Wednesday, August 24, 2022

MOVIE REVIEWS #197: "NIGHTMARE ALLEY (Del Toro)", "THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN", "NOBODY", "THE SOUVENIR PART II", "FAYA DAYI", "THE SPARKS BROTHERS" and "MADRE (aka MOTHER) (Sorogoyen)"

Eh. Sorry it's been so long; it's been rough getting around to reviews lately. Thankfully I watched a decent number of films that are old enough that I didn't have to review them. The best of that bunch is one that's been stuck on my Netflix queue forever and that's Alejandro Jodorowsky's "The Dance of Reality". Explaining Jodorowsky for those who haven't seen his films can be a chore, but trust me, once you've seen one of his movies, you'll understand why it's so hard to describe him. This is my third feature of his after "El Topo", which is in my Canon of Film, and "The Holy Mountain", and when "The Dance of Reality" came out in 2013, it was his first feature-length film in well over twenty years. A lot of his past films were caught up in royalty disputes, so he didn't make much until those cases ended, but he's been fairly busy ever since. "The Dance of Reality" is very much him. There's a lot going on, and I don't know exactly what it all means, but he can still create some indelible and fantastic imagery and tell these wonderful surrealistic epics. It's definitely one of the films I'm recommending the most out of this group. 

Other than that, I feel like I've been running into a lot of movies that I find conceptually interesting moreso than ones I feel are actually compelling. Perhaps I'm just going through a phase. Anyway, let's get to some reviews. 


NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021) Director: Guillermo Del Toro

⭐⭐⭐


With few exceptions I've mostly been left cold by Guillermo Del Toro's work. I'm usually impressed with the visual looks of his movies and the technical skills involved, but most of the time, I just don't entirely know what he's going after. That said, there are exceptions. "The Shape of Water" was the first time I really did get him, and one thing I got was that, despite most of the time, he loves cinema. Classic cinema especially. It's been there this whole time, his love of monsters and horror and fairy tales, harken back to the classics of early pulp cinema. His content might be more low-brow and traditional, but his approach is quite sophisticated. It's rarely appealed to me, but I do finally get why it appeals to others. Mostly, I've found him a-eh, curiosity, you would say.

Curiosity.... That is an interesting word in this context. "Nightmare Alley" is a lot of firsts for Del Toro. For one, it's a remake. Well, I guess it's more of an adaptation, but it's not the first time "Nightmare Alley"'s been made into a film; it was adapted back in the '40s as a George Jessel-produced film noir and directed by Edmund Goulding. It's based on the best-known novel by William Lindsay Gresham. I'm actually watching the original as I write this, it's free on Youtube. Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell. So far, it's definitely a more sanitized version of the story, and overall I'd say that this remake is better and infinitely more intriguing. "Nightmare Alley" does get brought up occasionally as a classic film noir, but I don't think it's a particularly highly regarded one. Both films definitely bate in the language of noir, but what "Nightmare Alley" does have, as opposed to other noir is a great hook, and an unusual location and world it inhabits, the carnival circuit. 

Oh yeah, I should probably explain a little of William Lindsay Gresham. He's not actually a particularly noteworthy writer of novels, "Nightmare Alley" is his most successful work, but he led an interesting life. In fact, him and his wife, poet Joy Davidman were the inspiration for C.S. Lewis's "Shadowlands", but in between several struggles with alcoholism and illnesses, before his eventual suicide in 1963, he actually worked quite a bit with J.D. "Doc" Halliday, a noted sideshow performer who taught him some of the tricks of the carny trade. He also later wrote about Harry Houdini and even worked with the great James Randi, the magician and skeptic who was famous for debunking pseudoscience and paranormal phenomenon as well as just other various hucksters and conmen. If you don't know James Randi's work, please look him up one day, he's one of the most important people in the magic and debunking community over these last many years. Anyway Gresham also clearly had some insider knowledge of the working of the old carnival. 

And I do mean, the old carnivals. Not, the kind with ferris wheels and fixed games, I mean, the kind with the ridiculous sideshow acts. The first act we actually see in the film, is a geek performance. 

