Sunday, May 22, 2005

Cannes Post-Script

Okay, I wasn't done on the Cannes beat. Right now, in the two non-profit theaters in Ithaca, two of last year's Cannes victors—Hirokazu Kore-eda's Nobody Knows (Best Actor) and Agnès Jaoui's Look at Me/Comme une image (Best Screenplay)—are just now making their local premieres. So it may not behoove me to get too excited about the prospect of seeing this year's slate of contenders anytime soon. Still, Cannes is nothing if not appetizing for the future, and these were the films from this year's crop that I am most eagerly anticipating at an arthouse near me:

#1 A History of Violence David Cronenberg is one of my absolute favorite directors, as well as the subject of my first dissertation chapter—the chapter on which, incidentally, I completed my final revisions today. (Yay!) Any new Cronenberg movie is enough to get me excited, but especially when the reports are so bewildering. Even the bullishly intrepid Mike D'Angelo couldn't quite decide on a number rating for this one. If it's as weirdly discomfiting—and therefore as compulsively watchable—as Dead Ringers or Naked Lunch, color me ecstatic. (IMDb Page)

#2 Manderlay "Most anticipated" movies are not the same as the ones I expect to be good, and I must say I have some serious skepticism about this project. I enjoyed Dogville quite a bit, and I've found that it holds up to repeat viewings, but it seemed to me like more of a one-off than a solid premise for a trilogy. Still, whenever anyone's got anything to say about race, class oppression, the history of slavery, etc., I'm hooked, even if what they have to say is nonsense. Topics covered + Lars' history = I'm ready to pay attention. (IMDb Page)

#3 Hidden/Caché My experience with Haneke is a little scattershot: I've only seen Funny Games, The Piano Teacher, and Time of the Wolf, which made my Top Ten list last year when it opened Stateside. (The Piano Teacher would have done the same if 2002 hadn't been such a superlative movie year.) The reviews for this film were exceptional, I love a solid formalist thriller, and French-Algerian relations are another one of those subjects for which I have a standing weakness. Which reminds me, is anyone ever going to swing a US release for Tony Gatlif's Exils, the French-Algerian drama that won Best Director at last year's Cannes? At least Caché already has US distribution in place. (IMDb Page)

#4 The Wayward Cloud This one has been building huge buzz since Berlin, and I can only live so much longer without having seen any of Tsai Ming-liang's movies. They sound right up my "Weird" alley, with a camp/homoerotic bent (always a plus). And look what happened when I went searching for a photo: I found this image of what is, indeed, a man either caressing a woman's vagina with a watermelon, or possibly trying to insert it. Whaa? Color me intrigued. Incidentally, The Wayward Cloud was only in the "Market" section of Cannes, not in any of the official programs, but Mike D'Angelo and others still wrote it up, and I'm still stoked. Which reminds me: what am I going to do next year without Cornell cinema?? (IMDb Page)

#5 The Child/L'Enfant Any film that won the Palme d'Or would have a leg up on my viewing list, but my interest in the Dardennes' work has been steadily growing. Thus far, I've only seen Rosetta; their last picture, The Son, was a critical favorite around the world, but it played for two seconds in Ithaca, while I was out of town and then took its good time coming to DVD. So I'm actually eager to see any of the Dardennes' recent work, up to and including this latest. I love filmmakers who can squeeze a lot of affect out of a seemingly simple aesthetic, which is different than squeezing a lot of affect out of a fussily "simple" aesthetic, as with most of the Dogme films. (IMDb Page)

#6 Match Point Remi Adefarasin! Say it three times fast, 'cuz he's the genius cinematographer behind the ice blues of Onegin, the inky shadows of the palace in Elizabeth, and the high-society chilliness of The House of Mirth. Now, he's working for Woody, who, say what you will about his lack of a stable aesthetic, at least works with some interesting D.P.s. And Remi showed he knows how to light Scarlett Johansson in this winter's beguiling In Good Company. And, if all the reports are true, it seems that Woody remembered how to write. Say that it's so! (IMDb Page)

#7 Don't Come Knocking I will see any movie where Jessica Lange plays a long-lost flame, and that's lucky for me, because there were two of them at Cannes. I am particularly excited about Don't Come Knocking because, like Lange herself (maybe my favorite American actress), writer-star Sam Shepard and director Wim Wenders are such mercurial talents. Sometimes they just... stall. And other times they generate something really interesting, like the last Shepard-Wenders collabo, Paris, Texas. I didn't love that film, and there's a self-romanticizing streak in both men's work that can spoil even a good thing, but I'm still intrigued by what this movie's got to offer. (IMDb Page)

