Saturday, December 23, 2006

Year in Movies

The Indie Wire Critics poll of the year's best movies is worth browsing. In the top 20 I have seen The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, L'Enfant, Inland Empire, Army of Shadows, Half Nelson and Volver. I could have seen more and some of them didn't even require any extra effort (The Departed, The Queen) since they played in nearby multiplexes but somehow I just didn't feel like going. I think this year wasn't as good for movies as last year or perhaps I was suffering from movie (and general) fatigue. I rarely felt excited about any new release. Even from the above list only Inland Empire and Army of Shadows left some lasting impressions and managed to surprise me.

My best movie going experiences of the year were mostly of classics in new prints on big screen: The 35mm screenings of L'Avventura (which is also my favourite film ever) and The Third Man both of which were revelations even though I have seen both on DVD numerous times. I had never seen Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff and the French film Army of Shadows directed by Jean Pierre Melville before (it was released in the US for the first time this year) and was extremely impressed by both. I also enjoyed, for the few months I was in Bangalore during the summer, going to the collective chaos film society. Two most memorable movies were (on DVD projection) Bela Tarr's Damnation and 2046 by Wong Kar Wai. They were both very good and I was seeing 2046 for may be fifth or sixth time...

What else... as for DVD viewings I am still catching up with the classics I have not seen before. I hadn't seen any films by Danish director Carl Dreyer before for example and I found Day of Wrath and Ordet both simply astonishing. I liked them more than his more famous silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Other director who I discovered this year was the Hungarian Bela Tarr. Besides Damnation I have now seen Werckmeister Harmonies and Satantango too. All these films intially will feel as if they are deliberately designed to test the viewer's patience but I think it is beyond doubt that they are all works of a very serious and visionary artist, or rather I should use the plural "Artists" because the films are made in collaboration with the writer Lazlo Krasznahorkai and editor Agnes Hranitzky and they take joint credits for them. Tarr's style may look pretentious but after you have spent some time staring at his images his stylistic choices would start making sense. I am also currently reading The Melancholy of Resistance on which Werckmeister Harmonies is based and is simply one of the best novels I have read all of this year, or perhaps in the last few years too.

A few other films which surprised me with their intelligence (all of them French): Michael Haneke's Code Unknown (certainly the most important European filmmaker currently working) is a searing examination of the travails of a life in multicultural and (post)modern cities, in this case Paris. I had found Cathetine Breillat's Romance, an exercise in juvenile feminist provocation extremely silly and offensive but she more than made up for that in her film Fat Girl. Another film which really took me by surprise. Laurent Cantet's Human Resources reminded me of Fassbinder's Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven. Just like the Fassbinder's movie it brilliantly blends emotional family drama with agitprop politics. Simple, Heartbreaking and Brilliant.

Other honourable mentions:

The Head Scratcher of the Year: In Praise of Love by Jean Luc Godard. What was it that I exactly saw, that was the question which haunted me for many days after I saw that film. Was it like one of those poems which are not supposed to be understood or perhaps my faculties were still not as developed. Reading reviews didn't help either. Everybody was similarly sratching their heads.

The Headscratcher of the year alongwith a headache: L'Intrus by Claire Denis. I had such raging headache while watching it. My be I tried too hard understanding what was going on. Towards the end every note of the background score was like a hammer blow on the head.

The Most Disgusting and Offensive Piece of Trash: L'Humanite by Bruno Dumont. There was something in the film which really really rubbed me the wrong way. I have rarely felt irritated like it before.

The Most Boring film of the Year: The Puppetmaster by Hou Hsio-Hsien. I don't know how many times this movie put me to sleep. Every time before going to sleep I felt like shouting "MOVE IT" because the camera never moves in the entire film. I guess some people will similarly shout "CUT IT" while watching Bela Tarr's films but that depends on tastes.

The film I didn't finish: The Piano by Jane Campion. Boring and pointless. Even the excellent score by Michael Nyman could't convince me to complete it.

(And in keeping with the theme of this blog)The Melancholy Character of the Year: Gunnar Bjornstrand playing the priest battling with his doubts and other demons in Bergman's Winter Light. Simply brilliant.

I am hoping the new year will be better...


km said...

Hou-Hsiao....I think he is a "bit" over-rated. "Millennium Mambo" left me unmoved.

Alok said...

Yeah I feel that too. I saw Millennium Mambo also at the film society in bangalore this year. left me unmoved too.

jyothsnay said...

after a respite came here to
ravage ur space again.
nice a delieneation of ur couch potato corner, i.e. movies.
have not seen most of them but have got a flavour of a efw through ur posts. thank you for a crisp snapshot. should make a conscious effort to indulge self with these. "The Piano", as said earlier on ur post for the same, the book is well written..
umm, I feel The Headscratcher...seemed to have accomplished its mission, aint..?
u had such raging a headache while watching it...
is that heavy build-up of intrigue factor that distances a mortal from the conceptualiser defines the complexity of a movie? sometimes, simple themes,relatable ones infuse in high glue factor..right?

wildflower seed said...

I didnt like Army of Shadows so much.

Winter Light is probably my favorite Bergman film, with Autumn Sonata a very close second. By the way, the Criterion Collection has released Winter Light as part of a trilogy (Through a Glass Darkly, and Silence being the other two films). At the time that I purchased ths trilogy, a documentary film called "Ingmar Bergman makes a movie" also was on offer. It has some really nice footage of Bergman talking about Winter Light. Also recently, Criterion released a Fanny and Alexander box set. Disc 2 of the theatrical version has Bergman giving brief introductions to 9 or 10 of his most important films. Must-watch.

Alok said...

My library has got fanny alexander box set. I haven't seen the movie too. I am planning to get it soon.

I saw the entire "faith trilogy" only recently. Really amazing films. Winter Light is my favourite too.

I liked Army of Shadows because of the way it treated the ideas of heroism and masculinity -- the way it extolled the virtues of stoicism, silence, composure, unwavering sense of duty as essential to the heroic character. It is easy to forget that it is after all a war film. It is just so different. Almost like an abstract war movie. I was a little ambivalent while watching it but the way it ended (with the caption infoming us of their fates) almost sealed it for me.

Alok said...

jyothsna: that is the French movie The Piano Teacher which i loved. this is the english language movie by Jane Campion. Soppy and Idiotic. I was specially irritated by the so called "erotic" scenes...

you forwarded me the soundtrack of the movie, remember?

you can watch clips with the soundtrack here. It is the only good thing in the film I felt.

jyothsnay said...

I got muddled up somewhere! yes, it's indeed soothing a piece...
ok, am through with Turgenev's "Faust" (read consistently, back to back 7 times)
the lady who has been loved by two close friends, says “Our life does not depend on us; but we all of us have one anchor, from which, unless you yourself wish it, you will never break away: a sense of duty”…..

how true, is nt’ it?…whether or not we are married, whether or not we are in a relationship, we search for an anchor.An emotional anchor. always.we stay loyal to that whether or not the person is in our lives, close enough to feel or respond to…..
*reproducing a bit of what I said on Rohit's blog* apologies....but I would like to thank you again for reviving the lost interest IN ME FOR Russian literature...