I've had this discussion with some people before, but "geek" actually was an old time word for a freakshow act. This one, (Paul Anderson) is portrayed as some kind of beast-like man who's act is to bite the necks off of a live chicken. We observe him and a few other of the sideshow acts through the perspective of a loner audience member Stanton (Bradley Cooper) who manages to connive his way into a brief gig at the carnival and begins working on the tour as a stagehand and helper before figuring out ways to get in on some acts of his own. He's that man with a past that all these carnivals in films seem to have; that talk of running away and joining the circus, that's definitely a cliche that's often-times accurate and always compelling. And definitely appealing especially through the eyes of Del Toro, and an amazing cast. Willem Dafoe, as the ringmaster, Toni Collette and David Straitharn as aging mentalists that take Stanton under their wing and teach him the mentalism code of there's. Ron Perlman as an aging strongman who takes care of the physical work involved in keeping up the carnival. This movie feels like everybody's having fun making this movie. 

It's not a particular original story, it's about a conman who takes his con too far and begins believing his own con and trying desperately to keep his heist going way too far. This begins when he runs off with the show's electricity act Molly (Rooney Mara) and begins a mentalist show of his own on the tour. Eventually he gets rung in by a psychoanalyst Dr. Lilith Ridder (Cate Blanchett) who, as a psychoanalyst is already pretty on to his con, and essentially wants part of the act as she brings him a couple high-profile patients who are desperate to get in touch with some passed loved ones. Again, some great supporting work here by the likes of Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen. This is a movie seems like it was casted too perfectly to actually exist. 

As to the movie itself though, um, it's fine. Oddly, it's a more interesting film to talk about than to watch, which is something that I find happens with a lot of Del Toro's films. Oddly, instead of his films kinda just meandering and living too long in their world, this movie's problem is that it's too obvious and old-fashioned. No, it's not inherently similar to the original film and stylistically it's nowhere near that but it feels too much like a movie that could've been from that era. Exchange Goulding for a more interesting director from the time, say maybe Tod Browning, and yeah you might've ended up with that feels like this at the time. There's not really much of a twist to the material or the approach and that definitely hinders the enjoyment of it. It's basically like watching all these actors, but like, in a play you've seen a million time before, and it's not like they're doing something completely new with it or anything, it's just them doing the play exactly as you would've expected the play to be done. It's not that it's not impressive, or done poorly or anything, but it's just something been seen and done so much better too many more times now. I mean, the movie it actually reminded me the most of wasn't an old film noir, but Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" and I'm not entirely big on that film but yeah, it's much more interesting than "Nightmare Alley". 

This is still fine though, it's just more impressive from far away than it is when you look up close and you can see that the geek is just a regular man doing a performance. Once the trick is told, the trick is sold as they say, and this trick has long been told and long been sold. It's still a nice trick though.  


THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN (2020) Director: Kaother Ben Hania

⭐⭐⭐⭐


I was partially hoping that the title of this one would be metaphoric, but no, it is indeed quite literal. It's not as squeamish as I feared, but then again, it's also not as weird of an idea as I imagine others might think. People have indeed sold their skin. I remember years ago hearing about one person who had determined to tattoo their entire body, in order for it to be displayed after their death, with the profits from the display to pay for their children's college fund. An idea that seemed a little counter-productive, as I imagine that many tattoos would be pretty expensive...., maybe not enough to pay for all of college, but you know, a couple years at least.... (Shrugs) I don't know whatever happened to that person, but he was far from the first person to have essentially sold their skin, as a piece of art. Hell, people who have a lot of tattoos used to actually be apart of the kind of freak shows you'd see like at the ones in "Nightmare Alley", now that's just, what you regularly see walking down the street. 

In fact this movie itself, is inspired by an actual art project from controversial Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, the guy famous for tattooing pigs, (I mean, actual pigs, he puts tattoos on living pigs. Yeah, the modern art world can be....) and even the story for this film was based on an old short story by...- 

(Eyes widen in shock at Wikipedia page) 

Roald Dahl?!?!?!?! Seriously? Like I know he was much darker than how most of his more popular material is perceived, but really? 

