Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jury of One, But I Need Your Help

This will look like compensatory activity for missing the Toronto Film Festival for the 32nd time in my life, or like a symptom of unrestrained anticipation for the Chicago International Film Festival lurking just around the corner. I am not going to deny trace elements of both, but what you're really seeing is an ingenious way to keep the site alive while mostly staying off the internet and seeing almost no movies. (Did you hear that? I just called myself ingenious.)

While I'm deep in the gnarled heart of my other major writing project, I have much less time than usual for renting or cinema-hopping, and I've had to impose a no-internet-after-noon rule, anyway, to protect my writing time. Composing a full review of anything is too distracting a project for the middle of a workday, but a tweet offers a perfect, Hershey Kiss-sized morsel of braincramp stimulus during those onslaughts of writer's block and crushing failure that I feel, you know, two or three times an hour. Plus, it's great practice at keeping concise. Plus plus, it reminds me that I do know more words than the five or six that I appear to use in every sentence of my book manuscript, including nonetheless, its evil twin nevertheless, however, and including.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I came to review 143 movies in the space of four days. After the last post, Cannes got jealous of Venice and decided its section needed upgrading, too. So now, Tweet-abetted upgrades have gone live for the Croisette vintages of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. I've added Lido pages, too, for 2003 and 2004, in addition to all the years I already hit you with on Monday morning. I'm flabbergasted anew at how many movies Cannes manages to show every year, especially once you realize that the Critics' Week and Directors' Fortnight slates aren't even included in the yearly archives on the main festival page. I don't even have the energy to look into the sidebar screenings in Venice, though I'm sure there are plenty.

I'm also a bit embarrassed at how many of my personal Palme and Lion picks are U.S.-born, or at least anglophone. I don't think of myself as remotely parochial in my film tastes, but the proof is kind of in the pudding. In the last decade or so, my favorite Palme contenders from '98, '99, '01, '05, '06, and '08 were all American, and that's not counting the English-language Lars von Trier movies that I would have voted for in '00 and '03. Venice is no prettier: I'd have bought American in '04, '05, '07, and '08, though in the second case, it's for a film I gave a "B" to, so I blame Marco Müller. Okay, and myself, for never having caught up with Regular Lovers.

What the frak is going on, though? I remind myself that because of distribution patterns, this isn't a fair fight. Virtually every English-language movie in the main or the sidebar competitions at Venice or Cannes (or Berlin, for that matter) eventually shows up front-and-center at the arthouse, sometimes even at the mall. By contrast, you have to put yourself in the right place at the right time to see the other Competition films on the big screen, which is where I try to see as many things as possible, so it's not surprising I'm showing disproportionate favor toward the films to which I have disproportionate access. When three quarters of the international cinema that screens in the Critics' Week or Directors' Fortnight never even makes it to the States, your fantasy festival ballots wind up with a lot of Golden Bald Eagles and Palmes d'Red, White, and Blue.

But still! There are such things as DVDs. And since I've confessed at the bottom of each page which films I most regret as gaps in my viewing from each year's competitions, you have a perfect opportunity to help me build my private "queue," to be stored away in a lockbox until I finish this book and earn back some intimate time with my DVD player and TV. What are the very best films that lie ahead for me? And do you agree with Cal that, pound for pound, the Golden Lion winners of the past outclass the Palme d'Ors pretty handily? I know you're all busy looking for cheap breakfasts in Toronto, or waiting in line to tell Andrea Riseborough that You Knew Her When..., but take two minutes. Steer me right. Ask Andrea what she thinks.

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Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

Feel free to call yourself ingenious. We've been doing so for years.

Looking at your unseen lists only reminds me how long my own catch-up queue is, but from the ones I've seen, here's a top ten that I think you'd like to get to sooner rather than later. (I'm not even including White Material -- did you know that I quite like it? -- since I know that's a priority for you already.)

