25 March 2010

Bientôt

I shall be returning to regularly scheduled updates soon. Again, sorry for the absence.

18 March 2010

For the invisible man who can sing in a visible voice

March has been a sad month for music lovers, with Alex Chilton, lead singer of Big Star, dying of a heart attack yesterday and Mark Linkous, the mastermind behind Sparklehorse, taking his life over a week ago. Big Star was one of the great American rock bands of the 1970s, headed by Chilton and the tragic, late Chris Bell. While commercial success eluded the group in their heyday, their influence could be heard on countless American rock bands from the mid-1980s on, from R.E.M. to Primal Scream. Chilton's musical legacy was immortalized twice for subsequent generations by Paul Westerberg and his The Replacements' brilliant anthem to the singer, titled simply "Alex Chilton," and Ivo Watts-Russell's 4AD "supergroup" This Mortal Coil, who covered "Kangaroo" (with vocals by Cindytalk lead singer Gordon Sharp) and "Holocaust" (sung by Howard Devoto of The Buzzcocks) on the album It'll End in Tears. A Big Star tribute album was released in 2006, which featured covers by Wilco, The Afghan Whigs, The Posies and Teenage Fanclub. Chilton and Big Star's music started appearing in a number of Gen X films like Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming and Empire Records and more recently in both Adventureland and Thumbsucker.

Mark Linkous was the brains behind Sparklehorse, one of the great, lesser known bands to come out of the mid-90s. Sparklehorse reached its greatest success in 2001 with the album It's a Wonderful Life, which featured guest vocalists PJ Harvey, Tom Waits and Nina Persson of The Cardigans. In 2009, Sparklehorse and Danger Mouse collaborated together on a project entitled Dark Night of the Soul, which was to be accompanied with a photo booklet from David Lynch. The vocalists on the album included Iggy Pop, Persson, Julian Casablancas, Lynch, Frank Black, The Flaming Lips, James Mercer of The Shins, Suzanne Vega and the late Vic Chesnutt. Despite legal troubles with the release, Dark Night of the Soul was available streaming on NPR's website, and it rumored to have an official release sometime this year. A number of musicians have been offering requiems for Linkous, including Steven Drozd, Steve Albini and Patti Smith.

16 March 2010

Leopards, Deserts and Trains: Criterion in June

Criterion announced their June titles yesterday, with a DVD and Blu-ray of Michelangelo Antonioni's first color feature Red Desert [Il deserto rosso], starring a brunette Monica Vitti, among the releases. Red Desert, easily one of my favorite films, will hit shelves on the 22nd. Luchino Visconti's lavish historical epic The Leopard [Il gattopardo], which stars Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale, Alain Delon and Pierre Clémenti among others, will hit Blu-ray on the same date. Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, one of the two "episodic" Jarmusch films I like, is bowing on DVD and Blu-ray on the 15th. Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up is set for the 8th; the DVD only release includes Kiarostami's The Traveler from 1974. Strangely the release doesn't include Nanni Moretti's short doc Il giorno della prima di Close Up, which was featured on both the UK and French editions. It is however available on Cinema 16's European Shorts collection. The other two DVD releases are Jan Troell's Everlasting Moments [Maria Larssons eviga ögonblick] on the 15th and Carol Reed's 1940 thriller Night Train to Munich on the 22nd. Correction: (Thanks Blake) Everlasting Moments and Close-Up will also be Blu-ray releases (they weren't listed yesterday).

On the horizon from Criterion, I've been told two more Ozu films are coming. Also, they mentioned in the February newsletter that Andrea Arnold would soon be included in the Collection later this year, which must be in reference to Fish Tank through their partnership with IFC Films. It'd be great to see the two shorts Arnold made before her Oscar-winning Wasp (Dog and Milk) on their release.

07 March 2010

bfd 2010

Christ. The Independent Spirit Awards proved to be just as useless as the Oscars usually are. So, as tonight's going to suck, why not just pour yourself too many cocktails (or have someone do it for you) and find people that can make fun of Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman's face with you? I'll hopefully be doing the same.

