Program kinda sucked this year. Feels like I spent enough time on it already, so not gonna spend too much more writing about it. I’m sure each film felt “experimental” to its creator, but there was nothing here we hadn’t seen before. Also with few exceptions people feel the need to accompany their “experimental” images with “abstract” blippy swimmy music, ugh. Also also, forget any references to “film” below, since everything but Shake Off was on video (and Shake Off either originated on HD or at least had mostly digital components). Why can’t everyone call ’em “movies” like I do? All quotes are from the film festival booklet, with their queer use of commas intact.

Doxology (Michael Langan)
“An experimental comedy…” Cute. Tennis balls and automobiles and vegetables defy space and time – funny and not overlong. Probably would’ve been my favorite here, but the picture was fucked and distorted, stretched out much wider than it should have been. Thanks, AFF365/Landmark.

Such As It Is (Walter Ungerer)
“The film is divided into four parts and four themes: the underground in the city; above ground in the city; a field in the country; and fog and the ocean. Each theme has its separate identity, yet they are not separate. Through manipulation and abstraction of imagery the four parts are joined, as the land, and the air, and the oceans are joined by the earth.” Besides the over-use of commas at the end there, this description is far better than the film it describes. The interminable subway bit, tiny flicks of reflected light turned into digital noise on an ugly gray glowing background, seemed suddenly less crappy in comparison when I saw a cityscape turned into spinning 3D cubes within cubes. What did they mean by the title? How is it? This was the first of a bunch of ugly video-projected shorts (from digibeta or dvd?). I do a bit of quality-control on our video deliveries at work, and I never would’ve allowed this thing to go out with all the banding issues it had. Go check your After Effects settings, re-render in 16-bit and bring it back to me later.

A Convolution of Imagined Histories (Micah Stansell)
“The film is comprised of four chapters, telling four separate stories that make up a meta-narrative. The works are the result of imagining the visual track to the story of someone else’s memories.” One of those short films where a narrator talks about shit their parents did when they were young or before they were born, like The Moon and the Son but with less animation and more overlapping sounds and video and slow/fast effects… anything to make it seem interesting (which it was, but only barely). Director in attendance seemed a nice enough guy. Talks not about “filmmaking” but “compositing”. Experimental Short Composites would be a more honest name for the program.

Dear Bill Gates (Sarah J. Christman)
“A poetic visual essay exploring the ownership of our visual history and culture.” Thought I was in trouble when the voiceover said “40,000 years ago…” but it was well-done, with deep storage of photos in old mines subliminally connected with “data-mining” and the mining of our memories. The longest of the shorts, and interesting enough to justify its runtime.

Passage (Peter Byrne)
“A reflection on the peripheral… this work visually catches sight of experience, as it moves past.” Notes I took in the theater read: “flickering, fluttering digital colored mess overlapped w/ blurry video of birds w/ sucky jangly music. These all have crappy music. I can hear yawning.” Film festival directors: I am available to write blurbs for your shorts programs!

Office Mobius (Seung Hyung Lee)
“An abstract story…” I didn’t find it abstract at all. Kinda cute buncha office collisions, with one character who got laughter whenever he’s on screen – a star in the making. My notes say “butt-ugly digi credit titles.” Letterboxed within the 1.33:1 projector frame within the 1.85 movie screen.

24 Frames Per Day (Sonali Gulati)
“The film raises important questions around immigration, cultural stereotypes, and the meaning of home from a transnational perspective.” Bunch of field recordings interspersed with a fake-sounding conversation (perhaps based on a real one) between director and “cab driver”. The stop-motion visuals of a hallway manage to be less interesting than the soundtrack. They say it was shot 24fpd over nine months, but La Region Centrale (or even 37/78 Tree Again) this ain’t.

Drop (Bryan Leister)
“The aesthetic journey of a drop of water – animation sound and image are combined to create a zen-like exploration of fluidity and nature.” I might have written: “a bit of nothing to fill out four minutes in the program.” Nice to hear actual music, though.

Rewind (Atul Taishete)
“The film moves in reverse towards the beginning as the opening of the film evolves as the climax.” Clumsily worded, but what they mean is the film’s shot totally in reverse, not just in reverse-ordered segments like Memento. Unlike Memento, there’s no reason within the narrative to justify the reversal, except I suppose that it wouldn’t have been as cool (or “experimental”) in regular motion. It’s about a blind guy in a diamond heist and ahhh, I’m not going into it. This also had music.

