Thursday, December 22, 2005

2005: Film

Don't know why I'm doing this when I haven't seen a respectable number of films from this year to select from in the first place. Perhaps it's the urge to pause, reflect, and classify. Perhaps it's because everyone else's doing it.

In my favourite film of the year, Tsai Ming-liang provides a stunning summation of an extraordinary career (so far) while at the same time, reaches for new ways of expressing intimacy and isolation: The Wayward Cloud is the oddest, funniest, and the most emotional film of his career. Gustav Deutsch's Welt Spiegel Kino/World Mirror Cinema uses the silent cinema screen to project hypnotic performances of Deutsch's creation, and links them to three separate found-footage films wherein large groups of people are captured in slow-motion outside cinemas in Vienna, Portugal, and Indonesia, to create metahistory in three chapters, literally finding "the new in the familiar". Ilya Khrjanovsky's 4/Chetyre is possibly the greatest debut feature of the last couple of years - a maddening and nightmarish journey from urban to rural, night to day, the comfortable to the excrutiating. Take it as an allegorical exposition of contemporary Russian politics and culture, or simply as a surreal trip to an alien land, recalling the films of Béla Tarr and David Lynch (the film's brilliant sound design seems to directly recall the industrial landscape of Eraserhead). Outerborough is Bill Morrison's split-screen playground in Cinemascope: 1899 footage captured from the frontal and back POVs of a train crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is manipulated to create what can only be described as Music - in a film with no sound.

top ten films of 2005:
01. The Wayward Cloud (Tsai Ming-liang)
02. Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski)
03. A Tale of Cinema (Hong Sang-soo)
04. Caché (Michael Haneke)
05. Welt Spiegel Kino (Gustav Deutsch)
06. 4 (Ilya Khrjanovsky)
07. Land of the Dead (George A. Romero)
08. Outerborough (Bill Morrison)
09. L'Enfant (Luc Dardenne, Jean-Pierre Dardenne)
10. Last Days (Gus Van Sant)

I need to see these films!: Les Amants réguliers (Philippe Garrel), The New World (Terrence Malick), I Am A Sex Addict (Caveh Zahedi), Mary (Abel Ferrara), The Squid and the Whale (Noah Baumbach), Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien), Magic Mirror (Manoel de Oliveira, who turned 97 a few days ago), The Sun (Aleksandr Sokurov), Who's Camus Anyway? (Mitsuo Yanagimachi), etc. etc. etc.

2004 films seen-and-liked this year (in order of preference): L'Intrus (Claire Denis), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (Wes Anderson), I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell), The World (Jia Zhang-ke), Mysterious Skin (Gregg Araki).

Happy holidays, everybody!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

2005: Music

I think I was more 'in the zone' this year than I was in 2004, especially when it came to psych-folk and its related sub-genres. Animal Collective's Feels and Vashti Bunyan's Lookaftering remain as the year's two masterpieces for me, with Josephine Foster coming a close third (it's still as challenging a listen as it is beautiful and revealing). New albums from Boards of Canada, Four Tet, Broken Social Scene, etc. did not disappoint, but why are Espers releasing EPs?! They need to give us their next, inevitable masterpiece after their awesome, self-titled debut from '04.

2005 top ten in music:
01. Animal Collective - Feels
02. Vashti Bunyan - Lookaftering
03. Josephine Foster - Hazel Eyes, I Will Lead You
04. Devendra Banhart - Cripple Crow
05. The Skygreen Leopards - Life & Love in Sparrow's Meadow
06. Raccoo-oo-oon - The Cave of Spirits Forever
07. The Fiery Furnaces - EP
08. Jana Hunter - Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom
09. Jennifer Gentle - Valende
10. Antony and the Johnsons - I Am A Bird Now

and the rest.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

because it's impossible to think of nothing

Getting back to film, here's what I've seen since that last screening log-type post - most of these were seen before the all-too-brief vacation. Beware, these are just ramblings on random viewings.

Mutual Appreciation (Andrew Bujalski, 2005) ***½
I was looking forward to mentioning how no one's drawn any comparisons between Bujalski and Hong Sang-soo yet, but it seems someone's already beaten me to it. Baaab's review pretty much says it all actually (except I sensed a Warholian attempt at portraiture of the performers, but the takes probably weren't long enough). Anyway, this is easily the best new American film I've seen this year, and one that I look forward to coming back to.