04 March 2010

...Two Months (and a few days) Later

Inspired by a recent conversation with my oldest friend Dan, I’ve been positively motivated to write what I wanted to but couldn’t, for several reasons, put together for the posting of my list of The Decade List of 100. Tying ideas together successfully has always been the weakest facet of my writing, so the prospect of sifting through ten years of cinema, especially from the perspective of someone who entered those years at the age of 15, felt like an insurmountable task. It still, to some extent, seems outside the realm of possibility, but at least now I can attempt to explain or defend some of what was going through my head while arranging the list at hand.

Before I had a chance to come up with a better name for it, “The Decade List” stuck, serendipitously masking any questionable adjective one might have used to modify “Films of the ‘00s.” Neither “best” nor “favorite” felt like the correct modifier, as I tried to objectively assess the films I chose without completely abandoning some of the personal attachments I’ve developed with them over the years (or, in some cases, over much smaller of a time frame). That 43 of the films were at least partially financed by the French film industry certainly points to one of the personal biases I didn’t try to look past. That only 3 were documentaries shows another, one I’m not exactly proud of. The double (and triple and quadruple) appearances of 17 directors might suggest I didn’t put that auteur inclination aside either, but it isn’t exactly true, as omitting Clean, The Boss of It All, Time of the Wolf, Anatomy of Hell and Last Days was a lot easier than eliminating films whose directors only made a single appearance on the final list.

Though I never properly introduced the project (as I didn’t have a clear idea of where it was headed upon conception), I did establish a single rule for inclusion: the film had to make its international premiere after December 31, 1999 and before January 1, 2010. Considering the nature of the project, that rule might have sounded redundant, but it needed to be clearly stated, as it cancelled out films such as Claire Denis’ Beau travail, Nagisa Oshima’s Taboo, Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher and Laurent Cantet’s Human Resources, all of which officially premiered in ’99 but hit the U.S. within the acceptable window.

It’s hard to decide which of the two grave sins of omission (not defending the list as a whole or not defending the film I chose as my #1) is worse, but I like to think the reason I had nothing to write about Dogville was the best vindication for its placement. No other film I watched for the sake of making this list screamed out, “this is it,” the way Dogville did. The sensation isn’t something I can successfully articulate nor defend in any intellectual manner. That I happened to chose a film that was appearing with some frequency on top of others’ similar lists made the task even more difficult. Do I really have anything new to say about a film that’s been written about as extensively as Dogville, and even if I did make a check-list of all the things it does right, would that come close to defining that seemingly inexplicable feeling I got while watching it?

What I will say, however, was that no other film made me re-examine and eventually adjust my once rigidly negative feelings toward its filmmaker the way Dogville did. Whether a harsh reaction to the emotions von Trier conjured inside of me with Dancer in the Dark, Breaking the Waves and The Idiots or the inability to determine why he was doing so, my hatred for the director vanished midway through watching Dogville for the first time, and by the time the saxophone comes in on “Young Americans,” I was singing a much different song about von Trier. While I still think his motives in Dancer in the Dark are tough to define, Dogville and its world of invisible physical boundaries revealed the man behind the curtain and provided me with a special kind of elation (the sort that comes best from misanthropy).

With regard to Michael Haneke, a filmmaker who seems to be falling out of favor with a lot of people I know (or read), I feel no qualms about having him as the most featured filmmaker on the 100. While I do generally like Time of the Wolf, I think Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher, Caché and The White Ribbon represent the upper tier of his work over the past decade. However, Dan asked me if The Piano Teacher really is better than Caché, and likely, it isn’t, especially when considering Haneke’s oeuvre as a whole and his cinematic obsessions. While I acknowledge that, in terms of Haneke’s career, Caché will likely stand out as his “masterpiece,” The Piano Teacher marked my first experience with Haneke on the big screen and still remains one of my finer theatrical experiences, even though it was still fantastic to see Caché on opening night with an even larger audience. This particular bias is probably more common with albums than films as I can’t think of any other films on the list that would fall under this distinction.

