the erik reeds guide to becoming a patrician: part 1 (“how do you find out about these movies?”)

hello everyone. i’m planning this as a series of posts to attempt to educate people into how they can get deeper into film, with a heavy emphasis on the practical methods, the new tools at our disposal, and finding ways to enrich your general cinephilia.

as many know, i’ve spent far too much time on movie forums and in movie spaces online. most of this time i’ve regretted in some way, but i guess i have gleaned some good things from it over the years. people often ask me variants of the question in the title: just how do you even find out about most of the stuff you watch? the answer to this sort of question depends on who’s asking it, but since i presume the readerbase here is going to be tech-savvy budding movie-lovers, i’ll try to address it in a way that’s most beneficial.

my go-to recommendation for someone who i don’t particularly get an “artsy” vibe from is generally the imdb top 250 (is it still at 250 now?). over the years, of course, its usefulness has run its course on my end, but it remains a nice list for having immediate access to entry-level filmbro stuff. someone who sees 200 movies on there will likely not be very refined in their tastes, but they can begin to grow the seeds of what exactly they want to get out of their movie watching experience. and it’s also an initial time commitment too; if you can’t get through films like Batman Begins and Se7en, i struggle to think of where else you can go that would be rewarding at that point.

i’ll harp on this quite a bit in this post but i can’t stress the importance of finding your own identity when it comes to your viewing habits. we all have generally the same lists to look at – the letterboxd top 250, they shoot pictures top 1000, sight and sound’s top 250, etc. not everyone is going to end up seeing all of those movies though. me personally, i wanted to complete the TSPDT list by the time i was 25, that was around what i estimated when i was 16 or 17. this is now a feat that i could easily do with my consumption averages, but my desire to see the last 200 some odd movies on the list by now has dissipated more and more. i just can’t see myself ever wanting to endure more bunuel films if i don’t absolutely have to.

but the cool thing about movies is that you’re rarely forced to do these things. movie culture as a whole doesn’t really have a stigma against people who haven’t completed lists or anything; i doubt the people whose opinions i respect the most care at all about their progress on the sight and sound lists. so are these lists useless, if they are rarely ever completed?

certainly not! lists like these offer homogenized perspectives that are great as diving-off points. after you’ve sped through the various bergmans, ozus, and godards on lists like these, you’ll likely begin to get to a point of where you can broadly identify what types of movies you like and what types you don’t.

i’ve mentioned elsewhere that i’m fundamentally against the notion of needing to be “open-minded” when it comes to art, especially in an information era where we have access to tens of thousands of films at any given time. the idea that you need to continually reinforce your negative preferences in some sort of (usually futile) need to expand your horizons is something that can be done with more enjoyment if one simply continues to explore by watching movies they believe they’ll actually like. if you’re watching over 200 movies a year, odds are that you’re probably broadening your horizons plenty; how much you want to get out of that comfort zone is up to you, but as someone who almost exclusively stays in theirs, i wouldn’t say it needs to be demonized much.

at the end of the day, everyone takes risks with their viewing habits. i never really know if i’m going to like something when i begin watching it, but i would almost always prefer to like it. i’ve seen plenty of bad movies on accident to the point of where i wouldn’t want to watch them on purpose. but enough on this.

when you begin to develop your identity (this could be based around a myriad of topics and themes, such as: musicals, political films, silents, ensemble works, classic hollywood, new bollywood, experimental film, etc.), this is where your viewing habits are going to begin to diverge from something that people can really give you a flowchart or a generalized list for. you’re not some algorithm, you’re you! you have opinions! dreams! desires! you can’t possibly stomach another werner herzog movie, and you’re dying to see more things like The Wind! another canon list can only “help” so much (by help, i mean: allow you to discover or become interested in things you weren’t before).

this is where the social element to movie watching gets important, and, along with the obvious easy access to kazillions of movies, one of the primary benefits i think of when i examine how the internet era benefits film fans. i’ve joked before about how i don’t care about quality because i “grew up in the early 2010s as a rivette fan.” i have a dvd of Out 1 Spectre i bought off of a bootleg website that is the movie recorded off of a camcorder recording a TV playing the film which was recorded onto tape in the wrong aspect ratio with italian hardcode subs. nowadays, you can find this film readily available online, in pristine quality.

when i first saw A Brighter Summer Day four years ago, it was off of a dark, hazy laserdisc recording that had become widely available to potential viewers. just recently i watched the 50 gig blu ray rip of it from criterion and almost couldn’t believe my eyes at the difference.

point is, i haven’t really even been in the game that long comparatively. though Out 1 being on netflix is always going to top the list of things that “never would have happened in my days,” there are countless restoration miracles like this happening year by year. every time criterion restores a batch of films, i normally don’t care about most of them, but i usually care about one or two, and down the road i’ll probably care for a few more, and the list of films to watch just expands more and more at an exponential rate.

but even these incredible advances are somewhat meager in comparison to how much interacting with other people can aid you in venturing out in the film world more. because, the truth is, if i didn’t have people recommending me stuff or rating it 4.5 on letterboxd or what-have-you, all the criterions and arrow videos and kino lorbers in the world wouldn’t matter – i wouldn’t have any idea of where to start. the most important thing you can do for your film viewership after you’ve begun to see what you do and don’t like is: find people who agree with you! you’ll find plenty that don’t, but there are always going to be film fans that have those same hot takes and goals for their film viewership like you do.

