GENEROSO AND LILY’S 2016 TOP TEN FILM LIST, SUPPLEMENTAL FILMS, BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS, AND BEST REP FILM EXPERIENCE

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There is a consistent theme that runs through many of the films on our best of list for 2016, and allow us to start this year’s reflection by emphasizing that this seemingly unifying theme emerged organically without any set political agenda whatsoever. We simply began the year by purchasing a notebook, which permanently lived in the front left pocket of Generoso’s man-bag and housed our chronicles of our favorite films that we saw throughout the year with a numerical rating and a short review. That was the strategy for the collection, and we stuck with it as we had in previous years, but by the middle of the year, we realized that the current desperate state of the world’s economy and the governmental response to that failing economy were becoming the central message of many of the works that had connected with us. We are decades past the “cause films” of the 70s and 80s, the eras that generated films such as The China Syndrome and Coming Home that were produced in a realist, albeit somewhat melodramatic style to make you empathize with a particular societal issue of the day like nuclear waste or the mistreatment of Vietnam veterans. We have a more sophisticated film language now, and although most the films on our list draw do attention to current issues, we chose them based on their artistic merit and ability to innovate cinema in the process of approaching today’s complex world.  

And away we go…

1. Arabian Nights (As Mil e uma Noites) / Portugal / Dir: Miguel Gomes
Back in 2013, we placed Miguel Gomes’ Tabu at number two on our best of list of the year. That magnificent, romantic mess disguised as a postcolonial statement that featured snippets of The Ramones and a sad crocodile was the most confusing yet artistically satisfying film that we had seen that year. We had patiently waited for Arabian Nights to be released here, almost a year after it had debuted at Cannes, and three years after Tabu came to our local theater, it arrived, and it was well worth the wait. To prepare for the film, Gomes sent out reporters throughout Portugal to acquire stories, and these people returned with tales from everyday life, some quiet and nuanced and others so absurd, and ultimately heartbreaking, that for Gomes, the question of making anything remotely near a traditional narrative became impossible for him to do as evidenced in the first twenty minutes alone when we witness the director actually running away from his own film crew when faced with the task making a narrative film under the overwhelming presence of Portugal’s economic crisis that has been brought on through brutal austerity measures. That funny but honest moment is soon followed by the sumptuous image of Scheherazade crossing your screen with the sound of Phyllis Dillon’s rocksteady version of Alberto Domínguez’s “Perfedia” in the background, which is followed by “The Men With Hard-Ons,” a Bertrand Blier-esque comical scene where bankers and government officials appear to be sexually revelling in the work of financially screwing over humanity. As jarring as these moments are in their depiction and sequencing, they only serve to better set up the gut-punching reality of stories such as “The Bath of the Magnificents,” which centers on the an annual trip to the ice cold ocean of for the unemployed, Portuguese version of the Polar Bear Swim Club.

Gomes borrowed/stole Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s regular DP Sayombhu Mukdeeprom to lens Arabian Nights, and the combined efforts of Mukdeeprom and Gomes lead to an outcome that is years ahead of what we saw this year in terms of where the visual language of cinema should be in 2016. Gomes’ never loses sight of the fact that he gets to make art for a living while those around him are suffering, and in turn he has made an epic work that is multifaceted, audacious, and even wild in its approach but is ultimately clear in its urgency to tell the stories of people who are living in a desperate situation. Be prepared to ask yourself: “Why am I looking at this?” repeatedly through viewings, and each time, you will find a better answer, especially when you see the chaffinches of the third volume or the ghosts in the second volume. Gomes understands the full range of every human emotion in times of strife, and the stories in Arabian Nights collectively capture how strong, weak, happy, sad, insane, and reasonable we can be.



2. The Woman Who Left (Ang Babaeng Humayo) / Philippines / Dir: Lav Diaz
Inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s short story, God Sees the Truth, But Waits, this exceptionally realized, nearly four-hour long drama (a short one for Lav Diaz, actually) is set in the director’s native Philippines during a kidnapping epidemic that took place in the year of 1997, the year of Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty from Great Britain to China. The Woman Who Left follows the story of Horacia Somorostro (Charo Santos-Concio, our best actress pick for this year), a self-educated, forceful, and righteous woman who is released from prison after serving thirty years for a crime that she did not commit. Upon leaving prison, she seeks revenge on the man who framed her, an ex-lover and a wealthy crime kingpin who hides in his home in fear of being kidnapped himself. Despite this setup that seems more suitable for an action blockbuster, Diaz’s film slowly and gracefully unfolds into a final statement on fate and forgiveness through interactions with people who must live and try to survive in the face of corruption led by the government and the Catholic Church, who together appear in league against the basic needs of the common people. And though The Woman Who Left takes place in a Philippines of twenty years ago, you cannot divorce yourself from the relevance of the statements on the strangling arms of corruption raised in Diaz’s film when you see the devastation caused by the anti-drug bloodshed happening on the streets of Manila today.



3. The Wailing (Goksung) / Korea / Dir: Na Hong-jin
The Wailing is the first horror film since Neil Marshall’s 2005 scare, The Descent, that has ranked this high on our top ten list, and like The Descent, Na’s film transcends the genre. Na masterfully uses some fairly grotesque visuals and concepts as diversionary elements in The Wailing to throw you off the trail of not only the cause of evil in the film but also his core social critique of a nepotistic Korean society that chooses to direct anger towards ancient enemies while rotting from within due to outdated familial imperatives that keep people from forming the necessary communities to battle evil as a whole, united front. Na’s striking visuals and moments of intense suffering may cause you to feel a level of confusion due to your own empathy for individual characters and may also distract you from the director’s thesis detailed above, but that is indeed Na’s intention for his beautifully executed allegory. The Wailing will most likely go down as one of the finest uses of the horror genre as metaphor for a society’s woes, meeting (and maybe even surpassing by a tiny bit) the high standard set by George Romero’s use of the zombie trope in Night of the Living Dead to examine America’s issues during the civil rights movement.



4. Cemetery Of Splendour (Rak ti Khon Kaen) / Thailand / Dir: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Much has happened in Thailand since Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s 2006 film, Syndromes and a Century, which articulates the director’s reflections on his country’s shift in attitudes from the time of his birth to the present day as seen through the daily activities of a Bangkok hospital staff. In 2014, the Thai army launched a coup d’état and established a junta called the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to govern the nation, and to emphasize the contrast in his society from a decade ago, Weerasethakul has again chosen a hospital of sorts as the setting to reflect the current state of his nation—a nation that now sees an importance of the military as its first concern, leaving its citizens to fend for themselves and look towards the west for a means of survival during the military state that is the prevailing government. In Cemetery of Splendour, a ward of soldiers suffering from a sleeping sickness are being treated with the latest in medical technology in a makeshift clinic housed in a school that was built on an ancient site. We meet a volunteer named Jenjira (longtime collaborator Jenjira Pongpas), who watches over a soldier without a family and then starts up a friendship with a young medium named Keng who uses her abilities to assist the unconscious soldiers communicate with their loved ones. In Syndromes and a Century, we see a country that is steadily favoriting western attitudes, whereas Cemetery Of Splendour shows a Thailand that has been put into a position where it must struggle to simply preserve its beliefs and identity as they are being rewritten by a military force that has its influence everywhere. Cemetery of Splendour is a masterfully realized film composed of understated performances and sublime visuals that have become the standard of Weerasethakul’s work these last twenty years. We were fortunate enough to discuss Cemetery Of Splendour with the director in an interview we conducted at the UCLA Film and Television Archive back in October of this year.



5. Elle / France | Germany | Belgium / Dir: Paul Verhoeven
Issues of hypocrisy within the Catholic Church and the devastation that it causes are also the subject of another one of our favorites from AFI Fest 2016, Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s film adaptation of Philippe Djian’s controversial 2012 novel, Oh…. Isabelle Huppert delivers her always brilliant performance as Michèle LeBlanc, the CEO of a videogame company who bears the shame of being the daughter of one of France’s most infamous mass murderers, a Catholic zealot who, during a crisis of faith, decides to brutally slaughter a neighborhood of parents and children. Early in Elle, Michèle is brutally raped but refuses to report the crime and allows for further transgressions against her as part of a self-imposed penance brought on by Catholic guilt. As the violent atonement proceeds, the identity of the rapist and his relationship with Michèle emerge as an allegory for the unholy alliance between the traditionally vilified Semitic participation in banking and the pious and benevolent public appearance of the Roman Catholic Church. More volatile than anything released this year so far, Elle, has been selected as France’s entry into the 2017 Academy Awards and rises as one of the finest films of Paul Verhoeven’s long, turbulent career.



6. Kaili Blues (Lu bian ye can) / China / Dir: Gan Bi
Gan Bi’s Kaili Blues was the most impressive debut feature that we saw in 2016. Though Gan’s film borrows a small portion of its narrative and visual style from Apichatpong Weerasethakul, its uniquely constructed, forty-minute long, single take scene on a motorbike is so clever that it demands to be on this list. At the beginning of the film, Gan displays the following Buddhist text from the Diamond Sutra: “the past mind cannot be attained, the present mind cannot be attained, the future mind cannot be attained.” The reasoning behind these words remains elusive through the first half of the film as we follow the story of a formerly incarcerated doctor who goes on a journey through the countryside of Guizhou in search of his nephew who has been sold to a watchmaker, but, when the aforementioned gorgeous single take on the bike occurs, Gan conveys the meaning of the words in the Sutra by defying the restrictions of time itself in the storytelling process, allowing for a freedom in movement and image to ascend past conventional narrative and structure. Gan challenges the medium of film in a bold and compelling way that even few master directors dare to, and for that, Kaili Blues earns its spot at number six on the best of 2016.