Anyway, Tunisia's first ever film to earn an International Feature Oscar submission, "The Man Who Sold his Skin" takes a modern look at the art world, the relationship, literally between art and artist and well, the kind of desperation it takes for people to become an art project. The movie's protagonist is Sam (Yahya Mahayni) a Syrian refugee who manages to escape  Raqqa along with his girlfriend Abeer (Dea Liane) only for them to be separated again when she is forced to marry a rich guy in Brussels by her family. This leads him to looking for ways to earn enough money and travel status in order to get her out of that relationship. 
That's when he meets with an "artist", Soraya (Monica Bellucci) I say, "artist" because she's essentially one of those artists who mainly puts her name on works and then they sell more. She's basically an art world shitposter. She thinks of herself kinda like a modern-day Duchamp but is really more like a slightly-more artist Kotsabi. (And I mean, modern-day Kotsabi, not '80s Kotsabi) With a little bit of Bansky's wit, as her idea is to have Sam's back tattooed with a copy of his passport that he got for selling his skin. 

That's kinda dehumanizing, and yeah, the artwork is controversial. And he does begin regretting it at times when he's more regarded as an art project as oppose to a human, like when he's told to not answer questions from adorning fans. He just sits there in the museum with his shirt off. (I actually looked up that art piece "Tim" that this character is inspired by, and during the pandemic, he was still apart of a museum in Australia and he was alone in the empty museum forever.) 

I have a hard time coming up with complete thoughts on the film. I get the metaphor and the targets of the satire, but this is might an instance where the mark might be too on-the-point. Like, we see why somebody would do this, but we don't really get a sense of being a Syrian refugee. We see the macabre of the art world and the contrast is clear, but not necessarily sharp and biting dark satire we need. I mean, it's there, but it almost seems too easy a target to contrast the life of a refugee to the excesses of the art world. I don't really know if there's a greater point here or not. The refugee crisis is definitely important, but I can think of better movies exploring it. The art world is definitely fodder for capitalist and western gluttony, but there's other more prudent aspects of western culture that you can show effecting the lives of refugees in more straightforward ways. (As well other recent movies I can think of that skew the art world, Ruben Ostlund's "The Square" comes to mind.)

I guess I'm wondering if the movie would change that much if there was somebody other than a Syrian refugee who had motives and reasons for participating in this art piece, would the film change all that much? Hypothetically it should, but perhaps the fact that he's a refugee is just another artificial layer of depth, kinda like the art piece and the art world in general. It's the first feature I've seen from Kauther Ben-Hania and it's only her second feature outside of a few documentaries. So I suspect she's trying to say something greater here. It is interesting that this is a Tunisian film; Tunisia was the country that started the Arab Spring that inevitably led to the disagreements that cause the Syrian Civil War and the Syrian Refugee Crisis. I don't know, how much that fact effected the film or it's filmmakers, but it's something I thought about. I don't think it's an act of callousness to not be considering that, but perhaps that's the point, that using the art world as a metaphor for the callous approach the world, particularly the western world has had to the refugee crisis is? 

Or maybe I just have to see more from Ben Hania. She seems like an interesting filmmaker if nothing else. 


NOBODY (2021) Director: Ilya Naishuller

⭐⭐⭐


A Facebook friend of mine, and a fellow film critic I respect, Michelle Kisner brought up a point about action heroes recently, about how men action heroes can just exist without much background information at all, while a female action hero, needs basically her entire background to explain how and why she's able to do the strong masculine things that the male heroes do. I'm paraphrasing heavily here, she actually said it a lot better than that, and was more specifically referencing the film "Prey", which I guess is getting some slack for this...- I don't know for sure..., (Apparently it's a sequel to "Predator", which, I haven't seen "Predator" much less this, way-too-long after the original, sequel, so....) but I tend to agree with this analysis. Even some great movies with female action leads, like both volumes of "Kill Bill" and "La Femme Nikita" for instance, pretty much fit that. I also find those movies better than most action films and heroes, and in general, while I don't necessarily need explanation for how action heroes can the amazing things they do, but in general, I would also add that it's usually better male or female, that we do indeed know the backgrounds of the main hero. (And really, I usually tend to not like action heroes with characters having background anyway, and frankly I don't care for a lot of  the-eh, like the Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van-Damme type action films where they are just, there, exist and beat up everybody.) 

