Maybe there is so much written on film nowadays that every film’s fair chance at the limelight is conceded in advance. Add to this that the Jet City has acquired an industry rep for scaring up an audience for movies that die on the vine elsewhere. Then too, in recent years we have been dubiously blessed with at least one exhibitor willing to cry sleeper every other week, so that the term has tended to be devalued hereabouts—especially when many of the so-called sleepers have proved resolutely undistinguished.

It just may be that the biggest and, in its rather trivial way, happiest surprise of the year was a George Roy Hill movie that most reviewers suddenly felt compelled to attack for having the flaws all the director’s more popular works have manifested in abundance; I went into that in my quickie of Slap Shot in MTN 54, and I continue to recall this rowdy, raunchy, sharply acted sports comedy with pleasure. And while I was liking a movie by a director I normally find exasperating in the extreme, I was let down—anywhere from mildly to precipitously—by such customarily reliable types as Sam Peckinpah (Cross of Iron), Don Siegel (Telefon), Michael Ritchie (Semi-Tough), Dick Richard (March or Die), and Robert Aldrich (The Choirboys—though not so much Twilight’s Last Gleaming). Fred Zinnemann compelled respect and gratitude for his impeccable craftsmanship, if not necessarily artistry, in Julia. Herbert Ross astonished by coming on like, of all things, a personal director in The Turning Point and, to a lesser extent, The Goodbye Girl. Robert Benton fell a little short of the promise of Bad Company with The Late Show, but that film was one of the early pleasures of the year all the same.

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1976, Which Will Be Charitably Forgotten by the Year 2000

[Originally published in Movietone News 53, January 1977]

1976 is a year I’m very pleased to see the back of. Several especially nice things happened to me during the past twelvemonth, but an oversupply of cloaca also insisted on hitting the fan with dispiriting frequency, and a good deal of it was cinematic cloaca. Any year in which the man who just made Nashville turns around and makes Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bulls History Lesson, and people who really ought to know better hail Lina Wertmuller as a distaff version of the Second Coming and Network as a serious film of intellectual and aesthetic importance, and the public is asked to pay good money to watch Midway, Gable and Lombard, Won Ton Ton, The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox, Scorchy, The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday, Swashbuckler, Vigilante Force and A Star Is Born Barbra Streisand–style can’t be anything but the harbinger of a new Dark Age.

It didn’t help that some normally reliable film artists seemed ‘way off the beam. That The Magic Flute, Bergman’s not-very-adventurous filming of a Mozart performance, or Face to Face, a closet drama of a rather insipid creature who was welcome to stay in her closet (Liv Ullmann’s heroic performance notwithstanding), failed to move me much wasn’t particularly disheartening or even unexpected. (I wish he’d make a spy movie.) Neither, given the international coproduction problems and the preponderance of treacle in the basic makeup of The Blue Bird, was there great surprise in George Cukor’s inability (decision?) to just let the thing lie there and moult.

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Milestone to the Rescue: Dennis Doros on ten American independent films in need of restoration

Milestone Films is raising funds via Kickstarter to fund a restoration of Shirley Clarke’s ‘Portrait of Jason.’

Dennis Doros and Amy Heller, partners in business and marriage, launched Milestone Films in 1990. They made a reputation for the company not merely for its restorations and revivals, but for rescuing and nurturing films that might otherwise have been drowned in the noise of the busy movie landscape, from Mikhail Kalatozov’s all but orphaned 1964 I Am Cuba to the 1972 documentary Winter Soldier (which was vilified in the 2004 presidential campaign) to, most recently, Shirley Clarke’s landmark indie The Connection. Dennis and Amy are currently raising funds to restore Clarke’s Portrait of Jason.

They are also members of the Association of Moving Image Archivists. Dennis came to the 2012 convention in Seattle (Amy, unfortunately, was unable to attend), where I was able to meet up with him. In the interests of full disclosure, I have known Dennis for years and had the pleasure to be a part of the commentary track with Sherman Alexie on Milestone’s DVD release of The Exiles. I can also report that Dennis knows more about the history of American independent cinema, and the forgotten and neglected works that deserve resurrection, than anyone I know. So I asked him to name the ten American independent films most in need of restoration.