#8 Three Times As I wrote earlier, Hou Hsiao-hsien's appeal kind of eludes me. I did think A Time to Live, a Time to Die was lovely and involving, especially in the final sequences. Maybe I was just tired, but I remember The Puppetmaster being quite a slog, and I usually love long, quiet movies. Millennium Mambo had me for a while until that film, too, seemed to get stuck in an endless rut of gossamer mood accents. But I'm always hoping I'll come around, because so many people see so much in Hou's work, so if Three Times ever makes it to an American theater—with Hou, you can never take that for granted—I, for one, will show up. And I'll try. I'll at least take three bites before I decide I don't like it. (IMDb Page for Hou Hsiao-hsien)

#9 Down in the Valley Some interesting reviews are building behind this film, which none of the critics seem to describe quite the same way, and whose secrets they seem to be glad to preserve. Hmmmm. Edward Norton and I have been seeing other people for a few years now. Am I the only one who thought he started sending out this weird Self-Importance vibe, right around the time he started turning in the same performance in film after film? Even in 25th Hour, a film I really liked (and apparently he did, too), he seemed bored and uninspired to me. If this film restores the Edward I loved, I'm prepared to take him back. Also, I'm getting these nasty, risky, Blood Simple sensations from reading the write-ups, and if that's a fair comparison, it's a good, good thing. Oh, and Ellen Burstyn's in this, too. Yay! (IMDb Page)

#10 Battle in Heaven/Batalla en el cielo Also known as, when bad reviews create unwittingly good buzz. I kept reading that this project was way too self-consciously arty, full of gratuitous and overly explicit sex, recycling the same old shit about modern anomie and the spiritual emptiness of existence, and marred by director pretension. In other words, it got the reviews that Pola X and L'Humanité got at Cannes '99, and demonlover and Irréversible got at Cannes '02. I loved three of those, and thought L'Humanité was just fine (sorry, Manders). So, as these rotten-tomato reviews piled up, my stomach started growling. (IMDb Page)

#11 Broken Flowers By all rights, this film should be higher on this list. If Jessica Lange isn't my favorite actress, Tilda Swinton is, and they are both in this movie. [This is the sound of Nick's head exploding.] Plus Sharon Stone and Julie Delpy, two good eggs, and Frances Conroy, who I'd been writing off until her sharp work as Kate Hepburn's snootily progressive mama in The Aviator. But one of my qualms is named Coffee & Cigarettes, Jim Jarmusch's last picture, which somehow thought that 11 arch vignettes about people who are bored with each other would be something besides arch and boring. And my other qualm is called Bill Murray, who has somehow found his way onto the Tom Hanks fast-track as Our New Beloved Actor. Yeah, Murray was great in Lost in Translation, but when people I trusted started plugging his "brilliant" work in The Life Aquatic, I felt like the schmo who's trying really hard to see the Virgin Mary face in the pancake syrup. It just ain't there, man. I'll be there on opening weekend, but more Ghost Dog and less Rushmore would be a good recipe for pleasing me. (IMDb Page)

#12 The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada I figured this would be the Life and Death of Peter Sellers of this year's festival, especially since it got slotted into the same, ignominious last-day press screening. But reviews were kind, I'm a Barry Pepper fan, and the project sounds like it's going for that whole Cormac McCarthy revisionist-border-mythology thing. I got a little churlish about the prose in All the Pretty Horses but had to confess after I finished it that the book had a soul, and a memorable kick. If Jones' movie has one or both, more power to him. (IMDb Page)

If anyone is wondering about some conspicuous absences, I am only half-excited about Last Days, even though it seems like a better subject for Gus Van Sant's recent aesthetic (ya know, kinda formalist, kinda gauzy) than either Gerry or Elephant provided. The French thriller Lemming sounded interesting, especially with Charlotte Rampling and Laurent Lucas in the cast, but Caché sounds much more inventive and much more topical. Atom Egoyan pretty much lanced my mid-90s interest in his films with the grueling duo of Felicia's Journey and Ararat. If I ever get around to his earlier films I have on tape (Calendar and Family Viewing), I might get piqued again, but if indeed that happens, Where the Truth Lies doesn't seem like the kind of film I'd want as a follow-up. And the Jury Prize notwithstanding, Shanghai Dreams sounds like the sort of wistful, overly stylized Chinese cinema that tends to bore me to tears (see: Springtime in a Small Town, Zhou Yu's Train, etc.)

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Blogger Jill said...

Nick, if you want to be cured of your Jessica Lange obsession, come down to NYC and catch her in The Glass Menagerie. She is truly horrible in this horrible production -- the monster that ate Tennessee Williams. I mean, she is terrible. Did I mention that she's awful?

8:43 PM, May 28, 2005  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

I don't want to be cured of the Jessie love, but I do know how to take a hint. That production just smelled fishy to me from the beginning, and since Jessie is not above a real stinker choice every now and then (Hush, much?), I even turned down the chance to see this show for $20.

But on the topic of obsessions, how did this show affect your Josh Lucas thing? (Or do you not have a Josh Lucas thing, and I'm confusing you with someone else? I know he's no Christopher Eccleston.)

9:24 PM, May 28, 2005  

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