7. Graduation (Bacalaureat) / Romania / Dir: Cristian Mungiu
Cristian Mungiu, who along with Cristi Puiu and Corneliu Porumboiu, represents the leading force behind the Romanian New Wave of the last decade. Both Puiu and Porumboiu have released features over the last few years to varying levels of acclaim, but Mungiu has been oddly silent since his 2012 film, Beyond The Hills, which earned the Best Screenplay prize that year at Cannes. Arguably the most revered of his Romanian peers, Mungiu returned to AFI Fest this year with his Palme d’Or nominated and Best Director at Cannes winning family drama, Graduation. Adrian Titieni portrays philandering surgeon, Romeo Aldea, who is trying to balance relations between his wife, his mistress, and the one person he truly loves, his college-aged daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus). Even though Romeo is a ranking surgeon at the local hospital, his distinguished career doesn’t pay him enough to afford to send Eliza abroad to Cambridge University, a dream that he desires for her seemingly more than she does for herself. When Eliza is violently attacked on the street the day before her state exams, she performs poorly on the first of the exam series, which puts her scholarship in jeopardy. Left with few options, Romeo must engage in unethical favor peddling in order to secure his daughter a high grade on the second and final exam. Cristian Mungiu’s talents in encapsulating larger issues within his country into a small personal drama are in full display in Graduation, a film that does not strive for the sense of frenetic tragedy of his previous film, Beyond The Hills, yet it is no less gripping due to the moral struggles behind the decisions that his characters need to make.



8. High Rise / UK / Dir: Ben Wheatley
If you were expecting a verbatim adaptation of the J.G. Ballard book that the 2016 film, High Rise, is based on, then you will be gravely disappointed, but if you look at the craft of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s interpretation of Ballard’s ideas for modern day sensibilities, you’ll realize that High Rise is an outstanding adaptation. Wheatley and Jump understand today’s society, and they mold the Ballard tale to reflect the passiveness and dangerousness of the contemporary creative class. In the original novel, Ballard warned of this upper middle class, but Wheatley and Jump have seen and experienced it in their lifetimes, and that perspective is the strong suit of the film. Consequently, High Rise (the film) then becomes not a class struggle between the rich and the poor, but a conflict of small differences between people of the upper classes alone. No one is truly suffering in Wheatley’s High Rise, but the building’s failures make the residents believe that they are actually suffering, which causes the occupants to blame each other before daring to question the structure itself—a perfect metaphor for the tunnel-visioned creative class of today.



9. Buster’s Mal Heart / USA / Dir: Sarah Adina Smith
One of the biggest surprises of this year’s AFI Fest came via the New Auteurs programming section with Buster’s Mal Heart, the second feature by Sarah Adina Smith, who directed the unique and regrettably overlooked 2014 film, The Midnight Swim. Much will be made of the layered performance of Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) as Jonah in Buster’s Mal Heart, and this praise is indeed deserved, but much credit has to be given to Smith for making an exceptional drama that, although set in and around the Y2K panic of 1999, presents an excellent allegory for disenfranchised people today who find themselves economically and racially out of sync with the current version of a successful society. Smith deftly balances the present and past through memories and dream logic to create an antihero who in appearance seems insane but in reality may have the key to survival. Generoso sat down with Sarah Adina Smith at AFI Fest for a thorough discussion about her film.



10. Interruption / Greece | France | Croatia / Dir: Dir: Yorgos Zois
Set in a theater in Athens, Zois’ daring film, Interruption, uses a post-modernist adaptation of Aeschylus’ classic Greek tragedy, Oresteia, as the center of his meditation on the Dubrovka Theatre incident. While a performance of the play is taking place, the armed Chorus, consisting of seven people, forcibly takes the stage and apologizes for the “interruption” and then soon calls out for a group of audience members to take the stage so that they can establish an order for the remaining narrative. Now, several more members of the audience mount the stage, which prompts the leader of the Chorus, who takes a seat in the front row, to interview this new assortment of audience volunteers one after another, asking about their professions and even going as far as asking some of them personal questions regarding their romantic relationships. In this group of audience volunteers is one professional actor whom the Chorus leader casts in the role of Orestes, who, based on the original text, has the intention to murder his own mother, Clytemnestra. Now onstage are two people portraying Orestes, and the line further blurs between spectator and actor, and with it, a debate that argues the necessity to carry out Orestes’ act of matricide from a moral standpoint against the original narrative of the play, further breaking down the structure between the intended goal of the author and the role of the spectator as passive observer. So, what role does the filming of this event serve in this adaptation? As Zois explained: “I wanted to create a cinematic world where the viewer could use all his senses and experience a voyage to a world that blends the limits between life and art, fiction and reality, logic and absurdity. A cinematic enigma that offers no single solution but offers you the chance to see a different view each time you look through a different view. This film is about the art of viewing and what does viewing mean and the point of view, and no one sees the same thing in the same way.”

SUPPLEMENTAL FILMS FOR 2016

Certain Women / USA / Dir: Kelly Reichardt 
Based on short stories from Maile Meloy’s collection, Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, Reichardt nimbly interweaves three stories of women who are employed in traditionally male occupations. In a slight reversal of Altman’s use of a city setting that seemingly conspires to add to the misery to the lives of its inhabitants, Reichardt uses the natural, present day Montana setting of Certain Women to further exemplify the unnatural impediments that contemporary women have to endure in order to succeed. Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams are exceptionally strong in their roles, but much has to said about newcomer and Montana native, Lily Gladstone, and her beautifully understated and heartbreaking performance as Jamie, a lonely ranch hand who develops an attraction for her education law teacher Beth, (Kristen Stewart) who herself is struggling to find acceptance as a young attorney in a town several miles away from where she is recruited to teach her class. One of the best American dramas of this year, Certain Women gives a more restrained and less cynical treatment of the societal criticism in its central thesis than the director’s previous effort, Night Moves, but still, Reichardt has still created an important film for this generation that is seeing its gender roles in the workplace change on a daily basis with varying degrees of acceptance.



Yo / Mexico / Dir: Matías Meyer
Yo refers to the title character (played by Raúl Silva Gómez), a large man in his early twenties who we soon realize is functional, yet developmentally challenged, and as thus, he remains in a state of perpetual adolescence. Yo is under the care of his mother (Elizabeth Mendoza), and they both live and work at the family restaurant where Yo has the unenviable task of slaughtering and plucking the chickens that they serve. Also residing with Yo is his mother’s lover Pady (Ignacio Rojas Nieto), a brutish man in his fifties who has a tendency towards being abusive towards Yo, which seems to have become so commonplace that no one in the house raises any concern, including Yo, who seems content with his menial tasks and chances to play with his coins on the floor of the restaurant and goes unnoticed to the patrons as though he is a piece of furniture, a trivial part of the restaurant setting. This is one of the earliest moments that we notice humans’ interactions with their surroundings, a key element in most of Meyer’s previous work and the primary way that we come to understand Yo throughout the film. As opposed to Meyer’s previous feature, the Zapata-era film,
Los Últimos Cristeros, Yo is a fairly modest production that involves a small amount of actors, the usual use of the set, one-camera shot for most scenes, and a few locations, but like his previous feature, it utilizes the spacious natural terrain of Mexico to cleverly further the development of the film’s central characters. The tension that Meyer creates with his character of Yo and his disenfranchisement with his surroundings is palpable throughout the film in the same eerily quiet and ominous way that Iranian director Jafar Panahi presents in his equally marginalized central character of Hussein, the beleaguered and impoverished pizza delivery man who wanders through an unwelcoming Tehran, in his 2003 film, Crimson Gold. As in Crimson Gold, the excellently crafted level of tension in Yo drives the narrative even during the most tranquil of scenes, which provided the main reason why we were so completely engaged with the film. We discussed Yo at length with Matías early in 2016 at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.



Yourself and Yours / South Korea / Dir: Hong Sang-soo
Hong Sang-soo has built a body of work based on a formula that relies on his main character’s self-destruction. In most of Hong’s films, we see a relationship fall apart; sometimes we see it begin; sometimes we see it repair, and all of these activities occur in a warped sense of time where the present is never the present, and the past is not the only past.
Yourself and Yours is true to the purest of this signature Hong form. In this most recent film, Youngsoo (Kim Joohyuck) struggles to trust his beautiful girlfriend Minjung (Lee Youyoung), and as a result, the two part ways. As he attempts to recover from the breakup, we, as the audience, see Minjung take on multiple personas as she spends time with various men. We gradually get a sense that these personas represent all of the ways that Youngsoo and his meddling friends look at her, and quickly, we realize that in all of these different versions of Minjung, we have lost the true Minjung, or we may have never known her at all because she might have never existed. This confusion surrounding the truest form of Minjung amplifies because all of the men who show affection for Minjung in her different states are creators who may also look at her in some idealized form. Youngsoo himself is an artist. One man (Hong favorite Kwon Haehyo) is a writer. Another (Yu Junsang) is a director. So, we must ask: is Minjung just a muse that cannot be reached for all of these men? Is the real Minjung not Minjung at all because “Minjung” is just the name of a heightened representation of a woman of another name who exists in reality? Hong does not provide a direct answer to the identity of Minjung, for what is most important in the film is the shedding of all of the perceptions of Minjung (or not Minjung) in order to allow Youngsoo to love unconditionally. Yourself and Yours could have benefitted from a more cinematically expansive visual style (it looks more like 2010’s Oki’s Movie than 2015’s Right Now, Wrong Then or 2011’s The Day He Arrives), but its small screen look does help the film feel like a derailed soap opera romance that is steering wildly through no clear path into a place where no soap opera has gone before.



