Wednesday, January 1, 2014

:::: FILMS OF 2013 ::::


Paolo Sorrentino  "The Great Beauty"  (Italy)
Joshua Oppenheimer  "The Act Of Killing" (Denmark)
Claire Denis  "Bastards"  (France)
Sion Sono  "The Land of Hope"  (Japan)
Shane Carruth  "Upstream Color"  (United States)
Wong Kar-Wai  "The Grandmaster"  Chinese Cut  (China)
Verena Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor  "Leviathan"  (United States)
Tsai Ming-Liang  "Stray Dogs"  (Taiwan)
Ulrich Seidl "Paradise: Trilogy" (Austria)
Jia Zhang-ke  "A Touch of Sin"  (China)
Asghar Farhadi "The Past" (Iran)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa  "Penance"  (Japan)
Bruno Dumont  "Hors Satan"  (France)
Olivier Assayas  "Something In The Air"  (France)
Jacques Rivette  "OUT 1: Noli me Tangere"  Rereleased  (France)  
Lav Diaz  "Norte, the End of History"  (Phillipines)
Ashim Ahluwalia  "Miss Lovely"  (India)
Kristina Buožytė  "Vanishing Waves"  (Lithuania)
Hideaki Anno  "Evangelion 3: You Can (Not) Redo" (Japan)
Kuei Chih-Hung  "Boxer's Omen" Rerelease (China)
Michael Cimino  "Heaven's Gate" Uncut Rerelease (United States)
Alex Gibney  "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks"  (United States)
Rick Rowley  "Dirty Wars"  (United States)
Pat Collins  "Silence"  (Ireland)

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, publishers and film distributors. Authors of choice producing some of their finest writing to-date, in fields as far-flung as cultural criticism, literature, theory and even science fiction. Some of the most innovative visual art movements of decades past were given their first exhibits in the west and home-grown visionaries had retrospectives spanning the nation. 2013 was a memorable one. The growing pains of the digital age are still graphically evident in the world of film distribution, award winning films from festivals in Vienna, Toronto and Cannes have yet to screen in the United States, or even show up released digitally online. A paramount example of circumnavigation of this whole process was Shane Carruth's groundbreaking science fiction high water mark, "Upstream Color". Where rather than partnering with a distributor and licensing entity, Carruth took every imaginable aspect of the films production onto himself; direction, soundtrack, acting, writing, script and in the end, personally distributing the film both to independent theaters, and later, self-releasing it for home video. A striking inversion of this was Wong Kar-Wai's much anticipated (and even longer awaited) exploration of the changing landscape of China in the early 20th Century through the life of martial arts master, Ip Man. From it's initial 2 hour cut, screened at the Berlin Film Festival, it then was recomposed by Wong to a 130 minute release in China, to finally appear 'stateside (7 months later) in a significantly different cut thanks to the Weinstein Corporation. Recomposed, edited, reconfigured and delayed, one can't imagine in the age of digital piracy that this process has aided the film finding it's actual paying audience. The final nail being the delay in "The Grandmaster"'s home video release, now rescheduled for some as-yet specified date over a year from it's theatrical premier. The setting of the European economic crisis made for fertile ground in Claire Denis' perfectly measured neo-Noir thriller, "Bastards" and added spice to the concoction of romantic lyricism, existential melancholy and satirical play in "The Great Beauty". The spirit(s) of Cocteau, Fellini and Celine are alive and well in what might be Paolo Sorrentino's first true masterpiece.

