Archive for December, 2010
Here, my friends, is my list of the 10 Best Japanese Films of 2010. The astute viewer may note that Koji Wakamatsu’s Caterpillar, one of the most lauded of Japanese films this year is missing from this list. OK, OK, I missed any screenings of it, missed the theatrical run and haven’t seen it yet on DVD. Apologies.
Also, a couple of films that I saw this year, Live Tape and Bare Essence of Life / Ultra Miracle Love Story, by any measure should be on this list, but were actually released in 2009, so I made a somewhat arbitrary decision to leave them off. My apologies to Tetsuaki Matsue and Satoko Yokohama, the fine filmmakers who crafted those two films.
Unfortunately, many of these movies may never cross the pond to the USA, but a positive trend is that over the last year more and more Japanese DVD releases are featuring English subtitling. However, wherever and whenever you can catch these films, by all means do, subtitled or not.
Tatsuya Nakadai’s performance as a cranky proud old man hitting the hard roads of Japan, humbling himself before his brothers and sister in hopes of one of them taking him in, shows an actor hitting new heights. Sure, he was brilliant in Harakiri and transcendent in Ran, but in Haru to no tabi he becomes sublimely human. Director Masahiro Kobayashi’s cold-eyed look at family dynamics and the current state of Japan finds him moving away from his strong formalism into a less austere style. He’s still austere here, but there’s not a single shot wasted in this heartfelt journey.
This has been a year for directors trying to make their marks with big sprawling Babel-esque sagas. Kazuhoshi Kumakiri’s beautifully shot and moving Sketches of Kaitan City takes a similar scenario, but the 5 stories don’t so much intersect as they fall on the same plot of ground, the fictional Kaitan City. The stories do build upon and against each other, though, weaving a tapestry of frayed and embattled lives. Sketches of Kaitan City is downbeat, near despair, but ultimately on the side of the survivors.
Night in Nude: Salvation is the ostensible sequel to the 1993 film of the same name. Starring Naoto Takenaka (the funny bald guy in Shall We Dance) as a hard-boiled everyman caught in a blood-soaked and perverse chain of events. Director Takashi Ishii, a sort of psychotronic Hitchcock-channelling prankster, puts Takenaka through a dark night of the soul that’s grisly, crazy and way fun. Standout performances abound from Takenaka himself, a trio of avenging hostess bar angels (Shinobu Otake, Harumi Inoe and Hiroko Sato) and good old Joe Shishido, mumbling through a role as a perpetually drunk incestuous mobster.
Kore-eda’s longtime cinematographer, Yutaka Yamazaki, made his directoral debut this year with Torso. Following in the footsteps of Air Doll, Yamazaki takes on a story of a human loving a sex toy with a much different outcome than Kore-eda’s opus. Makiko Watanabe aces the role of a alienated woman “in love” with a blow-up male torso. Rising star Sakura Ando, playing her sister adds to the tension when discovers her secret desire. All in all, a taught and forgiving drama that makes loving an armless, headless, legless torso make sense.
Kazuhiro Soda expands his vision of observational documentary with Peace. Taking on the big issue of peace, Soda finds his metaphors and images in the quotidian. Following his parents-in-law through their daily routine – dad taking care of stray cats and driving physically-challenged townsfolk in the back of his van to appointments, mom making visits to housebound retirees to make sure they’re taking care of themselves – Soda slyly coaxes out the big picture of what peace means to the humans and felines in question. Peace is filmmaking without a net, taking chances, going to unexpected places – and succeeding.
Kazuhiro Soda’s Blog (Japanese and English)
Yuichi Onuma, at last count, made no less than 3 movies this year, nude being his best realized. Based on the best selling autobiography by AV (Adult Video) star Mihara, nude chronicles a classic story of small-town girl coming to the big city, taken in by a tout, becoming an idoru (idol), and working her way through pinku to hard-core roles. nude works in not sensationalizing, but in drawing out the inner drama of a woman making adult choices and exploring the emotional cost of those choices.
Sawako Decides plays it broad and slyly at the same time. Yuuya Ishii’s comedy is full of stupid funny bits, but ultimately builds a subversive theme where the heroes of the story find their transcendence and their inner peace through their mediocrity. While laughing one’s way to the decidedly depressing denouement, Ishii builds a perverse case for Japanese unexceptionalism through an exceptional person who just doesn’t realize it.