The “well, it was my first time” bias wasn’t the only that was at work when organizing the films. For the majority of the year, I spent more time bestowing praise upon Sébastien Lifshitz, the one filmmaker I knew most people weren’t familiar with, than most of the other directors represented. So on some level, I think I felt it my duty to include either Wild Side or Come Undone in my top 10 instead of judging either of the films against all the rest. A close friend of mine, who also shared my enthusiasm for Lifshitz, sent me an e-mail recently saying he’d rewatched Wild Side and been surprised to have found it to be more ornamental than he’d remembered. As I read that, I knew exactly what he meant and perhaps even thought something along those lines when watching it again in December. In looking at the ten films that follow Wild Side on the list, I recognize now that all ten are better films. Had I not spent so much time absorbing as much cinema as I could over the past decade, I would have preferred naming just the ten best films of the Aughts: ten years, ten films and (likely) ten filmmakers. With that in mind, spot number 10 becomes nearly as important as spot number 1, signifying not the tenth best film you saw so much as the one film you wanted to be sure you didn’t leave off the list. So when dealing with a list of 100, both spots 10 and 100 fall prey to that idea.

If I thought really hard about it, I could probably come up with predilections for about half, in addition to factors working against about a fourth of them. As I don’t care to do so, I’ll simply point out the ones that came to mind first. Time certainly didn’t work in the favor of In the Mood for Love, allowing its director to commit a giant fuck up with My Blueberry Nights, which wouldn’t have been as damning if it didn’t share the thematic and stylistic traits that defined the rest of his works. And while the same could be said for Michael Haneke and his Funny Games remake, he at least had the chance to redeem himself (in my eyes) with The White Ribbon. Time didn’t seem to work in the favor of Mulholland Drive in the ranking either, as it had nine years to lose some of its luster from being analyzed/decrypted to death and failing to retain the magic of seeing it for the first time in its subsequent viewings. Time did work in the favor of There Will Be Blood, however, and the fact that I only watched it twice with my opinion of it growing exponentially the more I thought about it.

A couple of people seemed surprised to see not only how high I’d ranked Sex Is Comedy but that I’d placed it above the rest of Catherine Breillat’s other films. For reasons I’m not exactly sure, several films got knocked down in the rankings for containing scenes or moments I couldn’t defend intellectually or artistically. For Fat Girl, I couldn’t justify Breillat’s need to violently murder two of her characters. For Inside, I couldn’t see the explanation of why Béatrice Dalle was terrorizing Allyson Paradis as anything but a lame cop-out. For Mysterious Skin, I kept hearing that awful line Joseph Gordon-Levitt screams in the middle of the film. For Trouble Every Day, I’m still not even sure. None of Breillat’s other films really came to life the way Sex Is Comedy did on repeat viewings. Of course, I had always regarded Sex Is Comedy as a lesser film in Breillat’s canon, so finding out that I was wrong placed it in favor of discovering that I wasn’t truly satisfied with one of Fat Girl’s consequential elements.

In reviewing the annual Best Of lists I’ve written for this blog, I’ve called some truly worthless films (like The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down—Christ, drugs must have been involved) the best of their given year, as well as films that ultimately weren’t anything special (like Pan’s Labyrinth and 2046). With that said, I’ll probably recognize at least one or two of these films as being shitty after some time passes, even though I spent a lot more time on this than any of annual run-downs.

I suppose the sort of defense for my ’00 list that would make the most sense (much more so than overanalyzing my own prejudices and miscalculations) would be one where I explored the commonalities between the films I ranked highest or what I looked for when ordering them (I won’t pretend to make some sort of hyperbolic umbrella statement about the decade in cinema). Malheureusement, I can only come up with some really facile descriptors like “bold” and “obstinate” to connect the films, and those will do about as much justice to the films as forcing some loose, interlocking theme would. I made the list because I thought I would enjoy doing so, and I did… some of the time. Ultimately though the whole thing was simply a way for me to hopefully introduce films and/or filmmakers to others—the exact reason I started a blog, only in project form. If I happened to succeed on that level, then the self-inflicted exhaustion and frustration was (probably) worth it.

Because I was asked... some Oscar predictions

I was asked to participate in an Oscar Competition, hosted by VoucherCodes.co.uk, and while the Academy Awards have been a sore subject with me this year, I've made some predictions, all of which are mostly speculative. For past two years, I've actually managed to see every nominated film in the major categories (excluding foreign and documentary, as they weren't as easy to come by). This year, I've seen maybe half of the nominees, most of which have underwhelmed me (to say the least). As the competition doesn't require me to predict all of the nominees, I've only selected predictions in the categories where I thought I had a clear enough idea of who might be taking home the gold (and I'm purposefully staying away from that scary Best Actress category). These are not the people or films I think should win, mind you. For those in the UK, be sure to check out VoucherCodes.co.uk's deals on amazon.co.uk and lovefilm.com (like Netflix, only in the UK). So here goes...