I, Daniel Blake / UK / Dir: Ken Loach
For the entirety of his fifty-plus year career, Ken Loach has called out the woes of society, whether it is the racism that falls upon the schoolteacher in 2004’s Ae Fond Kiss…, the dangers of privatizing British Rail in his 2001 film The Navigators, and everything in between that befalls the working-class protagonists in the episodes of his own BBC series that aired back in the 1960s, The Wednesday Play. In I, Daniel Blake, veteran BBC actor Dave Johns plays the titular character, Daniel, a middle-aged carpenter who has suffered a heart attack and has been ordered by his doctor to remain unemployed to heal. After a poorly performed physical incorrectly classifies him as being fit for work, Daniel is forced to systematically hunt for a job so that he can be become eligible for unemployment insurance. One day while asking for assistance at the unemployment office, Daniel meets Katie (Hayley Squires), a single mother of two children who is also getting the bureaucratic runaround. These two marginalized people soon become platonic friends who try and help each other survive while the broken system that is supposed to assist them begins to miserably fail. There is no silver lining here, as Loach clearly lays on all of the tragedy stemming from globalization combined with a government that is woefully inadequate in compensating for the failing economy. Our packed screening of I, Daniel Blake was eerily silent with the only exception being the sound of crying from the audience, which was most likely composed of many people who, given the Monday early afternoon time slot, had a lot in common with our film’s heroes.



The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies) / Finland / Dir: Juho Kuosmanen
On a lighter but no less contemporarily-relevant front is the Finnish film based on a real-life event,
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä mies), the second feature from director Juho Kuosmanen. Olli Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) is about to become the 1962 World Featherweight Boxing Champion, a title predicted and desired by everyone in Finland except for Olli Mäki himself. Olli has just met Raija (Oona Airola), the love of his life, so the fact that the current champion from the United States, Davey Moore, is flying in for a title fight, which will be seen by thousands of his countrymen at the stadium in Helsinki, now seems of lesser importance. Are his love for Raija and the manager-mandated absence of her causing this doubt in Olli? Is his doubt about fighting against a proven champion or the non-stop commercial hype machine around him that makes the whole event seem like a long con making him nihilistic about winning? Expertly shot in glorious black and white by cinematographer J.P. Passi, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is a cynical, albeit sweet retelling of this small moment in Finnish sports history that meant more to people away from the ring than those inside of it. We sat down with film’s director, Juho Kuosmanen and DP, J.P. Passi at AFI Fest 2016 to discuss their film.


HONORABLE MENTION

Nova Seed / Canada / Dir: Nick DiLiberto
It almost seems too hard to believe that one man could animate, direct, and edit a full-length film as impressive as Nova Seed, a film that could easily fit into the catalog of Canadian-based Nelvana Limited animated film work prior to 3-D animation coming into vogue. Again, without knowing anything about DiLiberto’s Canadian background, you could see elements in Nova Seed hearkening back to the classic Nelvana style seen in films such as Heavy Metal and Rock N Rule, movies that were near and dear to Generoso’s heart during the 1980s when he was, as most boys of his generation, a rock and fantasy obsessed, pop-rock eating machine. Besides the look of Nova Seed, the premise, complete with Live-Aid era earth-saving do-gooders also seems to be an homage to 1980s 2-D animated films and television shows. Our hero NAC (neo-animal combatant), a freed warrior-slave, gets his freedom and searches for the “Nova Seed,” a being similar to the Loc-Nar in the 1981 film, Heavy Metal, in that it possesses the potential of great evil or good depending on who is controlling it. In Nova Seed, the titular being can either be a restorative or degenerative force of the ecosystem of the environmentally ravaged planet. Is that premise 1980s save-the-world-at-all-costs enough for you?! Nova Seed is not perfect: the voice-acting could have benefitted from the employment of some experienced talent to give the characters more life, but that is only one strike against a truly enjoyable animated feature that is as entertaining as it is nostalgic.



The Little Man (Malý Pán) / Czech Republic / Dir: Radek Beran
Any children’s film that has the desire to make Captain Beefheart a character can’t be bad can it? We’ll take our praise even further by admitting that
The Little Man was our absolute favorite of the features that we caught at this year’s Czech That Film Festival. This wildly imaginative and borderline existentialist puppet film ponders the question: Is being lonely worse than having friends and plunging yourself into constant peril? The titular character, Malý Pán (voiced by Saša Rašilov) seems quite content to live alone in his forest home with only visits from the postman and the local fireworks vendor to break up his day, but his dreams suggest that something is missing from his life which sends our hero on a quest to discover the message contained in his nocturnal imagination. This journey leads Malý Pán to a mystic being in a stone who requires a special sparkling water to decipher the meaning of dreams. That special sparkling water is guarded by a very evil witch, who can only be defeated with a special book that can only be read with special glasses. Along the way, our Malý Pán runs into a plethora of extremely psychedelic characters who seem to have been created in the mind of someone who has been licking way too many stamps and listening to an awful lot of Beefheart’s records. In fact, Beran’s film is packed with so many bizarre creations that even when the dialog slips a bit, you remain fascinated by what you are seeing. As is the case with the best children’s works, Malý Pán features an endless amount of whimsical ideas to thoroughly entertain the kids and a hefty share of abstract references to thrill adults. Also, let us make this perfectly clear, Captain Beefheart in any form, is an awesome thing.


MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM (TIED)

The Handmaiden / South Korea / Dir: Park Chan-wook
Allow me to quote Maximilian “Max” Bercovicz, the gangster that James Woods portrayed in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America: “You’ll live with the stink of the streets all your life.” The same can be said of the stink that Hollywood leaves on your talent whenever you are foolish enough to leave your homeland for the chance to work for the film industry housed in that crap factory. Leone found out how true that statement is when the legendary director of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly came to America in the 1980s to make an underworld masterpiece, only to have his brilliant work chopped into a million incomprehensible pieces by oafish, untalented editors. Leone sadly never directed again. Park Chan-wook left his Korean homeland in 2013 so that he could work in Tinseltown where he made the embarrassingly bad psycho-sexual drama, Stoker, which was created from only the second screenplay written by the hunky star of the overly-sweaty television drama, Prison Break. We were elated to hear that after the failure of Stoker, Park decided to go back to South Korea to make movies again, but sadly, the stink came with him. I won’t to go into the tedious sexual plot of The Handmaiden, but what transpires feels like a laughably clumsy version of an early Park Chan-wook film made by someone who really wants a job in Hollywood. The Handmaiden fails to capture even the slightest aspects of what made Park one of the most exciting filmmakers of the last twenty years. We so wish that the director of Oldboy had picked up a phone to talk to Wong Kar-wai before buying his plane ticket here, or perhaps Park should’ve at least taken a look at My Blueberry Nights before ever stepping foot anywhere near Sunset Boulevard.



Toni Erdmann / Germany | Austria | Romania / Dir: Maren Ade
We were massively underwhelmed by Maren Ade’s previous directorial effort, 2009’s
Everyone Else, a toothless romantic drama that was utterly flat in its concept and execution. Since then, Ade has thankfully stayed away from directing, concentrating her efforts on production, which have resulted in two of our favorite films of this decade, both by Miguel Gomes—2012’s Tabu, and our favorite film of this year, the three-part masterpiece that is Arabian Nights. Given these production successes with Gomes combined with unparalleled positive reviews, we were indeed excited to see Ade’s nearly three-hour, father-daughter comedy, Toni Erdmann, that unfortunately we will now refer to as the biggest disappointment of this year’s AFI Fest. Inspired by Andy Kaufman’s audacious alter-ego Tony Clifton, Toni Erdmann is just a slightly ruder Capra-esque father-daughter story about an uptight, cutthroat businesswoman named Ines (Sandra Hüller), who is brought back to humanity by her wild and crazy dad Toni, who poses as a “consultant and coach” for the chief executive of Ines’s company in an attempt to teach his child a lesson. I suppose that brandishing Austin Powers-styled fake teeth qualifies as great German comedy these days, which in and of itself is quite sad, but Toni Erdmann’s ham-handed attempts at social commentary are even more clichéd and painful to watch than its attempts at humor.


BEST REPERTORY FILM EXPERIENCE

The Underground U.S.A. Series at Cinefamily
Over a three month period this year, The Cinefamily here in Los Angeles launched into a massive undertaking by honoring the rich traditions held in American Independent Cinema from the 1980s. The series kicked off with a three-night tribute to John Sayles, which featured screenings with appearances from Sayles himself, his partner and producer, Maggie Renzi, David Strathairn, and a cast of Sayles’ regular players and partners including everyone from Vincent Spano to the all-time king of indie cinema, Roger Corman. A few days after Sayles appearance, maverick producer John Pierson arrived with one of the many iconic 80s films that he helped bring to screens, She’s Gotta Have It. Susan Seidelman and Rosanna Arquette accompanied their hit indie, Desperately Seeking Susan, and soon after, Allison Anders arrived with her gritty noirish gem, Border Radio. Director Alex Cox brought his punk masterpiece, Repo Man, and then the next night, he presented his film, Walker, which was followed by a midnight screening of the ultimate LA cult movie, Forbidden Zone, that director Richard Elfman introduced after marching into the theater clad only in underwear with a full band of instrument-playing freaks in tow. Not to be outdone, director Robert Townsend brought a soul band with him to perform when he showed his credit card funded comedy classic, Hollywood Shuffle. Steering the series back to the cult, the Friday Night Frights folks screened Eating Raoul and brought with them cast members Mary Woronov, Robert Beltran, and Susan Saiger. Directors Slava Tsukerman, Billy Woodbury, Sara Driver, Penelope Spheeris, and Ross McElwee all brought their quintessential works to The Silent Film Theater on Fairfax, which was our home from February to May as we could not have imagined missing a moment of one of most ambitious and exciting series of films and filmmaker appearances that we have experienced in ages.
http://www.cinefamily.org/films/underground-usa-indie-cinema-of-the-80s/

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Generoso’s 2015 Top Ten Film List, Supplemental Films, Biggest Disappointments, Worst Film Of The Year and, Best Rep Film Experience

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2015 was a transition year as Lily and I moved west, leaving behind some great friends, WMBR, and some of the best theaters in America. I send much love, thanks, and respect to all of the wonderful programmers out in Boston, to the many years that the blessed Harvard Film Archive in the basement of the Carpenter Center saw our shadows, to Saul Levine’s Film Society screenings that changed our view of experimental cinema forever, to the staff and films at the Coolidge Corner and the Brattle for always trying to make seeing a film a better experience, and extra respect to the small runs of films you would never see otherwise at The Museum of Fine Arts as well as all of the hard working and underpaid staff of the Independent Film Festival of Boston who put on another great festival this year, leaving no doubt as to what is the preeminent film festival in the city.