Other contenders were Tsai Ming-Liang's wonderful (and underseen) most recent, "Stray Dogs" which watched like a condensation of everything he's created to-date, here's hoping it appears in theaters stateside in the coming year. Of all the films I viewed at home it was his, and Lav Diaz's "Norte, the End of History" that were the two I most regretted viewing on the reduced dimensions of a computer monitor. The latter especially epic in it's scope and duration. In the way of archival rereleases, the mythic, ultra-obscure, 'unviewable' status ended for one of the most significant works in the whole of the French New Wave; that of Jacques Rivette's "OUT 1: Noli me Taneger" which saw a box set release this year on Absolut Medien. Criterion invested in a stunning refurbishing of Michael Cimino's infamous "Heaven's Gate", restoring the film to it's full duration and scope, breathing new life into it's standing as a lost masterwork of that decade. The documentary took massive evolutionary leaps in just the past half-century, most striking of it's new forms have been the visual essayist films issuing from the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab and their Visual and Environmental Studies department. This year's "Leviathan" and "People's Park" for sheer sensorial immersion eclipsed the massive budget and big spectacle of Alfonso Cuarón's technically brilliant, but content-slight, "Gravity". Whether it be the depths of night off the New England coast, or a summer afternoon in Chengdu China; Cohn, Sniadecki, Paravel and Castaing-Taylor presented these locales as though seen through the eyes of an off-worlder - places of wonder, danger and mystery. Documentaries somehow got even more political, exploring the grey areas of privacy, information and war, the interrelated double-hitter of Alex Gibney's "We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks" and Rick Rowley's assemblage of half-obfuscated facts related to America's ongoing "Dirty Wars" the world over, made for provocative viewing. And this year's documentary of documentaries; Joshua Oppenheimer's exercise in memory, xenophobia and terror as Indonesia's Cold War Communist purge under the Suharto regime is reenacted (to surreal, sickening, absurd and bizarre effect) by it's perpetrators in "The Act Of Killing". It's no wonder this unclassifiable, moving, terrifying, lurid incursion into Indonesia's past was rated the number one film in the British Film Institute's annual polling of hundreds of critics, directors, curators and academics.

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 substantially filled in the blanks, bringing advance screenings, rare prints and numerous exclusive screenings. 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. This year, rather than the unseen, often international festival award-winning films that never made it over here stateside in theaters, as home video releases, or even a less-desirable appearance online streaming, ("Snowpiercer", "The Wind Rises", "Under the Skin", "Goodbye to Language", "The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears", "The Dance of Reality", "Manuscripts Don't Burn", or "The Congress" anyone?), I've assembled a list of runners-up. These for all their merits (many of them I felt were equivocal to the content of the list above) either fell a bit shy, were redundant within their respective director's oeuvre, or simply weren't as strikingly 'different' as the works above. All of them worth the time, and some even revelatory by degrees, these were good films that simply fell short of the distinction of those that made the top rated list:

Sergey Loznitsa  "In The Fog"  (Russia)
Cristian Mungiu  "Beyond the Hills"  (Romania)
Steve McQueen  "12 Years A Slave"  (United Kingdom)
Chris Marker "Le Joli May" Rereleased (France)
Naomi Kawasi  "Hanezu"  (Japan)
Abdellatif Kechiche  "Blue is the Warmest Color"  (France)
Clio Barnard  "The Selfish Giant"  (United Kingdom)
Don Hertzfeldt  "It's Such A Beautiful Day"  (United States)
Joel & Ethan Coen  "Inside Llewyn Davis"  (United States)
Libbie D. Cohn & J.P. Sniadecki  "People's Park"  (United States)
Thomas Vinterberg  "The Hunt"  (Denmark)
Ben Wheatley  "A Field in England"  (United Kingdom)
Shinya Tsukamoto  "Kotoko"  (Japan)

:::: ALBUMS OF 2013 ::::

Tim Hecker  "Virgins"  (Kranky)
Ben Frost  "Black Marrow"  (Ethermachines)
Mika Vainio  "Kilo"  (Blast First)
Boris  "Präparat"  (Daymare Recordings)
Emptyset  "Recur"  (Raster-Noton)
V/A  "The Outer Church"  (Front & Follow)
Rene Hell  "Vanilla Call Option"  (PAN)
Kevin Drumm  "Earrach"  (Hospital) 
Autechre  "Exai" Japanese Edition (Warp)
Metasplice  "Infratracts"  (Morphine)
Fire! Orchestra  "Exit!"  (Rune Grammophon)
Arve Henriksen  "Places of Worship"  (Rune Grammophon)
Éliane Radigue  "Ψ 847"  (Oral) & "Adnos" Reissue (Important)
Bernard Parmegiani  "De Natura Sonorum" Reissue (Recollection GRM)
Edward Artemiev  "Solaris - Soundtrack" Reissue  (Superior Viaduct)
V/A  "...and Darkness Came"  (Headphone Commute)
Pye Corner Audio  "The Black Mill Tapes Vol. 1-2"  (Type)
Forest Swords  "Engravings"  (Tri Angle)
My Bloody Valentine  "mbv"  (MBV)
Grouper  "The Man Who Died in His Boat"  (Kranky)
V/A  "The Great Beauty" - Soundtrack  (Decca)
Rafael Anton Irisarri  "The Unintentional Sea"  (Room40)
The Stranger  "Watching Dead Empires in Decay"  (Modern Love)
Vatican Shadow  "Iraqi Praetorian Guard"  (Blackest Ever Black)
Demdike Stare  "Test Pressing Vol. 1-4"  (Modern Love)

