i will first shoutout All That Heaven Allows (Sirk, 1955) and The Searchers (Ford, 1956), two films i would now call masterpieces that i rewatched this year with this new realization. tender, gorgeous, horrifying films in their own ways, both with pure transcendence that only some could pull off, especially in romantic melodramatic and western frameworks. what held me back from sirk’s excellent work initially when i saw it in high school was i think some aversion towards melodrama that we all are surely ingrained with to an extent when we pursue “serious” art. ford’s, i’m not sure. two films which have earned their status in the pantheon.
though i have since lost interest, i binged three lubitsch films at the start of the year with the best definitely being the oft-hilarious To Be or Not to Be (Lubitsch, 1942). i often hear discussion of frank humanism and a refined comedic streak when i read about this director, akin to the qualities i usually associate with renoir, and i can totally see it here. there’s less romantic transcendence and more american screwball, but unlike a lot of hawksian screwball i actually dig this stuff a lot.
loved two viscontis this year: Death in Venice (Visconti, 1971) and Rocco and His Brothers (Visconti, 1960). extremely different films. the former is him impersonating antonioni and largely outdoing him, and the latter is him impersonating fellini and keeping up more or less. radically different films. Rocco is compelling, filled with gorgeous BW shots, it’s an extremely intimate movie and uses this to show its scope, not unlike how yang would do later. Venice is high art stuff, the stuff you’d watch in rick owens at some EWS party. gorgeous looking and decadent and it’s such a dreary film but it’s so good at conveying that. mysterious man.
every year i tell myself that i’m going to see more japanese new wave and i always see like 1 or 2 movies and like them and never see any more. this year, it was Woman in the Dunes (Teshigahara, 1964) and Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (Terayama, 1971). i thought the latter was overstuffed, a bit dated, and not rigid enough. but teshigahara’s gorgeous, luscious, enigmatic, atmospheric study of sand and walls is incredible. a fantastic work of surrealism which never collapses on its own narrative weight.
speaking of putting off perfectly great films, i went and did the same thing with The Devils (Russell, 1971). the one jarman film i tried to endure this year i hated but i adored his work on the set design here, some of the best of all time really. i love how unabashedly edgy this is; there’s literally no good point to it all but it has this ruthless punk attitude while being totally not attached to any existing punk movement. this film could have started a nation. look at those colors and listen to those screams.
over the years i’ve started to lose some of my interest in silents but there’s always one every year that knocks me off my socks. for 2017, this was The Wedding March (von Stroheim, 1928) but the most i can say here is that you go on letterboxd and read neil bahadur’s writing on it…
i finally decided to watch Julien Donkey-Boy (Korine, 1999) after all these years. i knew i would love it, i think i saw it during a slumpy winter day or something. i cried. it’s what you expect it to be.
two excellent horrors this year, both completely different. Twentynine Palms (Dumont, 2003) is an arty take on slow cinema, reminiscent of antonioni but also breillat, wholly a new french extremity phenomenon. this whole film is so unbearably tense, the landscapes just ooze uncomfortable vibes, familiar as they may be. and landscapes seem to be all we have; the people we are closest to seem so distant. the other great horror was, of course Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Anderson, 2016). try reading my other review for my thoughts on that’n.
but luckily there were some other great genre films i had the fortune of seeing. this year i started going more in depth in tobe hooper’s filmo (rest in peace). Eggshells (Hooper, 1969) was the best; an experimental romp which manages the rare feat of getting its freedom across to the viewer. the film is freeform and so are we, while watching it. hooper is fascinated with this architecture, with people, with conversations, and somewhat with the extraterrestrial eggshell things downstairs. and the brakhage-esque visuals. i have no idea what this movie is or what it’s about.
at long, long last, i have settled upon a hitchcock i truly adore. that is Rebecca (Hitchcock, 1940). i didn’t think i liked hitchcock the romantic as i was kinda eh on Notorious but here he goes knocking it out of the park here. but i mostly love the setting. and the characters, how they look at each other, how the court case and tension build and connect – the temporal reverse chronology intersects simultaneously, that’s definitely some hitchcock stuff.
three fantastic experimental shorts. one was From the Notebook Of… (Beavers, 2000), the first beavers film i’ve seen. it’s the first great film about creation. it re-invents not cinema but the concept of cinema, editing, cuts, space manipulation. another was Dans le noir du temps (Godard, 2002), just when i had essentially given up on godard giving me another masterpiece, but he does it again. death; loss. the end. watch it with The End (Maclaine, 1953). one is temporal, the other is metaphysical. the final one was Seasons… (Brakhage & Solomon, 2002), which is probably his best purely painted work; it evokes such feelings of space, aesthetics, rhythm, and mood that i can’t believe it’s just painted images on film. there’s nothing to it, it’s just abstract mood music in movie form that works gracefully. a great branch from the criterion collection and his more challenging works.