At 98 years old, Kaneto Shindo still shows he’s got the chops and the smarts to pull off an incisive anti-war film, Postcard. The acting is expressionistic, the situations stilted, theatrical and broad, the pacing delirious – everything that modern entertainments are not. With strong central characters played by Etsushi Toyokawa and Shinobu Otake, the tragedy of a woman who loses one, then a second husband to the war (then her step-parents!) builds to a magical reconciliation – all the while keeping strong in its anti-nationalistic and pacifistic stand. Shindo has said that this will be his last movie. Let’s hope not.
Ahn Hung Tran’s long awaited adaptation of Haruki Murakimi’s novel Norwegian Wood was all the big buzz in Japanese cinema this year. No matter the director is Vietnamese, now based in Paris. The adaption is solid. The acting is top-notch. The cinematography and production design evocative of a time where thing were not necessarily simpler. There are standout performances by Kenichi Matsuyama and Rinko Kikuchi, but particularly by newcomer, Kiko Mizuhara.
The first 2 hours of Takahisa Zeze’s Heaven’s Story are brilliant – as are much of the remaining 2 and half hours. Unfortunately the film eventually implodes while tying up it’s many loose ends. It’s added to this list, not because it’s necessarily a great film – it’s not – but for its consistently great acting and moments, and dare I say a few hours of truly incredible filmmaking.
1. Rebel Without a Cause with screenwriter Stewart Stern in attendance. The man can talk for hours, but admit it – we’d all listen for hours. Besides, it never gets old hearing casual references to “Uncle Adolph.”
2. The Red Shoes. Great lines (“I don’t know if it’s my greatest ambition to write for the ba-lay!”), and hopefully you were at the screening with editor Thelma Schoonmaker’s personal copy of the restoration process was shown – incredible.
3. The Red Riding Trilogy. Dark, creepy and oh-so-British. I’m doubtful this will survive the American remake.
4. Wild River. Wow – this was Hollywood! This really should be a classic. At the very least, it should have been a great shared viewing experience by environmentalists and libertarians.
5. Women Without Men. Film meets magical realism and literature. Just right.
6. The Bike-In. (Ok, this was technically at Cal Anderson Park.) Believe it or not, I had never seen Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure before. My mind was blown.
7. Wheedle’s Groove. Pick your night! I happened to be there with Sir Mix-A-Lot, but I can’t imagine a dull night with that cast of characters.
8. I am Secretly an Important Man (Opening night of Local Sightings at the Moore Theatre). A who’s-who of local luminaries on the screen and in the audience. They laughed, they cried. You may have had to be there.
9. Enter the Void. The movie was an experience…that I might not want to have again. But when I actually laughed out lout at the audacity of the credits up there on the big screen, I knew I was in for a ride.
10. Condo Millenium. A neat snapshot of the city at that exact moment. I called it the “Vagina monologues for condos.” People who were there will surely be referencing it and trying to describe it to those who weren’t for years to come.
The spirit of the Top Ten holiday list should probably be a reflection on the past year. Sorry to say, but the films in my top ten have very little to do with 2010. I present to you for no good reason a reflection of my favorites for Cats in Cinema. The ordering is a little haphazard. Hopefully some of these films will make your top ten list of movies to watch in 2011.
- Rubin & Ed: This is actually on my top ten to watch in 2011, having been alerted to its existence by my coworker. Written by Trent Harris and starring none other than Crispin Hellion Glover. Glover is joined on a trip through a desert by a pyramid scheme salesman for the purpose of finding a location to bury a frozen cat.
- Milo & Otis: A childhood classic. Presenting an epic and surprisingly emotional journey of a cat and dog with all of the class and subtlety absent from Homeward Bound.
- Cat People: Classic horror from Tourneur.
- Batman Returns: Definitely one of my top ten for Michelle Pfeiffer roles.
- Pet Sematary: Zombie cats! Zombie boys! Thank you Stephen King.
- Hausu: There’s a lot going on here, not just killer cats. But still, there are some great moments.
- Felidae: German cartoon noir about cats.
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s: Featuring famed cat actor Orangey in a supporting role as “Poor Slob without a Name.”
- The Lion King: Do big cats count? I think so…
- Patty-Cake Cat You Tube video: Just to make things 2010 relevant, here’s a favorite clip from the past year –
In 2010, the films I thought about most seemed to take part in the real/fake discourse, and for that it was a boom year. These are the films and clumps of films (and events) I thought about most:
I’m Still Here. The one film on my list that didn’t play the Film Forum. Playing himself as the actor Joaquin Phoenix, who is leaving filmmaking for a career in hiphop, Joaquin Phoenix commits and gives the best performance of his life.