growing up in rural texas, there wasn’t really anybody in my day to day that i could say was realistically watching films in the same wavelength as me. this isn’t a bad thing, but it’s something that many people are likely to encounter. they go into their film class and feel just a complete lack of connection with anyone. they go to a kalatozov screening and shudder at the boomers complaining about it exiting the theater. for a lot of people out there, there really is nobody that can help guide you on your journey.

that’s where the net comes in though. first thing’s first: make a letterboxd. find reviewers you like – oftentimes i go to films i like with not a lot of views and see people who liked them and check out what else they’re into. comment on stuff. review everything you see – even if it’s just 2 or 3 words, put something on there, because other people are going to be doing this too. we go on social media (especially for interests) to gain something, people like seeing your thoughts on movies if they trust your taste or value your insight. comment on other peoples’ lists and reviews, get a sense of everybody’s taste, as this might be how you find your own more.

i’ve often been disappointed when i try to find IRL film groups because the people who happen to live within a few miles from me are likely not some of the few hundred people in the world i feel really connected with on a cinematic level, but with the net at your disposal, there’s no such thing. i know people with extremely idiosyncratic tastes; 80s action films and structuralist shorts and jesus franco joints. there’s always going to be a way to find like-minded individuals on websites where everyone’s ratings and rants are publicly available.

it isn’t just letterboxd; scour the whole net for these people if you don’t feel like that site provides you with enough. i spent a year on r/movies largely as a test of this very theory, and, surprise surprise, i met some people that i genuinely clicked with pretty well. there are always going to be some people that you can connect with, and this increases as you find yourself. if you don’t know what you’re looking for in movies, other people can only help you so much.

that’s…pretty much all the advice i can give here. i don’t know everyone, i can’t reasonably vibe with everybody’s sensibilities. people educated in film may have tastes that are just antithetical to what i search for in film. this is just part of the process though, because there are so many people who have similar tastes as me that have helped me discover things i didn’t know about or wasn’t as educated on.

you may have complaint here with how i’ve set this up as “find people that are exactly like you,” but that’s not the case. nobody is exactly like you. the people that i follow on letterboxd and get recommendations from and read academic reviews from are from various backgrounds that we have overlap on but i still have huge differences with. one of my friends is huge on shorter, more transcendent abstract avant-garde films. one of my friends is big on no-budget SOV horrors or romances or other such genre flicks. other are big on political films. others are big on vulgar auteurism. some are just the “classical” TSPDT enthusiast types whose favorites from those circles align with my tastes. some of them are populists that i consider to look at films in a progressive or intelligent way. but that’s just me and my own circles; you yourself are going to find your friends, your admirers, the people that you’ll go on to stan.

but we all have to do the grunt work. at least try to go through some of the canon lists, unless you have other lists that you’re going to use instead (which is fine too!). engage with people and get recs based on your taste. some people can jump entirely into the deep end and binge lav diaz but most people aren’t wired for that. take it slow. watch the normie stuff, when you’re done with that, you can work your way into the more difficult material on the sights and sounds or they shoot the pictures or those sorts. don’t just watch mindlessly! you’re going to watch Jules et Jim or something and think “wow this is absolutely terrible, do i just have bad taste?” and the answer to that is: maybe, but maybe someone else will have bad taste too. and it’s up to you to find them.

gems of may and june

was kinda busy at the end of last month so here we are. mostly newer stuff!

Bitter Lake (Curtis, 2015) is my second feature-length curtis outing, and although its ambitions are surely short from the theory-of-everything scope of Hypernormalisation, it perhaps serves as a better pastiche of more direct essay film tactics, complete with coherent theses and beautiful archival footage/soundtrack combos. curtis has already with these two films made himself interesting enough to me to want to continue seeking out his work whenever i get bored with narratives in some regard.

Retribution (Kurosawa, 2006), while it doesn’t give me the body high that Pulse does by any means, has some distinct traces of that one’s emptiness and godless landscapes. i really enjoy when kurosawa can effectively communicate these guilty-feeling stories, and while he falls short in many of his outings, i think this one is one of the more successful ones.

Last Days in a Lonely Place (Solomon, 2007) and Rehearsals for Retirement (Solomon, 2007) are two shorts that take place within the GTA universe, mostly focused on landscapes or actionless roaming. alongside the music, and bereft of a lot of tryhard-y aesthetic choices that i believe younger filmmakers would resort to, they become moving mini-monologues, elegies to an open-worldness that was new to an old director.

Rose Gold (Cwynar, 2017) is the closest thing i’ve seen to successfully replicating mid 60s godard, which is a case of quantity over quality unfortunately so maybe not the highest praise, but it’s a fun outing that is equal parts decadence and light commentary, one that becomes touching by the time its brisk runtime has concluded.

Teenage Hooker Became Killing Machine in Daehakroh (Ki-woong, 2000) is, like, a dream SOV film. runs no longer than 61 minutes, with 10 of those inexplicably being credits. great bad SFX. overloaded with cheese in the most tasteful way – there’s a bit towards the end that’s one of the best examples of comic timing i’ve seen in any film, let alone some sort of genre excess as this creation. would like to see more, but this definitely feels like something you make and declare it your masterpiece.

The Forest for the Trees (Ade, 2003) reminded me of 90s era von trier in many ways, a kind of ode to when these depressing germanic arthouse flicks weren’t quite as doused in self-seriousness and allowed themselves to succeed as comedic when they dared to. anywho, the film itself is great – ade’s progression from this to Erdmann makes me question the middleman in more ways than one, but it’s a mark of consistency no doubt that she’s able to create such distinct works that are, at the end of the day, relatively simple dramedies. i dig the style on this one more, anyways.

