LILY AND GENEROSO’S 2018 TOP TEN FILM LIST, SUPPLEMENTAL FILMS, BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT, AND BEST REP FILM EXPERIENCE

Standard

Between November 23rd and 26th, we lost three very distinct talents who were the creative forces behind some of the most innovative films of the 1970s: Nicolas Roeg, Bernardo Bertolucci, and Gloria Katz. During these three days when each of these artists passed away, we were in the process of writing the below list of our favorite films from this year and needless to write, but the conversations we had about these filmmakers’ works at the times of their deaths greatly influenced the selections that we made.Therefore, in keeping with these artists commitment to evolving the language of cinema, we feel that the films that we have selected from our feature film viewing from 2018 made valiant and substantial strides in moving cinema forward. We dedicate this year’s best of list to Roeg, Bertolucci, and Katz, and we cannot express enough our deepest thanks for their films that have meant so very much to us.  

We would also like to thank the following organizations for programming the cinema that made this list possible: The American Film Institute’s Festival, The Acropolis Cinema and their Locarno in Los Angeles Festival, The American Cinematheque’s Egyptian and Aero Theaters, and the Central Cinema.


1. Meteors (Meteorlar) / Turkey, The Netherlands / dir. Gürcan Keltek
Weaving together scenic and tumultuous images from nature with footage of people in the midst of political action and violence, Meteors stunningly and repeatedly layers these images on top of each other to form an elaborate discourse about the transient, fleeting nature of peace and violence in our societies and in our world. Director Gürcan Keltek uses two specific political events, the Turkish military’s breaking of a ceasefire with the Kurdish Workers’ Party and the Women’s Initiative for Peace, as starting reference points to capture the emerging political landscape of conflict in southeast Turkey. With the footage from these events, Keltek lures you into believing that Meteors will be a political film that will offer first person insights into the context and climate of these events, but when the images of hunters and prey, meteor showers, and even a solar eclipse takeover, and no deep explanations of the political conflicts are given, a larger conceptual discussion rises, asking the question: “Is violence a fundamental part of nature?” While the footage of aggressive moments across species (humans of course included), suggests that violence is inherent in our nature as animals, Keltek’s deft intertwining of more tranquil, meditative images reminds us that even though violence is part of us, we can have peace. Thus, like a meteor falling to earth, violence, though it catches our immediate attention, can and must fade, and it is our responsibility to remember that peace, like the meteor before it burned into non-existence, did exist and that the beauty of peace is something to be preserved, since we know it will end.

 

2. Occidental / France / dir. Neïl Beloufa
We saw Occidental in the first weeks of 2018, and it stayed as a highmark for us throughout the year. Nonchalant in its political ideas, audacious in its visuals, and purple-pink-soaked throughout, Occidental is a claustrophobic film of collisions that all take place in one night at the Hotel Occidental. With its set built entirely in director Neïl Beloufa’s studio, Occidental’s images are meticulously constructed with the hope that every character, every object, every sound will evoke a reaction from the viewer. Clashes based on race and ethnicity, gender, and sexuality emerge, simply based on how different characters interact with each other, and the film maintains an unwavering hysteria from a prolonged feeling of entrapment due to the political uprising happening outside the hotel and the possibility of some terrorist activity inside the building. What makes Occidental exceptional is one very basic thing: you cannot look away from it. Beloufa, who is primarily a sculptor and installation artist, throws everything he has at Occidental, and the outcome is a piece of art that has the visual mystery of an installation with a deceptively minimal narrative that makes you want to soak yourself in its intriguing glow and not leave until Beloufa forces you out.

