Tuesday, January 1, 2013

:::: FILMS OF 2012 ::::

Léos Carax  "Holy Motors"  (France)
Andrey Zvyagintsev  "Elena"  (Russia)
Michael Haneke  "Amour"  (Austria)
Mark Cousins "The Story Of Film"  (United Kingdom)
Carlos Reygadas  "Post Tenebras Lux"  (Mexico)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan "Once Upon A Time In Anatolia" (Turkey)
Miguel Gomes  "Tabu"  (Portugal)
Jafar Panahi "This Is Not A Film" (Iran)
Michael Glawogger  "Whore's Glory"  (Germany)
Peter Strickland  "Berberian Sound Studio"  (United Kingdom)
Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne "The Kid With A Bike"  (France)
Patrick Keiller  "Robinson In Ruins"  (United Kingdom)
Grant Gee  "Patience (After Sebald)"  (United Kingdom)
Bertrand Bonello  "House of Tolerance"  (France)
Kleber Mendonça Filho  "Neighboring Sounds"  (Brazil)
Matthew Akers  "Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present"  (United States)
Asghar Farhadi "A Separation" (Iran)
Julia Loktev "The Loneliest Planet" (United States)
Mohammad Rasoulof  "Good Bye"  (Iran)
Alexander Sokurov "Faust" (Russia)
Hirokazu Kore-eda  "I Wish"  (Japan)

The past 12 months yielded great discoveries outside the expected sources and return artists creating works from beyond their established territory. A year of finding new record labels, imprints and film distributors. Authors of choice producing some of their finest writing to-date. Connections made between some of the new Century's most enjoyable novels-to-screenplay. Directors engaged with favorite sound artists to generate previously inconceivable soundtracks to exquisite pieces of cinema. 2012 was a good one. Probably the most powerful cinema experience had in the theater this year, a odyssey spanning 15 hours, 11 decades and over 1000 films, Mark Cousin's "Story of Film", inspired a personal reexamination of the films of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Jean Renoir, Chris Marker, Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti, Noriaki Tsuchimoto, Shohei Imamura, Abbas Kiarostami, Douglas Sirk, Howard Hawks and even David Lynch. After a 13 year hiatus Léos Carax returned with his ode to the dream of cinema, past, present and future. "Holy Motors" proved to be neither a eulogy or swan-song, but instead a passionate, chameleonic, poetically surreal love letter to the medium and it's ongoing evolution. Curious things happened when both traditional American and Science Fiction storytelling couldn't secure studio funding; they went for a small spectrum of outside the industry financiers and/or secured the backing of a independently financed imprint. So good thing! As without these alternatives we'd not have seen P.T. Anderson's first great film (in my reckoning), "The Master" and the Tykwer/Wachowski adaptation of David Mitchell's aeons-spanning narrative puzzle, "Cloud Atlas". For all the former's Scientology skirting, it beautifully encapsulated the era and post-War America's monetary, philosophical, guru-fixation. And looked gorgeous in the few cinemas capable of screening 70mm, while doing it! The latter, which aspired to the same great heights as it fell, vacillated moment by moment between the two, striking phenomenal heights and almost instantaneously plumbing (to borrow a skater term), 'face plant' lows. It was also a year of the charged and political; Michael Glawogger presenting his Globalization Trilogy at Northwest Film Forum and his "[If you're going to make films of this nature] You can't be a f*cking crybaby." quote making my year. Jafar Panahi did the illegal and beautiful in "This Is Not A Film", as did Ai WeiWei, with the University of Washington hosting the second-only screening of his documentary work stateside. Tarkovsky's conception of The Zone haunted film essay making this year with the final installment in Keiller's Robinson trilogy, "Robinson in Ruins" as well as Grant Gee's exploration of W.G. Sebald's meditation on memory, loss and space, in "Patience (After Sebald)". Further resonances of Tarkovsky and Bergman could be both seen and felt in Andrei Zvyagintsev's "Elena" and Nuri Bilge Ceylan's most elaborate, exquisitely refined work to date, "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia".