1. Ju Dou: I actually prefer this to Raise the Red Lantern, and that's saying rather a lot.
2. Crush: Kinky, slightly unhinged little thriller, featuring some of The Gay Harden's (oh, how I love that title) best work.
3. Nil by Mouth: Grade-A Brit miserablism, but the filmmaking is much more interesting than you probably think it is, and Burke earned that Cannes award tooth and claw.
4. Paprika: Only just caught up with this myself, and it's a wow, particularly post-Inception.
5. Secret Sunshine: The actressor in you needs to see this, and I've just heard IFC is coming to your rescue in December.
6. Raining Stones: You know I'm not particularly down with Ken Loach, but this ranks with his best and most underrated.
7. A Self-Made Hero: Not Audiard's best, of course, but his loosest and sweetest.
8. Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train: You might find it a bit perfumed and self-regarding, like much Chéreau, but it's structurally inventive and very moving.
9. Claire Dolan: Katrin Cartlidge RIP. She's just stunning in this.
10. Kinatay: Because I'm desperate to know what the people I love think! I'm an admirer: contrary to the hysteria of the Ebert set, I thought it a deeply moral and questioning work. Don't know when you'll ever get to see it, though...

Can you tell I have a lot of time on my hands? Blame the flu.

4:22 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Dame James said...

The duo winners from 1962 are quite the treat whenever you get around to them. Family Diary (you have it listed as Family Crossing but I've always heard it called this) is beautiful melodrama about two brothers and their relationship over the years. I recommend this one to anyone I see, although I know I've only seen it on TCM and not anywhere on DVD. I'm not usually a sucker for "Wow look at the pretty visuals!" movies, but Ivan's Childhood has some of the most stunning black & white photography I've ever seen.

5:41 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@Guy: I know, you poor thing! I hope you kick this flu soon. Watch Walking and Talking. That's what I do.

As for the others: I have Ju Dou, Nil by Mouth, and Secret Sunshine all in the house, so it's only a matter of time. And Claire Dolan was actually a goof: I have seen that, and loved it, so we're totally on the same page there. Thanks for the rest of these suggestions, while you consume all your fluids and get all your rest.

@James: Fixed the Family Diary title snafu. I'd never even heard of that one, so that's a great recommendation. I love Tarkovsky so much, I can't believe I have never seen Ivan's Childhood, but there you go. We all have weird gaps. Except Jonathan Rosenbaum, but I bet he missed The Sweetest Thing, and I saw that.

8:12 AM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger Andrew K. said...

I'm fairly certain I'm not the one who'll agree with Guy's first sentence. Every time you lament about how much you have to see I think about all that I have to see. Foreign cinema is freakishly hard to come here, even on DVD.

3:40 PM, September 15, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

Oh, I should stress that by "we've been doing so for years," I meant calling Nick ingenious, not ourselves.

8:39 PM, September 15, 2010  
Blogger James T said...

Impressive work on the three festivals!

And hey, if Laura Linney visits an event, it's as glamorous as it gets!

I'm kind of excited for our own little festival here in Athens. Nothing Americans haven't already seen but at least I get to see them before I would otherwise. Tomorrow it's Please Give, the day after I Am Love and the day after that it's The Kids Are All Right! I wanted to see more but I wasn't fast enough to get the discounting (is that right?) card. Still, I'm happy.

Also, is there something wrong with Spring in Chicago or is Autumn that good?

10:01 PM, September 15, 2010  
Anonymous Ivan said...

I like, in order of preference:

What Time Is It There?
Ma saison preferee
Devils on the Doorstep
Soul Kitchen (zippy, infectious fun; must see if you wished Head-On hadn't gotten all serious)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me
The Secret of the Grain
La Belle Noiseuse
Van Gogh
Climates (I was surprised by your derisive comment about the seasons reflecting the state of the relationship; the summer vacation is anything but idyllic)
The Family Friend

Been a while, but:
The Idiots
Va Savoir!
My Name Is Joe
My Sex Life...
Nil by Mouth
Goodbye Dragon Inn
Look at Me
To Live
Stray Dogs
Drifting Clouds
Simple Men
The World
With a Friend Like Harry

6:36 PM, September 16, 2010  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

These pages are great but i must chastise you for being good at all things. People who are great at writing lengthy prose about the cinema are not ALSO supposed to be great at writing tiny bite sized incisive reviews.