 

3. Zama / Argentina / dir. Lucrecia Martel
Based on the novel of the same name by Antonio di Benedetto, Lucrecia Martel’s first feature since The Headless Woman in 2008, is set on the coast of Paraguay in the late 1700s. Zama explores the grotesque legacy of European colonialism in South America by witnessing the mental collapse of Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cachoa), a Spanish officer, who fruitlessly awaits his transfer to Buenos Aires. Our protagonist saunters through one borderline surrealistically hideous example of imperialist exploitation after another and descends on a course of continuous rejection as he visits his other Spanish compatriots who never fully accept him, as he is not of Spanish birth, and as Zama’s mood declines, so grows the cards against him as he is severely disciplined by his superior officer and then rejected by the indigenous woman who gives birth to his child. Martel’s bold storytelling devices are the true strength of the film, as she incorporates hallucinatory visuals and sound constructed into intentionally overlayed conversations so that you can share Don Diego’s psychedelic journey into madness. Just as Martel masterfully did with her central figure in The Headless Woman, with Zama, she has created a film that expresses a sharp social statement while delving so deeply into her central characters minds as they sense everything falling apart around them that you feel the regret in every poor choice they make.

 

4. The Wolf House (La Casa Lobo) / Chile / dirs. Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña

Filmed in a single astonishing animated sequence, Cristóbal León and Joaquín Cociña’s feature, La Casa Lobo, is the story of Maria, a German-Chilean woman who hides from danger in a dilapidated house with two piglets. Using a storybook construction to amplify the insipidness of the horror Maria is trying to escape, the plot of La Casa Lobo is based on the abhorrent Dignity Colony in Chile, a secret society founded by Germans who left their own country after World War II. The Dignity Colony, which existed for almost forty years and thrived under Pinochet, operated a facility that detained and tortured political prisoners, and was founded by a former Nazi and child abuser, Paul Schäfer. León and Cociña’s particular technique evokes some of the eeriness that is present in the work of the Quay Brothers, which amplifies the ugliness inherent in this tragic moment in their country’s history. Nothing written here will do adequate justice to the brilliance of the visual elements of this incredible and affecting film.  

 

5. The House That Jack Built / Denmark / dir: Lars Von Trier
Von Trier’s use of the grotesque pushes the limit on image-based studies of pain, which are all too common in today’s film and television. Today, we see many media studies that are so precise in conveying people’s pain under the veil of bringing attention to a social or political problem, when in reality, many of these media properties are simply created to appeal as banal eye-candy, or even worse, as exploitative imagery that is there to appeal to prurient or morbid interests. With The House That Jack Built, Von Trier deceptively pulls in the viewer’s natural desire to feed off of human misery to deliver a sharp critique of the creators (even going so far as to critique himself, and with the final scene of the film, the hubris that that consumes creators) of this type of media, and the audience members who devour it without conscience. The House That Jack Built is a must see for the fans of the Serial podcast and any other dramatized true-crime media who feel as though they are elevating themselves while thriving off of the pain of others, but ultimately are unaffected by their brief sense of thrill that they saw and heard a polished, non-offensive story about something forbidden (but really not forbidden). Von Trier throws at you all of the lurid images and sounds of murder that most crime-related media would avoid, and at the end, he mocks yours and his desensitization.

 

6. Burning (Beoning) / South Korea/ dir: Lee Chang-dong
It has been eight years since Lee Chang-dong’s eloquent and culturally critical feature Poetry, which has as its protagonist an elderly woman who attempts to enrich herself by taking poetry classes while desperately trying to solicit funds to compensate the victim of her grandson’s sexual assault. It is a searing critique of contemporary South Korea, and with Burning, Lee returns with a caustic statement about the loss of Korean identity for both older and younger generations. Loosely based on the short story by Haruki Murakami, Burning, like Poetry uses literary devices as its engine in stressing the importance of creating in a rapidly shifting world. Jong-su (Ah-In Yoo), a fledgling writer, runs into Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon), a neighbor from the same rural village where Jong-su grew up and now resides in while his father, a failing farmer, awaits trial for assaulting a government official. After an intimate encounter, Hae-mi asks Jong-su to look after her cat while she’s on a spiritual trip to Africa. During Hae-mi’s absence, Jong-su develops feelings for Hae-mi, but when she returns, she arrives with Ben (Steven Yeun), an enigmatic young man of mysterious wealth who will come to represent the soulless realty of contemporary South Korea. Like Andrey Zvyagintsev’s 2017 masterwork, Loveless, Burning is a flawlessly executed allegory that cuts deep into a society that values status infinitely more than art or humanity.