Forevermore: Biography of a Leach Lord (Saks, 1989) is a somewhat difficult to describe film that has traces of essay film ambitions, conspiracy theory tones, and indie scifi aesthetic goals. i don’t entirely remember enough about it to really give much of an opinion on how it addresses and renders those divergent influences, but anytime a work attempts that sort of a fusion, it’s worth checking out for me.

Introduction to the End of an Argument (Salloum & Suleiman, 1990) would make a great double viewing with some adam curtis flick, or something like Notre musique if that’s more your vibe. there’s a review that says that it isn’t super deep or anything (probably true) but it is well made (very true), and that’s about all i can really ask for sometimes. not many deep films out there. free palestine and all that.

Welcome to New York (Ferrara, 2014) is a shocking, gruesome affair from one of the all-time greats in the medium. the bitterness in it towards its protagonist and the fervor it retains throughout its entire two hour runtime is nothing short of incendiary, a mammoth achievement that lesser directors often ham up or underplay at critical times. basically: if The Wolf of Wall Street was good, Welcome to New York is a masterpiece.

1857 (Fool’s Gold) (Elder, 1981) continues me on my goal to complete The Book of All the Dead with a bang; just as i was beginning to lose faith in elder’s capabilities past his now increasingly insurmountable Lamentations, along comes this peculiar short film to raise my expectations again. the best way i can describe it? Leviathan with a penchant for written poetry and set theory. again, the most intuitive combinations are rarely the best, as are the least intuitive, but at least those least intuitive ones have the advent of persistent interest behind them.

Candyman (Rose, 1992) is a solid with a capital ‘s’ horror film elevated to great with a lowercase ‘g’ in large part due to the lovely score by the ever-inconsistent glass, whose laziness ended up working out quite well here. while it unfortunately lacks anything that i would really call a standout, it’s not a must see or anything, it’s an effective horror that rarely lets up and explores some cool thematic ground and the direction is generally solid.

The Seasons (Makino, 2008) shows some of makino’s palette range that i wasn’t quite aware that he had even dabbled in (though the most that any of us have seen is like 1/4th of his filmography so i guess it’s good to avoid hasty conclusions) and i think that his textures are up to snuff with his masterpieces here, but it isn’t -quite- on that same level as his greatest work, perhaps because it lacks that aural haymaker that Still in Cosmos has, or the aesthetic progressiveness that 2012 oozes. but as a primer for what else he could do (and has matched several times over), it gets me excited for what makino we’ll get next online (Generator, anyone?).

Rangeela (Varma, 1995) is one of the few bollywood joints i’ve checked so far in my 22 years, but like the others it’s encouraged me to see more. adore the colors and the music in this, which was expected based on the raves i saw, but i more was moved by the romance. it’s a simple idea – make the romance based on understanding characters that have believable character flaws and reconciliations, but it’s effectiveness exponentiates when placed in this sort of kaleidoscope.

Ali (Mann, 2001) should have been about ten, maybe 20 times, longer. as it stands, we get an all-too-brisk rise-fall-kind-of-rise biopic about a figure more complicated than this complex film can hope to address, though mann fills in the gaps with some iconic fight choreography and the film has traces of the digital heaven he would go on to perfect.

Unhinged (Gronquist, 1982) falls into an ever-increasing list of “horror movies that bring into question why they exist at all,” and luckily this one’s one of the good ones. some believable drama and acting, every synthesizer that i have on FL studio, and some bouts into absolutely terribly choreographed gore is a combination i don’t think i could ever expect, and i think i’ve made it clear how much of a soft spot i have for these sorts of uncanny juxtapositions.

The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 2: Vaux to the Sea (Greenaway, 2004) excites me more than the first film in the trilogy for a pretty simple reason: with the possible exception of The Falls (i say “possible” because that film is so ridiculously exhaustive not exhausting, and bereft of head-scratching distancing effects) greenaway is a filmmaker whose moments of purely emotional drama elevate the baroque tales that his films display. the best moments of Prospero’s Books, A Zed and Two Noughts, and, as we see, the first two Tulse Luper films, are those wherein the overboard narrative-obfuscation is allowed to be reeled back to the ship a bit. this has more reeling than part 1, so it’s more to my tastes.

Prototype (Williams, 2017) is some of the most exciting new cinema i’ve seen in ages. obviously, the 3d is a big aspect, but even beyond that, this attempt to utilize found footage and archival media as a plot device in the form of an experimental science fiction essay film is just such a cool concept and i believe that this is already among the best in the small “noise film” category (think things like Night Awake, projects that ordinarily are more successful outside of feature length territory). along with King of New York, the only new masterpiece i saw in these two months.

gems of march-april

One From the Heart (Coppola, 1982): coppola’s best film or coppola’s best film? man what kinda glorious maximal vibe was he on when he did this? and it’s not just in the aesthetics, though those are all-time worthy, but also in the dialogue, the structure of the film. it’s obviously a big homage to the zaniness of technicolor musicals, but even the bizarre decisions the characters make particularly at the end is fully in that mold – a lesser director could have succumbed to revisionism over maximalism.

Nuestro Tiempo (Reygadas, 2018): a film i had been looking forward to for quite some time now, reygadas delivers with what i believe to be his 2nd greatest film (behind the towering Battle in Heaven). i love when great directors are just able to make free-form films that can indulge in their runtime to this degree; i surely could have watched another 3 or 6 hours of a film of this caliber, and reygadas’ eye for great shots and harsh drama has never been more particular. slowly solidifying himself in a pantheon of sorts.