"Nobody" isn't one of those male-led action films that doesn't have an action hero backstory, but it does remind me of one of my personal action-hero tropes that I don't like much. I call it the "Death Wish" narrative, after that film and it's series, which basically has two parts to it, neither that I like. The first one, is that, the character is inspired to action, because of an attack on their family. That's what happens here, Hutch's (Bob Odenkirk) house is broken into by some petty thieves.  A couple items personal to his family are taken, and he decides to get vengeance on them. There's also the second part of this narrative, how it leads to the action protagonist, ended up deep with organized crime. Actually, that part is a bit circumvented here.

Hutch on the surface has a fairly boring, regular 9-to-5 life and job, but instead of going out to seek out the greater organized syndicate to get revenge, he instead, just, runs into them, because, he wants to and he can. You see, Hutch, while is "Nobody" to everybody else, a fairly innocuous family man, he used to be a hired hand for the CIA, and would be one of the people hired to, ahem, I guess one of the terms they might use would be, depopulate the area, per se. He used to get rid of people who needed to be gotten rid of. And now that he's inadvertantly rejuvenated that part of himself through this petty theft, he's now out to take out Yulian Kuznetsov (Alexey Serebryakov), the local leader of the Russian mob, who's mainly the big money man for the syndicate and it's trading partners. He also enjoys karaoke night. 

Now, I don't hate this movie, it's hard to hate a movie that has a car chase/shootout done to Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker", more movie actions scenes should use that song, but it is that, original basis that is confusing to me quite a bit. I guess the idea of the movie is that the man next door could be a brutal killing machine who's just on dormant, and I like that it reverses that trope and shows a man who doesn't want to avoid going back into the life and instead wants and desires most to rush himself back into it. That's the real big twist that makes "Nobody" a little more tolerable than a lot of these other action movies, plus it is well-made, and well-acted, but I can't really say it's unique or original enough for me. Of course, I think I'm in the minority that constantly wants to see stuff that's different from this genre. I can't seem to remember a goddamn thing about any of the John Wick movies that everybody creamed themselves over; especially the first two, they mostly seemed like these same kind of typical action hero/hitmen films that I've seen and liked, but didn't find particularly compelling to revisit. What they have are good action scenes, but that's just never been a main appeal to me. "Nobody" has a little more then that, but honestly not as much more as I think the movie thinks it does. I mean, it's a movie named after a main character who declares that he himself, is "Nobody", so, yeah, this movie definitely decides to go minimum on the background info on the character, giving us, just enough to know where he is now and to know exactly how he was. It's honestly not that different from a "Death Wish" film plot-wise in that regards. We get the info of how he got this way, but nobody does really question it, perhaps because it's a male lead instead of a female? I wonder what would've happened if we saw this kind of movie, but instead of the old comic actor known for character drama work in film and television wasn't the lead, and just some pretty girl was whose background we didn't know and had to have it mildly explained to us before we found it as believable as we do here?

(Long pause)

Oh wait, that was "The Long Kiss Goodnight" wasn't it?! Oh god, that movie was terrible. Yeah, never mind, "Nobody"'s a better version of that, done smarter and funnier and without the stupid amnesia thing. It's weird how the most minor of details can separate good and crap in this genre though. And yeah, even with the added background, sometimes the action movie can still suck too, male or female action lead. 


THE SOUVENIR PART II (2021) Director: Joanna Hogg

⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

 

Believe it or not, I have been dreading watching this movie more than, pretty much any movie I can think of since it hit my Netflix queue. Much to my surprise, I actually was fairly kind to "The Souvenir" the very autobiographical feature by Joanna Hogg, but in my mind, I just remember finding that movie excruciatingly painful to watch. It actually came damn close to making my worst list despite, technically being a movie I reviewed positively. I was practically dumbstruck by the fact that it was getting a sequel, not the least of which because, it actually seemed like a pretty complete film, but more than that, it just felt like a film I hated to it's core. What was I thinking when I wrote my original review exactly being so charitable to this film about an over-philosophical film student and her awful heroin junkie boyfriend. It got me so off-putting, especially looking at the positive receptions for both that film, and it's predecessor that, I did something that I rarely ever do; I went back and rewatched "The Souvenir" before I dived into the sequel. That might surprise some people, but A. I usually don't have time to watch the previous films back in a franchise, (I'm sure as shit not doing that with the entire MCU every time a new film comes out, that's for sure) but also, if a movie is great or memorable enough, I really shouldn't have too to go revisit it; I should pretty much still have remnants of it on my mind. But yeah, how can I possibly have let this film off the hook and been so much more generous towards it considering how hard and frustrating it was to watch? 