Since arriving in Los Angeles, we have been astounded by the amount of vital new and repertory cinema happening here. We are members of Cinefamily now, and through them, we have seen our favorite film of the year and met the director as well and have had the opportunity to view so many small indies and rep films that have long since been forgotten. The Cinefamily also supplied us with the best 4th of July that we can ever remember in the form of a barbeque, jazz combo, and a chance to see a print of Jazz On A Summer’s Day. We have loved our evenings at the majestic Egyptian and the Aero theatres as well. The small Music Hall and Fine Arts Theaters on Wilshire have shown films we would have missed if they had not picked them up, and all the goodly people at the American Film Institute put on a beautifully curated/free for everyone festival that helped populate this list. Films that we have waited for all year from world-class directors such as Arnaud Desplechin, Jacques Audiard, Cornelieu Porumbiou, and unfortunately Paolo Sorrentino, were on display at the Chinese Theater for one amazing week that will now be a part of every fall for Lily and myself.  

Of the 250 plus films we saw this year, some films went beyond expectations; a few from proven directors underwhelmed and disappointed, and our favorite film, Güeros, emerged as the winner, which is the the first time a debut effort has risen to the top in the twenty plus years that I have put out this list.  Thanks to my darling Lily for watching these films with me throughout 2015 and for editing this massive document while graciously adding her fantastic thoughts in along the way.   

Here we go….

My Top Ten Films for 2015

1) Güeros (Alonso Ruizpalacios) Mexico

Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) is a teenage malcontent who lives in Veracruz with his mother. After pulling one nasty prank too many, mom sends Tomás to live with his layabout college student brother Federico/Sombra (Tenoch Huerta), who lives in a miserable apartment in Mexico City with another slack named Santos (Leonardo Ortizgris). Neither is actually in school because they are sitting out the “student strike” at their university caused by a change in policy that will now charge students for tuition for the first time in history. Shortly after arriving, Tomás tells his new roommates that his and Sombra’s favorite rock singer, Epigmeneo Cruz is dying in a hospital, and they have to see him before he goes, which is fine for the boys, since their large downstairs neighbor is about to kill them for stealing electricity. Set in 1999, their comedic voyage through the streets of Mexico City leads them to encounters with protests and freaks on their quest to find a rock hero, and all of the adventure is styled with sometimes funny and poignant nods to the pop culture and French New Wave style that serve to remind you of what we have lost since the 1960s. This film possesses a daring and rare combination of frenetic raw energy and a reverence of film history that I have not seen in many years, and it left me astonished. To say that this is an impressive film debut from Alonso Ruizpalacios is a massive understatement, and I cannot wait for his next film. All I ask is that you stay away from Hollywood Alonso, please. I’m sure you can do more good where you are away from the hipster starlets who descended on you after the Cinefamily screening because Güeros has far more than just denim, distressed tees, and navel-gazing politics and philosophy.

2) Dheepan (Jacques Audiard) France

Sivadhasan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) is a Tamil Tiger soldier in Sri Lanka whose side has lost the civil war. To gain political asylum in France, he must have a convincing story, so he pretends to be Dheepan, the dead man of the passport he receives. In order to achieve the identity of Dheepan, Sivadhasan is also given a wife, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and a 9-year-old daughter, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby), to make his story more accurate and sympathetic to secure a visa. This new “family” goes through the motions of being a real family while Sivadhasan works as maintenance man for a housing project that is going through a gang war, making his desire to start anew and away from war pretty impossible. In some ways, Dheepan is a reversal of character of the small time hood to crimelord protagonist of Audiard’s magnificent 2009 film, The Prophet; Dheepan tries to veer away from crime and violence, which were integral to his past as a Tamil Tiger. Different in pace than Audiard’s other films, Dheepan is no less intense and heartfelt. What drives this film so high on my list is the naturalist performance from Antonythasan Jesuthasan, who himself was one of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and also used fake passports to escape to France. Kalieaswari Srinivasan equally shines as Yalini, who has less desire to remain in her new violent home. Dheepan was the surprise winner of the Palm D’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and deservedly so.

3) Right Now, Wrong Then (Sang-soo Hong) Korea  

Directors Sang-soo Hong and Nuri Bilge Ceylan seem to genuinely appreciate how vile and brilliant they are as human beings. Their films consistently take their worst intentions to task with the difference being that Sang-soo has a lot of fun pointing out the more lascivious aspects of his persona. Utilizing the same Jungian structure as his previous two films, The Hill Of Freedom and The Day He Arrives, where the outcome of one’s life comes down to small decisions, the protagonist of Right Now, Wrong Then plays out alternative courses of a day on screen in different segments prompted by contrasting neurotic interactions. Right Now Wrong Then’s fill in for Hong’s alter ego is Han Chun-su (Jung Jae-young), an art house filmmaker who visits a small mountain town where he proceeds to spend the day trying to bed a beautiful but shy former model turned painter named Hee-jung (Kim Min-hee). The film is divided into two segments where Han uses opposite but similarly insincere techniques, one “self-effacing” and the other “brutally honest,” to get Hee-jung to love or at least sleep with him. Awkwardly painful in a way that a young Woody Allen would be proud of, Right Now, Wrong Then (which is actually reminiscent to Allen’s Melinda Melinda) is perfectly executed by the cast and Hong. You leave hating yourself for spending even one second hoping that Han and Hee-jung will hit it off, but you admire Hong for getting you to that point of recoil.

4) Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller) USA/Australia

I love George Miller, and he has never let me down (yes, I even like Happy Feet), but even my expectations were ridiculously high for this, the fourth installment of Mad Max, a series that helped define an era of post-apocalyptic films. I did start to worry though; it had been thirty years since Mel and Tina smashed around Thunderdome, and since then there were a couple of superb talking pig films, an entertaining adaptation of a witchy John Updike novel, and the aforementioned dancing penguin films, which all had me concerned that George had lost some lust for the fuelless ravaged wasteland. My concerns were somewhat quelled once I heard about the casting of Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, two actors I have admired for years, and then, the first visuals finally convinced me that Mad Max: Fury Road was to be the big blow up film that I was not going to miss this year, and I am glad I didn’t. A brilliant decision by George to make Theron’s Imperator Furiosa the main character, relegating Hardy and virtually all of the men in the film as bystanders in the futuristic allegory that sees the passing of the male dominated film landscape through one hundred and twenty minutes of nonstop action. Maybe a bit more time with formulating some kind of dialog would’ve put this higher on the list, but all in all, this has too much explosive visual candy to not to roll around in over and over again.

5) The Assassin (Hou Hsiou Hsien) Taiwan/China

Sometime in the spring of 2000, The Museum Of Fine Arts in Boston ran a complete retrospective of Taiwan’s greatest living filmmaker, and I gladly watched all of his films to that point, ending with the period piece, Flowers of Shanghai. With each film, I grew in appreciation of his oeuvre; before the series started, I had only seen Hou’s Goodbye South Goodbye, and by the end, I saw the drastic transformation of his style. Over the last fifteen years Hou Hsiou Hsien’s work has concentrated more on contemporary settings and acknowledgments to key players in film history, as seen with his tribute to Ozu in 2003’s Cafe Lumiere. Hou has also relied on the talents of actress Qi Shu, who has starred in two of the director’s films since 2000, Three Times and Millennium Mambo, and now they have teamed up again in Hou’s first wuxia or historical martial-arts genre film, The Assassin. Needless to say that after thirty five years of directing dialog driven narrative film, Hou Hsiou Hsien was not going to direct anything that the genre has seen in the past. Qi plays Yinniang, who had been abducted by a nun as a child and has learned the martial arts of the convent to perfection and is now charged with killing her estranged cousin, a nobleman whom she was once promised to wed. Given the way that premise sounds, you may be thinking Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon here, but think again. Hou eschews a formal wuxia narrative and allows the visuals and mood to tell the story more than a tedious, clearly spelled out plot, leaving the viewer to draw all of their attention to Yinniang, whom Hou presents as a sympathetic but fierce protagonist who rivals Imperator Furiosa of Fury Road. With The Assassin, Hou Hsiou Hsien has created a sumptuously realized character study that proves that so much more can be done with the wuxia film than ever before.    

6) Blind (Eskil Vogt) Norway

The second best debut film this year comes from the writer of the painfully underrated 2011 drama, Oslo, August 31st, Eskil Vogt. Blind features a phenomenal performance from actress Ellen Dorrit Petersen as Ingrid, who has recently been gone blind when we first meet her, and we spend much of the film inside of her head as the story unfolds. Ingrid lost her vision suddenly from an unknown condition and now spends her days at home and rarely leaves, even when she is accompanied by her husband, Morten (Henrik Rafaelsen), who works during the day as an architect. Vogt structures the film on the line between objective and subjective reality, as Ingrid believes that Morten sometimes heads home when he should be at work to spy on his wife, and maybe he is, but we are never sure if all of this is real or just Ingrid’s psychological projections. Blind triumphs due to Vogt’s ability to delicately balance comedy and tragedy as the film eventually becomes a bold statement about trust for people in love, and that never ceases to surprise the viewer.