You are destroying the natural order of things.

as to your request
I have not seen half as much as you (and probably more like half of half of that) but from what you haven't yet seen i can recommend

JU DOU (1990) bliss.
THE IDIOTS (1998) which i totally love. Von Trier at his most honest about his manipulative pranksterism.
VAGABOND (1985) which i barely remember but i think i was entranced and it's Varda.
SECRET SUNSHINE (2007) you know why.
WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY (2000) which is probably sub-Hitchcockian but i remember being amused by the performances.
SHANGHAI TRIAD (1995) just gorgeous but can't recall if it was only that.
TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) has sensational moments... but i wonder if it will mean anything to you if you didn't watch the tv series?

i wasn't so crazy about...

SERBIS (2008) while it was certainly interesting I'm not sure i understood it. Seemed like one of those political allegory films that are hard to read if you're a foreigner to the country.
FAITHLESS (2000) too miserabilist for me without any significant "VOR" as you'd say -- Ullman doing Bergman, but maybe i was in a bad mood?
KIDS (1995) hated it with a passion. one of the only times in the entire decade that i almost walked out.

5:08 PM, September 17, 2010  
Blogger Calum Reed said...

With regard to Ju Dou, it's good-ish melodrama, with some of the best cinematography you'll ever see. I saw it as part of my Asian Cinema module at Uni and not many liked it, but where I can see fault I can also see that it expresses the primitive very well.

I would rather see that again than Raise the Red Lantern, which I liked but is much more aimed at a Western audience. There may as well have been a logo in the corner telling us which part of the palace was lit, etc.

6:06 PM, September 18, 2010  
Blogger NicksFlickPicks said...

@James: Sadly, there is no such thing as spring in Chicago, not really (hence the scare quotes). Just a slightly alleviated, wetter extension of winter. Fall definitely trumps it.

@Ivan: Fair enough about Climates, but I thought the corollary was more that the "Summer" section was humid, tense, about to boil over -- all those things that movies set on "the hottest day of the summer" always are. So glad to have this list of recs from you! Hope I can make it to Soul Kitchen before it skedaddles.

@Nathaniel: Oh, don't. No, say it again! No, don't! No, do! I think I knew a lot of these reactions, but not that you weren't so into Faithless. I tried to watch The Idiots at your suggestion, but the copy I got was censored.

@Cal: Well, that's three top votes for Ju Dou, then! Oughta climb handily to the top of must-sees. I just missed screening it while I was watching a bunch of stuff from 1990, while Nathaniel & Mike and I were writing up the Lost Weekend/Dances with Wolves BPFTOI installment. I've slumped so far on '46 and '89, but at the rate we're going, I'll have a whole year to get to Red Sorghum!

6:26 PM, September 18, 2010  
Anonymous Guy Lodge said...

I like Faithless very much indeed, for what that's worth. It's undeniably Ullmann doing Bergman, and maybe a tad self-consciously at that -- but since she's working from his script, I found it had more the air of collaboration than imitation. And Lena Endre is spectacular.

6:32 AM, September 19, 2010  
Blogger Tim said...

What an outstanding pair of posts to return to after a week away. You need to stop having so much talent.

Anyway, my ranked list of suggestions for what you need to see pronto:
Ivan's Childhood
Ivan's Childhood
Ivan's Childhood
Ivan's Childhood (you might need to look under My Name is Ivan)
Ivan's Childhood
Ivan's Childhood

12:11 PM, September 19, 2010  

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