So, yeah, I watched it again, and I totally get why I was so nice to it. Oh, it's still painful, perhaps, still too painful. And I don't think it's perfect, it's not the best film of this kind, this story of that first bad influence relationship that poisons a young woman's life and possibly career because she can't see how bad the person they're with or the situation actually is, there's better versions, Lone Scherfig's "An Education" as being one of the best recent versions of this, but that film did seem romantic and fantastical and "The Souvenir" is painfully realistic, right down to the annoying film school dialogue between the students. I don't think I knew anybody who actually was in this bad of a relationship, at least not that I was immediately aware of at the time, but as I've grown older, I can definitely say I've seen it elsewhere. That monologue Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) has about why she hadn't been showing up to film school and tries to explain why she's had to devote so much of herself to a truly worthless boyfriend, is just-, like I don't think I've heard somebody actually say those words to me in my life, but it sure feels like I've heard it way more times than I should have. (And come to think of it, most of the people I can think of that I've tried having that kind of conversation with, are no longer with the person they were with at the time.) Still though, the boyfriend, eventually OD'd, and- I don't know, everything okay now,- well, not great, you're living with the knowledge that you got conned by that fuckup, but y'know, this sharing-too-much therapy film from a privileged upper class British white girl, why am I getting a sequel to this film? 

What possible story could she still have to tell?!

(Sigh)

The first line of dialogue in "The Souvenir Part II" is, "My period's late". I blurted out, "Oh shit!" This movie literally shut me up in three words! That's gotta be a record.   

Thankfully, the movie doesn't go in that direction, whew! but the movie doesn't just stay static at the same point the last film did either. Julie's boyfriend Tony died of a heroin overdose at the end of "The Souvenir", he was a manipulative asshole, but that doesn't mean that she wasn't still in love with him. "The Souvenir Part II" essentially is her grieving process, but also, her trying to tell her story through making her first feature about the relationship while in film school. In between, we also get sequences where she backs up and tries to find out about her boyfriend's last few days/weeks.... Essentially she's trying to understand him, and herself. It's never done in a way that makes you think that she's only now realizing how stupid it was of her to be with a guy like that, which is probably how a less adept filmmaker would approach this. Hell, that's how I'd probably would've approached this story; it's probably why there's such a struggle on her film set for a lot of her actors and crew to understand the meandering memorial of a film she's making about him. 

In a way, I feel like I should be panning this movie for just how meta it is; on a literal core level, this film could be misplaced as a movie about the making of the last movie, but that's way too simple. The first movie also had a lot of talk and discussion about the more philosophical aspects of film. Like, there's definitely a painful observation she has with one of her fellow aspirational students, Patrick (Richard Ayoade) when he laments about being kicked off his own film's final cut, about how he wanted to be Orson Welles. Yeah, don't we all at some point. Oh, note of advice for any current or future film school students/graduates, don't try to be Orson Welles, you're not Orson Welles. You're not anybody, but you, and when it comes to filmmaking, that's all you can try to be. Essentially, "The Souvenir Part II" is about how Julie, and/or the film's writer-director Joanna Hogg, learned/realized that she was her. Yet, Anthony does linger over her. 

She does make attempts at seeking out those who knew Anthony and even questions her friends and loved ones, including her mother, again played by Honor's real-life mother Tilda Swinton about their feelings and thoughts on him, but it's almost like she's realizing how different everybody else saw him, from the way that she herself saw him. The struggle is being able to show, through film, the way that she saw Anthony. That's always the struggle, of being able to show your vision through what you see, and get others to see it that way. Hard enough, without that thing, being a relationship that you were apart of. I forget who said that we always see those we love as that with which we want to see in them, or something to that effect, we see the best in them to reflect how we see ourselves...? I'm forgetting the old sayings but something of that nature, but it is true.