7) The Duke Of Burgundy (Peter Strickland) England

Since his 2009 debut, Katalin Varga, English director Peter Strickland has been on a roll. In his last film, Strickland took the nebbishy Toby Jones to Italy to record foley splatters for giallos in the clever 2012 film, The Berberian Sound System. Strickland’s love of sound design comes to the forefront again early in The Duke Of Burgundy as does his affinity for the mid-1960s brown hues you would recognize from British fare like The Collector. The Duke Of Burgundy follows a housemaid named Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) who is sexually subjugated by a butterfly scholar and collector named Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen). Is Cynthia actually in charge? We cannot be too sure based on the sexual role playing and alternating dominatrix play that occurs in their home. The Duke of Burgundy  bears down on Evelyn and Cynthia’s idiosyncratic tendencies within their relationship and, in turn, what the pair is willing to do in order to maintain their myth of togetherness. This isn’t the worthless pap that is Fifty Shades Of Grey, which was essentially written to make middle American housewives rebel at their pathetic lifelong aversion of sexuality. Strickland expertly weaves two characters together who are constantly redefining themselves both intellectually and sexually through what they view as growth. Both Cynthia and Evelyn strive to distance themselves away from developing into domicile, “bedroom and kitchen” women, but through their feigned intellectual study and trite sexual endeavors in role playing, the two, especially Cynthia, travel closer to what they are trying so hard to run away from. The Duke Of Burgundy left me content with the thought that between Ben Wheatley, Joanna Hogg, and Peter Strickland, you can finally have some hope for a bright new wave of British filmmakers.

8) The Clouds Of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas) France

Assayas has always been able to get amazing performances by his lead actresses: From Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep and Clean to Virginie Ledoyen in Late August Early September and Cold Water, Assayas writes beautifully for women and his actresses respond to the words. Such is the case with his latest film, The Clouds Of Sils Maria, where the brilliant Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a veteran actress who learns that her mentor Wilhelm Melchior, a theater and film director, has passed away while she is en route to receive an award for him. When they hear of Melchoir’s death, Maria and her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) were traveling to Wilhelm’s home in Sils Maria, an area in the Swiss Alps known for its haunting cloud formations and where the idea of eternal recurrence came to Nietzsche at “6,000 feet beyond man and time.” At the award ceremony, Maria is given the chance to star in a revival of Melchior’s play that made her famous twenty years earlier, but this time around, she will play the role of the older woman, turning over her original part as the older woman’s wily and tempestuous young lover to a rising Hollywood actress played by Chloë Grace Moretz, which forces Maria to ruminate about her career as an actress, her current friends and rivals, and her future. Much notoriety for this film exists because of Stewart as Valentine, who turns in an acceptable performance at best (giving Stewart a César for playing a one-dimensional uppity hipster is like giving Robert Blake an award for playing a psychotic ladykiller), but it is Stewart’s star power that allows Binoche more freedom with her role, and she takes complete advantage of that freedom to turn in another bravura performance in this contemplative character study.   

9) Afirim! (Rude Jude) Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France

Radu Jude’s 2015 film, Aferim!, a stunning depiction of early 19th century class and moral struggles, is not an exception to that Romanian film talent surge. Aferim! follows Costandin, a policeman, and his son, who have been hired by a boyar to find Carfin, a gypsy slave who has run away after having an affair with the boyar’s wife, Sultana. Teodor Corban plays Constandin with a grotesque and comical swagger as he doles out unsavory tidbits of wisdom to his son while debating the ethics of potentially releasing his captured gypsy slave, who he knows will suffer an atrocious fate when returned to his owner. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white but with an ugliness similar to a Sergio Corbucci Spaghetti Western, Aferim!’s story plays out in an uncompromising and illuminating way, provoking questions about Romanian history and how moral dilemmas are handled across time. With Aferim!, Radu Jude establishes a distinct perspective on the concept of a period piece, which offers great promise for his work in the future (it is believed that Jude will next adapt Max Blecher’s 1937 book Scarred Hearts).

10) Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands (Christian Braad Thomsen) Germany

It is amazing to me that director Christian Thomsen has been sitting on this footage of his friend, the prolific, and by all accounts, disturbingly fucked up German director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, for this long. Thomsen fills Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands with archival footage and interviews with his friend beginning with their first encounter at the 1969 Berlinale, when Rainer was booed off of the stage for Love Is Colder Than Death, and closing with footage that Thomsen himself shot of an almost too drunk Fassbinder (even by his normal standard) just a few weeks before the untimely passing of the director of the acclaimed Ali: Fears Eats The Soul. Also in the mix is footage of Rainer flipping out on set and various interviews from a plethora of former actresses/lovers and collaborators who describe the director with a small amount of love and a whole lotta “whew, am I glad that he can’t hurt me anymore” looks. Though I am enjoying writing this review, Thomsen mostly eschews the sentimentality and platitudes while deftly glueing together the archival footage and interviews to create a clear profile of a furiously talented and tormented man, who despite his self-destructive tendencies, was also able to become one the finest directors of his generation. I must admit my own bias here that even if Thomsen had just showed his final interview with Fassbinder uncut, I probably would’ve appreciated that alone, but I am glad that the director added a calmer contemporary viewpoint to all of the madness that gives a more objective perspective on a man whose notoriety as a human has historically rivaled his career accomplishments in capturing the attention of the public.  



SUPPLEMENTAL LIST

Catch Me Daddy (Daniel Wolfe) England

This nasty piece of UK filmmaking that seems to have been directed by Alan Clarke from beyond the grave is actually the debut film of music video director Daniel Wolfe and centers its narrative on the steady rise of “honour killings,” a trend that has gotten so out of hand in England that it now has an official memorial day for the victims of these crimes. “Honour killings” are acts committed to defend the supposed honour or reputation of a family and community. The crimes, usually aimed at Muslim women, can include emotional abuse, abduction, beatings and murder. Director Wolfe informs us of this crisis through Laila (Sameena Jabeen Ahmed), a British-Asian teen who has runaway from home with her caucasian boyfriend Aaron (Conor McCarron) to a trailer park in Yorkshire. Laila’s father wants her dead and hires two gangs to find her: one gang lead by a white Muslim-hating cocaine addict who is in it just for the fix and another by Laila’s brother. This will not end well and for two hours, Wolfe doesn’t let you off the ropes. This is ugly business without any sentiment, and like Clarke’s Made In Britain, which was made over thirty years ago, Catch Me Daddy hollows you out with its real-life inspired story of senseless intolerance.  

Heaven Knows What (Ben and Joshua Safdie) USA

Though many compare this harrowing and impressive film from the Safdie brothers that follows a junkie named Harley and her band of fellow addicts on the streets of New York to Jerry Schatzberg’s 1971 feature, The Panic in Needle Park, to me, it more closely resembles a film that came out a year earlier than Schatzberg’s film, Barbara Loden’s Wanda. Though the protagonist of Loden’s film is not an addict, the titular Wanda, like the Safdie’s Harley, begins the film defiantly alone after leaving their significant other and soon becomes as desperate for connection to anyone while trying to survive. Both films feature naturalist performances from their leads who also wrote the story that they perform, with the notable exception that Arielle Holmes was actually a homeless heroin addict who lived many of the experiences that were transferred to her character. Arielle Holmes is the reason to watch Heaven Knows What as she tears you up as she falls again and again and her performance transcends the dialog during much of the narrative. I rarely add spoilers to my reviews but I applaud the Safdies for ending their film exactly the same way as the landmark film by Loden. It is a smart nod that reminds us that even after forty years, when the bottom falls out, it falls lower for the woman.

Dope (Rick Famuyiwa) USA

So, imagine if Superbad’s smart, nebbishy Evan was not a white suburban kid but instead a smart, nebbishy African-American kid from Compton. What would happen during those final days of high school if Evan messed up to the degree he did in Superbad but without being white and possessing middle class privilege? Well, whatever life-threatening disaster that you think would ensue happens to Dope’s protagonist, Malcolm (a star-making performance from Shameik Moore), a smart young man who dreams of Harvard and whose father left him with one thing before taking off, a VHS of Superfly that will come in handy once he becomes the guy who gets the bag from the guy at a bullet-ridden club party. Malcolm has only his brain and pulls from every source possible to gnaw his way out of the mess he has fallen into. Dope is somewhat of a mess and would’ve been on the top ten if not for the muddled middle third, but director Famuyiwa pulls it together in the end and makes it a fun watch that delivers a strong message for those outside of privilege who just want to get over. The soundtrack cannot boast a Curtis Mayfield track, but it does throw in some impressive early 1990s hip hop that locks in a man lost in his time for most of the film.

In The Shadow Of Women (Phillippe Garrel) France

2015 marks the 51st year of Philippe Garrel’s magnificent career as a director. Garrel has always prided himself on making deeply personal and economically budgeted films, and In the Shadow of Women follows his signature style. His best work since 2008’s Frontier of the Dawn, In the Shadow of Women is a story of Pierre and Manon, two down and out documentary filmmakers who are barely getting by but on the surface seem to care for each other greatly. Things begin to change when Pierre meets Elisabeth at the film conservatory and begins to have an affair with her. As Elisabeth’s love for Pierre grows stronger, a conflict arises as Pierre chooses to maintain his relationship with Manon, even though Manon may have eyes for another. This simple and comedic film is a bit of a departure from the usually intense Garrel relationship examination, but Clotilde Courau and Stanislas Merhar are wonderful as the emotionally confused leads, making this small, new film by Garrel a triumphant one.



MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM (TIED)

Youth (Paolo Sorrentino) Italy/USA

There had been some advanced press regarding the newest film by Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) as somewhat of a disappointment, but disappointment doesn’t even begin to describe the painfully overstated and poorly acted 2015 film by the Italian director, Youth. A clumsily executed allegory, Youth places veteran actors Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in a Swiss resort where the young and the old (both of whom are quite haggard looking through Sorrentino’s overly elegant lens) strive to preserve their glory days while suppressing their worst memories and past acquaintances. With the success of The Great Beauty and the anticipated HBO series, The Young Pope, Sorrentino now has an American audience that he wants to continue to cultivate, and Youth is tailor-made to what he believes Americans want from an “Italian film.” As a result, it is a diluted, nearly insultingly dumbed down version of the style of his previous Italian films; Youth is a caricature of what Sorrentino believes the Oscar-following American audiences want, specifically those who herald films such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which Sorrentino mentioned as an inspiration for commercial success during the Q&A). To add further injury, as made apparent in the post-screening conversation at AFI Fest between Caine and the director, Sorrentino does not have mastery of the English language, and this inability seems to have played a part in the facile dialog, especially between Michael Caine and his daughter in the film played by Rachel Weisz. Unlike his 2013’s The Great Beauty, Youth never fully grabs its central theme, leaving a morass of pandering images and dialog meant to impress rather than to complete a story.

