Best Films of the Decade (2000-2009)

I’ll follow Tom Hall’s lead and call this my “Incredibly Personal, Completely Subjective List of the Best Films of The Decade.” Consider it a snapshot of my taste right now. Conspicuously absent are several filmmakers who made great films this decade but who, for whatever reasons — my age? critical backlash? the weather? — didn’t […]

2009 TIFF Wrap-Up

To carry on the tradition from past years (2006, 2007, 2008), here’s a breakdown of the feature-length films I saw at TIFF, more or less in order of preference. Masterpieces Will likely end up on my short list of favorite films of the decade: none Stand Outs Will be among my favorite films of the […]

2009 TIFF Day 3

Antichrist (Tars von Trier) When asked at TIFF what I thought of Antichrist, I got in the habit of saying, “Well, it’s a testament to von Trier’s talent that he can make such an unremarkable film of such remarkable imagination and control.” It’s a genre film, right? A psychological horror movie with a few unexpected […]

2009 TIFF Day 2

Like You Know It All (Hong Sang-soo) Given the generally low opinion of Like You Know It All among many Hong fans, and given my enjoyment of it, I’ve concluded I just can’t tell the good ones from the bad. This one has everything I enjoy about his work: a self-absorbed, unintentionally cruel, and likable […]

2009 TIFF Day 1

A quick review of L’Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot Inferno, directed by Serge Bromberg & Ruxandra Medrea.

Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc

I was already choking back tears even before reading this Tweet from Raya Martin: – i love you pards why did you leave me we’re not yet done Added: “The Letter I Would Love To Read To You In Person,” from Alexis to Nika

Anticipating TIFF (2009)

I just received my ticket order confirmation. I have a 50-ticket pass but will probably only — only — see 36-40, so I went ahead and double-booked several time slots and will make a last-minute decision about which tickets to use.

Phantoms of Nabua and a Letter to Uncle Boonmee

There are ways of “decoding” this film, I suppose — the soccer ball as a synecdoche for military armaments, the cinema as documentarian, the hovering florescent light as ghost (or Ghost) — but reducing Apitchatpong’s films to points on a symbolic answer key seems beside the point.

Wavelengths: Tamalpais and Hotel Roccalba

Short responses to Chris Kennedy’s Tamalpais and Josef Dabernig’s Hotel Roccalba.

Lumphini 2552

My tendency when describing a film like Lumphini 2552 is to fall back on Modernist rallying cries like that old Ezra Pound chestnut, “Make it new!” Maybe a useful way to think of Nishikawa’s film is as a beautifully defamiliarized — and uniquely cinematic — landscape.

2009 SFIFF Diary 3

Petter Greenaway’s Rembrandt’s J’Accuse and The Other One by Patrick Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic.

575 Castro St.

When I spoke to Olson after the screening, she told me how overwhelming it was to visit the set, to listen to Milk’s voice, and to know that it was here — right here — that he contemplated his imminent murder. She’s translated that experience well to her film, which is ghostly and deeply moving. But, of course, it wasn’t right here that Milk made his tape. This is a meticulously dressed set.

2009 SFIFF Diary 2

Heddy Honigmann’s Oblivion, Frazer Bradshaw’s Everything Strange and New, Claire Denis’s 35 Shots of Rum (yes, again), Javor Gardev’s Zift, and Mikheil Kalatozishvili’s Wild Field.

2009 SFIFF Diary 1

Atom Egoyan’s Adoration and Catherine Breillat’s Bluebeard.

A preview of things to come?

My contributions to the fake Criterion thread at The Auteurs.

Films of the ’80s (part 1)

Short responses to films by Maurice Pialat, William Friedkin, Louis Malle, Paul Schrader, Nicolas Roeg, Mike Leigh, and Michel Deville.

Lisandro Alonso: Who’s John Ford?

Originally published at Senses of Cinema.

Albert Serra: Iconic Images

Originally published at Senses of Cinema.

Claire Denis: Dancing Reveals So Much

This interview was originally published at Senses of Cinema.

Tren de Sombras (1997)

This essay was originally published at Senses of Cinema.

Films of the ’80s

While watching Les Bons Debarras, I was struck by how familiar it felt. I was eight when the film was released — near enough to the age of Manon (Charlotte Laurier) that I was able immediately to recognize that particular era of childhood, even if her experience of it is so much different from my own.

St. Nick (2009)

American “regional” cinema (again with the ironic scare quotes), especially that of the indie variety, has an unfortunate tendency to come off like tourism, in the sense that the camera is too often set up in front of objects that only reinforce our preexisting sense of the place. “The South,” for example, is often reduced to a now-vacant and picturesque block of what was once a small town’s main street before the interstate and Wal-Mart moved in.

New Directions: The 33rd Toronto International Film Festival

This essay was originally published at Senses of Cinema.

The Spitting Image

Judging by his appearances in City Girl and in Borzage’s Lucky Star (1929) and Liliom (1930), “Big Boy” was often cast as a dim-witted and arrogant sonuvabitch.

Heartbeat Detector (2008)

Heartbeat Detector is a tricky one. Immediately after my first viewing a couple weeks ago, I went searching for decent writing about it but found slim pickings. Judging by the responses of most critics I’ve found online, it’s little more than a too-long and “oh so European” corporate thriller. Unflattering comparisons to Michael Clayton are the norm, and there’s a not-so-subtle (and strangely patronizing) animosity running through the reviews: that a film would seriously compare the workings of modern capital to the Holocaust is just too much, apparently.

