MCN Columnists
Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

The Best of 2009

..MCN Weekend
..Movie City Indie

I’m in awe of the film reviewers who readily arrive at their particular, peculiar way to array the experience of a movie-going year, wondering who works with index cards and who favors spreadsheets, who cuts-and-pastes or just has a memory that’s out of this world. Or who’s taking notes toward onrushing December rather than the next, imminent deadline. Some writers set their lists by what played at least a single public showing in a given city, or simply what someone’s seen in a given year (such as Michael Atkinson placing Godard’s 1966 Made in U.S.A. at the top of his list, as its first U.S. theatrical release was via Rialto Pictures this year).

This attempt at a list, which could be mad-libbed into many other configurations and computations, includes films that I’ve seen in Chicago, Park City, Thessaloniki, Toronto and Reykjavik as well as on DVD. After struggling with a best-of-the-decade list, this was no easier. Backwards run lists until unreels the mind.

1. Limits of Control, Jim Jarmusch. This may not be your cup of cinema, but cinema it is, and it’s dreamy. And if you love movies, it’s aromatic, deep-dish as all get-out. Isaac de Bankole is a nameless man moving toward a destination in Spain. His suits and shirts are as sharp as the planes in his dark face. He gets cryptic instructions from a succession of characters, also nameless, who offer clues to his assignment, but repeat what the preceding figures have said as well. He’s also prone to order two cups of espresso, “not a double, in separate cups.” He eats the cryptographic instructions found in each “Le Boxeur” box of matches. Washes it down with that second cup of cappuccino. Is this origami narrative (which also references Cubism) a case of a shiny man taking blotter acid repeatedly? The trip, with Jarmusch’s ideas about painting and contemplation and reflection and self-reflection, is more intriguing than the destination: let us just say that Bill Murray’s character may have a political double, but he also matches up with Carroll O’Connor’s powerless accountant in Point Blank. De Bankole’s chromatic shirt-and-suit ensembles also draw from one of Boorman’s most intriguing color experiments in Point Blank, where Marvin’s pale, matched suit and shirt shifted color in each new scene to match the chroma of the new location or set. Working with cinematographer Chris Doyle, who shot most of Wong Kar-Wai’s work andGus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, the images are concrete and dreamlike at once. Tilda Swintonis one of the messengers met by the lone man. “Movies are like dreams you’re never really sure you’ve had; sometimes my favorite films are the ones where people sit there and don’t say anything.” The form of the film, a series of repetitions with slight variations, comes closer to fine arts photography mixed with dance than most movies released in the U.S. The Lone Man could be a filmmaker surrogate, to push it farther: listening to the dreams of others, hoping to find a poetic thread to stitch them up.

2. Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow. Jeremy Renner’s gait in a blast suit. Jeremy Renner’s grin after a blast.

3. The Headless Woman, Lucrecia Martel. How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all? Poetic dislocation in image and sound. Aliénation concret.

4. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen) “Yes, but this is not just. I was unaware to be examined on the mathematics.” “I did not order Santana, ABRAXAS. I did not listen to Santana, ABRAXAS.” And the last shot: Thunderous, malevolent, inevitable, mysterious, awe-inspiring, rock-‘n’-roll.

5. Summer Hours, Olivier Assayas. The modern world: humans and objects in conflict. Assayas’ great theme, whether in genteel telling like Les Destinees or berserk ones like Demonlover andBoarding Gate.

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson. A weird playhouse of all of Anderson’s cussed obsessions and fixations. “I used to steal birds, but now I’m a newspaper man.” “Apple juice. Apple juice flood.” Learning, with no small resignation, to mourn the loss of a tail.

7. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Werner Herzog. “His soul’s still dancing.” Grindhouse grandiloquence. My favorite personal movie moment of the year: the film’s gala presentation at the Olympion Theater in Thessaloniki, Greece, preceded by a presentation of a lifetime achievement award by Herzog’s peer, Theo Angelopoulos. And Angelopoulos’ speedy escape from the screening after the first ten minutes of malevolence, mayhem, swearing and comedy. “Let the hog loose,” Herzog says he directed Nicolas Cage. Good direction.

8. Two Lovers, James Gray. A tender, odd duck, so old-fashioned it’s new. In a delightfully complex performance, Joaquin Phoenix plays Leonard, whose ongoing instability leads him to move back into his parents’ apartment in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn. Needing both medication and meditation, Leonard still manages to meet two intriguing women almost immediately, a new neighbor, the flighty Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), the apparently stable daughter of a businessman who wants to buy his family’s business and bring him into the fold. As a wealthy married man Michelle is seeing on the side, Elias Koteasalso captures something of the confidence of privilege that approaches classical arrogance. There are eccentric tonalities in Gray’s writing and direction; comic, wry, behaviorally observant yet also willing to tumble into unbearable love.