Shake Off (Hans Beenhakker)
“A perspiring boy dances magically across borders.” Seriously, a perspiring boy? I would’ve called him a “dancer” as do the credits, but then they would’ve had to think of a synonym for “dances” as an action verb. Can’t tell if it was the same dance footage looped four times, or just a similar performance. The dance and fluid camera movements weren’t enough – they had to put fakey digital backdrops behind the guy and with David Fincher zooms and cuts that appear seamless. A nice dance & technology demo.

The last two (both non-U.S.) are the only ones listed on IMDB. I spend so much time on that site, sometimes I consider making a film JUST so I can be listed on IMDB. These compositors have different ambitions than I do.

Sometimes I consider taking this “blog” off the internet and making it for my eyes only. I just know one of the filmmakers is going to google themselves, find this page and be offended. I’m sorry!

My Favorite Twenty New Movies in 2007

not sorted, just grouped by vague categories:

five miraculous foreign films:
Bamako (Abderrahmane Sissako)
Black Book (Paul Verhoeven)
The Wind That Shakes The Barley (Ken Loach)
Dry Season (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun)
Chacun son cinéma (shorts by a buncha directors)

two critically-loved mid-year american masterpieces
Zodiac (David Fincher)
Ratatouille (Brad Bird)

three brilliant early-year action-comedies
Grindhouse (Rodriguez/Tarantino/Wright/Roth/Zombie)
The Host (Bong Joon-ho)
Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright)

oscar-season masterpieces
Atonement (Joe Wright)
No Country For Old Men (Joel & Ethan Coen)

glorious and unconventional musicals
Sweeney Todd (Tim Burton)
Once (John Carney)

fits both of the above categories:
I’m Not There (Todd Haynes)

difficult auteur-defense conflict pictures
Inland Empire (David Lynch)
Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)

three that nobody cared about but me:
Sunshine (Danny Boyle)
The Screwfly Solution (Joe Dante)
Ten Canoes (Rolf de Heer)

next ten runners-up: The NamesakeOffsideAcross the UniverseThe Lives of OthersAway From HerPrivate Fears in Public PlacesInto the WildParis je t’aimeThe Simpsons MovieThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly

All seen on video for the first time, none are current releases, except maybe “The War Tapes” because I can’t remember if it played theaters here or not.

Top ten, in order:

1. Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974, Jacques Rivette)
far exceeds its reputation, a truly amazing film, like candy on my TV
2. Muriel (1963, Alain Resnais)
3. Dog’s Dialogue (1977, Raoul Ruiz)
one of my favorite short films ever
4. Pennies from Heaven (1981, Herbert Ross)
one of my favorite musicals ever
5. Three travel films by Chris Marker:
Sunday In Peking (1956 China)
Description of a Struggle (1960 Israel)
The Koumiko Mystery (1965 Japan)
6. Matinee (1993, Joe Dante)
7. Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann)
a work of art unfairly lumped in with “dukes of hazzard” and other TV remakes
8. The War Tapes (2006, Deborah Scranton)
I cried tears of pure sadness
9. Army of Shadows (1969, Jean-Pierre Melville)
fewer tears, but still a shocking war story
10. Little Dieter Needs To Fly (1997, Werner Herzog)
third war movie in a row, this one considerably happier

Next ten, alpha:

Cabin Fever (2002, Eli Roth)
The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel)
The Face of Another (1966, Hiroshi Teshigahara)
The Girl Can’t Help It (1956, Frank Tashlin)
Guys and Dolls (1956, Joseph Mankiewicz)
The Lady Eve (1941, Preston Sturges)
Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003, Thom Andersen)
The Tales of Hoffmann (1951, Powell & Pressburger)
Waiting For Happiness (2002, Abderrahmane Sissako)
Werckmeister Harmonies (2000, Béla Tarr)

Le Joli Mai (1963), Zazie dans le métro (1960), David Copperfield (1935)

honorable mention:
A Brighter Summer Day (1991, Edward Yang)
seemed like it lives up to its masterpiece reputation, but in the crummy version I watched, I think I lost a ton of plot details… will surely place higher when I see it again.