The Club (Pablo Larraín) Chile

Second on our list of disappointments is The Club, Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s first feature film since completing his Pinochet trilogy with the highly acclaimed 2012 film, No. Having seen the predominance of Larraín’s work, it is clear that he is a bit of a hammer when it comes to making a political or social statement in his films. But whereas his earlier films, Tony Manero and Post Mortem, bring the level of symbolism to borderline surreal, The Club mires itself in a predictable story and thinly drawn up characters that cannot substantiate the severity of its best intentions to showcase the excesses and transgressions of the Roman Catholic Church. Much was made prior to the screening about Larraín’s choice to film with 40 year old Russian lenses similar to those used by Andrei Tarkovsky in Stalker, but unlike his choice of using early 1980s camcorders for No, which places you into the time period of that film set during the famed Pinochet “Yes/No” vote, the over diffused lens of The Club fails to enhance the mood or setting of the film, rendering it down to a trivial visual style detail. Alejandro Goic, who portrays Padre Ortega in The Club, explained after our screening that the film was shot in twelve days, and we’re sad to say it looks and feels that way.


 

       WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

Goodnight Mommy (Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz) Austria

I love horror films; though I wouldn’t consider myself a fanatic by any means, I am always glad to hear about a new film from the genre that has piqued a friend’s interest. Unfortunately over the last few years, I have been besieged with not necessarily bad horror films but bland ones that have been presented to me as “game changers” that turn out to be the same tired premises in a new visual wrapper. Such was the case last year with the painfully bland Jennifer Kent film, The Babadook, which took its tired familial allegory into horror genre in an attempt to make it more interesting but ended up being neither frightening or innovative in any way. This year was David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows, which loses steam quickly despite its clever premise by betraying its own mythology and adding lame CGI effects where they weren’t necessary. Now that I have made my peace with the two films that I just mentioned, let me say that It Follows and The Babadook look like The Exorcist compared to the putrid slop that is this year’s overhyped horror film, Goodnight Mommy. Two worthless bratty, yuppie larvae who play with huge roaches in their pristine country home become suspicious that their recently surgically altered mommy, who has just returned home, is not actually their mommy. The boys hogtie their mom and proceed to torture her while Funny Games styled illusions of potential freedom for mom are danced in front of you to add tension or something like tension. Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s lame allegory here is that mom values appearance and status over her adorable yet subhuman children. Needless cruelty and creepy crawlies do not constitute horror nor do trite attempts to place pretentious vile crap like this into a sterile horror wrapper to sell to the States as high art.


BEST REPERTORY EXPERIENCE

Get Mean (Ferdinando Baldi)  1975 Italy/USA at Cinefamily

Shortly after arriving to Los Angeles and becoming members of Cinefamily, we had a blast attending a screening with cast included of a rarely seen spaghetti/time travel western from 1975 entitled Get Mean. Once Asian cinema began to overwhelm the action film landscape in the 1970s, the days of the spaghetti western were numbered, and thus the genre had to get crafty or else ride quickly into the sunset. To the rescue comes actor Tony Anthony, an American living in Italy at the time of Leone, who was well known for The Stranger character that first appeared in 1967’s A Dollar Between The Teeth. That film was successful, but Anthony was one of the first to see the writing on a wall in realizing that the genre needed some fresh ideas, so a year after that film debuted, Anthony and director Luigi Vanzi took The Stranger way east for The Silent Stranger (aka A Stranger In Japan), mixing the western with the samurai film. Tony wasn’t done yet with the Japanese sword epic, as he teamed up with veteran sword and sandal director Ferdinando Baldi and brought in ex-Beatle Ringo Starr to play the heavy for a spaghetti treatment of the blind swordsman, Zatoichi, in 1971 called Blindman, about you guessed it, a blind gunfighter. For years Blindman was next to impossible to get here in the States, and for that reason, it was pushed into cult film status alongside Anthony’s fourth entry into the Stranger series: a bizarre, genre-bending spaghetti from 1975 called Get Mean.

For Get Mean, Tony Anthony reunited with director Baldi and his co-star from Blindman, Lloyd Battista for this fantasy western where The Stranger, shortly after being dragged for a few miles by his dying horse past an ominous Phantasmesque silver orb, is offered fifty grand by a witch to escort a Princess back to Spain where she can regain her throne from the hundreds of Vikings and Moors who are battling it out back home. As bizarre as all of this sounds, Get Mean is an outrageously entertaining film which set up an even more entertaining Q&A between Anthony, Battista, and executive producer Ronald Schneider. They regaled the audience with bizarre stories from the making of the film that defied anything that I have ever heard coming from an independent production. There were also stories of weird financial transactions that kept Anthony on location while everyone else bailed in fear of retribution from investors and stories of close call money deliveries such a tale when twelve thousand dollars came just in time to feed Get Mean’s enormous cast before things “got ugly.” The outrageously charming cast stayed afterwards to sign posters and tell more stories to fans in the Silent Film Theater courtyard. Quite an evening.

A clip from the Get Mean Q&A at Cinefamily:


Original trailer for Get Mean  

 

 











 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

Generoso’s 2014 Top Ten Film List, Supplemental Films, Biggest Disappointments, Worst Film Of The Year and, Best Rep Film Experience

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2014…Another excellent year of cinema has passed.   Much love to my dearest Lily who watched all but two of these films with me.  Romania and Chile continue to pour out excellent new work and my favorite is by the great Arnaud Desplechin, who can do no wrong in my book.

Note; At the time of the final edit, I regrettably have not seen the new Mike Leigh film “Mr. Turner,which I hear is sensational or the new one by Bruno Dumont or Hong Sang-soo but I did just see the new Paul Thomas Anderson film “Inherent Vice” and Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” and both did not make the cut.  


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MY FAVORITE FILMS OF 2014

1) Jimmy P: The Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian-Arnaud Desplechin (France)

There is much that went into my selection of this film for my pick as the best of 2014.  We have all seen the films based on psychological case studies but Desplechin offers no quick solution to this very complex case of a World War Two Native American who is suffering from catatonia and severe headaches.  Benecio Del Toro turns in the best performance of his career as Jimmy P, a Plains Indian who is treated and becomes friends with a psychoanalyst named Georges Devereux (Mathieu Alamaric) who is one of the few people in his field that understand the culture of the Plains Indian .  There is no buildup to a melodramatic breakthrough as it blends this very particular psychological trauma while fostering a compelling friendship between its leads.  As with all work by Desplechin, “Jimmy P” is masterful storytelling on a level that few directors can accomplish these days.

2) Norte: The End of History-Lav Diaz (Philippines)

Cast in the same mold as the films of Bela Tarr and Jacques Rivette, Lav Diaz’s approach to narrative storytelling relies heavily on the duration of scenes to set up mood than most directors working today.  A brilliant re-working of the Dostoyevsky’s classic “Crime and Punishment” with a length of 250 minutes, Diaz nuances that classic of Russian literature with the changing social imperatives that have resulted from the political nightmare in his native Philippines.  Diaz supplants Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov with Fabian, a law school dropout who quotes Neitzsche and radical philosophies to his friends until he must deliver on his threats of revolution.  What truly distinguishes this adaptation of Crime and Punishment from other previous versions is the creation of “Joaquin,” a simple farmer who is sentenced for Fabian’s crime.  The story then becomes Fabian’s eventual self-destruction from guilt, but without pressure and fear from a detective like Porfiry; Instead the guilt comes only from what Fabian’s crime has done to Joaquin and his family which causes their lives to descend into a sad hell, which then parallels Fabian’s journey into madness.   An epic adaptation that never feels it’s running time.  Despite the unrelenting tone of the film, you remain transfixed until the very end.

3) Winter Sleep-Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey)

For almost two decades, Nuri Bilge Ceylan has set a standard for filmmaking that few directors can live up to.  In fact, Nuri’s major competition has been Nuri himself.  With the increasing high standards that he has set for himself with his last three films, all better than the last, it would take a miracle for him to surpass the genius of his 2011 film “Once Upon a Time In Anatolia.”  Winter Sleep is a semi-autobiographical sequel of sorts to the wretched character he created in his own image in “Climates.” Here we have Mr. Aydin, a vile egoist who sits like a king inside his mountainside hotel, pontificating about his epic thespian past while his local business interests stifle the village below.  Mr. Aydin is married to the beautiful Nihal, who is eyeing the door, and they both live with Aydin’s sister Necla, who tears at Mr. Aydin with sharp, sometimes hysterical barbs throughout the first half of the film.  Funnier than any previous Ceylan outing, “Winter Sleep” does not have the complex plot or transcendence of “Once Upon a Time In Anatolia” but it is no less daring and intense on its bold attack of its villain (a Ceylan in the future perhaps?).


4) Under The Skin-Jonathan Glazer (England)

Before I make one single comment about this sensational film from Jonathan Glazer, I would just like to apologize to our director for the hideous Q&A that he endured at the hands of the audience at the Coolidge Corner.  Pretentious twats they all were, and I truly feel sorry for the onslaught of the usual Boston, “I must ask a question so you know that I am smart” question/statement: “Why didn’t you adapt the better novel by Michael Faber?” Asked one consistently irritating audience member who should have met the end of many of Scarlett Johansson’s victims in Under The Skin.  Now, let’s talk about the film…Glazer took one of the most desirable women the world, Scarlett Johansson, donned her in a black wig to not only hide her celebrity but to enhance her inner femme fatale, and set her lose in Scotland to lure actual unsuspecting men on the street into her van as to then bring them into the eventual destination of her alien abattoir to become a food product back on her world.  What remains is a clever essay on what makes us desirable and ultimately human in the same way that Roeg’s “Performance” would challenge our ideas of gender and sexuality.