“It’s not my ten best,” he’s careful to explain, “just the ones that I could personally support with great enthusiasm. There are tons more that I could add, but if we’re doing a list of ten, this is a cool list to consider and they each have their own merits and different reasons.”

1. The Cool World (Shirley Clarke, 1964) and the short films of Shirley Clarke “We started with Shirley Clarke because we thought it would be a great project to do and I really wanted to do the complete Shirley Clarke. And the only thing we do not have rights to is The Cool World. I think that we have her best films, The Connection and Portrait of Jason are my two favorites, but to represent Shirley in her entirety and to consider her entirety, it would help to have a beautiful version of The Cool World, which hasn’t been available yet.”

Continue reading at Fandor’s Keyframe

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: Robert C. Cumbow’s Top 10 Films of All Time

[Originally published on The House Next Door]

For many years, I maintained a Top 10 list. It was changing all the time, but by the mid-1980s, I had pretty well nailed it down. Only by then was it a Top 12, not a Top 10, and anyone who asked me my Top 10 films got an unexpected bonus. And that was how it was until a couple of years ago, when I allowed myself the latitude of increasing my all-time favorites to a list of 15. But as a devoted game player, I respect rules and try to play by them, so for this personal Top 10 list project, I’ve forced myself to pick just 10. These are not necessarily the same 10 I would pick if my criteria were cinematic greatness, beauty, and far-reaching influence—though they easily could be. No, these are favorite films, the films that mean the most to me, the ones that give me the most and best chills. There are lots more where these came from, but for now, these are the ones. I present them in chronological order to avoid any suggestion of preference.

King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933). People tend to forget that King Kong was a sensation, and a huge success, in its day. Perhaps the first horror film that tried to humanize and empathize with its monster, it did so without making any of the mistakes of the two remakes, always keeping the monster scary. It’s easy to sympathize with a teddy bear. King Kong wrote the book on movie monsters for decades to come, and no monster movie ever did it better, or told us more about the beasts inside ourselves.

Continue reading at The House Next Door

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of June 27

The only links page that matters… except for all the others.

Seattle screenings and cinema events are surveyed at Parallax View here.

Is it legitimate to theorize that some culpability for the brutal murders in Aurora lie at the feet of the movies themselves? Apparently, after throat-clearing assertions of their civil libertarian backgrounds, many film writers feel in this circumstance it would be irresponsible not to speculate. Some have ratcheted up from the film itself to the industry—recall the violent legacy of Warner Brothers studio—or even exhibitors—perhaps midnight screenings should be suspendedPeter Bogdanovich blames the movies being too violent—actually, he has Orson Welles do it for him, which tells you how long that argument’s been floated. Speechless myself (out of frustration at my own ignorance and disgust at the inadequacy of words to limn the pain and horror and fury of it all), I find that Bill R. and Glenn Kenny are right that, pace Mr. Bogdonavich’s current ambivalence, he said everything I had to on the topic 44 years ago.

Boris Karloff in Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘Targets’

“What did she realize, Kitten?” “That all the songs she’d listened to, all the love songs, that they were only songs.” “What’s wrong with that?” “Nothing, if you don’t believe in them. But she did, you see.” The new Senses of Cinema inducts Neil Jordan into their database of Great Directors; Carole Zucker ably handles the honors, focusing on how Jordan’s understanding of fairy tales informs his sensibilities. Elsewhere in the issue, Murray Pomerance finds even the interior-bound Go Go Tales suffused with Abel Ferrara’s nonpareil sense of New York; and Jacques de Villiers traces Germany’s romantic heritage, including the Nazi’s perversion of it, throughout Herzog’s Aguirre.