happy auteur discoveries:
John Ford (The Searchers)
Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot)
Shohei Imamura (Vengeance Is Mine)
Eric Rohmer (first two moral tales)

five more great musicals:
The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967, Jacques Demy)
The Music Man (1962, Morton DaCosta)
Fiddler on the Roof (1971, Norman Jewison)
Meet Me In St. Louis (1944, Vincente Minnelli)
Red Garters (1954, George Marshall)

the better-than-it-should-be award:
a tie between Hard Candy & Lord of War (both 2005)

the most awesome cult / b-movie award:
Brain Damage (1988, Frank Henenlotter)

the “ahh, I get it now” award:
L’Avventura (1960, Michelangelo Antonioni)
runner-up: Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959, Alain Resnais)

the saddest movie award:
The Road to Guantánamo (Michael Winterbottom)

the “child favorite that is, against all odds, still a favorite 20 years
later” award: a three-way tie!
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990, Joe Dante)
Night of the Creeps (1986, Fred Dekker)
Little Shop of Horrors (1986, Frank Oz)

the “makes me feel cooler just for having seen it” award:
Pandora’s Box (1929, G.W. Pabst)

funniest movie ever seen on an airplane:
Jackass The Movie 2

Best Retrospective/Not-Current Films Seen Theatrically

#0. Out 1 (1971, Jacques Rivette) at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York
not so much a movie as an experience, too amazing to even join the rest of the list

1. Play Time (1967, Jacques Tati) at Emory
2. To Sleep With Anger (1990, Charles Burnett) at the film festival
3. An Autumn Afternoon (1962, Yasujiro Ozu) at Emory
4. La Ronde (1950, Max Ophüls) at Emory
5. Killer of Sheep (1977, Charles Burnett) at the film festival
6. Red Balloon / White Mane (1953/56, Albert Lamorisse) at the Midtown Art
7. Pierrot le fou (1965, Jean-Luc Godard) at the Midtown Art

all below had seen before, but was great to see again:
8. L’Atalante / Zero for Conduct (1933-34, Jean Vigo) at Emory
9. The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D (1993) at some multiplex
10. The 400 Blows (1959, Francois Truffaut) at the Plaza

or, “The WTF Awards

Not the worst movies I saw this year – those are better forgotten (ugh, Vibroboy) – but the ones that I should’ve enjoyed but didn’t, and so it’s probably my fault.

My Brother’s Wedding & When It Rains (both Charles Burnett)
It was Burnett’s big comeback year. I thought both “Killer of Sheep” and “To Sleep With Anger” were overwhelmingly great, but these two left me cold… “Wedding” seeming especially amateurish considering it was made after the gorgeous “Sheep”, and “Rains” just didn’t live up to my expectations being one of Rosenbaum’s ten favorite films of the 1990’s. Fortunately both are out on video now, with “Wedding” available in a brand-new director’s cut, so I’ll get to try them again sometime.

Mutual Appreciation
Magazines and blogs love “movements”, and as Film Comment is pointing out in this month’s issue, the “mumblecore” movement died pretty quickly. Judging from this uninteresting little movie, a mumblecore keystone, it should have.

W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism
I heard this was great from way back, and once it came out on DVD and everyone got to see it anew, they all agreed it was great. So what’s my problem? I love bizarre and perverse euro-art films, but this bored me.

Le Plaisir (Max Ophüls)
Each Max Ophuls movie I see I enjoy less than the last one. At least I didn’t dislike “Letter from an Unknown Woman”, and I learned to appreciate it more when watching the DVD extras afterwards. This one I still haven’t figured out. The central segment felt tedious, and I’m sorry this is the one Ophuls movie that I’ve shown to Katy.

It’s officially official – I do not understand anime.

Iraq in Fragments
Failed to find all the beauty that is supposedly within, still wondering if our film print was out of focus.

These are only runners-up because I should’ve known better:
The Good German (everyone said this Soderbergh flick was a dud, but I had to see for myself)
The Descent (halfheartedly-acclaimed horror that I halfheartedly liked)
Inferno & Pelts (Dario Argento continues to not ring my bell)

Movie-wise, I’ve too many goals lately. Original quests to see every movie by Samuel Fuller (still got 1 or 2 left) along with as many films as possible from the IMDB list (206/250) and Rosenbaum list (about 340/1000) got a bunch more quests added to them:

Fritz Lang films (just two left)
Joe Dante (watched six this year, bought The Burbs and got some TV episode he did)
Stuart Gordon (a spur of the moment thing for shocktober, just two left, not counting his new one)
Jacques Rivette (saw seven great films, and got some more all lined up)
Luis Bunuel (just three this year, plus a half-hearted screening of Land Without Bread)
Alain Resnais (watched or re-watched eight of his earliest films and the recent Coeurs)
Chris Marker (watched/loved his first six films this year, up to the rocky 60’s-70’s period where everything’s either super-rare or untranslated on video)
Films from 1977 (watched maybe three features and a bunch of shorts)
The Criterion Collection (about 205/450)
“They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?” top 1000 list (about 460/1000)
NOTE: they updated the list in December so now I’m closer to 450.

For 2008 I’ve got a new movie quest, one which will help all the above-listed movie quests as a side-effect… to watch movies I already have… as many as possible!

The “just two left” films by Fritz Lang mentioned above? Got ’em. Same for Stuart Gordon. Probably around 40 Criterion movies, everything available by Marker and Resnais and Rivette, and tons of titles on the Rosenbaum list. But more importantly, I find myself buying treasured DVDs (how much longer can I hold off on Kino’s second avant-garde collecton and Criterion’s Days of Heaven?) and filing them carefully on the shelf unwatched amongst all the other unwatched discs, then going off to rent Saw III. It’d make more sense to save this particular quest for some time when Videodrome has burned down or Katy has gotten a job and moved us both to Nebraska, but it seems like a good thing to start now.

That said, there are still plenty of 2006-07 films that I’d love to see on video, or when they finally roll out to Atlanta theaters, such as:
Syndromes and a Century
– Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon the Brain and My Winnipeg
Belle toujours
– Whatever Miike has been up to
Don’t Touch the Axe
Klimt, in its original cut
My Blueberry Nights
The Man From London
Paranoid Park
Go-Go Tales
There Will Be Blood
– and the Coens’ missing short from Chacun son cinéma

JR Jones:
“And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown much less tolerant of movies that waste my time, a development I call the Finding Forrester effect. By most accounts Gus Van Sant’s 2000 drama about a reclusive literary icon is a listless hack job; I’ve never been able to watch it myself because it was the last movie my father saw before he took ill, went into the hospital, and died. When I’m sitting in a press preview I sometimes think, “If I had only a few days left, would I want to spend two hours watching this?” That may seem like an absurdly high bar for a filmmaker to clear, but whoever said a filmmaker is entitled to two hours of your life? Anyone who wants those two hours has a responsibility to make the movie meaningful in some way.”

Adrian Martin, 2005: “The role of the film critic is to write well, or speak well. A critic is someone who I think should try to tell a story about the film that they’re reviewing. And the story can be the story of their response to it, the story of their coming to understand that film, coming to a position on it.”

Julie Rigg, 2005: “I see the film critic’s role as to provide a response to a film and a context for it. I think context is really important.”

Anthony Lane: “The primary task of the critic, and no one has surpassed Miss Kael in this regard, is the recreation of texture, filing a sensory report of the kind of experience they will have if they decide to buy a ticket.”

Adrian Martin, 2005: “I think that one very particular thing that a film critic can do — it’s part of the task of writing — is description. But a very particular kind of description. I don’t mean plot description. I think far too many film reviews have far too much plot synopsis in them. Which is boring. I mean, who wants to read five paragraphs of plot synopsis? If I want to see the plot I’ll go see the film. I want the motor of that plot, I want something about the hook of that plot to get me interested. But, beyond that, I want something that is more a quality of what I think of as a sort of sensuous description of the film, of the rhythm of the film, the color of the film, of the mood itself, of the changing moods of the film. Something that gives you a feeling, a really experiential feeling of the film that you try to translate into your own language.”

Yay, I’ve been keeping this journal for one year!

I guess when I first started, I just wanted to write something, anything, to get into the habit of writing about movies, so April entries like The Palm Beach Story and Inside Man aren’t very helpful. Started getting better soon after with L’Age d’or and Moolaade, but I still write up a lot of short entries that I don’t think will be very useful in the long run.

