Thursday, January 3, 2013

top 10 first-time viewings of 2012 (not from 2012)

In early January my top movies of 2012 will be published for Screen Machine. I've been trying to get through last minute films so my list can be culled from as many titles as possible. But now I'm burnt out and I only have a taste for older works. And so I wanted to jot down and post what have been the most interesting films for me to have seen this year. There is no organizing principle other than the vague criteria that they had to of stayed with me for whatever reason. I could say they've had the most impact on broadening my tastes and desires. In alphabetical order. I'm also partly stealing Drew McIntosh's formula from his post over at The Blue Vial.

L'APOLLONIDE(Bertrand  Bonello / 2011)

I was surprised by how well the delicate eroticism, sobering realism, and maverick stylistic flourishes mesh together. No one element ever muscles the others out. Bonello achieves a type of critical distance that very few people, let alone filmmakers, are capable of rendering, wherein historical figures marked by identity signifiers such as class, gender, and sexuality are not understood as mere victims or dupes of historical context, but dynamic individuals shaped by these circumstances who lived their lives amid contextual constraints and freedoms. Bonello understands power in a Foucauldian sense, as an intricate web of individual navigation and tensions. The Renoirish country picnic stays with me.

BOYZ IN THE HOOD (John Singleton / 1991) 

Every moment is grounded in the perspective from where the characters stand and nothing is assumed or taken for granted. Every space is occupied on a shifting landscape. There is no privacy, no security, no assurance. Spaces are invaded and persona's are perfected. The fragility of life is the highest stake in a game of poker faces, of information, of who is the most observant. But there is always that wild card, that person or thing or action that cannot be accounted for. But what really makes BOYZ IN THE HOOD the masterpiece it is is that Singleton shows his characters living in these spaces. They are so intertwined they become indistinguishable in the immediacy of the moment.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN(John Milius / 1982)

Something about the term paleoconservative in Zach Campbell's piece on the film and its recent remake planted the seed for me. The vision of an industrialized religious opulence and degeneracy is one that has stayed with me all year. I am fascinated with Milius' brand of conservatism, especially as its logic seems deeply rooted in even the most Liberal of Hollywood product. There is something almost nihilistic about its depiction of devotion to revenge and forced social order, one that it doesn't totally embrace.

LA FEMME PUBLIQUE (Andrzej Zulawski / 1984)

As much as I'd like to wax intellectual about this, I'd be lying if I didn't say the staying power is Zulawski's rendering of hypnotic and physical eroticism that is both a celebration of body and movement and a total hard-on for a certain type of lady. It collapses the plasticity of cultural production with the most rudimentary pleasures of spectatorship, ones that cannot be controlled by intellectual packaging.

INTO THE NIGHT (John Landis / 1985) 

"Why can't I sleep?"  This nocturnal sleepwalk through 80s New Hollywood formalism is bone dry with the dead pan distancing of an art house work. John Landis is a master, and this is an odd boardroom cubicle cinematic dream that for me recalls my favorite Buster Keaton short, THE FROZEN NORTH. It also works as a documentation of persona-as-performance with a cast made up almost entirely of directors and fascinating cultural figures, its worth it just to see David Cronenberg, David Bowie, Don Siegel, and Roger Vadim navigate the cold spaces and sets. Jeff Goldblum gets some great slapstick moments on a film set where everything real in fake. I'm betting this would make an interesting double feature with HOLY MOTORS.

KIDS + MONEY (Lauren Greenfield / 2008)

Greenfield's compositions look as straightforward, as vulgar, as reality television, yet each frame presents layers of characterization and social comment. She places people of various economic means and mobility within the same frame, with very little movement, yet complex intersections of experiences and desires are at play. The shit these people say is unbelievable because of its frankness, its honesty. And by doing so, Greenfield, and this work especially though I'd include 2012's THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, ranks among the few works that tackle the class issue in American culture. Much of American media envision a classless society, but KIDS + MONEY shatters that illusion using the very techniques and aesthetics of that dream machine.

OUTER SPACE (Peter Tscherkassky / 1999)

I'm trying to recall as much of this work as I can. All I can muster without re-watching it (which feels like cheating) is that poor woman trapped inside the film. As if on an island of thought and memory, much like SOLARIS. And that world coming apart in the projector. She could be erased forever in an instant. Like memories wiped out by trauma or film stock lost to time forever.


I can't pick a favorite and don't feel the need too. This year I was exposed to O'Neill for the first time and watched FOREGROUND (1979), SAUGUS SERIES(1974), RUNS GOOD (1971), DOWN WIND (1973)and
HORIZONTAL BOUNDARIES (1997). They all sort of run together in my mind and I mean that in the best way. Like Ozu. But to be honest I don't know what the original soundtracks are, replacing them with various cuts from Grouper, Burial, and other such hypnotic works. Each film follows roughly the same pattern: O'Neill lays out the effects he will be working with early on, slowly so that the viewer can acclimate to a new visual language and then once its familiar the work transitions into a visceral head trip of geometric forms and rudimentary video techniques used to masterful effect.

SKIDOO (Otto Preminger / 1968)

I was surprised by the brilliance of this movie, given its reputation as a misstep or a film maudit. It's a clever cross section of late 60s American cultures, particularly the tensions between a conservative Reagenite tradition and the myriad manifestations of the counter culture. The Harry Nilsson score, the musical outbursts, and the Jackie Gleason acid trip are stand out sequences, not to mention Groucho Marx as god. Sheer anarchy on celluloid. Maybe my favorite Preminger at this point.

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (Fritz Lang / 1944) 

Watched this one back to back with Scarlet Street and I must say I prefer this one (although they're both great).  There is a perfect synthesis of a meticulously crafted structure that moves fluidly and appears simple, despite its depth and the diegetic world of a romantic man who chooses the artificial, the childlike wonder, over the complexities of a world he is oblivious to. In many ways it is the progenitor of Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Coppola's TWIXT, and de Oliveira's THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA, though to a lesser extent.

I was hoping to feature 25 movies but it wasn't in the cards. Here is a list of the remaining 15 of my favorite first time viewings of 2012:

ADYNATA (Leslie Thornton / 1983)
BROKEN BLOSSOMS (D.W. Griffith /1919))
DEJA VU (Tony Scott / 2006)
DIRTY HO (Chia-Lian Liu / 1976)
FORT APACHE (John Ford / 1948)
FRIENDS WITH MONEY (Nicole Holofcener / 2006)
GAMER (Mark Neveldine, Brian Taylor / 2009)
THE HOUSE IS BLACK (Forugh Farrokhzad / 1963)
LIFE OF OHARU (Kenji Mizoguchi / 1952)
STRIKE (Sergei Eisenstein / 1925)
THE TAILOR OF PANAMA (John Boorman / 2001)
THE TENANT (Roman Polanski / 1976)
THE TIME WE KILLED (Jennifer Reeves / 2004)   

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