Anyway "The Souvenir Part II" is far superior to the first film, although it helps to see "The Souvenir" first. The nearest I can compare this to is how Claude Berri's  "Manon of the Spring", while being a far better film than it's preceding film "Jean de Florette",  works far better with the context of that first film. We see her struggling with the actors in trying to get them to understand their characters, especially as she struggles to understand her own ex-boyfriend, much less what motivation to give to her actor playing her boyfriend. The movie even brings up the criticisms of the first film in the form of some of her teachers critiquing her script, which, their thoughts on her projects have themselves had a compelling arc over these two films as she gets more and more away from their imput and ideas and moves deeply into her own. "The Souvenir Part II" really gets a lot right about filmmaking and a lot of the struggles they have, especially young ones in understanding, developing and trusting their own style and voice, even if and when it'll look like it's amateurish to those around them, perhaps it'll eventually look wrong to herself as well, but, y'know, most films about filmmaking really don't show that struggle. Even the best ones, they're more about the stress and the overwhelming nature of the filmmaking process, not the stumblings of coming up with the process as you go. Maybe that's why "The Souvenir Part II" does work so well to me. Part one, was a lot of talk. Part two, is the action. 

And when the director says the final cut, "The Souvenir" is the finish product you end up with? 


FAYA DAYI (2021) Director: Jessica Bashir

⭐⭐⭐1/2


Hmmm, let's talk about, getting high.

(Very long pause)

Did you want to start? No? Well, that sucks, 'cause I don't really get high all that much. 

It's not that I haven't ever...-, but, in trying to explain "the effect" of it, or why it's a feeling or emotion that is prized or appreciated, I don't really get that. My experiences, I can't say that I enjoyed them, but might just be because most of the time I was trying to get work done, and instead of them inducing supposed more creativity in me, they mostly just took out the creative energy I was striving to get. Maybe that's a similar effect to others and their bodies are just more able to adapt, I know mine was not the last time..- ahem, but maybe it's also my inexperience. Maybe I took bad stuff or I took too much stuff in the wrong way...- I dunno. It's not that I hated the experience, or thought it had a negative effect on me, and if it helps you, and it's legal currently in your state or condition, than fine, go right ahead. Did it make me feel closer to God or in some other way, more spiritually enlightened or some other way, get me to feel something deeper.... I can't say it did. Apparently it has for others. 

Some people live and swear by it. Some of my most respected creative people who I idolize find a lot of creativity and inspiration in getting high. The hallucinatory that, so far, have not done much for me has done wonders on others. Just to be clear, the word "wonders" in that sentence, is not always meant positively; I definitely know both people who could, and in some cases, should be getting high way more often than they are, as well as people who should absolutely shouldn't be getting high nearly as often as they do, and perhaps shouldn't be allowed to be high at all. (Just because marijuana is more legal now, doesn't mean it's for or good for everybody.)

Now, let's talk about that hallucinatory effect of getting high, and movies. Now, for me. And for our purposes, we're gonna separate this into two categories. The first being, the age-old practice of getting high and then watching a movie. List your favorite example below. The second category, are those rare movies, for which, the intention and goal of the movie, is to create/recreate that feeling of actually being high. Now, they might still be telling a story, but often that effect of being mesmerized and intoxicated just happens to work to coat the movie the story's telling. One of the more memorable films for me where I felt this effect was Fritz Lang's classic, "Metropolis" and that's a silent movies from almost a hundred years ago, but the effect still is there. There are other times where I don't think it worked; I'm sure Bob Rafelsen was trying something with that when he made "Head", and while I actually like that movie, I can't say it got me to feel like hallucinatory. I guess it also depends on the kind of high you're trying to achieve as well. However, I once watched a DVD of an Ani DiFranco's concert tour doc "Render",... well, that was a more fun high for me, I guess....- 

The point I'm making here, is that, even if you've experienced this, the overall effect is still subjective. Some people will become entranced and intoxicated by the experience, and others will just, wonder what the hell you're all looking at that's so entertaining. Or, frankly just not care for the haze their in. For that reason, it's hard for me to analyze "Faya Dayi" the black & white documentary from first-time feature director Jessica Bashir. In fact, I've basically been in a daze ever since watching it, and trying to write this review of the film has only further thrown me into the movie's impressionistic hallucinatory vibe, and I just, don't think I like it.