As it has for the past decade, Scarecrow Video played an invaluable role as a vector for moving pictures from around the globe, an especially considerable resource for those of us enabled by all-zone/region Blu-Ray players. This year's Seattle International Film Festival hosted a better turnout than the past couple year's selections, though still not on par with previous decades where SIFF often dominated the field by screening a majority of the year's highlights over the course of the festival. Thankfully, the SIFF Cinema and Film Center picked up much of the slack by screening quality cinema year-round (right alongside a calendar packed with postmodern Retromania and ironic jokey quote-alongs). So I'll celebrate the former... and assume the latter pays the bills? With indie cinemas closing around the nation, it was that much more important to support the local theater opportunities such as the Landmark Theatre chain, the Grand Illusion Cinema and what's proven itself to be the paramount indie screen in Seattle, Northwest Film Forum. Many of the best films seen this year, when they did come to the theater, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the art/music/film that we're fortunate to have in our urban cultural crossroads.

Lastly, the unseen films by directors of note that never made it over here distributed stateside. Many of them not even making a less-desirable appearance as an online release. These lists just keep growing longer every year, indicative of missed markets, untapped audiences, unseen art. By way of example, Haneke's Palme d'Or winning "Amour" is only currently open in New York, Gomes' "Tabu" is screening at Northwest Film Forum in early 2013, Reygadas' "Post Tenebras Lux" doesn't open until May, Strickland's "Berberian Sound Studio" showed in the Vancouver International Film Festival in October and not on the west coast since. So that said, I suspect a number of these would have made the list, if I had opportunity to see them:

Ulrich Seidl "Paradise: Love"/"Paradise: Hope"/"Paradise: Faith" (Austria)
Kōji Wakamatsu  "Millennial Rapture"  (Japan)
Wong Kar-Wai  "The Grandmaster"  (China)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa  "Penance"  (Japan)
Cristian Mungiu  "Beyond The Hills"  (Romania)
Olivier Assayas  "Something In The Air"  (France)
Funahashi Atsushi  "Nuclear Nation"  (Japan)
Lou Ye  "Mystery"  (China)
Naomi Kawasi  "Chiri"  (Japan)
Wang Bing  "Three Sisters"  (China)
Joshua Oppenheimer  "Act Of Killing" (Denmark)
Verena Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor  "Leviathan"  (United Kingdom)
Jem Alan Cohen  "Museum Hours"  (Austria)
Abbas Kiarostami  "Like Someone In Love"  (Iran/France/Japan)
Sergey Loznitsa  "In The Fog"  (Russia)
Raúl Ruiz  "Night Across The Street"  (Chile)
Rafi Pitts  "Sanam"  (Iran/Germany)
Katsuya Tomita  "Saudade"  (Japan)
Lav Diaz  "Century Of Birthing"  (Philipines)
Amir Naderi  "Cut"  (Japan)
Nobuhiro Yamashita  "My Back Page"  (Japan)
Rodney Ascher  "Room 237"  (United States)
Ben Wheatley  "Sightseers"  (United Kingdom)

:::: ALBUMS OF 2012 ::::

The Caretaker  "Patience (After Sebald) - Soundtrack"  (HAFTW)
Demdike Stare  "Elemental"  (Modern Love)
Cut Hands  "Black Mamba"  (Very Friendly)
Thomas Köner  "Novaya Zemlya" (Touch)
V/A  "Air Texture Volume II"  (Air Texture)
Emptyset  "Collapsed"  (Raster-Noton)
KTL  "V"  (Mego)
SWANS  "The Seer"  (Young God) 
Charlatan  "Isolatarium"  (Type)
Gultskra Artikler  "Abtu Anet"  (Miasmah) 
V/A "After The Affair" (Blackest Ever Black)
Jacob Ullmann "Fremde Zeit • Addendum"  (Edition RZ)
Broadcast  "Berberian Sound Studio" & Andrew Liles  "The Equestrian Vortex"  (Warp & Death Waltz)
Stian Westerhus  "The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers" (Rune Grammofon)
V/A "John Cage Shock Vol.1-3" (EM Records)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor  "'Alleujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!"  (Constellation)
V/A  "Touch: 30 Years And Counting"  (Touch)
Oren Ambarchi  "Sagittarian Domain"  (Mego)
Kevin Drumm  "Relief" (Mego)
Corrupted  "Garten Der Unbewusstheit" (Nostalgia Blackrain)
Pinkcourtesyphone  "Elegant & Detached" (Room40)
Keiji Haino, Oren Ambarchi & Jim O'Rourke "Imikuzushi" (Black Truffle)
Peter Brötzmann, Masahiko Satoh & Takeo Moriyama "Yatagarasu" (Not To)