Picture: Avatar
Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire
Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
Adapted Screenplay: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner, Up in the Air
Cinematography: Mauro Fiore, Avatar
Animated Feature: Up
Song: "The Weary Kind," Crazy Heart
Documentary: The Cove
Sound Editing: Avatar
Sound Mixing: Avatar
Visual Effects: Avatar

I might fill in the blanks by Sunday. We'll see.

Spoke to Soon; More from the Warner Archive

The day after I mentioned a number of new films coming to the Warner Archive, The New York Post revealed even more titles becoming available on 16 March (thanks, Eric). Funny enough, all of the titles I give a shit about seem to be the ones the writer doesn't as they're all listed near the end. The ones I didn't mention yesterday include Lina Wertmüller's Night Full of Rain [La fine del mondo nel nostro solito letto in una notte piena di pioggia] with Candice Bergen and Giancarlo Giannini; István Szabó's Meeting Venus with Glenn Close and Niels Arestrup; James Ivory's Surviving Picasso with Anthony Hopkins, Natascha McElhone and Julianne Moore; Art Napoleon's Too Much, Too Soon with Dorothy Malone and Errol Flynn; and Dino Risi's The Priest's Wife [La moglie del prete] with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. Arizona Dream, Rabbit, Run, A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later and Saint Joan will also be available on the 16th.

03 March 2010

Warner Archive, TCM Vault, Online Streaming and the Usual DVD Update

While the official DVD/Blu-ray release update is pretty mehhh, there are some more exciting things home viewing related happening below.

- The Disappeared, 2008, d. Johnny Kevorkian, IFC Films, 18 May
- PoliWood, 2009, d. Barry Levinson, Screen Media, 18 May
- Prodigal Sons, 2008, d. Kimberly Reed, First Run, 18 May
- Formosa Betrayed, 2009, d. Adam Kane, Screen Media, 25 May
- Blind Menace, 1960, d. Kazuo Mori, AnimEigo, 8 June
- Bass Ackwards, 2010, d. Linas Phillips, New Video, 29 June
- Burning Paradise, 1994, d. Ringo Lam, Discotek Media, 29 June
- Loose Screws, 1985, d. Rafal Zielinski, Severin, 29 June
- Lorna, the Exorcist [Les possédées du diable], 1974, d. Jesús Franco, Mondo Macabro, 29 June
- Naked Obsession [Spiando Marina], 1992, d. Sergio Martino, MYA, 29 June
- Uppercut Man [Qualcuno pagherà?], 1987, d. Sergio Martino, MYA, 29 June
- Brotherhood [Broderskab], 2009, d. Nicolo Donato, Olive Films Opus, 1 September

Blu-ray

- Absolute Power, 1997, d. Clint Eastwood, Warner, 1 June
- Heartbreak Ridge, 1986, d. Clint Eastwood, Warner, 1 June
- The Stepfather, 1987, d. Joseph Ruben, Shout! Factory, 15 June
- A Star Is Born, 1954, d. George Cukor, Warner, 22 June
- Uncle Sam, 1997, d. William Lustig, Blue Underground, 29 June

Below you'll find a list of some of the 2010 additions to the Warner Archive Collection. Sure, most of the releases have been trash, but on the upside, as of March it looks as if they've improved their cover artwork. Also, there look to be a number of exciting titles on the horizon, including Emir Kusturica's Arizona Dream (which probably deserves a non-DVD-R release), Claude Lelouch's A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later and Otto Preminger's Saint Joan which marked the film debut of Jean Seberg in the role of Joan of Arc. I'll let you know when these titles have been made available for purchase. Those, along with a few others, are below the already-released titles.