Still, I believe this thing is serving its purpose. Making me think again about a movie a few hours to weeks after watching it is probably helpful to long-term memory, even if I’m not writing anything amazing. And if there’s something I was unclear on while watching a video, I can pick it up when going through the movie later to get screenshots. I don’t watch movies with the journal in mind, trying to think what to say about it before it’s even over, so it’s not distracting in a bad way, but I do sometimes try to remember lines or scenes so I can get a good quote or screenshot later. That can only be helpful – I want to be able to remember what I’ve watched. I mean, what’s the use of seeing every Fritz Lang movie if two years later I can only remember a third of ’em? Might as well have just watched a third of the Fritz Lang movies and not wasted my time on the others. And for the most part, I’ve stopped watching movies that I can’t pay attention to… playing “They Live By Night” on the TV while I’m facing away from it, missing most of the picture, just so I can say I’ve “seen” a Nick Ray movie. No point in that. So half the reason for this journal was to improve my memory of what I’ve watched, and hopefully it’s mission accomplished on that goal.

If the other half was to improve my writing by making myself practice writing (about movies) every day, that mission’s nowhere near accomplished. I’m not proud of any of these entries as writing samples… wouldn’t be able to argue my case as a film critic. I might’ve forced myself to give the proper amount of time and energy to the movies, but I’m not giving much time/energy to the writing itself, just tossing out thoughts as fast as they come when I get a free minute in the day, not forcing myself to really analyze the film or arrange my thoughts into something coherent or interesting. Haven’t been recommending anybody read this journal because I know if I wasn’t the one writing it, I wouldn’t want to read it either.

On the other hand, I’ve got 250 entries here. If I consider myself more of a cinephile than a writer on cinema, then it only makes sense that I’m devoting more time to watching the films than to reviewing them. I mean, this guy devotes tons of time and care to his entries, but he only has 65 entries in two and a half years. I’d rather stick with my method. 250 entries for some 340 movies. So on my running list of all the movies I’ve seen, I have notes on about 10% of them. Not bad!

Have I learned anything? How to very slightly hack style sheets in WordPress, I guess. Not really. Haven’t changed my perceptions on film or writing or anything.

At the start of 2006 I made myself a list of 100 titles I simply had to see that year. Took it chronologically, for the most part, and only made it 30-some titles in (through the 1950’s). Didn’t think of it as something that needed to be accomplished anyway, just as a guideline. Well this year I’ve made it definitely impossible with a list of 250+ titles for myself (including all the available Resnais, Marker & Rivette titles). Nice to set goals, anyway… I referred to the list only yesterday when deciding to rent these two Iraq documentaries.

I guess the biggest attitude change lately came while making my lists of favorite films from 2006 this January. I read other people’s lists and came across so many movies that I’d sort of meant to see in ’06 but had decided against, thinking they probably wouldn’t be great (rather than seeing anything that looks good, hoping it WOULD be great). Don’t know where that attitude came from, but it led me to miss what are belatedly some of my favorite movies of last year, seen this year on video. So I’m trying (and so far succeeding) to get out to the theaters more these days, attempting to stay current and live in-the-now instead of solely catching up on stuff from the 30’s and 50’s.

Changes to the journal: added the category listings on the right-hand side to collect writings on the same director or series, changed the layout a little to accomodate 600-pixel-wide images instead of limiting to 500.

Standout entries so far: none, really. I mean, Out 1 was long and exhaustive and some entries had nice screenshots and occasionally I’d play a commentary track and copy some bits from there, and I enjoyed watching the Phantasm series again and bitching about The Leopard, but I’m not ready to start a best-of-the-journal collection here.

– stay current with new releases
– keep a notepad near the TV to write down cool quotes or ideas during the film
– see about 6-8 more Bunuel movies, make my way through Resnais and Marker.
– try harder to come up with something meaningful to say here
– read more books (Deleuze, other theory stuff)
– learn a little French
– keep writin’
– watch more movies!

1. Children of Men

2. A Scanner Darkly

3. Slither

4. Princess Raccoon – joyous and musical and unbelievably strange

5. Brokeback Mountain – yes, I saw it in 2006

6. Borat!

7. The Fountain

8. A Prairie Home Companion

9. Shortbus

10. The Promise

You’ll have to click on the links to get more thoughts on the movies… took all my thoughts just to gather ’em all here and put ’em in order. Was much more impressed overall with the older movies I saw on video this year (see list below). The first two on this list were my “best of the year” and the others are just in place to fake a top ten. Better luck next year!

Honorable mentions to Guy Maddin’s and Isabella Rossellini’s My Dad Is 100 Years Old, John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, We Jam Econo, Joe Dante’s Homecoming, The Hills Have Eyes remake, The Science of Sleep, De Palma’s The Black Dahlia, Takeshi’s Takeshis’, Lady in the Water, and Miike’s Great Yokai War.