Another extraordinary year of sonic adventurers, live sounds heard and albums released! This year's list is graced by a media encapsulation of some of it's highlights, brought to you by the Made Like A Tree podcast series: my Best of 2012 Mix overlapping significantly with the list above. Though I'm decidedly not a nostalgia-miner, the present in some ways couldn't compete with the past half-Century of Early Electronic Music that found it's way back into the world this year. A stunning, stunning crop of archival releases by not only the most significant names of that era, but some of the most undervalued; that of the female pioneers. Probably the single most momentous announcement of 2012 in my mind, was that of SUNN O)))'s Stephen O'Malley establishing his Recollections GRM reissue imprint. In the 9 months since it's initiation releasing the mathematically powerful expression of geometry and sound found in Iannis Xenakis' "GRM Works 1957-1962", early electronic's  organic aural engineer, Bernard Parmegiani and one of his many masterpieces, "L'Œil écoute/Dedans-Dehors", GRM Studio founder Pierre Schaeffer's classic  "Le Trièdre Fertile" and the studio's cinematic/sexual funnyman, Luc Ferrari and his "Presque Rien". Which makes a bit of an awkward bridge to the equally significant, substantially less-heard and distinctly their own work of the women pioneers that have seen light in the past 12 months. Modern Love's Young Americans imprint released gorgeous vinyl box sets of BBC Radiophonic Workshop founder Daphne Oram as "Oramics" and “The Oram Tapes: Vol.1”. American composer Pauline Oliveros' work was enshrined by the massive 12 CD (yes, twelve) "Reverberations: Tape & Electronic Music 1961 - 1970" set issued by Important Records. Laurie Spiegel's "The Expanding Universe" reissued with the now classic (legendary) essay "1970s Computer Music from Bell Labs". France's sound sculptor of the sublime and austere, Eliane Radigue now with not only an unreleased gem, "Feedback Works 1969-1970", but more works simultaneously in print than any other decade in my lifetime, again largely thanks to the work of Important Records. If there was ever a doubt to the innvations made, and massive debt owed to this era's sonic explorers, the past year in reissues and archival releases has gone some way to rectify that.

Not just a time for archival bounty, it was year of adventurous new sounds. Scandinavia the home to five? six? decades of some of the finest Free Jazz the world has seen/heard continues to crank it out. Much loved up north, Germany's brutalist practitioner Peter Brötzmann celebrated his 71st birthday with both a astounding documentary of his work and ethics, "Soldier of the Road" (curiously sharing much with another defining German voice in 20th Century art, that of "Gerhard Richter Painting") and a set of exceptional albums and touring and two lengthy interviews in the pages of The Wire. Metal was huge, Corrupted released their final album and SUNN O))) performed an immense set, their first in some years. Krautrock legends Faust reappeared after a 18 year hiatus from touring the west coast, delivering two days of theatrical, joyous, DaDa insanity. Speaking of legendary and Kraut, Can produced their distilled refinement of over 30 hours of unreleased recordings spanning the years 1968-1977, as "The Lost Tapes".  Modern Classical fared better than it has in something like a decade. There was the American Mavericks series in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, the "[untitled]: 1962" night at the Seattle Symphony with the International Contemporary Ensemble, a sprawling year-long series of events celebrating the John Cage Centennial, including Seattle Modern Orchestra's mini-festival and the immersive 5 hour realization of Gavin Bryars' "The Sinking of the Titanic" on the anniversary of the historic event. Lastly, Canadian pianist/composer Lubomyr Melnyk delivered a performance seemingly exceeding both acoustic possibility and physical endurance, a night redolent with melodic phenomena, it's no wonder he's since found a home on the UK's Erased Tapes label. The quality of some of the showcases heard/seen in the year's festivals was unparalleled, when Unsound Krakow brings The End to New York City in this coming year, you can bet I'm going to be there. Substrata had another year of surprises and reaffirmations of ambient and experimental music being far from static. Decibel produced a festival that far outshone the last few year's, with two showcases, the Raster-Noton and Modern Love on par with those of Mutek Montreal's now legendary nights. Jon Wozencroft's Touch imprint celebrated it's 30th extraordinary year of issuing the finest in sonic abstraction, theory and visual art, with showcases around the world. And speaking of global and far-flung, Otomo Yoshihide appeared on the west coast for the first time in nearly a decade, performing alongside his post-Onkyo compatriots, Akio Suzuki and Gozo Yoshimasu in the Aki Onda curated, Issue Project Room hosted, Voices & Echoes series.