La Danse / The Red Shoes. We played both early on in the year: Frederick Wiseman’s narrationless documentary this time works with an art form that doesn’t need narration: ballet – in this case a company in Paris that is old and venerable and working hard to keep rethinking itself and la danse. And about ten seconds later we played The Red Shoes, an actually terrifying drama-filled Powell and Pressberger classic that is no doubt topped only by Black Swan.
The Sun. Alexander Sokurov’s film about Hirohito’s checked-out rein in Japan at the end of World War II. All about formalities and politeness amid chaos, Hirohito’s world, if this film is true, was triple weird and gripping in its embrace of unreality — maybe no more so than when Douglas MacArthur enters, has a smoke with the emperor, and speaks.
Two Live evenings: When Stewart Stern talked for an hour after Rebel Without a Cause about saving young men in World War II and, among other things, sleeping in James Deans’ bed after the actor’s death you could have heard a pin drop (had there been pins dropping). And this fall The French Project added funny dialogue to a bad movie and brought the Sultan of Swing together with some Germans. It wasn’t the deepest evening, but does that matter when it’s so fun?
They’re Still Out There: Miguel Gomes’ Our Beloved Month of August, Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers, and Amie Siegel’s Empathy. No links among these films – Gomes’ is long and slow-moving and asks us to help him make the film; Korine’s is shocking and crude until you see what a beautiful tap-in he’s made of his own dreamworld; and Siegel’s carefully details the mirages of consciousness, especially in conversations around psychology — but all represent everything that is interesting and excellent about films that push the envelope. I think Trash Humpers, along with I’m Still Here, are the most fascinating films of 2010.
Wheedle’s Groove. The best local film of the year took up a forgotten soul scene in North America’s whitest city. The film deserved all the attention it got, and it should have gotten more.
October Country. Pretty and unsettling.
Visual Acoustics. About the great photographer of architecture, Julius Shulberg, who gave us some of the most iconic images we have of modern houses and spaces, especially of Hopper-esque buildings in and around L.A.
Daddy Long Legs. Joshua and Benny Safdie’s Cassavettes-esque (and autobiographical) story of a man figuring out how to be a father to his sons.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child. Unseen footage of Basquiat is reason enough to put this film into the top ten. In its center are amazing scenes of the speed of Basquiat’s brush, which shows a mind hurrying to set down the images crowding his mind, and having little time for self-doubt.
Howl. A good year for James Franco, and in this film he makes natural all the oddball verbal tics of the late, spiritual, self-promoting poet, Allen Ginsberg.
Calling all future film critics! What better way to hone your critical skills than to serve on the jury for Children’s Film Festival Seattle? The jury will attend screenings throughout the festival and announce prizewinners at the Festival’s closing ceremony.
To apply for a spot on the jury, kids ages 8-12 should write a top ten list detailing the qualities of the perfect children’s film, and send it to Elizabeth Shepherd, firstname.lastname@example.org. Also include name, age, grade, a short bio and complete contact information.
Applications must be received by December 31, 2010.
Or – enroll in a workshop during the festival!
Saturday, Jan 15, 12-3pm
Movie Making with Sock Puppets
Unleash your imagination with what you find in the back of your sock drawer! In this class, kids will spend the first part making sock puppets. Then, the students will work together to decide upon a story and create a short movie starring their puppets. After the class each participant will receive a DVD of the finished film. Students should bring a few socks to use, which will be cut into and glued on. Also, feel free to bring scraps of fabric, yarn and buttons to adorn the puppets with.
Max Attendance: 10
Recommended for ages 8-12
Instructor: Clyde Petersen
Two Sundays, Jan 23 & 30, 12-3pm
Lights! Camera! Action!
Lights! Camera! Action! This two day workshop will allow kids to talk about the issues they care about the most and then make a documentary. Together, the class will come up with questions to ask each other. Then, each student will hold the camera, direct the interview, and become the interviewee when the camera is turned on them. The documentary will be filmed over the course of two days, and an edited version of the film will be screened at NWFF’s Children’s Film Festival Seattle for everyone to see. If you are ready to work with a great team of people and make a film, this workshop is for you!
Max Attendance: 12
Recommended for ages 8-12
Instructor: Peter Tolfree
Nice work if you can get it: Craig Packard’s short script, “Bobby Ellis is Gonna Kick Your Ass” was selected as the second-place finalist in the Slamdance screenwriting competition. As a finalist, he will receive a full filmmaker’s pass to the festival along with Final Draft and some other prizes and swag. Additionally, the Writers Guild held a reception in LA to congratulate the finalists and granted them eligibility to the independent writers conference (whatever that means).