- American Anthem, 1986, d. Albert Magnoli
- An American Dream, 1966, d. Robert Gist, w. Janet Leigh
- Angel Dusted, 1981, d. Dick Lowry, w. Jean Stapleton, Arthur Hill
- The Bad Seed, 1985, d. Paul Wendkos, w. Lynn Redgrave, David Carradine
- Blood & Orchids, 1986, d. Jerry Thorpe, w. Kris Kristofferson, Jane Alexander, Sean Young
- Bloodbrothers, 1978, d. Robert Mulligan, w. Richard Gere, Paul Sorvino
- La boheme, 1926, d. King Vidor
- Dying Room Only, 1973, d. Philip Leacock, w. Cloris Leachman, Ned Beatty, Dabney Coleman
- Fighter Squadron, 1948, d. Raoul Walsh
- Force of Arms, 1951, d. Michael Curtiz, w. William Holden
- Green Fire, 1954, d. Andrew Marton, w. Grace Kelly
- If Looks Could Kill, 1991, d. William Dear, w. Richard Grieco, Roger Rees, Linda Hunt, Gabrielle Anwar, Roger Daltrey
- It's a Wonderful World, 1939, d. W.S. Van Dyke, w. Claudette Colbert, James Stewart
- The Jazz Singer, 1952, d. Michael Curtiz, w. Danny Thomas, Peggy Lee
- A Killer in the Family, 1983, d. Richard T. Heffron, w. Robert Mitchum, James Spader, Eric Stoltz, Catherine Mary Stewart
- Kismet, 1944, d. William Dieterle, w. Marlene Dietrich
- Mara Maru, 1952, d. Gordon Douglas, w. Errol Flynn
- The Pagan, 1929, d. W.S. Van Dyke
- The Possessed, 1977, d. Jerry Thorpe, w. Harrison Ford, Diana Scarwid
- Rampage, 1963, d. Phil Karlson, w. Robert Mitchum, Sabu
- Special Bulletin, 1983, d. Edward Zwick
- Sphinx, 1981, d. Franklin J. Schaffner, w. Lesley-Anne Down, Frank Langella, Maurice Ronet, John Gielgud, John Rhys-Davies
- White Shadows in the South Seas, 1928, d. W.S. Van Dyke
- Wild Oranges, 1924, d. King Vidor

On the Horizon

- Arizona Dream, 1993, d. Emir Kusturica, w. Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis, Faye Dunaway, Lili Taylor, Vincent Gallo, Paulina Porizkova
- The Awakening, 1980, d. Mike Newell, w. Charlton Heston, Susannah York
- Just Tell Me What You Want, 1980, d. Sidney Lumet, w. Ali MacGraw, Myrna Loy, Alan King, Peter Weller
- A Man and a Woman: 20 Years Later [Un homme et une femme, 20 ans déjà], 1986, d. Claude Lelouch, w. Anouk Aimée, Jean-Louis Trintignant
- The Merry Widow, 1925, d. Erich von Stroheim
- Rabbit, Run, 1970, d. Jack Smight, w. James Caan, Carrie Snodgress
- Saint Joan, 1957, d. Otto Preminger, w. Jean Seberg, Richard Widmark, John Gielgud

I haven't seen any new additions to the Universal Vault, but TCM will be releasing three films through Universal, all starring Cary Grant, in March.

- Devil and the Deep, 1932, d. Marion Gering, w. Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, Cary Grant
- The Eagle and the Hawk, 1933, d. Stuart Walker, w. Cary Grant, Carole Lombard
- The Last Outpost, 1935, d. Charles Barton, Louis J. Gasnier, w. Cary Grant

At tlavideo.com, Frameline has released (and will be releasing) a few of their documentaries on DVD-Rs, including Elio Gemini's documentary about Kenneth Anger, entitled Anger Me. The other titles cover other facets of queer history. There are also a number of shorts from Frameline available to stream at TLA. There are more films available through Frameline's website as well.

- Anger Me, 2006, d. Elio Gemini, 6 April, w. Kenneth Anger
- Citizen Nawi, 2007, d. Nissim Mossek, 6 April
- The Fall of '55, 2006, d. Seth Randal
- Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay, 2002, d. Eric Slade
- Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria, 2005, d. Victor Silverman, Susan Stryker

And finally, head over to The Auteurs for a great-looking selection of short films available to stream for free as part of the Hors Pistes festival, presented by the Centre Pompidou.