Last Chants for a Slow Dance (Jost, 1977): a jost film to the core, and while it doesn’t hit as hard as a few other films i would describe that way, it’s still magical filmmaking; the stuff amateurs attempt and get points for trying. i think his option to go for a less sympathetic protagonist here is an interesting one, and despite its working class roots, i’m not sure that the antihero approach is as good as something like Bell Diamond. great stuff regardless.

Misery Loves Company (Brown, 1993): i think what brown achieves here is similar to what brakhage went for in many of his hybrid pieces. while brakhage’s painted work is kinda unparalleled in my eyes, he sort of could struggle at times like this, outside of like Dog Star Man or Spring Cycle, but brown excels. i haven’t seen anything else from the director but i think his sense of aesthetics and rhythm are both great and i want to check out more.

Odds Against Tomorrow (Wise, 1959): i’ve generally perceived wise to be a competent workman director and this is a general reaffirmation of that belief. he does late noir (which is where noir could get particularly interesting as it ventured into fusion areas), plays it up with some racial commentary, and lets it play out with his usual excellent pacing. great looking stuff especially at the end too.

The Diary of an Unknown Soldier (Watkins, 1959): watkins does eisenstein, maybe better than eisenstein. another “student film you wish you made” type deal, almost pathetically simple concept pulled off in a style that hardly draws attention to itself yet remains compelling the whole time.

It has to be lived once and dreamed twice (Kohlberger, 2019): i wanna rewatch this a couple more times to really absorb what sort of primordial soup it’s dishing out to me, but my semi-immediate thoughts here are that it’s got an aesthetic rhythm that many experimentalists can only dream to achieve and that the writing is great but not quite as great as some make it out to be. if i ever screen Wax, i’ll screen this first.

The Swimmer (Perry, 1968): this was, imo, a really bad time for american cinema because it was trying to play catch up with the rest of the world and transitioning from the classic era to the modern era is never quite easy unless you’re godard but perry makes this beautiful, very visceral/physical feeling work that makes me wonder sometimes. great thing about this one is how it subverts even its own structure, playing around with its episodic ways that it lays out within the preliminary minutes. the direct and biting social commentary is something that i think movies could have used more of and can still do good with today.

Project X (Moltke & Poitras, 2016): speaking of direct biting social commentary, this /x/-core short doc definitely has that. it’s like 10 minutes so just watch it instead of reading me talk about it.

Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company (Godard, 1986): though technically every day i get nearer and nearer to running out of good godard movies, it seems like with every few new ones that i see from him, that endpoint gets further and further away. minor in every sense of the word, this mid 80s production has an almost staggering beauty that i think he attempted in Passion that captures this sort of artistic, economic, and emotional hopelessness that can only come in the eyes of working class people. for that alone, it’s worth checking out for godard enthusiasts.

I Am Keiko (Sono, 1997): wish that every great director would do 1 structuralist film and 1 slasher film. i’m sure sono’s done the latter at some point, but i wouldn’t have pegged him as the structuralist type. the product remains as playful as his other works and as compelling as the decent ones, pretty comfy watch if you’ve got an hour and want to check out a major director.

Kamikaze Taxi (Harada, 1995): almost reminiscent of The Sunchaser as far as plotting goes, harada’s 3 hour yakuza flick is equal parts fun, meditative, and accomplished as a genre outing. really can’t believe that this is so great at doing so many things that directors so often stumble to achieve, but this harada dude (who i hadn’t heard of previously) manages in flying colors. something that feels like a comfort film in the making.

The Element of Crime (von Trier, 1984): this is the I Know Who Killed Me of lars’ filmo because it’s like 100 movies i know put together but it’s totally a unique thing by the end of it. beautiful to behold and i didn’t even know he had a visual palette this well refined (which explains The Kingdom by extension).

Lady Terminator (Djalil, 1989): a Terminator ripoff that goes into psychosexual uturns and campier dialogue, in a film that amounts to being a glorious construction of genre, trash, lo-fi greatness. where so many vinegar syndrome core flicks can falter in their technical inadequacies or poor editing decisions, this one revels, spitting out the bone of course. it’s what the movies are all about sometimes.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Gan, 2018): i’m a huge sucker for anything 3d that isn’t a corporate smorgasbord, so obviously i have to love this. this is sort of my form of escapist entertainment; high art, totally trashy meta-noir flick with a bunch of flashy long takes and an extended 3d sequence, all with the appropriate slow pacing and half-turalist dialogue that i’ve come to find comfort in. see it in 3d if you can.

Demons (Matsumoto, 1971): completely unlike his other joint i’ve seen, this is a rather straightforward samurai tale with few stylistic flourishes. this minimalism is what allows matsumoto to bring great effect to when those touches do reveal themselves. early on there is some double-play with imagination, and later on, well, there’s some crazy stuff that sits up there with some of the best cinema i’ve seen all year. wish he did more features.

Keep That Dream Burning (Kohlberger, 2017): makino-lite, but makino-lite is pretty good by my standards.

Duel to the Death (Siu-Tung, 1983): one of those wuxia films that’s able to deftly combine the actual reasons why we watch wuxia films and the reasons that we watch other films, basically something that people who misunderstand genre films often want to make and suck at. works here, though; grueling meditation on nationalism and honor ends up being a work about clout chasing through the ages. recommended if you want to broaden your genre horizons.

Cinema Steve (Buck, 2019): straddles a fine line between self parody and parody, between malicious tomfoolery and harmless satire. makes me excited for what comes next, but hoping this character can die in this great film.