2009 Film Diary

A day-by-day viewing log of my filmwatching habits in 2009, beginning with Frank Borzage’s Lazybones (1925) and ending with Arnaud Desplechin’s’s Kings and Queen (2004).

Best Films of 2008

This year, for the first time, I submitted an official Top 10 list, abiding by the “one-week theatrical run in the States” rule.

Pedro Costa’s “Vanda Trilogy” and the Limits of Narrative Cinema as a Contemplative Art

This essay was originally published in Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema (2008), edited by Kenneth Morefield for Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Nathaniel Dorsky: Manifesting the Ineffable

Originally published at Mubi.

Late Spring (1949)

I watched Late Spring for the first time last night (yeah, I know) and had a grand time spotting the details that echo throughout Denis’s film. Mostly, though, I was struck by just how strange a filmmaker Ozu really is, particularly in his cutting. It made me realize that I’m not so sure, exactly, what we mean when we call a film “Ozu-like.”

TIFF ’08 Wrap-Up

Here’s a quick breakdown of what I saw, more or less in order of preference. I’m never sure how to handle the Wavelengths shorts, so I’ve included several of them that I thought were especially strong and arbitrarily omitted others. Wavelengths was, without question, the highlight of TIFF for me this year.

RR (2007)

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Railroad (with apologies to Wallace Stevens)

Revanche and Delta

I’ve developed a lazy habit of saying that I don’t particularly care what a film is about; I care what it does formally. But, while well-directed and wonderfully performed, the standout feature of Gotz Spielmann’s Revanche is the story, which, particularly over the last 80 minutes, is perfectly constructed.

Anticipating TIFF (2008)

The Toronto International Film Festival is always the most highly anticipated week-and-a-half of my year, but this time around my eagerness to go watch movies, hang out with friends, and wander around a great city is being trumped by the more basic and urgent need for a vacation. I’m deep-down-in-the-bones tired and I can’t wait to get away and be a different version of myself for 11 days. When I got home last year, I told Joanna that Toronto has become my mistress. I’ll stand by that metaphor.

The Unknown (1927)

Melodrama is a matter of narrative and performance style, of course, but, particularly in silent cinema, the core of melodrama is mise-en-scene.

Los Muertos (2004)

What fascinates me about Los Muertos is that it explores the connection between form and content by taking all of the tropes of “transcendental cinema” and staining them, by narrative means, with dread and violence. It reminds me of Brian Eno’s answer (apocryphal, perhaps) when he was asked if he was the father of New Age music: “No, my music has evil in it.”

Four Men and a Prayer (1938)

The following are screen captures from two related sequences in John Ford’s Four Men and a Prayer, a remarkable (and remarkably strange) film about imperialism, globalization, and the military industrial complex that predates America’s involvement in World War II by three years.

Lee Isaac Chung: The Storm of Progress

Originally published at Sojourners.

The Iron Horse (1924)

Along with simply being a tremendous pleasure to watch, The Iron Horse offers a fascinating peek into the evolution of the Hollywood film style. By 1924 — and with four dozen films under his belt — Ford already understood the mechanics of what would eventually be called standard continuity editing, and so, for me, the most interesting moments in the early films are when something breaks, as in the following sequence.

Magic and Loss

How’s this for a strange association? While marveling at Lou Reed’s performance Wednesday night, I kept thinking of Michel Subor.

40 Hours in 18 Images and 3 Songs

The Duke Spirit, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Sonic Youth, and Last Year at Marienbad.

Platform (2000)

With so many directors now throwing in their cameras with the “single-shot scenes from a fixed position” school of filmmaking, there’s a growing problem for those of us who believe that a fundamental job of critics is to accurately describe what we see. Films built almost entirely from images that would have been described traditionally as “establishing shots” beg the question: How does one describe and evaluate this kind of montage (if that’s even the right word)?

Nora Alter on Sans Soleil

After a second viewing, I still needed some help wrapping my brain around the structure of Marker’s Sans Soleil. The following is a summary of useful ideas from Nora Alter’s book, Chris Marker.

Life on Earth (1999)

Dir. by Abderrahmane Sissako “There is an organic unity to village life, but it is both fragile and alienating. In this regard Sissako refuses to either promote some pure, untouched pre-modernity or to mourn for some lost social integration. Sissako’s encompasser always has to make room for those transnational nomads who can’t quite pass muster […]

There Will Be Blood (2007)

Like nearly everyone else, apparently, I was overwhelmed by the sheer force of will in Anderson’s filmmaking but am still unsure of what to make of it, exactly.

The Wire, “Moral Midgetry”

Written by Richard Price (Clockers, Freedomland) and directed by Agnieszka Holland (Angry Harvest, Europa Europa), episode 33 of The Wire, “Moral Midgetry,” features two single-take shots that epitomize the radically economical storytelling that characterizes the series.

2008 Film Diary

A day-by-day viewing log of my filmwatching habits in 2008, beginning with Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) and ending with Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories (2007).

Best Films of 2007

So here are ten favorites, in alphabetical order, with some honorable mentions thrown in, followed by my favorite discoveries of 2007.

A Quick Thought on Lynch and Film Violence

One reason I’m completely unconvinced by all of the critical praise being heaped on the Coens’ treatment of evil and violence in No Country for Old Men is because violence — real, non-metaphoric violence — is always sorrowful and tragic. Lynch seems to have been born with a peculiar sensitivity to that fact, and has spent his career perfecting the formal means of articulating it.

Casa de Lava (1994)

Pedro Costa’s second feature, Casa de Lava, opens with a barrage of arresting juxtapositions. The first few minutes pass in complete silence as we watch the simple white-on-black credits, followed by a montage of volcanoes.