5) Night Moves-Kelly Reichardt (USA)

To me, Kelly Reichardt, is one of the few great voices left in American independent cinema.  Since her debut film, River of Grass, some twenty years ago, Reichardt has established herself as the queen of minimalist filmmaking here in the States.  She has been noticeable absent since her last gem, 2010s “Meek’s Cutoff” and she has come back with her best film to date, “Night Moves.”  Less the pure observational construction of her earlier films such as “Oldjoy”, “Night Moves” is a critical indictment of the modern eco movement. Here, Josh (Jesse Eisenberg) and Dena (Dakota Fanning) live among the faux-liberal collective farms, ignoring their own privilege as they plot to destroy a seemingly unimportant hydroelectric dam with the help of Harmon (Peter Saarsgard), a hypocritical and marginalized Gulf War veteran.  Josh and Dena seem to be existing in an era that no longer exists, and only plot to prove themselves as true believers in the cause as suggested by the title of the film which is drawn from a boat they use in their terrorist action.  The boat is interestingly named after the long lost Arthur Penn film from the 1970s when such actions were still relevant.   Reichardt skillfully attacks their belief system and methods by getting top performances from the films three leads.

6) Exhibition-Joanna Hogg (England)

Hogg casts Viv Albertine of The Slits as “D” and artist Liam Gillick as “H,” a childless couple who live in their gorgeous modernist London apartment sans children.  They are both quite successful, sexually dead, and obsessive over their splendid home, which for some unknown reason, they are dying to unload.  While alone, “D” roams about and eroticses her surrounding with a masturbatory array of poses and grindings.  As ridiculous as it all seems, Hogg’s purpose it seems is not to humiliate this couple, but to have the audience almost revel in their perverse bourgeois tendencies to find a impossible explanation for their erratic behavior.   Are they simply falling apart?  Or are “D” and “H” finally understanding that this amount of comfortable living may in conflict with their own creative and intellectual growth?  Hogg leaves that decision for you.

7) A Field In England-Ben Wheatley (England)

I might be alone here in my adoration of this psychedelic history piece set during the English Civil War, written and directed by the always surprising Ben Wheatley.   Here Wheatley takes a group of war deserters on a whimsical path through the countryside until they meet with the brutal necromancer, O’Neil (Michael Smiley) who doses our deserters with magic mushrooms in order for them to help him on his quest to find a proverbial pot of gold.  Shot handheld and  in black and white,  Wheatley creates a disturbing environment that is unnerving, clumsy, but ultimately victorious as his (Wheatley) determination to tell a story in a way that has never been done before wins out over any small shortcomings that this film possess.  All of this culminating in the best three minutes of experimental imagery and sound  that I have witnessed from a pseudo mainstream director this year.   This may not be for all, but it did make me excited for every scene in a way that only a handful of films have done in this decade.

8) Child’s Pose- Calin Peter Netzer (Romania)

And the winner of this year’s overbearing mother award goes to Cornelia Keneres (amazing performance from veteran actress, Luminita Gheorghiu).  Like many films of this Romanian New Wave that we have been graced with over the last decade, older characters such as our Cornelia, represent the old Ceausescu led Romania, a slightly more corrupt world of bribes and favors that still has not died off to this day.  Cornelia is a well-off and successful architect who is not pleased at her son Barbu’s (Bogdan Dumitrache) choice of partners, a fact that she makes very clear to her sister early in the film.  When Barbu causes a major incident, mom comes to the rescue but not in the intense, unconditional loving way that Kim Hye-ja modest matriarch does in Boon Joon Ho’s.”Mother.” No, Cornelia is packing misery in the form of backroom deals to get her son off, and she is thoroughly despised for her actions by all parties.  A critical, mean film from the country that loves a dour moment and a film that also contains one powerhouse performance from Gheorghiu.  A phenomenal sour punch in the gut.

9) The Overnighters-Jesse Moss (USA)

It has been said that some documentaries connect an audience simply due to its subject matter now matter how it’s presented (Marc Singer’s excellent 2000 film, “Dark Days” is a fine example) and some receive notice  to its production value alone, amounting to little more than eye candy (like 2010s Detropia).  Given the subject matter and editing of Jesse Moss’ fine documentary, “The Overnighters,” I would still be impressed if the doc were shot on a 2004 flip phone.   Since the controversial technique of “fracking” arrived in North Dakota in 2008, the state has had an employment boom and has also become the second largest oil producing state behind Texas.  So, what is there to do with a town like Wiliston, North Dakota, a town that has been besieged by workers from all over America who are looking for a chance to make good money during this dead economy. Considering that there is absolutely no housing available, and that it is illegal to sleep in your car, where will all of these incoming workers sleep?   Here enters our hero, Pastor Jay Reinke, who much to the outrage of his fellow neighbors is allowing these workers to sleep in his church and in the church’s parking lot.  Herein lies the conflict of the documentary, but the answer to this problem is much more complicated than anyone had ever imagined.  Hopeful and heartbreaking, this non-glamourous documentary clearly shows the modern ramifications that result from an act of charity towards desperate group of strangers by a flawed but very good man.

10) When Evening Falls On Bucharest or Metabolism-Corneliu Porumbiou (Romania)

Paul (Bogdan Dumitrache) , the protagonist and possibly the alter-ego of Romanian director, Corneliu Porumbiou, is faking an ulcer during the filming of his new movie so he could have some extra romantic time with his lead actress Alina (Diana Avramut).  This may sound like the beginning of some “rom com” but fans of Pourumbiou’s work fully know that these two characters words and actions will be picked apart clean by the time the credits roll.  This film has little to do with their actual relationship but more about how that relationship plays out in the form of cinema.  If they speak about nudity for example, the visuals will follow suit and every action will either affirm or condemn the statements that were previously made.  Like Porumbiou’s last film, the dark and comedic, “Police Adjective” there is an analysis of the medium and language that occurs here in “When Evening Falls…” that allows the viewer a chance to connect dialog and visuals in a way that only Porumbiou can do.  Also, never has there been a funnier colonoscopy scene and if that doesn’t pull you in, I don’t know what will.


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SUPPLEMENTAL LIST

1) Gloria-Sebastian Leilo (Chile)

Since the fall of Pinoche, Chile has been experiencing an exciting  new wave of film production.  Pablo Larraín, Patricio Guzmán, and Sebastian Leilo have all looked back at the days during Pinoche and have also shown us a modern Chile that is both full of hope and promise but sometimes regret for what occurred there between 1973 and 1990.  “Gloria,” Leilo’s fourth feature film since 2006 is a sometimes sad and heart wrenching story of two divorced people who are trying to bury a past that never seems to leave them. Wonderful performances from Paulina García and Sergio Hernández in the lead roles make this a can’t miss film.

2) Super Duper Alice Cooper-Sam Dunn (Canada)

Admittedly, I am a huge Alice Cooper fan so my expectations were very high for this biopic on everyone’s favorite horror madman from Detroit.  Sure, there are the usual moments of “Behind The Music drug use and abuse” that would be in almost any biopic centered around a musician from the 1970s, right?  What does propels this story; Is the absolutely daring use of no on-screen interviews.  Yes, all of your information is transmitted through over-narration and a dazzling array of animated photos and graphics, as well as rarely seen archival footage and although I normally repel from such slick documentaries, this particular time the unique presentation of information gives the narrative a timeless effect.  Like Alice himself, this doc has a lot of flash and viscera, but inside there is a compelling story of a very entertaining preacher’s son who got very weird, was widely adored, and became a music legend while still being a pretty nice guy.

3) Me and You-Bernardo Bertolucci (Italy)

To be frank, Bertolucci has been on quite a bad tear since “The Last Emperor” won every award possible in 1987.  To be blunt, as much as I admire his early work, from “Le Commare Secca” in 1962 to “The Last Emperor,” I am as repelled by most of his output since.  To make matters worse, a few of these films during this time have been a kind of clumsy apology for some of Bertolucci’s earlier beliefs and artistic mistakes such as Bernardo’s awful 1993 film, “Little Buddha”,  which is clearly an apology for his previously held Marxist beliefs.  That said,  I truly feel that his superb film from this year, “Me and You” is an on-point correction of all of the mistakes that Bertolucci made with his controversial 1979 film, “Luna”, a film that wasted a superb performance from the late Jill Clayburgh as an opera singing mother who has an incestuous relationship with her junkie son.  “Me and You” is the story of Lorenzo (Jacopo Olmo Antinori), the discontented son of a wealthy overbearing mother who is so attached to her son that he schemes to go on a school trip so that he can simply hide in the basement of his apartment building to get a few days of peace and freedom.  All is well until Lorenzo’s gorgeous junkie half-sister, Olivia (Tea Falco), shows up with a ton of attitude and crashes Lorenzo’s hideout because she has no place to go. Over the next few days, Olivia begins to fascinate Lorenzo, but where an older Bertolucci would have infused an awkward sexuality, here their relationship turns into several small conversations that help Lorenzo figure out why their parents divorced in the first place.  Though not in the realm of his earlier masterworks, “Me and You” is a  modest film with real things to say about urban young people in today’s Italy and unlike the pointless nostalgic bore that was Linklater’s “Boyhood,”  “Me and You” is a concise film that goes deep into the thought process of its two main characters and is never concerned with just feeding you slices of nostalgia.

4) Jodorowsky’s Dune– Frank Pavich (USA)

The story of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt at producing a film version of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel, “Dune,” has been bandied about for years in film circles.  The legend had it that in 1973, Jodorowsky, fresh off the cult successes of his films “El Topo” and “The Holy Mountain,” had spent considerable time and resources to assemble a group of some of the hottest young talent in Hollywood to come up with storyboards and a script to make a pitch for funds from Hollywood to make “Dune.”  His bizarre selection of actors from Orson Welles, to Salvadore Dali was part of this insane plan, which according to this very entertaining doc was completely true.  Jodorowsky himself fuels the narrative of this documentary by regaling sometimes hysterical stories of how he lured in talents like Swiss surrealist painter and sculptor, H.R. Giger and young special effects guru, Dan O’Bannon, to work on this adaptation of a book that Jodorowsky had never bothered to read in the first place!  After years of pitches, the job of filming “Dune” went to David Lynch who we all know really made a humongous mess out of the project;  A fact that still seems to bring Jodorowsky much joy to this day.  A incredibly entertaining documentary, that not only clears up the myths of this attempted version of “Dune,” but also gives you a glimpse into what Hollywood can fiendishly do with the creative remnants of projects that are sent to the scrap bin.