Deafula (Wolf, 1975): after all the dracula movies i’ve seen, it’s the one by the guy who remakes it in sign language to the same style as Manos: The Hands of Fate that sticks with me? crazy stuff, but the film is unironically pretty cool. there’s some eerie uses of shadows and the characters all seem like they’re out of franco movies. last half has some fun imagery and setpieces; surprisingly comfy all in all.

The Zero Years (Nikolaidas, 2005): another surprisingly comfy film, this time about a sex dungeon. yeah. check it out.

gems, december-february

British Sounds (Godard, 1970): as i begin my descent into the world of 70s godard, this featurette composed of primarily sound/image tomfoolery and leftist montage was a great intro. keeps it concise and hard-hitting, with little of the tedium i was expecting given the dire reception of many of these works.

The Sunchaser (Cimino, 1996): while the finale kinda squanders a lot of the back and forth politics of the early scenes, i think it earns a healthy amount of the catharsis it goes for. always interesting takes and the cinematography is capable throughout. not quite a great film but one that makes me more interested in the filmography anyways.

Solidarity (Wieland, 1973): only a few minutes long but all the invigorating content i crave in my inspirational agitprop.

EMBARGO (Lurf, 2014): also only a few minutes long. mysterious and i think it has a fantastic sense of rhythm and pacing. exciting film anyways.

Tales From the Quadead Zone (Turner, 1987): oddly entrancing, experimental, and funny. comes close to being the quintessential video horror and feels surprisingly ahead of its time, appearing more as a mid 90s SOV horror than anything else. well paced and has a nice sense of camp. great gentle watch.

Looking for Langston (Julien, 1989): expressionist portraits of what were, at the time, impressionist portrayals. beautiful stuff.

Picnic on the Grass (Renoir, 1959): i’m kind of up and down on renoir but i love his more relaxed and comfy films like this. it’s just a sort of basic screwball that’s elevated immensely by its score, b-footage, and great pacing. makes me really admire what renoir was able to do with it.

Wall (Ito, 1987): what can i say, ito just makes consistently entertaining and groovy shorts.

Ascension (Hussain, 2002): i had some technical difficulties getting this one to work so i’ll have to hold off on going in depth on it but it’s got a great aesthetic and i love the dialogue.

Working Girls (Borden, 1986): a chamber drama that shifts from camp, satire, leftism, theatrics, and always keeps it fresh and interesting. borden’s quickly becoming a director i love and this sort of synthesis of so many different elements creating a fresh prostitute story is a huge reason why.

The Drivetime (Alli, 1995): while it’s not something i would call a personal favorite, this sort of dotcom era of film that reconciles the possibilities of the net is going to always be interesting to me. sensory overload and i wish it was more coherent but it makes me want to see another alli or two.

Still in Cosmos (Makino, 2009): my only complaint about this is that i couldn’t see it in a higher definition because, wow. this is an overpowering abstract film, makes me want to completely surrender to the breathtaking aura that it imposes on the viewer. makino is like one or two films on this level away from being my favorite avant-garde director.

Love Massacre (Kar-Ming, 1981): again, technical difficulties forbids deeper praise, but the contrast between the antonioni-esque formal aesthetics and the giallo-inspired, well, other stuff, is really interesting to me. kind of reminds me of Blood Beat but not as good.

Ruby in Paradise (Nunez, 1993): too long for being what it is but i think it’s a great slice of life film that never feels to demeaning or sadcore or any of the usual minor tragedies that plague this sort of filmmaking. surprisingly funny at times and, when it decides to veer into the aesthetic side of things, succeeds in strides.

Warsaw Bridge (Portabella, 1990): completely different from the other portabella i saw, this is baroque, maximal, and narrative in a cool way. this kinda reminds me of a more minor greenaway mixed with some elements of tati, which is to say that it’s cool if not something i can call masterful or essential. if piavoli, greenaway, etc are your faves, give it a shot.

Spontaneous Combustion (Hooper, 1990): insane pyrotechnics and, like The Mangler a few years later, has this sense of misery that permeates every frame of the film. looking back on hooper’s filmography, it’s shocking how many of his films deal with americana and different stages of capitalism, first with curiosity, then brutality, finally hopelessness.

At Eternity’s Gate (Schnabel, 2018): very pleasant and comfy and soothing, which is all that i ask for when i watch many slow cinema films. nothing can come close to Edvard Munch when it comes to artist biopics so why bother trying anyways? but this goes for something different and excels.

Vortex (B and B, 1983): want to rewatch it so i can reconcile the plot, influences, and aesthetics better but this really won me over by how bizarre and stylish it is, merging a flurry of genre beats and tempos into an ultimately incredible project start to finish.

Seeking the Monkey King (Jacobs, 2011): i’m not really that interested in jacobs more freewheeling work or his structuralist work and i really wasn’t sure how much else he was doing, but this film definitely has kindled an interest in his other films. trippy, partially soothing and scorning, always unique. glad to see his fire hasn’t been put out from his Star Spangled to Death era.

great films i saw in 2018

an exciting time for me. graduated from university and moved to ny. found some exciting new filmmakers (for me anyways) and a bunch of other stuff. onto the movies. no order to the things i talk about; just have a list of great ones and here we are.

i made significant progress into the filmography of abel ferrara this year and i’m now convinced he’s among the all time greatest directors, definitely among my favorites so far anyways. this year, of those i saw, i thought Go Go Tales (Ferrara, 2007), King of New York (Ferrara, 1990), and The Blackout (Ferrara, 1997) were all miraculous pictures. Go Go Tales is maybe the best of the bunch, one of the most gut-wrenching productions i’ve ever seen perhaps because it acknowledges how beautiful life’s little moments can be and shows how horrible it can be to lose those. his gangster pic is one of the most mature films i have seen in how it discusses class and its relation to crime and perceived authoritarianism in particular. The Blackout is a cinematic version of hell, really. frightening material.