9. Loren Cass, Chris Fuller. Stark staring strange yet somehow nothing out of the ordinary, unblinking at the quotidian: that’s the kind of observant, innovative, mood-ridden dramas I always long to see arise from f regional filmmaking. Chris Fuller’s stark, fierce, rhapsodic film was completed in 2006 but only released now as the filmmaker outlined a way for a distributor to slide his micro-drama into the current battered marketplace for smaller films. Fuller wrote his script at 18, and was 21 when he shot his story of three teens in the aftermath of 1997 race riots in St. Petersburg. Key to the young filmmaker’s telling is the eye of cinematographer William Garcia, who followed the grimy complications in supple, expressive super-16. Together, they forge a grunge vision of a downcast world, fallen before its maturity, pinioned somewhere in the ruint forest of photographic memoirs like Richard Billingham’s “Ray’s A Laugh,” William Eggleston’s “Stranded in Canton” and the effulgent beauty of Nan Goldin’s C-print raptures of degradation. Race, sex, fists and booze stew in a wide-angle intaglio of the Sunshine State. Color and sound: there are layers upon layers of detail here, lapping oceans of observation.

10. Antichrist, Lars von Trier. Astonishingly beautiful to look at (shot by Anthony Dod Mantle in multiple formats), emotionally wrenching in its embrace of “chaos” and gifted with Charlotte Gainsbourg’s amazing, naked performance.

11. Julia, Erick Zonca. Tilda Swinton, anyone? Could Roger Ebert’s one-man brass band to get Swinton an Oscar nomination for her ragged, furious performance?

12. Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino. Amid the counterfactual too-much-ness:Christoph Waltz’s epicene, multilingual, polymathic play: is the highest form of cosmopolitanism evil itself? Plus any number of fleet glances from Mélanie Laurent. The startling and beautiful image of the cinema’s black projectionist, seen from behind the cinema screen as black-and-white images are projected onto it while a cone of white light pours down on his figure and between he and the screen, a pyramid of reels of highly flammable nitrate film stock as powerful as dynamite. It’s Tarantino’s Hitler, but he’s drawing from Hans-Jürgen Syberburg’s similar, innovative use of multiple projections in his 400-minute Hitler: A Film From Germany. And what of women’s feet?Diane Krueger’s foot in a fresh white, high-heeled plaster cast, open-toed, enameled piggies peeking? A composition of a folie-a-deux death of a man and a woman, the curve of a red dress undulating toward her bare, flexed calves, and inevitably, the rippled, rippling, convulsive arch of bare foot?

13. Lorna’s Silence, the Dardennes. Arta Dobroshi’s mysterious performance is the daunting center of this rich variation on les freres’ customary concerns.

14. Collapse, Chris Smith. In the end, there were the words.

15. (500) Days of Summer, Marc Webb. Sweetly eviscerating: not the male gaze, but at least the tendency for objectification from getting in the way of seeing romance, romantic life, life, clearly.

Also, for virtues that could take a couple pages each to enumerate, a few more proofs of the range of filmmaking in release in 2009.

