Thursday, December 29, 2005

Year's End

I've been something less than consistent in keeping up with email and the Internet over the past week or more. But I hope to get back into the swing of things fully a few days into January. This blog entry will be my obligatory best-of-the-year rundown. Since I didn't really see many 2005 releases (almost all of those that I did see were DVD viewings at my family's place during the last two holiday breaks), I definitely cannot offer a "top ten of 2005." However, I saw something approaching 350 films this year (including shorts and repeat viewings, but I didn't pad the list with either!), there were plenty of older works to enjoy and savor.

Film of the Year - A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974). I watched this alone, late at night, on DVD. Cassavetes is the supreme welder of the appearance of "documentary truth" with the cinematic potential offered by the performative-plastic.

Masterpieces - Know that this is not quite a complete list; I'm sure I skipped over a few when I ran through my film log; first viewings only - On Top of the Whale: A Film About Survival (Raúl Ruiz, 1982); My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946); Les Maîtres fous (Jean Rouch, 1955); The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962); Epileptic Seizure Comparison (Paul Sharits, 1976 - mentioned in the Liberty Valance link as well); Ugetsu monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953); A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson, 1956); An American Romance (King Vidor, 1944); The Heartbreak Kid (Elaine May, 1972); Black Ice (Stan Brakhage, 1994 - only on DVD, but this is the only film of Brakhage's I've seen just on DVD and suspected I still was "getting it"); The End (Christopher Maclaine, 1953 - but really all of Maclaine's film work, probably an oeuvre of four films second only to Vigo's); Docteur Chance (F.J. Ossang, 1997); Le Voyage à travers l'impossible (Georges Méliès, 1904); The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton, 1928); Carriage Trade (Warren Sonbert, 1973); The Loyal 47 Ronin (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1941-42); The Cloud-Capped Star (Ritwik Ghatak, 1960); The Long Gray Line (John Ford, 1955). The majority of these are major films by pantheon filmmakers, so no surprises here, except perhaps a few like Maclaine or Ossang.

Special mention goes to Dieter Roth's overwhelming installation Solo Scenes (1997-98), which isn't cinema, exactly. A great, great work anyway.

And of course, these were only the masterpieces amidst a whole ocean of exceptionally worthy films I saw, from which I'll mention five standouts:

Dark Horses - five near masterpieces (at least!) whose status took me at least a little by surprise - Bandits of Orgosolo (Vittorio De Seta, 1961); Winstanley (Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, 1975); Blanche (Walerian Borowczyk, 1971); Mr. Thank You (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1936); Street Angel (Yuan Muzhi, 1937).

And this represents only a fraction of my filmic passions over the last year. What about Donovan's Reef (Ford, 1963)? Coffin Joe? Edward Yang's The Terrorizer (1986)? Artavazd Peleshian? A Touch of Zen (King Hu, 1971)? The bizarre mindfuck Three Crowns of the Sailor (Ruiz, 1983)? Cassavetes' Love Streams (albeit on pan-and-scan video--I forgot about the BAM screening a few weeks ago until it was too late!)? Strike! by Eisenstein? Naruse? Guru Dutt? Kawashima Yuzo's Not Long After Leaving Shinegawa (1957)? I could go on ...

But that was the best of my year in film-viewing.


Anonymous said...

Great list, Zach. I was thinking over some of the most special things I saw this year: the Santiago Alvarez DVD (especially his Victor Jara film); Victor Erice's LIFELINE on a huge cinema screen, overwhelming; THE WAYWARD CLOUD several times; a mini De Olivira event here that had MAGIC MIRROR and THE UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE; KUNG FU HUSTLE; 2046; MILLION DOLLAR BABY; DARWIN'S NIGHTMARE; THE PROPOSITION. But the biggest whammy of all, seeing it on DVD after about 28 years absence, was Bresson's PICKPOCKET - much imitated, but nothing approaches its miracle of 'mysterious transformation'. Best critical essay of the year: Ross Gibson on THE SEARCHERS (in ROUGE). Keep up the terrific blog work, Zach-Attack (sorry, just watched THE SCHOOL OF ROCK for the nth time on TV!!)