in addition, i saw several films for the first time by takashi makino. i really did love all of them, they had different soothing and aural effects on me, but it was 2012 (Makino, 2013) that really made the strongest impact on me… it’s a 3d film that makes me feel like the entire medium can be reinvented. like there is more to cinema than initially promised. in addition, i adored another avant-garde short: this one by ito, who i’ve always liked. Thunder (Ito, 1982) combines all of his usual spacial manipulations and pairs it with his most bizarre imagery and the film comes together in a super flashy but sleek several minutes that completely capture and surprise me.

i like but don’t love the two musicals i’ve seen thus far by minnelli, however i am considerably more wowed over by his dramatic work. this year i saw Some Came Running (Minnelli, 1958) which is up there with some of the best melodrama ever; a rhapsody of tragedy and loss, reminds me of simultaneously kazan and sirk, in a good way. the pathos in this one felt to me as if the world was ending, like there was no way to go on in a world that treats its inhabitants this cruel; shocking from mr. Meet Me in St. Louis.

this year i also saw several films by jon jost, who i have tried to show to people but not many have taken a look at him yet unfortunately (they should). probably makes my top 20 american directors if not better and i still have at least a couple of major films of his i need to see. i saw six of his features and three were definitive all-timers: Sure Fire (Jost, 1990), Bell Diamond (Jost, 1986), and The Bed You Sleep In (Jost, 1993). Sure Fire is an american tragedy with these monologues done in a kind of basic but arty way and seems to anticipate a certain sequence of The House That Jack Built of all things, and it’s up there for how well jost balances working class existentialism with its own isolationism. Bell Diamond operates in largely similar fashions, being of and about the lower class and the inability to communicate (this one tackles particularly toxic masculinity in super non-preachy ways) and got me pretty teary eyed. The Bed You Sleep In may very well be his magnum opus though; not even sure how to quite process something that feels this tragic, the whole world crashing down on you like this. please watch this man’s movies.

i saw a couple of pictures by tsui hark that were excellent, but i think the best one was Green Snake (Hark, 1993). it’s at once an exciting wuxia production and a condemnation of the values associated with films of its mold; completely balls-to-the-wall bonkers and tender at the same time. love how maximal his films get while remaining wholly unique. nice gender deconstruction here too.

one of my biggest interests in film is scifi and this year i saw some incredible works in that genre. one of those was Space is the Place (Coney, 1974), an afrofuturist production that is the definition of fun as i know it; over the top, obnoxious, silly, but with a deep line of jamming going on throughout. however i believe the best new scifi i saw this year was After Last Season (Region, 2009). an extremely off-the-wall, puzzling, and experimental film, region’s lone feature has been met with extremely divisive reviews but i’m of the belief that it reinvents not only how cinema is told but how it is processed, akin to the way that parajanov went for in The Colour of Pomegranates.

animation kinda sucks to me but i believe there is great merit in Tower (Maitland, 2016). at once a tragedy, it steadily progresses into something more ambiguous, becoming a beautiful rendition of bravery in the face of said tragedy. there are so many ways to do this that come across as preachy or bootlicking but i don’t get that vibe at all here. plus the animation is among the most beautiful i know of, probably because it goes so far against norms.

saw a lotta good horror this year as well, much of it through remi. one of those pictures was Halloween II (Zombie, 2009), a film that feels like a two hour panic attack in cinematic form. it’s basically committed to being about the ptsd of the lone hero after a slasher film and i’m convinced that the whole film is just playing out in her own fantasy and is not akin to the reality around it. such a difficult film to process emotionally, hit me very hard.

another great horror i saw was Xtro (Davenport, 1982). this take on the evil alien trope is also doused in a strong dose of depression as it goes through hooper-esque motions of insanity, attention to architecture, and an almost spiritual transcendence by the end of it. it’s up there with the finest films hooper made and i believe that it’s a must-see for any horror fan.

i also saw a sex horror, the film The Untamed (Escalante, 2016). basically this movie is like if Possession was actually really really good and didn’t burn out in the last 30 minutes. insane filmmaking, very erotic, tragic at times, and i think the effects and the mood are some top notch stuff in horror. better than any a24 film working in this mediu for sure, i look forward to escalante’s future efforts.

this year i saw a few chinese films, but none impressed me more than Devils on the Doorstep (Wen, 2000) and Youth (Xiaogang, 2017). Devils on the Doorstep is a tight balancing act of a bunch of comedy tropes and the horrors of occupied china, and it’s extremely technically proficient while also having a ton of heart – it’s a well regarded film surely but i would love if it saw more viewership in my circles. Youth is peak melodrama, chinese oscar bait that is so wholly successful it makes me wonder how it’s possible for western stuff to be lagging this far behind (sans lonergan i guess).

i technically saw it at the end of 2016 but i didn’t write on it so let me mention Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (Aldrich, 1962) which is a bit of a baity prestige pic of sorts that aldrich is just completely committed to transforming into something greater, more solemn, more haunting. great eye for images and startling dialogue; altman could easily be up there with the goats, just need to see more of his material.

at long last, i checked out a film that’s highly admired in my circles, which is Youth Without Youth (Coppola, 2007). what is surely among the brightest of a dim year, coppola’s tragedy weaves through countless moods and textures (becoming a period superhero film for a brief while) and culminates in a finale of melodrama and fantasy. honestly too maximalist for me to hammer at with words alone.