David Bordwell reminds you it’s not just red-state schoolboards that plunk down for creationism over evolution despite all evidence to the contrary; it’s also film lovers obsessed with proclaiming what they deem the first instances of a technique while disregarding the context that led to it. Returned from his latest visit to the Royal Film Archives in Brussels, Bordwell provides several lovely examples of deep-focus blocking from mostly forgotten German and Italian silents. In a subsequent post, he rhapsodizes over a magnificent shot of passengers fleeing a sinking ship from the 1918 Italian serial I Topi Grigi, and provides a link to Joseph North’s fine thesis paper on the film’s Fantomasian antihero, the mostly forgotten Za La Mort.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of June 15

The only links page that matters… except for all the others.

Seattle screenings and cinema events, including the “Best of SIFF” series and other post-SIFF releases, are surveyed at Parallax View here.

Girish Shambu leads off his typically fine collection of links with a welcome announcement: Issue 2 of LOLA, the film journal he edits with Adrian Martin, has arrived. The articles are being released piecemeal over the next few weeks, but already there’s such delights as the transcript of a Raúl Ruiz speech from 2005, an almost discomfitingly intimate recollection of Gilbert Adair by Alexander García Düttmann, and a clutch of articles on Chantal Akerman highlighted by an exhaustive, playful, yet fiercely honest interview with Nicole Brenez.

Also presenting their new issue, Experimental Conversations, which leads off with an excellent resource for further study, a tantalizing survey of Thailand’s up-and-coming arthouse directors conducted by Jit Phokaew and friends.

“Sounds like you had a strict upbringing.” “You might say that.” At Movie Morlocks, the Horror Dads offer a back-handed salute to Father’s Day by discussing some of the genre’s most memorably vile patriarchs.

The Cine-Files, a journal by the grad students of the Savannah College of Art and Design, dedicates its second issue to the French New Wave, and the children of Deleuze and Vitaminwater acquit themselves nicely to the challenge. Several distinguished interviewees (including Louis Menand, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Mary Wiles on meeting Rivette) establish the history, while a trio of student filmmakers confirm the period’s influence extending to the future. Spotted by Film Studies for Free.

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Moments Out of Time 1987

[Originally published in Pacific Northwest, January 1988]

Hope and Glory: Down among the green leaves of his family’s backyard garden, young Bill Rohan (Sebastian Rice Edwards) confronts the wizard Merlin, while in the house the stillness of the adults ’round a grumbling radio signals that the Second World War has just been declared….

The Dead

• The Vietnamese woman’s voice scrapes relentlessly on our eardrums until we wish anything at all would shut her up: an unforgettable scene in Platoon makes us understand, by vicariously participating, how a My Lai might have happened….

The Dead: Gabriel Conroy (Donal McCann) turns from the snowy window to discover that his wife Gretta (Anjelica Huston), after the most intense and revealing conversation of their life together, has fallen deeply asleep….

Barfly: Returning from the hotel bathroom down the hall, Henry (Mickey Rourke) sits on the bed and slowly begins to wonder why the music from his radio should sound so muted. Oh, right. He’s in the wrong room….

• The wind drifts leaves across the road as Gene Hackman’s car and the camera crest a rise together—Hoosiers….

• “I’m gonna tell you something, Bonanza is not an accurate depiction of the West”: earnest breakfast discourse in Tin Men

• Diane Keaton singing “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” New Year’s Eve 1943. Radio Days

Innerspace: Dennis Quaid sees his unborn child…

• On the battlefield at the end of Good Morning, Babylon, the dying brothers film each other in order that their sons will know what they looked like….

• Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery) blows a dead man’s brains out: David Mamet’s most outrageous con job in The Untouchables

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Parallax View’s Best of 2011

Welcome 2012 with one last look back at the best releases of 2011, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View. Critics listed in reverse alphabetical order

Andrew Wright

(as posted at Salt Lake Weekly)
1. Melancholia
2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
3. Cave of Forgotten Dreams
4. 13 Assassins
5. Drive
6. The Tree of Life
7. Take Shelter
8. Hugo
9. The Descendants
10. Stake Land

Bruce Reid

1. World on a Wire: The gleaming surfaces and monotone bureaucrats are a dig at 2001. The eternally recurring reflections are Fassbinder’s own, Dietrich and gay hustlers and rapacious businessmen stalking a virtual Germany warped by funhouse mirrors. Giddy, heartbreaking, endlessly inventive, and (forget the copyright) absolutely of-the-moment.