in addition to hooper, i started to break into greenaway’s filmo a bit this year. the best one i saw was A Zed and Two Noughts (Greenaway, 1985). it’s all over the place thematically. i love it. it’s so beautiful, all these incredible films about architecture. but this one is also about zoos, and people, but mostly sex. read josiah morgan’s reviews though as i think they are more beneficial than i could do. greenaway’s sense of aesthetics has got to be among the best in history though, he’s not making painterly films but paintings themselves.
i watched jessica hausner’s three major films this year. i loved two of them and went gaga for Amour fou (Hausner, 2014). a black comedy with excellent pacing, it’s molasses and feels like it’s from a different decade. it’s like what i imagined bunuel would be like; funny, ruthless, political, and all around precisely how fun this sort of serious art film is allowed to be. i adore how funny yet serious this woman’s films are and greatly look forward to whatever she does next.
politically minded cinema was one of my big deals this year, and along with the slew of watkins joints i saw, Harlan County USA (Kopple, 1976) was the one that sort of kicked this off. this sort of communist presence in an unorthodox area is groovy, the whole thing is so inspiring and it never loses itself aesthetically or structurally. like so many great docs, its sense of rhythm is fantastic. pushes forward with hope among hopeless. beautiful stuff.
i adored Themis (Sono, 2011) but i couldn’t tell you why
for some reason i caved this year and saw My Neighbor Totoro (Miyazaki, 1988) but i ended up adoring it. for once, the weebs were right. it’s a breezy, patient, endearing piece, with pleasures that i only ever get out of experimental films thesedays. like the great films about happiness, this film understands that happiness requires sadness to be appreciated, which is why when people say it’s this pure film about sugar i can’t really vibe with that so much. but i can vibe with its reception.
the best romance i saw this year was probably Miami Vice (Mann, 2006), and the best melodrama was Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945). both are huge, bombastic, over-the-top; they’re trying to go so far outside of their usual binding yet stay within what they can do. man that was a bad sentence, should rewrite sometime…. Mildred Pierce is the first and only noir epic, and i love the characters here. i wish sirk remade the film but curtiz has excellent pacing and a competent mise-en-scene at all times. mann’s film is his greatest. look at it.
now the top 5 we have been waiting for:
5. Liquid Sky (Tsukerman, 1982)
look up this movie and it’s as awesome as it sounds. chic, stylistic. punk. high concept stuff that doesn’t overstay its environment. so many gorgeous shots, it’s inspiring to see something with this much overt passion behind it succeed on so many levels. i love how it shifts back and forth – it’s about fashion, then sci-fi stuff, then it’s an addiction drama thing, eventually it becomes an erotic horror…. i thought films like this only existed in dreams.
4. Lamentations: A Monument for the Dead World (Elder, 1985)
it takes all of the most interesting elements of the great structuralist films (which posited what made narrative films have a narrative), synthesizes them with the aesthetic push of mekas, the rhythm of beavers, and the determination of gance. it’s about as dense and inscrutable as Histoire(s) du cinema, but where that project faltered was that its scope seemed too large and the execution was somewhat inorganic. in Lamentations, there is a clear focus (that of the struggle between logical reasoning and faith), yet this thesis is able to stem off into wild directions (such as the conclusion of part 1, using soviet era montage, a brakhage-inspired sex scene, all to conclude with how the formation of language becomes the perfect harmony of these two conflicting ideologies). this scene in question is quite possibly the greatest in cinema. and despite the clear nuance and beauty of it, part 2 quickly tears that optimism down as we learn to live in this incomplete world. there is no film out there like this.
3. La commune (Paris, 1871) (Watkins, 2000)
this is what eisenstein would have wanted (along with Requiem for a Dream)
2. Kiss Me Deadly (Aldrich, 1955)
avant-noir, boys and girls. post-noir. i want to say it was the last noir because it blew up the entire notion of noir. but i also want to say it was the first noir, because in many ways it’s the first to realize exactly what these silly b-pictures can achieve. that ending, the world explodes before our eyes as we escape, burdened with our memories. it cannot be the first and the last, so it must simply be the best. great sound. better characters. idk why so many insist ralph meeker is so selfish here when his pursuits seem to have a metaphyiscal quality to them. he seems to be fueled by some other force that isn’t cinematic, but spiritual. they should teach this movie in churches.
1. Make Way for Tomorrow (McCarey, 1937)
every single thing, every cliched plot point this film treads over, every glimpse, every voice crack, every cut, every pan, every echo that we get in our memory as we mentally process and reprocess the words these people have the gall to say to each other, every silence that cleanses the ears afterwards as we’re comforted by saccharine lines after, every phone call, every call, and every single little thing about this stupid film is what every single dramatist wants to do. everything works here, and nobody will ever figure out how exactly it does, because then the mysteries of cinema will be done, or at least, not needed anymore. but we still will never know precisely why this films works where hundreds, thousands of tearjerkers don’t. and i mean competent ones, not just that lifetime stuff. this film does not transcend boundaries; it’s ten feet before their edges. i hate it because it’s so contained and soars with grace that is incapable in physical flight. “you always were my favourite.” how will cinema ever recover from that? how can bad things happen in a world where this film exists? but then, happiness requires that sadness, and there is so much of both here. how did mccarey do it? how can anyone make something this great? how?