on a whim, i checked out A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (Iwai, 2016). structurally this film is kind of all over the place; i had no idea what it was going to be about for a good chunk of its 3 hour runtime. but the direction it goes is so soothing and emblematic of what i would define as our “time” that it moved me to tears when it concluded. a beautiful film in every way and i think it’s going to always be something i have to force people to see.

after several years of procrastination (mostly due to unavailability) i finally watched Extraordinary Stories (Llinas, 2008) which was every bit as great as i had heard. sidewinds through a number of plots with loosely constructed theories that reminded me of rivette, but llinas is more focused on the abject drama and reveals truths less than lies. it’s funny, touching, and extremely entertaining for the entire 4 hours. high cinema.

in addition to scifi i’m sort of big on low fantasy for similar reasons, and this year Celine (brisseau, 1992) which knocked my socks off. it’s hard to really explain because it’s such an impressionist film, but i would best describe it as the fabric that keeps interpersonal relationships bound is the celluloid this film is made of. it’s the tears of cinema, extreme emotion one way or another, fully in spectra.

some more off-beat genre films i saw were Green Snake (Hark, 1994) and Reflections of Evil (Packard, 2002). both very maximal works of art. hark’s film takes on wuxia and, in verhoeven fashion, embraces and deconstructs it simultaneously and ends with a sfx extravaganza i can’t help but love. the packard film is definitely in that flawed masterpiece zone where it’s so brimming with ideas that i can forgive whatever editing setbacks it has here and there. basically if lynch had a few different interests.

and now, onto the top five films i saw in the calendar year.

5. I Know Who Killed Me (Silvertson, 2007)

this is sort of a dream movie for me. it has a lot of things i love (hyper maximalism, easy to follow, packed with emotions, sort of genre-y, trashy as can be) and it just excels at this “film school ripoff version of david lynch” aesthetic that i adore. there are like random bouts of violence, campy one-liners all over the place (that it RECOGNIZES ARE CAMPY how hard is this), i am just in love with every single aspect about this goofy film. it synthesizes like dozens of different films into one and yet it feels like a totally singular vision in the way that few films are able to do. one of the greats of filmmaking.

4. Ludwig (Visconti, 1973)

my thoughts on visconti are sort of all over the place, but when he hits he hits hard. this is my favorite of his pictures. four hours, exuberant decadence. lots of gay themes and probably characters, i think it’s one of the most personal films visconti made as his royalty surely clashed with his artistic endeavors. the movie otherwise is paced well, has a bit of a watkins effect with the characters referencing the titular one in interview format. it’s super entertaining as well, i think visconti’s eye for dramatics is sometimes overlooked. somehow makes me want to see his other films even more than before.

3. Tea and Sympathy (Minnelli, 1956)

mindblowing that 1956 had something like this. i can’t believe that this form of masculinity was addressed at the time and with this much thought behind it; it tackles the institutions as head on as it possibly can, then concludes with some freudian stuff to hopefully distract the censors from those aspects. minnelli is so good at melodrama it makes me want to see his non musical work for dayz but i have a hard time believing anything with this much feeling for its people exists there, but then again every filmmaker wishes they could make something half as good as this.

2. Blood Beat (Zaphiratos, 1983)

remi exposed me to a bunch of z-horror this year and i sort of have varying levels of appreciation on them but this right here is probably the peak of the genre. this one-off film from a euro director has this overwhelming feeling that takes me back to camping in missouri, while the soundtrack is definitely among the top ten or twenty that i know of, it’s so well paced and just insane on a narrative level and it’s so fun and gruesome and constructed so beautifully i just cannot get enough of this movie. i want to watch it over and over and over and pray that this director did more material; i hope in another world he has. sublime.

1. Francisca (de Oliveira, 1981)

i spent a few words above praising a bunch of artworks that have a really special place in my heart that i saw in the last gregorian calendar year but this is sort of head and shoulders above them which is weird to sort of say out loud. it’s like this mishmash of brecht, bresson, duras, and dreyer all with a classic de oliveira spin that comes together in a masterpiece of distancing. there is so much purple prose in this, stylized as you can get, and the score makes it seem like some demonic work with religious value versus “simply” the cinematic. funny at times to boot, but more haunting for its 3 hour runtime. film rarely gets much better than this; a potential top 10 of all time for me.

5 patrician directors to replace ur entry level picks

martin scorsese –> abel ferrara

look, we all know how it is. you get to college and you realize everyone loves Goodfellas and some other people seem to be talking about this musical thing or something? anyways, long story short, everyone’s a scorsese fan too, awesome, great news. well that’s all well and good until you discover how basic and filmbro your taste is months down the line when the 101 class reaches critical levels of Taxi Driver references and you feel like you have to end it all, cinematically speaking that is.

well well well, if we don’t have another new yorker to the scene! abel ferrara can swoop in no problem and differentiate you from your peers, in addition to giving you some better movies than his more economically successful counterpart. want some gritty crime? throw out that Goodfellas dvd you finally bought on sale bc you got tired of rewatching the recording of it on your tv and pop in Bad Lieutenant or King of New York. want some genre exercises? well toss Hugo in the trash and play some 4:44 Last Day on Earth or New Rose Hotel. need some religion in your fedora-tipping life? cancel all future bluray updates on The Last Temptation of Christ, cease your rants on how Silence didn’t get any oscars, and finally remove Kundun from your watchlist, and instead take on the introspective and beautiful Mary.