2. Tree of Life: It’s not the brutal slaps of nature that birthed you, nor the ways of grace so ethereal they threaten to float away to the sky. It was both of them, and everything else. Malick’s illimitable camera summons grand and mysterious creative forges ranging from cosmic fires to a grandfather’s face.

3. Hugo: The first few reels (those gears; those pipes; the city so close you could reach out and feel its pulse) are so marvelously dense and rich they’re practically retraining you to see in a new way. Which I suspect is pretty close to Scorsese’s personal definition of cinema to begin with.

4. A Dangerous Method: In the past (Spider, Crash) Cronenberg has flung sperm at the camera; here he’s captured by the silky gleam of hymenal blood. Which is less feminism than a sign things have forever changed. A chronicle of dangerous plagues coming to ravage the 20th century: as new as Freud’s talking cure, as ancient as anti-Semitism.

5. Certified Copy: I’d always found something monstrous in Kiarostami’s serenity, a hint of disinterest so profound he could find driftwood as fascinating as people. This study of flowing identities, both playful and devastating, corrects my misapprehension; it’s the drift itself that captivates him, and how we’re all dragged along by the surf.

6. Take Shelter: The first great horror film of post-prosperity America, where job insecurity and HMOs and government therapists fuel the nightmare no less than the claps of thunder or the ominous skies. Almost the polar opposite—in style, in effect—from Nichols and Shannon’s previous collaboration; which suggests they’re capable of anything.

7. Mysteries of Lisbon: The best joke of the year is how the final revealed history in Ruiz’s delightful rebuff to stately period dramas bears no relation to the first, but was entirely dependant upon it all the same. One last labyrinth from the master, the paths this time laid out in human lives.

8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Fincher’s breakneck pace has assumed a frictionless confidence that gives you a heady, almost comic charge to see. Which might seem entirely the wrong tone here, but brings a much-needed fleetness to the exposition while making the horrors ever more jarring.

9. Contagion: Its narrative propelled so breathtakingly by the actors plenty and Martinez’s score, Contagion’s emotional heft can be overlooked. But this is a shattering argument for grief as our overwhelming commonality, and a lovely salute to those brave enough to suit up against it when needed.

10. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: So guarded and chill you barely notice its beating heart. Till it surges, and wrecks nearly everyone forced to live lives so rigorously, ruthlessly compartmentalized.

Kathleen Murphy

(as posted on MSN Movies)
1. Melancholia
2. The Artist
3. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
4. A Dangerous Method
5. The Tree of Life
6. Certified Copy
7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
8. The Descendants
9. Drive
10. Meek’s Cutoff

See also MSN essay on A Dangerous Method

Richard T. Jameson

My list submitted to MSN.com on Dec. 9 could just as well have had some of these titles on it. In some cases their omission was chiefly a matter of my not having got round to a second viewing that likely would have put paid to any reservations I harbor. Worthy films all, and enough of them to make the year a better one than it felt like from week to week, month to month. Order here is random:

Melancholia
The Tree of Life
Le quattro volte
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
A Separation
Of Gods and Men
Midnight in Paris
Carnage
Stake Land / Small Town Murder Songs

Midnight in Paris is the only one I hadn’t seen by Dec. 9.  Still haven’t seen Poetry, Mysteries of Lisbon, Film Socialisme, The Road to Nowhere….