“Bobby Ellis” follows high school freshman Mark “Fuckley” Buckley, after he impulsively strikes out at a school bully (Bobby Ellis), and spends the day experiencing the classic Kubler-Ross stages of impending death (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) as he awaits the inevitable retribution.
Craig says he’s thrilled to be attending the Slamdance Festival for the first time, and as a participant. He’s in the unusual and enviable position of having received an award for a project before even having shot it and will begin pre-production in the coming year with a local production team, with the intention of shooting at local schools.
Link to the results page at Slamdance: http://www.slamdance.com/writing/index.html
Northwest Film Forum member and serious cinema buff Glenn F. has graciously agreed to share his top 10 of 2010. Post your picks in the comments!
1. The Social Network (David Fincher) – Fincher directs his second masterpiece (uh, Zodiac) in just four years with two major assists: Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant script and an almost shockingly great young ensemble cast.
2. Carlos (Olivier Assayas) – Carlos the Jackel stars in his own five and a half hour action film with Assayas’ awesome liquid camera recording his every move. Who knew a sexy terrorist could require liposuction?
3. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance) – A heartbreaking relationship film with two sometimes overwhelmingly moving performances. I’ll risk gushing and say that Ryan Gosling gives one of the great performances of all time.
4. A Prophet (Jacques Audiard) – Somewhere between the opening string of hushed “no sir” answers to an unforgettable final exit from prison over the thrilling strains of Mack the Knife this brilliant character study becomes that rare thing – a work of art.
5. Greenberg (Noah Baumbach) – With this and his two previous films (The Squid and the Whale and Margot at the Wedding) Baumbach has become the screen’s reigning miserableist. And I’m okay with the miserable at the movies.
6. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski) – Not a masterpiece like Chinatown, but the direction is so very precise. This felt like a minor, yet utterly perfect genre work from a director making classicism look easy.
7. The Portuguese Nun (Eugene Green) – This played at NWFF just last week. Green is probably the most under-rated director in the world today. Scarecrow has three of his features on dvd (for international players). Rent them all, but start with my favorite Monde Vivant (The Living World).
8. Daddy Longlegs (Josh and Benny Safdie) – Yeah, dad’s a fuck up. Never was a responsible adult needed more than in this hilarious-crazy-tender-dangerous little indie.
9. Ne change rien (Pedro Costa) – Jeanne Balibar, the most fascinating actress of the last 15 years (I love her!), in full-on diva mode singing for Pedro Costas’ oh so mannered camera. A perfect combo.
10. Spring Fever (Lou Ye) – Made while the director suffers under a five-year ban imposed by the Chinese Film Bureau for his previous Cannes competition film (Summer Palace), this film’s atmospheric, moody, stolen images track the lovers (mostly male) in a constantly shifting and very loose melodrama. The crux can be found in a prose snippet late in the film: “I’ve missed the love that was my destiny.”
Note on release dates (all 2010 U.S. releases). Blue Valentine opens in New York on December 31 and in Seattle on January 21, 2011. Ne change rien is being distributed in the U.S. by NWFF; it was released in New York in November and will play at NWFF sometime in 2011.
And finally, burying the lead, highlight of my year: The movie that soars above everything else for me this year and I’m calling it my movie of the year is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. I saw it at the film’s first public screening at noon on day 10 of the Cannes Film Festival at the Theatre Lumiere (gigantic screen and long red carpet). It won the Palme d’Or a few days later. After a lifetime of movie going, I can honestly say it was the greatest movie going experience I can remember. I skipped the film in Toronto, but saw it again at the Vancouver International Film Festival in October. It will be released in the U.S. this Spring. Uncle Boonmee and Cannes was the subject of my favorite film essay of the year written by Mark Peranson in his magazine Cinema Scope.
Check it out here
Please NWFF – I’m begging – let’s not waste any time getting Apichatpong to Seattle!
Megan Griffiths think so! Come discuss why and how:
The Off Hours and the Sustainable Style Foundation (SSF) will be co-hosting a Strategy Salon this Wednesday (12/15) from 4-6pm in theater two at the Northwest Film Forum. We will use The Off Hours as a case study and discuss ways in which future productions can run their sets in a more environmentally and socially conscious manner.
The Off Hours is the first film to be granted the SSFTag in recognition of their sustainable practices. The production was also awarded a grant from local arts organization 4Culture for their efforts in this area. The film will be premiering at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.
This event is free and open to the public. Beverages provided by local sponsor Dry Soda.