Monday, January 30, 2017

Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho, 2016)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Best Films of 2016

The "it has to play for one week in NYC" rule is narrative feature film bigotry which almost never applies to avant-garde shorts. So you bet I ignored it here.

20. Journey to the Shore (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman)
Two formidable films about death.

A few years after my mother died, I had a dream in which she drank coffee with me in the kitchen. Even in the dream, I knew she was dead. But somehow I could still interact with her, a bittersweet sense of precariousness and confusion hanging over the encounter. Kurosawa's film evokes that feeling better than any I can recall. And unlike his godawful Creepy, its implausibilities only strengthen the concept.

Akerman's swansong recalls the conceptual hijinks of Jafari Panahi's This Is Not a Film. This is no home movie in the sense that Akerman winnowed down 40 hours of conversations with her mother to an assiduously constructed 115 minutes. But it's also a movie about having no home in this world or any other. Akerman's mother died in April 2014. Akerman died on Oct 5, 2015.

19. The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues)
Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie)
They're here, they're self-indulgent, get used to it!

18. Kaili Blues (Bi Gan)
Going Journey to the Shore one better, this debut feature lends both the past and the future a tangible plasticity in the present, most incredibly in a 41-minute shot [sic] corralling all three registers.

17. American Honey (Andrea Arnold)
I accepted this film's non-ending because that's what it's about, the "common people" Jarvis Cocker sang about who cannot call Dad to stop it all.

16. Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
The Third Generation meets Dawn of the Dead, ok. But the fumes from M are the strongest in this de facto portrait of a city and all its tentacles.

15. Foyer (Ismaïl Bahri)
In Tunis, Bahri places a piece of white paper in front of his camera to catch the imprint of the wind. Instead, various passersby, including some scary authorities, question his activity and force a meditation on work, whiteness, and the very indexicality of cinema.

14. The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (Ben Rivers)
Half documentary on the filming of Oliver Laxe's Mimosas in Morocco (with a touch of Buñuel's Las Hurdes?), half adaptation of Paul Bowles' "A Distant Episode" starring Laxe, Rivers' latest whasit is a difficult, upsetting condemnation of Orientalism including the filmmaker's own.

13. Paterson (Jim Jarmusch)
Walter Ong would have loved it too.

12. Happy Hour (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)
Five and a half hours of four women grappling with their 30s leaves plenty of time for all sorts of purposeful narrative trills and glissandi like the late arrival of an iced coffee. 

11. Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
More past in the present. And as full of assholes, penises, and deformities as The Greasy Strangler. The difference here is that bodies are touched rather than ridiculed in an effort to realize the interconnectedness of various generations and planes of existence.

10. The Love Witch (Anna Biller)
As with Viva only more so, a promised campfest becomes something more moving, here a trenchant observation of a woman exiled to her fantasies.

9. Sin Dios ni Santa María (Samuel M. Delgado and Helena Girón)
Yet more past in the present. Present-day footage of Delgado's grandmother in the Canary Islands shot with expired 16mm film vies with a soundtrack of late 1960s recordings of men from Tenerife narrating encounters with witches. It ends with the long-ago documenter confessing that the recordings are imperfect "due to faults in the narrator's memory." Duras is thanked. 

8. A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
This astonishing Emily Dickinson biopic does nothing less than reconceive the nuclear family unit as a site of queer possibility. More here

7. The Other Side (aka Louisiana) (Roberto Minervini)
Minervini uses the term "short-circuiting" for how he tacks on a coda documenting a Louisiana militia to his uncomfortably intimate glimpse into the life of an impoverished meth addict. In order to rewire the two sections, the viewer must see the rural white poor in a wider context of economic deprivation and corporate/government indifference. It's a model for the rewiring of coalitions that must happen to dismantle Trumpistan.

6. Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu)
A richly detailed and ever chatty narrative about how our identities derive from the taking up of space. More here.

5. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
An impossibly delicate film where even the most dramatically inert moments create cause and effect chains and then break them off again. 

4. Homo Sapiens (Nikolaus Geyrhalter)
Composed of shots of abandoned spaces (malls, train stations, stadiums) around the world with no dialogue, Homo Sapiens improbably contains the most complex soundtrack of the year. It even credits a Foley artist who helped highlight the sounds of wind, water, and animal cries for a reminder that no matter how much we fuck with the environment, Mother Nature will win in the end.

3. Fort Buchanan (Benjamin Crotty)
Sure to go down as one of the great gay films because there's a way in which it's about the utter banality of so much gay media. A Washington native filming in France with a mixture of soap stars and refugees from Rohmer and Bonello films, Crotty sourced his dialogue from TV scripts found on line for closed-captioning purposes so that his characters emit awkward witticisms like "I'll take a slice of that." The effect is akin to an episode of Lifetime's Army Wives scripted by Ionesco as homosexuality is normalized into oblivion with stories concerning parenthood, marriage, and eternal monogamy.

2. For The Plasma (Bingham Bryant and Kyle Molzan)
You can tell that this is a self-conscious attempt to approximate a garbled vanity project like After Last Season (Mark Region, 2009) because Chris Messina's cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, the score comes from legit musician/composer Keiichi Suzuki, and both filmmakers cite Raul Ruiz's The Territory as an influence. A closer antecedent might be Walter Ungerer's The Animal with its blandly menacing New England forests. Conspiracy theories mutate into concerns over reality and its visual mediation. The nonsensical story frequently goes off the rails into pillow-shot poetry. And somewhere in here there's a landscape film worthy of James Benning. In short, For The Plasma is the work of free individuals, however temporarily, and a gift to those of us who huff cinema like so much amyl nitrate. I felt so close to this film that, in a rare move for me, I purchased it on iTunes where, incredibly, you can benefit from close-captioning. Also included: the most hilarious tracking shot in cinema history.

1.  Projections Program 8 at the New York Film Festival:
Autumn (Nathaniel Dorsky)
The Dreamer (Nathaniel Dorsky)
Bagatelle II (Jerome Hiler)
Eye-confounding superimpositions which find the world in a drop of water...or is that a drop of water in a world? More here.

Best unwitting cinema moment of 2016:
The bootleg copy of Doctor Strange on the Amazon Fire Stick that begins in medias res with a chunk of Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time," a commutation test classic.

Great films that made me feel stranded at the end:
Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Being 17 (André Téchiné)
The Measure of a Man (Stéphane Brizé)
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)

Feel-bad films are just as banal as feel-good films:
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos)

A horror film I actually liked:
Demon (Marcin Wrona)