24 City, Jia Zhang-ke. Fact, fiction, acting, performance, image, life.
35 Shots Of Rum, Claire Denis. Happiness writes more than blanc. Another Denis roman fleuve.
7915km, Nikolaus Geyrhalter. A journey along the Dakar road race route, with dizzying turns and a brutal, perfect conclusion.
Adventureland, Greg Mottola. A tender, funny boy’s own story.
An Education, Lone Scherfig. Creating an era; Carey Mulligan as Audrey Hepburn.
Afterschool, Antonio Campos. Screening.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil!, Sacha Gervasi. Tender metal.
Around a Small Mountain, Jacques Rivette. A knowing candidate for a small final film, winking all the way.
Avatar, James Cameron. Do I need to see this a second time?
Beaches of Agnès, Agnès Varda. Dancing barefoot through a life.
Bright Star, Jane Campion. Breathes life, love, exhales poetry.
Bronson, Nicolas Winding Refn. Tom Hardy? Chopper you to pieces.
Coraline, Henry Selick. Childhood’s dimensions.
Crank 2: High Voltage, Neveldine/Taylor. Subjects for further research.
Crazy Heart, Scott Cooper. Mr. Bridges. Mr. Duvall. Mr. Cooper.
Crude, Joe Berlinger. Anything but.
District 9, Neill Blomkamp. “Fook!”
The English Surgeon, Geoffrey Smith. Compassion; a real-world wizard does good.
The Exploding Girl, Bradley Rust Gray. Zoe Kazan is a marvel.
Everlasting Moments, Jan Troell. An artist finds herself in hard times.
Film ist. a girl & a gun, Gustav Deutsch. Creatively illuminating Godard’s dictum, “To make a movie, all you need is a girl and a gun.”
Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold. A sturdy successor to Red Road.
Forbidden Lie$, Anna Broinowski. Dazzling doc illustrating levels of untruth.
Frontier of Dawn, Philippe Garrel. Sometimes dreams can come blue.
The Girlfriend Experience, Steven Soderbergh. The creative definition of “blasé.”
Goodbye Solo, Ramin Bahrani. Intent formal control.
Harmony and Me, Robert Byington. Romance: rated.
Il Divo, Paolo Sorrentino
I’m Gonna Explode, Gerardo Naranjo. Post-Godardian youth road dazzle.
The Informant!, Steven Soderbergh. The creative definition of “internal monologue revealed.”
In the Loop, Armando Iannucci. Ready to climb the mountain of profanity. ” “Come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off.” “Shut it, Love Actually!”
Jerichow, Christian Petzold. Money changes everything, even in former East Germany.
Lake Tahoe, Fernando Eimbcke. Cool horizontal frames and even cooler comedy.
Made in U.S.A., Jean-Luc Godard. Who glued the comic book pages together?
The Maid, Sebastián Silva. Presence is not love.
Me and Orson Welles, Richard Linklater. A sweetheart of a movie with a tornado of a performance at its center.
Medicine for Melancholy, Barry Jenkins. Let’s talk a walk, let’s see how the day goes.
The Messenger, Oren Moverman. Mourning, grief,
Moon, Duncan Jones. Double or something.
Mother, Bong Joon-ho. An even more loving monster than in Bong’s The Host.
Night And Day, Hong Sang-soo. The origin of the world: man flummoxed by woman.
Oblivion, Heddy Honigmann. The great documentarian dissolves the ghosts of her native Peru.
Observe and Report, Jody Hill. Travis Bickle goes to the mall. Is this a future classic?
Of Time And The City, Terence Davies. On my lists last year. Still mah-velous.
Passing Strange, Spike Lee. An unforgettable musical that’s miles above the empty contortions of Nine: why couldn’t it get a theatrical release?
Police, Adjective, Corneliu Porumboiu. Define comedy.
Public Enemies, Michael Mann. Silent night, digital night.
Red Cliff, John Woo. Spear-itual.
Revanche, Götz Spielmann. Neue noir
Silent Light, Carlos Reygada. On my lists last year. Still marvelous.
A Single Man, Tom Ford. Style, not stylish.
Sita Sings the Blues, Nina Paley. Dizzyingly DIY.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Review, Mike Stoklasa. Ushering in a new era of persona-driven visual film criticism. Are Jar-Jar Binks’ ear-stalks burning?
Still Walking, Hirokazu Kore-eda. Still touching.
Stingray Sam, Cory McAbee. Persistence, invention, eccentricity.
Tetro, Francis Coppola. The sound of Buenos Aires filtering quietly off the avenida and into upstairs apartments.
Three Monkeys, Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Noir, emotional, image.
Tokyo Sonata, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Two words, always: Koji Yakusho. Two more: salaryman’s sorrow.
Tony Manero, Pablo Larraín. Manic marvel of despair and violence.
Treeless Mountain, So-Yong Kim. Childhood’s confusion.
Tulpan, Serguei Dvortsevoï. One planet, so many worlds.
Tyson, James Toback. The racketing voices behind one tattooed face.
Up, Pete Docter. The lifelong happy marriage montage.
Valentino: The Last Emperor, Matt Tyrnauer. Journo finds subject.
The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke. A subject for further consideration.
Where The Wild Things Are, Spike Jonze. And it was still hot.
Wild Grass, Alain Resnais. Near 90, Resnais remains prankish, inventive: the oddest conceits take flight.
You the Living, Roy Andersson. Feeling green? Laugh at these lives.

January 6, 2010

[Photo of Werner Herzog and Fred Astaire © Ray Pride.]

Email Ray Pride

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon