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)