Another extraordinary year of sonic adventurers, live sounds heard and albums released! Like 2012, the past twelve months saw more significant works past half-Century of Early Electronic Music found their way back into the world. Probably the single most momentous announcement of last year in my mind, was that of SUNN O)))'s Stephen O'Malley establishing his Recollections GRM reissue imprint. In the second year since it's initiation he has since released the mathematically powerful expression of geometry and sound that is Iannis Xenakis' "GRM Works 1957-1962", early electronic's organic aural engineer, Bernard Parmegiani and one of his many masterpieces, "De Natura Sonorum" and François Bayle's "L'Expérience Acoustique". We also saw the first time in the west, official release from the master recordings of Edward Artemiev's striking scores for the mid-period masterpieces of Andrei Tarkovsky. Both "Solaris" composed on the one-of-a-kind visual synthesizer The ANS, and the dual soundtracks for the allegorical science fiction of "Stalker" and autobiographical, "The Mirror". The reissue bounty continues for France's sound sculptor of the sublime and austere, Eliane Radigue now with not only an unreleased gem from the era of her feedback compositions "Opus 17", but more works in print thanks largely to the work of Important Records, including one of the highlights of her whole recorded career, the powerful and austere "Adnos" trilogy. And early Buchla Modular Sythesizer pioneer Morton Subotnick returned again just years after witnessing it's previous iteration at Unsound for a sublime performance of his still evolving "From Silver Apples of the Moon to a Sky of Cloudless Sulphur".

Of course it was a year of contemporary of-the-now sounds as well. Significant among them, Tim Hecker has taken a substantial leap into pure electroacoustic composition with his newest, "Virgins". A application of his usual array of effects and software manipulation of acoustic and electric sounds, this time in relation to a full-bore chamber ensemble including Iceland's Ben Frost. It's a powerful tide of sound that was made that much more thrilling for it's surround sound realization as part of the touring Immersound series. Frost himself was busy globally touring in various collaborative contexts, from Random Dance's "FAR" to acting as both composer and director with Mirella Weingarten on their adaptation of Iain Bank's groundbreaking science fiction novel, "The Wasp Factory" for the stage. My Bloody Valentine reappeared after a 15 year hiatus, finally releasing the album that has been promised since the genre creating "Loveless" of the 1990's. Decades now outside the context of it's initial conception, "mbv" was still a preeminent expression of their singular sound. Seattle Symphony's new conductor Ludovic Morlot and his late night [untitled] series have brought modern composers into symphony's lexicon after almost a decade of being remiss in their performance of contemporary works. To date the series has seen played host to a who's-who of 20th Century Modernism including György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, Giacinto Scelsi and Olivier Messiaen's massive (exceedingly rare in it's performance) symphonic work, "Turangalîla".

The Tri Angle label had another year of delivering some sensuous, warped atmospheres and beats, what's being called the 'drag' sound best epitomized by Holy Other's hazy rapture, his live set exceeded expectations by far. Haxan Cloak's deeper exploration of stripped down minimalism and bass on "Excavation" and Evian Christ's set in the XLR8R showcase were other notable transmissions from the imprint. The pinnacle of their year came with Forest Swords' weighty, lumbering beats and disembodied choral chants on "Engravings", which marked a very welcome return for Matthew Barnes. The label find of last year, London's Blackest Ever Black figured largely in two of the year's best live events, that of the return of William Bennett's Cut Hands project after his bludgeoning set of last year in the Modern Love label showcase, and the "Black Noise" showcase in the 10th Annual Decibel Festival featuring Oren Ambarchi, The Sight Below and a absolutely crushing, immense, audio-visual performance by the UK's Raime in collaboration with Dakus Films. Substrata had another year of surprises and reaffirmations of ambient, neoclassical and experimental music being far from static, the perfect fusion of all these forms was heard in Jacaszek's performance for harpsichord, bass oboe and electronics. Japan's formost heavy rockers, Boris returned to the 'states with a tour of double-headers, many cities being graced with multiple-day performances of their bipolar Psych Rock and Pop hits and heavier Metal and Doom, atmospheres and a gorgeous tour only album to boot! Post-Punk legends Wire chose one city to recreate their Drill festival and curiously it was Seattle, New York's Issue Project Room celebrated Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plane with a month of the world's premier Modern Composition, Improv, Jazz and Experimental artists and Chicago's Kranky label had their week of 20th Anniversary celebrations in their home town.