paul thomas anderson –> jessica hausner

look, paul, i love ya man. Inherent Vice especially made me want a second renaissance of pta especially after two of his most “serious” ventures yet. but then we had to get Phantom Thread which was alright but fell prey to what made TWBB boring and – hold up, can i interest you in our lord and savior jessica hausner?

won’t take long; you could feasibly watch all 3 of her major features within one night if you were really bout it. a director who crisscrosses throughout genres, time periods, themes, and (what she beats pta it) moods, hausner’s films are laugh out loud in the same way that Punch-drunk Love or Boogie Nights are but Lourdes has the simple grace and effectiveness that Phantom Thread wasn’t quite able to muster, while being substantially less bombastic. add to her new sci-fi film coming out and you could definitely buy hausner stock now to get an edge on the film connoisseur competition in the upcoming years.

ingmar bergman –>manoel de oliveira

perhaps you see yourself as more enlightened than the charlatans who still think guy ritchie is good. well, you’re right, congrats, but reposting Seventh Seal gifs to your tumblr every couple of months only gets you so far out here bucko. bergman is sadboi kino personified, but the problem is that like half of his films are more or less the same, so you’re going to be treading the waters of your cinematic growth trying to do some Every Frame a Painting type thing w/ Through a Glass Darkly and then look back on your ‘films watched’ list in 5 years wondering where you went wrong.

luckily, there is a great director you can use to show off that patrician flair, and you can still pick the religious sadboi films if you’re really about it. stepping up to the plate is manoel de oliveira, a man with about as daunting a filmography that is substantially more diverse, though much of it is focused more on romance than… idk, that one time that you were crying bc of satan or something at bible study? anywho watch Francisca. there. i said it.

edgar wright –> neveldine/taylor

look, we can pretend all we want to, and most of it isn’t pretending i’m actually just incredibly more patrician than whoever is reading this, but anyways, point is, i used to throw on the occasional wright comedy to have a jovial old time before i realized how much of an idiot this made me. there is not a single patrician take on this director that you could identify as overwhelmingly positive; it’s all filmbro myopia with a tinge of entrylevel film essays.

maybe you’re like me, and you dislike thinking at all when it comes to movies. however, letting go of filmmakers that you might have once found dear might seem like abandoning an old friend or moving away from your hometown. fortunately i’ve done both of these things and can promise they are more emotionally exorcising than putting away your cornetto boxcase to indulge in Crank: High Voltage with the squad. and, if you wanted to be petty, you could realistically say that Gamer includes every film ever made, because it includes every color in the spectrum on multiple occasions. film or neveldine/taylor, which came first?

steven spielberg –> tobe hooper

i call this one the “inverse Poltergeist.” i didn’t really grow up with spielberg at all; i remember being moved by War of the Worlds which i still maintain is his 2nd best film but past that i either don’t recall or disliked the other stuff i saw of his in my childhood, which is really too bad because that seems to  be where most of his films would excel in. nevertheless, there is another director with a similar childlike awe of the world that will earn bonus points in particular because your friends will probably actually know what The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is.

ya got plenty to choose from. plow around and you’ll probably dig up a gem like Eggshells or Lifeforce or The Mangler. at the very least, you probably won’t find anything as bad or as self serious as Saving Private Ryan and you definitely won’t find anything near Ready Player One as much as hooper tried to prove us wrong there a couple of times. next time your friend uses the term “genre film,” feel free to step in and yell at him about how spielberg would trade his soul if he could make something half as inspired as Toolbox Murders.

november gems

moved to NY

Death by Hanging (Oshima, 1968) – while this film, to me, has a major flaw in its structure (spends either too much time as a procedural, or too little time on its racial investigations), it is still an extremely potent, beautifully leftist film that i will pretty much always be thinking about. makes me very excited to check out more from oshima.

Extraordinary Stories (Llinas, 2008) – not only in its southern flair, but also in terms of its themes and structure, this reminded me of Amores Perros. however i believe this film is far more intelligent and mature, even though i love that film as well. frequently funny, always compelling, and there’s a ton of little things i think abut a lot. would love to see his latest.

China Girl (Ferrara, 1987) – honestly neil bahadur’s letterboxd review is one of the greatest things i’ve ever read so go read that instead of whatever gibberish i can throw together here. basically an incredible film based on a boring structure that most filmmakers don’t recognize is inherently uninteresting without the subtext ferrara endows.

Youth Without Youth (Coppola, 2007) – this has like crazy mood shifts throughout and goes through odd motions that evoke virtually the entire spectrum of ideas and themes that interest me in filmmaking. the imagery in it is stunning too, and at its core it basically seems to want to be a superhero film that indulges precisely what those sorts of films should be going for.

Choose Me (Rudolph, 1984) – really love how…consistently unique this feels? all of the characters feel at home only in this picture, they are all totally different yet cut of the same mold, and their interactions are all interesting the way a rivette from this era is. a soothing watch.

Changeling (Eastwood, 2008) – the fact that libs think eastwood is a) some dumb patriot type and b) is bad in any capacity in moviemaking is something i will hold over their heads in 20 years when i remind them how dumb they once were

Bitter Victory (Ray, 1957) – i know that nick ray had a lot of stuff that he did that he probably wasn’t that interested in but this strikes me as a passionate film from him. his screenplays are so hard hitting, his images are so spectacular, he just, to quote the goat, is the cinema man

Le revelateur (Garrel, 1968) – honestly garrel being insufferably boring for the most part (while having some great imagery sometimes) is like one of the biggest cinematic disappointments to me, but this is only an hour long and is completely unlike his other films where it’s full on abstraction instead of boring meta deconstruction so yeah lets hear it for high contrast black-and-white art thots