A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, 2005) **½
The Forty Year-Old Virgin (Judd Apatow, 2005) **

Hi, Mom! (Brian De Palma, 1970) ***½
Probably the funniest, and the strangest De Palma film I've seen, but that's more because of the film's elliptical movement from episode to delirious epidose, culminating in the still very disturbing sequence with the 'Be Black, Baby' session. Signature De Palma obsessions are already evident, and the seed for 1976's Travis Bickle has been planted. Still formulating concrete thoughts on this one, but I know I loved it.

Harakiri (Masaki Kobayashi, 1962) ****
Samurai Rebellion (Masaki Kobayashi, 1967) ***
Both films hold hierarchical suppression in some kind of vitriolic stare that is aesthetically represented by the incredibly fluid long takes - relentlessly so in Harakiri. The camera movements in Harakiri are, unsurprisingly, more obviously varied, more 'piercing', and the fragmented flashbacks and shifting spectatorship makes it the headier of the two films by far. And that Takemitsu score is killer, as usual. Samurai Rebellion too is pretty much awesome - perhaps almost 'dangerously' so, in the sense that the filmmaker's method (here, the rectangular framing, the graceful camerawork, etc.) threatens to drown the compelling subject and performances (Toshiro Mifune is tremendous), but thankfully that never happens.

Samuel Beckett's Film (Alan Schneider, 1965) ***
The Insects' Christmas (Wladysaw Starewicz, 1913) **
The Cameraman's Revenge (Wladysaw Starewicz, 1912) ***

Salaam Namaste (Siddharth Anand, 2005)
No Entry (Anees Bazmee, 2005)
Garam Masala (David Dhawan, 2005)
Maine Pyar Kyun Kiya (David Dhawan, 2005)
Four really, really, REALLY stupid Bollywood comedies that basically function by having its characters lie to each other non-stop throughout the films and getting themselves into all sorts of troubles as a consequence. The films have their moments - No Entry, especially - and the funny bits from each film put together may make one hell of a hoot. As they stand though, they just prove that John Abraham can't dance (or act, for that matter).

The Aviator's Wife (Eric Rohmer, 1981) ****
I think this is one of the two or three best Rohmer films I've seen. It is simply a joy from start to end, even when we find the film's central couple in the nastiest of arguments. Rohmer's mastery at layered storytelling and mise-en-scene is in glorious display in the film's core-sequence when François follows the aviator and his mysterious companion around Paris, and the moment he meets the lovely Lucie, another story magically materialises and occupies the same frame as the existing stories that we have been following (the boyfriend and the aviator/the aviator and his lady friend). The boyfriend and Lucie converse for they have entered what is now a recognisably *Rohmer* film. Then there is the girlfriend, cold and intense and fragile and impenetrable. (I'm glad she was given her moment in the last reel.) The film is the first in the 'Comedies and Proverbs' series and the proverb for the film is "it's impossible to think of nothing". That is the essential curse of the Rohmer character. Well, that and to think out loud.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

updates to come soon...

I'm in the middle of my vacation (in the Fiji Islands!) so updates obviously won't come till I'm back in New Zealand. Just loving the hot, tropical climate here!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

lo-fi goodness

Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom - Jana Hunter

Jana Hunter first appeared solo on the Devendra Banhart-compiled Golden Apples of the Sun, an assortment of psyche-folk (/"freak-folk") songs that would see several of the featured artists pursuing solo careers of their own, and creating a nice little niche for themselves in the now-crowded musical genre. Jana Hunter has to be one of them. Earlier this year, she appeared on the Jana Hunter/Devendra Banhart split record, which proved her to be as lyrically and vocally distinctive as Banhart or even the amazing Josephine Foster ('Black Haven' has to be one of the most haunting songs of the year). Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom is her first true solo album (it's actually a collection of her songs from the past decade or so) , and it's a strikingly cohesive collection which finds her fairly-more-controlled earthy voice telling engaging stories again, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. At times, she sounds a lot like Karen Dalton (especially on 'Angels All Cry the Same') but Hunter's lyrics are obviously more melancholic, her strumming more arhythmic. I'll admit I don't get the upbeat final inclusion - 'K' - the keyboard bursts were totally unexpected. But yeah. Overall, this collection of unfiltered melancholia haunts - especially when listened to on a rainy day.

Her page on myspace.

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