 

7. Diamantino / Portugal and USA / dirs. Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt
Considering the gravity of the myriad of crucial world issues addressed in directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s fractured fairytale of a feature, Diamantino, it is stunning to us that the whole affair chimes in at a mere ninety-two minutes and is as enjoyable as it is. The whimsical and somewhat Guy Maddin-esque narrative construction is centered on the titular character (played by Miguel Gomes’ favorite, Carloto Cotta), a Cristiano Ronaldo stand-in, who carries the hopes and dreams of his native Portugal on the pitch, whilst images of giant fluffy puppies dance through his head. Prior to his World Cup Final appearance, we find our Diamantino lounging comfortably on his yacht without a care in his gleeful skull with the one person who has truly adored our soccer star throughout his life, his pure-hearted and loving father. However, during this day on the sea, Diamantino is confronted by something he normally does not have to deal with, as approaching his pleasure cruise is the grim reality of the refugee crisis in the form of people who are clinging to life on the waters outside of his luxurious boat. This moment of reality has finally inserted something in the head of our football star that is not in the shape of a mammoth Pekingese, and due to this intense reality, Diamantino blows the penalty kick that costs Portugal the World Cup. What follows isn’t an existential crisis for Diamantino, but rather an acknowledgement that a far different world exists outside of his life and football, which leads our protagonist into a conflict between the need to do good for those around him by adopting a refugee of sorts and the instinctive, naïve response to blindly follow the commands of his older, twin-hydra evil sisters, with Diamantino’s siblings being utilized as a fitting representation of modern greed and anti-European Union/and anti-refugee movements. Abrantes and Schmidt frantically and comedically present to us a Europe that is now struggling with the divide between its more benevolent identity of the past, and the grim fact that a growing faction of the population wants to desperately close all borders and cling to a mythical version of a Europe that has only existed in children’s stories.

 

8. Once There Was Brasilia (Era uma Vez Brasília) / Brazil, Portugal  / dir: Adirley Queirós
For the past sixty years, WA4 (Wellington Abreu) has been flying around the galaxy while dining on copious amounts of churrascaria, exiled after trying to squat on private land, but now, WA4 has been given the opportunity to legally acquire land for his family and to do so, he must travel to earth to assassinate Juscelino Kubitschek, the president who founded Brasília, on the day the city was to be inaugurated. Unfortunately, WA4 is desperately low on meat to grill and fuel, and crashes down in the middle of Ceilândia, a nighttime city on fire, where departing trains take away political prisoners. It is here where WA4 meets a colorful group of intergalactic space fighters (think Mad Max meets homemade Go Bots), who are hell bent on total anarchy as a political adjustment. Creatively drawing from the finest low grade elements of D-level science fiction films, and the cinematography of Joana Pimenta, who perfectly utilizes the darkness and burning to heighten the chaos, director Queirós uses the absurdity of his rickety homemade visuals and the unrestrained talents of his mostly non-professional cast to fuel a wildly inventive narrative that forces the viewer to experience the very real absurdity of contemporary Brazilian politics (Rousseff’s and Temer’s shenanigans are omnipresent here, of course). We are not sure if we have seen a better film so far this year that makes less so much more than it seems.

 

9. Happy as Lazzaro (Lazzaro Felice) / Italy / dir. Alice Rohrwacher
All is not well in the small village of Inviolata, a community that exists in a sharecropper state that has not been seen in Italy for generations. In Inviolata, we meet Lazzaro (played by seraphic-faced actor, Adriano Tardiolo), who is the gleeful recipient of two layers of exploitation. The primary layer comes from the Marchesa Alfonsino de Luna (how thrilling it is to see actress Nicoletta Braschi again, even as a villain), who uses the residents of the village to grow her tobacco that she sells at high profit, which keeps her and her family in the lap of luxury whilst the villagers barely subsist. And, the second layer comes from the villagers, who use Lazzaro’s puerile joy and motivations to mock him and to get the affable, good-natured Lazzaro to toil for them as well. The timeless and surrealistic quality of the narrative suggests that exploitation is not only a basic human trait, but also one that has and sadly will endure for generations to come. Biblical references aside (Lazzaro does translate into Lazarus, and the actions surrounding an encounter with a wolf loosely allude to the story of the Wolf of Gubbio that St. Francis tamed), Lazzaro functions in a somewhat similar way that Abrantes and Schmidt’s Diamantino and the Hae-mi character in Lee Chang-dong’s superb feature of this year, Burning, do, serving as an innocent, pure-spirited figure that allows the viewer to judge the evil around them more effectively. While Diamantino and Hae-mi offset malevolent societal imperatives of Portugal and Korea, respectively, Lazzaro functions to challenge the installation of morals through Catholicism. Furthermore, Rohrwacher, through her central character of Lazzaro, exposes a contemporary Italian population in economic freefall that is highly disconnected from its natural state due to its collective conscience’s reliance on guidance from organized faith and from government structures that have failed them over and over again. Using surrealistic elements that are more in tune with the hyperbolic Italian grotesque features of Ettore Scola and Marco Ferreri than those of the Italian neorealists to effectively amplify urgent issues to impact the audience more than any reality appears to do these days, Rohrwacher has made a heartbreaking and beautifully realized third feature film. Please check out Generoso’s interview with director, Alice Rohrwacher, on Ink 19

 

10. 3 Faces (Se Rokh) / Iran / dir: Jafar Panahi
Needless to write, it is always good to see any film these days that has Panahi’s name on it, given the governmental ban that has been imposed on him on producing any cinema. With a framework that offers a small, respectful nod to the late Abbas Kiarostami’s 1999 feature, The Wind Will Carry Us, 3 Faces has director Panahi and actress Behnaz Jafari playing themselves as they drive away from a film shoot towards a remote village after receiving an alarming video posted online of a young actress who commits suicide due to her inability to leave her hometown to attend the acting conservatory in Tehran. Once Panahi and Jafari arrive in the village, we soon understand the impetus of the suicidal actress’s thespian desire, as the young woman has befriended a reclusive actress who has been exiled in her home due to her work in pre-Revolution Iranian cinema. Absurdly comedic at points and clever in its utilization of an naturalistic metaphor involving cows, 3 Faces is an excellent companion piece to Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 feature, Certain Women, in that it exhibits the evolving role of women in society, and in turn, the resultant changing roles of men. In 3 Faces, the idealization of male gender roles is not progressing, and that is causing dangerous tension between men and women, and we see this tension compellingly play out in this small story that is expertly told by Panahi.

 

SUPPLEMENTAL FILM LIST


The Wild Pear Tree (Ahlat Agaci) / Turkey / dir:  Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Delivering his first feature since his Palme d’Or winning 2014 film, Winter Sleep, Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns with his most personal film since his 2006 comedic gem, Climates. As many of his films are at least semi-autobiographical, here the Nuri role is filled by Sinan (Aydin Doğu Demirkol), a recent college graduate who returns to his rural hometown of Çan to live for a while in the home he grew up in, where his father (Murat Cemcir), an eminently-retiring teacher and notoriously bad gambler, lives in total disharmony with Sinan’s sister and mother. As a graduated literature major, Sinan has every intention of writing and publishing the great first novel, but in the midst of his decaying family, the young writer takes trips into the nearby town of Çanakkale for advice on his artistic ambitions, and the advice he gets comes from the local literary celebrity, who despite his success offers little more than cynicism, and as books need to be published with actual money, Sinan seeks potential funding from the local business head who offers Sinan advice on writing a book that would serve more as a guide for tourism. Throughout this engrossing, and at times humorous, 190 minute long Homeric journey, Sinan debates with himself his motivation for the creation of the novel he so badly wants to publish, and his experiences along the way include a telling phone conversation with a fellow literature classmate whose violent career choice is a reflection of the contemporary Erdoğanian Turkey, an illuminating conversation about how to interpret the Quran with two younger imams, and a constant witnessing of his father’s and his family’s movement away from teaching as a profession. In the end, The Wild Pear Tree becomes an interesting reflection for Ceylan at this point in his career, as the film cleverly references the director’s earlier features, most specifically, Clouds of May and The Town, works that harken back to the director’s original motivations for making art in the first place, and one wonders if the central message delivered in his newest feature is: given the state of his country, if that same young Nuri Bilge Ceylan was beginning his career today, would he even attempt to make a film?

 

The Nothing Factory (A Fábrica de Nada) / Portugal / dir: Pedro Pinho
Given the film’s subject matter of Portugal’s dire economic situation, and its forays into a multitude of genres during its three hour running time, it is nearly impossible not to compare The Nothing Factory, Pedro Pinho’s debut feature, to Miguel Gomes’ six-hour masterwork, The Arabian Nights, our favorite cinematic work so far this decade.  Whereas The Arabian Nights uses individual stories, sometimes farcical, sometimes humanistic, to reveal the facets of Portugal’s economic problems and its impact on its citizens, The Nothing Factory mixes humanistic storytelling with the distant political overnarration and staging techniques of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet to form a story of about the reaction of a team of laborers who are stunned when they discover that the corporation that governs their workplace is sending in crews at night to steal machines and equipment from their factory before shutting it all down. One by one the workers are offered a redundancy package, which they know will only last them so long, and when it runs out, they will be forced to be look for work in a fiscally strapped Portugal that offers them less than nothing. Armed with this knowledge, our embattled workers do the only thing that they can do: refuse to leave their factory so that they can stave off the evitable for at least some period of time. There is much to love in The Nothing Factory, especially when the film steps away from its stylistic desire to overextend into a variety of genres in order to create an empathetic frustration and situational confusion for the viewer which is not always successful. The narrative thread that follows the path of one of the workers, a family man who ponders endless issues and yet still progressively turns into a leader, forms the most affecting scenes of The Nothing Factory, which has so much to offer in terms of real empathy for the people trapped in this grave situation.

 

Knife + Heart (Un Couteau Dans Le Coeur) / France / dir: Yann Gonzalez
The second feature by French-born director Yann Gonzalez, Knife+Heart is a stylish, inspired, affectionate look at the gay porn industry of the late 1970s as imagined by the director Gonzalez through a cinematic language that includes the pornography of that era, giallos, the excesses of Brian DePalma’s 70s output, and, most notably to us, William Friedkin’s 1980 film, Cruising, which despite the negative backlash from the gay community against the film at the time of its release, has come to be seen as a rare glimpse into an era and culture that would soon be destroyed by the AIDS epidemic in the subsequent years to follow. Knife+Heart centers on Anne (a perfectly casted Vanessa Paradis), a gay porn producer whose substance abuse issues have destroyed the one relationship that matters the most to her, that being her longtime affair with her editor, Loïs (Kate Moran). Even though Anne and Loïs’ relationship is broken, and a killer has begun to target Anne’s actors, the show must go on, and many of the best scenes in Knife+Heart develop from Anne’s new film approach, which weaves in the tragedy around her and her film crew to create her masterpiece, which drives our producer to hunt for the truth behind the murders of her actors, which may be hidden in the past lives of some of her crew and even herself. One of the most inventive, provocative, and disarming films to appear in the midnight programming of AFI Fest these last few years, Knife+Heart captures the distinct voice, style, and approach of Yann Gonzalez, a director whom we very much look forward to seeing more from in the future.

 

Dead Horse Nebula / Turkey / dir: Tarik Aktaş
Our favorite of this year’s selection of New Auteurs film programming at AFI Fest is Dead Horse Nebula, the debut feature by Turkish-born director, Tarik Aktaş. The story centers on Hay (Baris Bilgi) and begins with Hay as a child during his first experience with death when the boy discovers the carcass of a dead horse in a field and encounters life contained within the dead animal. Throughout Aktaş’ confident first feature, we see Hay’s interactions with death through the results of his passive and active role in the passing of life, but what becomes the core essence of the film is how past memories play a role in Hay’s connection to the natural progression of life leading to death. Dead Horse Nebula in tone is somewhat similar to Michelangelo Frammartino’s 2010 film, Le Quattro Volte, in the way that it allows the viewer to naturalistically gaze at the states of life, but whereas Frammartino’s film is about the transition of a life into other forms, Dead Horse Nebula excels in allowing you to see and hear the moments Hay experiences first-hand that build his perception of the natural world around him. Tarik Aktaş has created for his first feature, a carefully constructed and fully realized essay on the circular nature of memory and experience. Generoso spoke at length with director, Tarik Aktaş about his film and his process during AFI Fest 2018 for Ink 19.

 

                            MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM

Dogman / Italy / dir: Matteo Garrone
In a huge step backwards in his development as a filmmaker, Garrone’s newest feature Dogman selectively takes aspects of the very real and gruesome case of Pietro De Negri, a dog groomer, who murdered and mutilated a local thug who had been victimizing him over the years. What Garrone does here is little more than an emotionally and cinematically empty revenge film that neither makes a substantial social comment, nor is produced in a way that sheds any light on the original story. Save for Marcello Fonte’s performance as the titular character, Dogman is a disappointing follow up to Garrone’s 2015 feature, Tale of Tales, which was an imaginative treatment of Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone. The real crime of Dogman is that it was selected as Italy’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar over some truly wonderful films from Italy this year, including Happy as Lazzaro.

 

BEST REPERTORY FILM EXPERIENCE

Burt Reynolds in Person at The Aero Theater, March 23rd, 2018 /Films Screened: Gator and The End
We have been fortunate that during our time in Los Angeles, we have gotten to be face to face with many of our cinematic heroes, and now, we should write that in no way should the following statement be perceived as one that diminishes any of those experiences, but the moment on March 23 of this year when Burt Reynolds, one of the last of great shining screen legends, and an actor whom we’ve admired our whole lives, took the stage at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, our hearts, and the hearts of most of the audience, dropped a beat. Despite the cane he needed to walk, or the way time and lifestyle had taken its toll on his body, the smile and the attitude was all Burt, and we were so thankful to be in the presence of that man. The setup for this appearance and a few other Burt appearances that weekend was the release of a new film that 82-year old actor lent his talents to, The Last Movie Star, but given the widely reported state of his health, many of us in the crowd saw this as a chance to possibly say thank you for the final time. We sort-of didn’t care that the films that were screening on March 23rd were Burt’s directorial debut, Gator, a notoriously hot mess of a good ole’ boy smash ‘em up film, a genre that was made even more popular by Reynolds back in the day, and another Burt directorial effort, 1978’s The End (admittedly we love this one)–we were all just waiting for the screen legend’s comments during the Q&A session in between the two features, and here there was no disappointment. Burt seemed to light up when every question from an audience member was followed by some form of declaration of love, and he gave thorough, well-thought out, and grateful answers that showed a great deal of respect for the audience in attendance. The evening culminated when Burt, upon saying thank you, stood before the crowd for what seemed like ten minutes as people, many of whom were women, but to be candid a lot of men too (Generoso included), yelled out their undying love for Mr. Reynolds. Sadly, Burt passed away five months later on September 6th, but we are so thankful to the Aero for making this moment with Burt possible. Rest in peace Burt.

Burt Reynolds at the Aero Theater, 3/23/18, Photo by Generoso FIerro 

Advertisements

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

Standard

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.  


_______________________________________


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.


______________________________________________________

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.

_______________________________________________________


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.

__________________________________________________________

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.

______________________________________________


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!