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.

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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.

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

october gems

Aniki Bobo (de Oliveira, 1942) – what appears to be a slight and insignificant film, mdo’s first major feature is a commanding work, with a strong sense of scope, morals, and its own identity. in this, while you can’t see the sort of baroque stuff he would attempt later, one can surely identify the talent of a future great director.

(side note: i also loved his Doomed Love, A Century of Energy, and Mon Cas but i try to pick only one film per director per month for these)

Beaubourg (Rossellini, 1977) – a cool city symphony type film that explores, instead, the grand opening of an art museum. interesting to note is the quiet, deliberate camera movement which felt quite different from rossellini’s work in India, and also peculiar is how the masses here are significantly less pretentious (or, that is, appear to be less academic and wholly invested in the art they interact with) than people would have you believe. the “pretentious art critic” trope lives on as being my most hated one.

Period Piece (Andrews, 2006) – well paced version of Trash Humpers without as much deliberate nods to its own garish nature. super funny too, it’s basically sketch comedy in the most z grade way possible, and i would definitely love to see more by andrews if the rest of his films are anything like this.

The Last House on Dead End St. (Watkins, 1977) – no, not that watkins. dark film. evil film, even. there’s a level of sadism here that kinda permeates beneath and very much above the surface of its gritty appearance. i can’t believe a 3 hour version was originally considered – how much simulated misery could one endure – but as a 70 minute exploitation slasher, this is just the right amount of darkness.

Reflections of Evil (Packard, 2002) – next time i watch this i need to see the shortened version as this is just a bit too much in some areas (i think particularly with the watch salesman stuff).  however the current 138 minute cut is still a masterpiece that borders on transcending even that label; a towering achievement of camp, lofi digital, and middle class frustration at the world, portrayed as an anger towards capitalism rather than more specific zeitgeists.

But I’m a Cheerleader (Babbit, 1999) – a film which i can ultimately appreciate for giving a voice to people who have had it so bad for so long (and we have thankfully progressed at least a little since 20 years ago where this was the norm in a way), but, like a normie has their Schindler’s List, this film is ultimately too depressing for me to see it again anytime soon, because i know how real and unhappy stories like this truly were.

Personal Problems (Gunn, 1980) – one of the best pacing out of any film i have ever seen, gunn’s soap opera of sorts weaves together a long tapestry of characters and their struggles over the course of nearly 3 hours and makes it feel like almost a short film of sorts. i think that the film being somewhat difficult to follow is what holds it back for me, but ensembles of this nature (think A Brighter Summer Day) are really intriguing to me.

(also loved: Ganja and Hess also by gunn)

Tower (Meitland, 2016) – man 2016 had so many masterpieces from so many unexpected avenues, and this is right up there with em. animation sucks, normally, but i think the way it’s used here with visual motifs and to enhance the reality of the situation (or even act as a coping mechanism for it) is way cooler than anything i ever see the medium used. very moving stuff.

Grim (Ito, 1985) – you know the drill with ito at this point, never boring filmmaker.

september gems

The Blackout (Ferrara, 1997) – a super accurate portrayal of what i believe hell to be. dark, digital landscapes and soundscapes engulf everything in their path. the conclusion of the film is almost too destructive for words.

Halloween II (Zombie, 2009) – the kills in this are so visceral and hard-hitting, and coupled with the premise being based around the “last girl” having extreme PTSD it makes for a film that is effectively one long anxiety attack after another. i cannot believe this film impacted me as hard as this.

The Glass Shield (Burnett, 1994) – surprisingly entertaining and compelling LAPD story from, of all people, the director of Killer of Sheep. notable for how little it bootlicks (if at all) and it’s got a cool structure that sort of feels like how i wanted Black Klansman to go. great stuff, makes me want to see more from the dude.

Ludwig (Visconti, 1973) – obviously this is hardly a “hidden gem” but i think it’s far underseen in favor of other viscontis when i believe it’s his best work he ever did. it’s super personal, super beautiful, and i think it has that perfect mix of decadence and pathos that visconti so many times seemed to just miss. one of the best films i’ve seen all year.

Iguana (Hellman, 1988) – for some reason i thought this would be like an exploitation film, but no this is just a straight super arthouse, arguably art-horror film done by one of cinema’s under-appreciated masters. i think this film is extremely hard to pin down ideologically which makes it difficult to write much about in that way, but it’s a supremely beautiful endeavor and maybe hellman’s 2nd best.

Green Snake (Hark, 1993) – super fun, super interesting take on wuxia which is a genre i’m not that big a fan of (though i have only seen a small handful of them). this is a clear favorite as it de-establishes its tropes in interesting ways, is super funny, bright, visually inventive, and has this energy i see from few films. hark is great, folks.

Devils on the Doorstep (Wen, 2000) – i don’t think this film is saying that much super profound stuff but what it is doing is making a competent film on all cylinders and going above and beyond on pacing, camerawork, and writing. the film feels super coherent at all times and it’s able to effortlessly go from hilarious to thrilling and ends on a surprisingly beautiful note. really some incredible moviemaking.

Phase IV (Bass, 1974) – pretty much exactly what i expected out of the reviews + trailer. great cult sci-fi, not passionate about it, but it’s great at what it does.