5) Closed Curtain-Jafar Panahi (Iran)

This is Jafar Panahi’s second film that he has made while under house arrest.  The sentence carried out a couple of years ago also stated that Panahi could not make any films for the next two decades, so this film was actually directed by Kambuzia Partovi (not really).  Unlike his last outing, “This Is Not A Film,”  “Closed Curtain” is a sort-of narrative piece that tells the story of  a famed writer who arrives at his beautiful home on the shore with a very interesting piece of contraband in tow, a dog named “Boy.” I say “contraband” because the act of walking or owning a dog will soon cost you 74 lashes in the country of Iran because these animals have been deemed “unclean” and a symbol of decadent influence from the West.  While our protagonist covers his windows to keep the eyes of the government off of his new friend, “Boy” watches a real television report that shows the grotesque execution of dogs.  Our writer then hopes to rest quietly but is awoken late into the night by a brother and sister who are being hunted by the police.  Our hero offers to hide the sister who behaves erratically and she is soon tearing down the writer’s curtains.  Soon after that, the real Jafar Panahi appears and interacts with neighbors and it is at this point that the narrative of the film gets thrown away.  The brother, sister, and the writer occasionally reappear in the film, but these moments are fragmented and this new structure suggests that Panahi does not see a point in making a film under these conditions.  As to not give spoilers, I feel that the pervasive tone and structure of “Closed Curtain”  is there solely to makes the viewer wonder as to how long Panahi will continue to make films given these circumstances. If Panahi’s  “This Is Not a Film” was an act of rebellion, “Closed Curtain” may be his waving of the white flag.

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MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM (TIED)

Ida-Pawel Pawlikowski (Poland)

After watching two of his previous films, “Summer of Love” and “Last Resort,” I did not have any desire to see more work from director Pawel Pawlikowski until I read astonishing reviews of his new film, “Ida”  in both Film Comment and Cinemascope.  Sadly, as I believed about his film “Last Resort” which I found to be an almost shot for shot rip off of Victor Nuñez’s superior 1993 film,  “Ruby In Paradise,” “Ida” is an watered down “homage” that carelessly references other masterworks of Polish cinema (here he borrows from Kawalerowicz and Wajda) to tell the story of a novice nun who is met by her Jewish aunt before she is to take her final vows.  What follows in this brief throwaway of a film is a kind of road movie where our novice nun is exposed to the hideous truth of her Jewish parents demise during World War Two, which has little dramatic impact given the speed of the narrative.  After her aunt’s suicide, our novice then begins an immediate and almost surrealistic transformation (Or is it a dream? Dear Lord, save me)  that includes wild jazz musicians, parties, and promiscuity that borders on the comical.   A hack job of a film.

The Grand Budapest-Hotel-Wes Anderson (USA)

Everyone’s white hope of direction, Wes Anderson, had been shooting little adorable blanks since his 1999 masterpiece, “Rushmore.” Based on my love for his first two films, I also admit to being as guilty as every other American male of my generation who kept seeing each subsequent film in the hopes that Wes would regain his form. So, when “Moonrise Kingdom” was released to much deserved critical praise in 2012, it reminded all of us that maybe Wes should have possibly slowed down a bit during the last decade so that he could have made something that was a worthy followup to the aforementioned “Rushmore.”  That is why I am saddened to say that “The Grand Budapest Hotel” can be tossed into the woodpile along with the other trite Anderson efforts in the 2000s.  This star heavy mess neither excels through its leads or its story, a Marx Brothers styled farce whose allegory suggests a condensed World War One style conflict centered around the titular hotel.  Ralph Fiennes is the only redeemable thing about this tired, frenetic mess that seemed to wow the audience more with its star power more than any other aspect it tried to present.  Let’s just call it “A Mad Mad Mad Mad World Part Two” and file this ornate phone cozy in a cute hand-painted box.

Boyhood –Richard Linklater (USA)

I have been assassinating this film from about a thousand directions since I saw it a few months back, so let me try and take a new angle on this overlong farce..So, if “Boyhood” is just an observational film about a boy and his family with no direct political slant infused into the narrative (or at least that is how it has been explained than Mr. Linklater) then please explain how this “working poor” or even “lower middle class” family can exist in cities like Houston or San Marcos, Texas without one Hispanic or Latino person in their inner circle?   I have never pulled the race card in a review, but if this film has no intended statement and it is just a honest look at a boy growing up in this geographic region with those socioeconomic levels, than explain how that could possibly happen?  Also, your main character’s celebratory journey to whitebread Austin to hunt for colleges must be the bee’s knees for the milquetoast set who need to escape the world of hard working brown people, but to me it is another reminder that your films have almost consistently been made for the upper class Johnsons and Smiths of this world so if its OK with you, I’ll sit out your next few films.

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WORST FILM OF THE YEAR (TIED)

Memphis-Tim Sutton (USA)

Hi Tim Sutton, it is so awesome that you love African American culture, but here’s the problem; After seeing your film, I am fairly confident that you are another useless over privileged Brooklyn hipster who has never really known any African Americans.  At least known them  in a profound enough way that would have given you the confidence to make a film about their world like you done and failed with here.  So your hackneyed, done a million times, sketch of a story which just seems to be the framework for a bevy of Instagram-style imagery to make other sad talent-less children like you think that they are seeing “art,” is actually doing immense disservice to the people and community whom you are trying to lovingly represent.  Feel better?  Your finished film comes across as one of those mid 1960s well-intentioned, but hopelessly clueless liberal trifles like 1965s “A Patch of Blue”  that bored me to tears then so believe me that your little “musical drama” put me into an expensive coma ($13 at the IFC Center in NYC to watch this on a screen the size of a card table).  Couldn’t you have just have easily asked mom and dad for less money and made a film about your true roots, like a hard-hitting documentary about your favorite Williamsburg ukulele or cronut shop?

Snowpiercer-Bong Jo Hong (Korea-US/France)

I had feared that this mess would happen last year not soon after seeing Bong Joon-ho’s fellow countryman Park Chan-wook flounder in his American film debut “Stoker,”  To make matters worse, Bong Joon-ho has suffered an even worse fate than Park, as he has tried to adapt French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jean-Marc Rochette, into English (a language Bong does not speak) with the help of the meager talent that is playwright Kelly Masterson (who speaks no Korean, of course).  You got all that, right?  “Snowpiercer” is a dreadful, heavy handed, pandering political “science fiction” film that contains the funniest (not intentional) moment of dialog in cinema this year; The line occurs when our hero played by Chris Evans utters the following line, “I hate them because they forced me to find out what a baby tastes like,” during the supposed dramatic climax of the film.  You want more?  Tilda Swinton with fake teeth, playing comically spastic (I’m done with her now BTW), a bunch of unsympathetic extras from the “occupy movement,” and a clairvoyant who can predict the future but not what’s through the door in front of her.  Also, I cannot count the amount of internet and print media crybabies who posted about upset they were that “the Weinstein’s shuffled the film off to suburban theaters after Bong refused to edit the film down to two hours.”  Well, you know what makes me upset?  The fact that this film made me agree for the first time in my life with that talentless enemy of the people, Harvey Weinstein.  Well, not completely, as I think that “Snowpiercer” isn’t even good enough for the mall theaters that it was forced into and should have been sent directly to North Korea in the hopes that they wouldn’t take the USA (or South Korea for that matter) seriously enough to invade.  Lastly, as a loyal devotee of graphic novels for my entire life, I have this message for all of you who have not yet learned from awful graphic novel adaptations like;  “Scott Pilgrim,” “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” or this hunk of crap..Just because it was adapted from an indie comic book, it does not make it cutting edge.  And before you say anything else..Yes, film adaptations of video games are a much worse proposition.

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BEST REPERTORY EXPERIENCE (TIED)

Fat City (1972) Director: John Huston.  Novelist/Screenwriter Leonard Gardner’s Q&A

Former boxer turned screenwriter Leonard Gardner’s March 31st, 2014 appearance at the Harvard Film Archive will go down as one of the best experiences that I have ever had at the Carpenter Center.  Still as sharp as a tack, Gardner had a bottomless bag of stories about his experiences working with legendary director John Huston on set in Stockton, California during the filming of “Fat City.”  To me, the simple fact that Huston allowed Gardner to amend the script during shooting tells me why the film has a brilliant looseness of dialog that is on par with any film made during that period by much younger, more “hip” directors.  The only thing that I regret about that night was that I didn’t try to shake Gardner’s hand in fear that I might accidentally kiss his cheek in gratitude for his appearance, and thus possibly me getting a mouth full of fist. Still, that would have been worth it for me.

Killer Joe (2012) Director: William Friedkin

William Friedkin, is a scholar and a gentleman who the evening before the screening of his film “Killer Joe” had stayed at the Harvard Film Archive until almost midnight to speak with film students and fans alike after the screening of his ignored masterpiece, “Sorcerer.”.  So, when his brutal, 2012 film, “Killer Joe” screened the next night, I didn’t expect Mr. Friedkin to be as insanely hysterical as he was, culminating with a response to my friend Sean Burn’s question about Friedkin’s choice to use Clarence Carter’s suggestive song “Strokin,” during the credits of what was a very nasty film.  Friedkin retorted that “every film and play, even “Hamlet” would be drastically improved with “Strokin” at the end.”  The next five minutes of his response were a blur due to my laughter.   Somewhere lost in this was Friedkin, whom my wife Lily and I had met the night before, began his Q&A by waving at us and saying; “Hey guys, great to see you again.”  All I have to say is; “Wow, what a guy.”

See you next year!