Anonymous said...

Zach, which Coffin Joe film did you see?

Lifeline is really wonderful.

Some of my favorites first viewings of the year: Park Row (Fuller), The Wedding March (Ferreri), Esther Kahn, Mikey & Nicki (May), Advise & Consent (pReminger), Invitation to a Gunfighter (Wilson), Steamboat round the Bend (Ford), A Countess from Hong Kong (Chaplin), Hallejulah and War and Peace (Vidor), Hustle (Aldrich), Shanghai Blues (Hark), Barbary Coast (Hawks). Not to mention some great recent ones like Kung Fu Hustle, HIstory of Violence, Tropical Malady and King and Queen.

Jaime said...

Hmmm - I should do a post like this. I'll link it when it's up.

For now, here's my "boring top ten":

1 MOUSE HEAVEN (Kenneth Anger)
2 LAND OF THE DEAD (George A. Romero)
5 TALE OF CINEMA (Hong Sang-soo)
6 THE SUN (Alexander Sokurov)
7 HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (Hayao Miyazaki)
8 WAR OF THE WORLDS (Steven Spielberg)
10 THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (Judd Apatow)

The best film I saw in 2005 is called "Mikio Naruse," by which I mean the awesome body of work by that director, highlights of which include YEARNING, A WANDERER'S NOTEBOOK, SCATTERED CLOUDS, not to mention the ones everyone should have heard about by now, FLOATING CLOUDS and WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS.


ZC said...

I saw Lifeline on its own (not as part of the omnibus film) before a press screening of Bellocchio's My Mother's Smile. I remember liking it a good bit--unlike most shorts I end up seeing at NYFF programs, it was quite good, and much better than it's sister-feature. I think that was the same year I skipped The Uncertainty Principle, to my endless regret.

Adrian - Is Kung Fu Hustle your favorite Stephen Chow? It's the only one I've seen thus far ...

Filipe - I've seen The Strange World of Coffin Joe (so that's 3-in-1) and The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe.

Jaime - Hopefully those new Kenneth Anger films will show up again soon.

Anonymous said...

Great list, Zach. I'm loving all the Ford titles.

As for the Ruiz, well...let's just say that he's on the agenda for 2006.

Anonymous said...

Lifeline is pretty much the only real strong one among the films in that series (tough Lee's and Denis' are have their moments and the Godard probably plays well with anyone who haven'r seen Historie(s)),so I'd say you didn't miss much.

Kung Fu Hustle is my fave Chow, but all his movies are good.

You saw two of my faves Mojica Marins films. The second episode on Strange World is great. Black Exorcism has a bad rep around here, but I always thought it's one of the best meta-horror films and does get into Mojica complicate relationship with his main creation and how he got stuck with it.

ZC said...

Well I'll back you up in saying that The Exorcism of Coffin Joe is a really strong work, Filipe! Can't say much of insight about it yet but I hope to see all of his films that I can--maybe that'll be a New Year's resolution for 2006!

The latest Ford film I saw, Matt, was Sergeant Rutledge, which I watched last night on video, and which I've had sitting around for years. (How long? It was taped from back when AMC was actually a decent TV channel for showing movies...) High expectations made it slightly disappointing to me, but it's quite an interesting film, if you haven't seen it already.

Jaime said...

Have you seen THE HORSE SOLDIERS, Zach? I thought that one was quite strong, although one could say it's one of Ford's "lesser masterpices." It's available on a very well-done DVD.

ZC said...

Yeah, I've seen The Horse Soldiers. I'd rate it a 'purple' I think!

Anonymous said...

The Horse Soliders is currently sitting on top of my television waiting to be watched, coincidentally...