Fluxing miscellany. If you're looking for top 10 film lists, click here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Top 10 In 2012 Rep

1. The Belovs (1993, Victor Kossakovsky) — Some things just come at you out of nowhere. This is an hour-long documentary I saw at this year's True/False Film Festival — a documentary fest in Columbia, MO I hype up a lot. This is the kind of movie it's worth flying to discover: a near-perfect hour portrait of a Russian family unit in all its alcohol-self-corroding trainwreck fascination. It has some of the most wonderfully inexplicable yet somehow perfect scenes I've never witnessed the likes of before. Just look at this:

2. Wake In Fright (1971, Ted Kotcheff) — A comedy of bad male manners in the pitiless Outback. Every bit as good as it's been sold as since its re-entry into viewing range and two of the swiftest hours of my viewing year.

3. Yoyo (1965, Pierre Étaix) — Wrote a bit about this here. The cinephile gnashing of teeth on Twitter when Hurricane Sandy cut short the Pierre Étaix series at Film Forum was really something.

4. Blind Husbands (1919, Erich von Stroheim) — My favorite of the 4 von Stroheims I caught at Film Forum this summer (the others: Greed, The Merry Widow, Foolish Wives). A fabulously mean movie, with von Stroheim sending himself up as the shady European "man of sophistication" preying upon ignorant Americans. No one gets off the hook. Frames teem with details: at one point, chickens are just thrown out from shadows of building doorways where they were lurking, as if taunting viewers who think they've already processed the entire shot.

5. Ruggles Of Red Gap (1935, Leo McCarey) — An unexceptional scenario transformed by Charles Laughton, abetted by McCarey's feel for the improvisatory possibilities of every scene.

6. The Mirror (1975, Andrei Tarkovsky) — Tarkovsky's my biggest Autueurist/Gauntlet-Gets-Thrown-Down-Here blind spot: not one I'm proud of, but hard not to recall my viewings of Solaris and Stalker being especially tortuous (during the former, at age 16, I stopped, made and consumed an omelette very slowly to power through to the end). Hard to tell if The Mirror's just an anomalous pleasure in his corpus, not to mention how to factor in changes as a viewer concerning how much pleasure I can take out of Tarkovsky's wind-and-camera-move-at-just-barely-different-speeds effects (more), how much less the usual Russian bad spirits and self-tortured monologuing bothers me now (quite a bit, I think), and if reading Geoff Dyer's Zona shortly before (and seeing him introduce the screening, during which he begged viewers to get more pleasure by not attempting any kind of analysis while watching) made me more amenable. But The Mirror was downright lighthearted compared to the dourness of my previous Tarkovsky experiences; while there's an undeniably juxtapositional/intellectual-montage element to the film's essayistic plunge from one moment to another,  it's captivatingly goofy when Tarkovsky, without warning, stops for an old Spanish man to imitate bullfights, or to suddenly offer a montage of angry '50s Maoist Chinese in protest. Setpiece by setpiece it's dazzling: not just outdoors, but inside; the mother's walk through wartime printing offices is a stunning changing-light-and-rapid-tracking-shot exercise, one of many moments of endless resourcefulness in finding new ways to stun. This seems comparable to Sans Soleil or even more indulgent late-auteur efforts in its willingness to use the director's mind as the no-need-to-explain background for scenes which can be profitably analyzed (for the rest of my lifetime, presumably) later, and enjoyed in dazed what-was-that? pleasure in the moment.

7. Smile (1975, Michael Ritchie) — Manages to keep extracting mean-but-not-inaccurate laughs out of stultifying California Republican suburbia without falling into the trap of outright angry condemnation; the girls' xenophobic sabotage of Maria Gonzales (Maria O'Brien) is funny, not unsatisfying (Maria's assimilationist hard sell would warm the heart of any Tea Partier) and ugly all at once. The kids are no better than adults, trying to photograph the contestants naked and gracelessly smacking each other around like a particularly crass hybrid of The Bad News Bears and The Three Stooges. Poor Andy (Nicholas Pryor) can't even bitch at the drive-through without having his remarks overheard by the entire diner; no wonder he flees from an induction ceremony conducted by the town's own Lions Club, the Bears: grown men getting drunk in near KKK gear before forcing those who've turned 35 to kiss a dead chicken's ass. Comparisons to Altman are lazy: Ritchie cuts every scene  to the bone, often working in 30-second segments that always build to a punchline, fragmenting his comic universe. An angry film, as it should be.

8. Cousin Jules (1972, Dominique Benicheti) — Wrote this up here.

9. Police Story (1985, Jackie Chan) — I don't understand people who don't enjoy vintage Jackie Chan. I have no idea where Lincoln Center dug up this print (prints of Hong Kong movies are notoriously hard to come by), but I'm so happy they did.

10. 11 x 14 (1977, James Benning) — Wrote this up here.

Most helpful retro: Robert Bresson at Film Forum. Now, like the Pokemon, I've caught them all (the infamous early comedy aside).

Renewed appreciation: Videodrome, Hard Boiled, Mulholland Drive