See also list on MSN, and essay on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Robert Horton

(as listed at The Herald)
1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
2. Certified Copy
3. Melancholia
4. A Dangerous Mind
5. Meek’s Cutoff
6. Drive
7. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives
8. Poetry
9. Into Eternity
10. The Descendents / Le Havre

See also his list at indieWIRE

John Hartl

Not necessarily the best movie of 2011, but certainly the one that most memorably captured the pervasive sense that the planet is going to hell, was Jeff Nichols’s hauntingly ambiguous doomsday drama, Take Shelter. Michael Shannon gave another of his Cassandra-like performances as a distraught family man who has apocalyptic visions that may or may not be tied to reality. Duncan Jones’ Source Code used its Groundhog Day plot to imagine another kind of catastrophic future. J.C. Chandor’s brilliantly cast Wall Street tale, Margin Call, fictionalized the Lehmann Brothers disaster into a showdown between casually wicked Jeremy Irons and the only slightly less evil Kevin Spacey. John Sayles went back to the turn of the last century to reveal another form of duplicity in Amigo, his best work in years. Lu Chuan’s City of Life and Death transformed the 1937-1938 Nanking massacre into an astonishingly reflective drama. Andrew Haigh’s Weekend used Brief Encounter as the inspiration for an affecting gay love story, while Chris Weitz’s A Better Life lifted the plot for The Bicycle Thief and set it in East Los Angeles. Alexander Payne’s The Descendants deftly transformed its Hawaiian setting into something less than paradise. Among the year’s most provocative documentaries were James Marsh’s Project Nim, about a chimpanzee raised (and sometimes enraged) by humans, and Kenneth Bowser’s carefully researched Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune, about the epoch-defining 1960s singer whose ambitious activism was ultimately overwhelmed by his self-destructiveness.

A Second 10: Arthur Christmas, The Artist, Incendies, Moneyball, Hugo, Beginners, Vito, Le Havre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and about two-thirds of The Tree of Life.

Award-winning movies that have yet to be shown in Seattle: The Iron Lady, A Separation, Carnage, Pariah, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Margaret, Coriolanus.

Sean Axmaker

The first three films could swap spots without much anxiety on my part. In the arbitrary, often shifting border between aesthetic principle and personal appreciation, I choose to honor the passing of Raul Ruiz and favor my predilection for labyrinthine storytelling and cinematic weaves of character and narrative across time and space, which Ruiz accomplishes with such grace and beauty I find myself in awe of his art and his insight into human nature and the contradictions that define us.

Three of the films on my list I first saw in 2010, and I construct this list without having seen two films which, by all accounts, are among the year’s best: Margaret, which did not screen in Seattle and which did not play as the film festivals I attended, and A Separation, which screened for critics opposite an end-of-the-year deadline. The rest of the choices and absences are all on me.

1. Mysteries of Lisbon (Raul Ruiz)
2. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
3. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
4. Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt)
5. Poetry (Lee Chang-dong)
6. The Descendents (Alexander Payne)
7. Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
8. Le quattro volte (Michelangelo Frammartino)
9. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
10. Hugo (Martin Scorsese)

Ten More (in alphabetical order): The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius), A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg), Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn), Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki), Melancholia (Lars von Trier), Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvais), The Princess Of Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier), Road to Nowhere (Monte Hellman), The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson)

I also very much appreciated a year of smart, well-crafted and clever genre films – Attack the Block (Joe Cornish), Limitless (Neil Burger), Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt), Source Code (Duncan Jones), Stake Land (Jim Mickle) – and one marvelous mess of a personal project: Sucker Punch (Zack Snyder).

See also lists on the MSN and Village Voice polls and essay on Certified Copy, plus a uniquely Seattle-centric survey of Top Ten cinematic events for Seattle Weekly.

Plus…

Video: 2011 Film Critics Wrap at the Frye (Robert Horton, Jim Emerson, Kathleen Murphy, Andrew Wright)
Audio: Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy discuss the movies of 2011 on KUOW.
Village Voice / LA Weekly Film Poll
indieWIRE Critics Survey
Movie City News Top Ten List compilations
BFI 2011 Critics Poll
Senses of Cinema 2011 World Poll
Best Movie Posters of 2011 (Adrian Curry)
Last year’s lists: Parallax View’s Best of 2010
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson’s Top Ten films of 1921
and the 25 Films chosen for the National Film Registry in 2011