So, Bashir was born in Mexico City, and is part-Ethiopian, which is one of those things that sounds weirder than it actually since, since Mexico is also a country of immigrants, but it also means that she's periodically returned to her family's homeland and lived there for much of her life, in particular, this ancient highland city just outside Addis Ababa called Harar, where the nation's biggest cash crop,  khat, is king. 

What is khat, other than a nice word to know for Scrabble and Boggle? It's a medicinal plant that's for centuries been used in religious rituals of the region, and it still; it's listing as illegal stimulants in most of the west, but it's quite legal in much of East Africa and the Arabic world. For my mind, I remember it from the Stephen Frears film "Dirty Pretty Things" where Chiwetel Ejiofor's character is shown being addicted to it as it helps him stay up at night. It's Ethiopia's biggest cash crop, and it's become a bigger and bigger crop over the years, to the point where this small section of the world where it's cultivated, it's basically engrossed all aspects of life in the city and community. "Faya Dayi" doesn't try to explore the effect directly, rather it's trying to give us the feeling of being apart of that haze of living each and every day with this crop and the feeling that entails. There's some various talks about how the recent past regimes of Ethiopia have treated it's citizens, and other political discussions, but mostly the movie just shows the people who work on the crops, at all points in the cultivating process, and looks at how they live and use the crop. There's some haunting monologues about how one kid's guardian gets paranoid, angry and unpredictable when he's using it. The older villagers are pretty much addicts who wait for the deliveries to come. 

I have no idea if the movie succeeds in giving us the exact hallucinatory sense of living in this town or not, but Bashir basically grew up in the area and knows it well and has seen how much the crop have overtaken everything and everyone else in the town. Whether or not it's accurate I guess doesn't matter, when you're all consumed by any kind of substance like this, the tone of life is eventually gonna kinda drift in and out anyway, even if that's not the intent or effect of the drug. What it means for my purposes is that I just don't know how to really rate this film. It's right in that fuzzy, hazy in-between zone for me where I can appreciate what's being done, but I can't really say that I enjoyed it either. The movie looks great, the cinematography is quite striking and top-notch, and occasionally I found myself effected. Maybe it did effect too much, I know I've been in too much of a fog to be writing this review, maybe that is the point of the movie and it succeeded. A lot of people seemed to enjoy it; it was one of the more widely acclaimed documentaries last year. I don't know if I can entirely get there but it's a part of the world I don't know and it's definitely an experience seeing it. I guess the standard for a film that's aiming for a hallucinatory effect is too narrow; it shouldn't just be how successful it is at bringing me into it's world, it should be whether or not I'm effected at all, since not hallucinatory experiences are enjoyable, and for me, this one isn't. I kinda have the same issue strangely enough with Terry Gilliam's adaptation of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", I love the book, but I find the movie just too much of an outsider looking in, but maybe I am too hard on the film, because it does genuinely effect me when I'm watching the film. I mean, it is about a bad trip after all; I don't know why I'm unimpressed with that film. With "Faya Dayi" I think I'm even more forgiving because it's not the director's own hallucinatory vision she's trying to emulate; she's trying to recreate the essence of living amongst these hallucinations, and that's even harder, and probably more succeeded than most would've. And I always do think getting high is more intoxicated and romantic in theory than in actual practice anyway, so yeah, I think I enjoyed this film and admired what it was trying for. I can definitely relate to that other feeling this movie could be trying to express, what it's like to being the only one around you who isn't under the influence of a substance, and that can be just as hallucinatory and terrifying to experience, and I certainly wouldn't want to live in it. 


THE SPARKS BROTHERS (2021) Director: Edgar Wright

⭐⭐⭐1/2


Well, I'll be honest, I-eh, I don't know the band Sparks. Like, much of them, or about them, at all. Not going in, and I'm still kinda unsure what to make of them after seeing "The Sparks Brothers", Edgar Wright's documentary on the brothers Ron and Russell, eh, Mael. I mean, I've heard of them sporadically over time, but-, well, I'm an American and this is a very, very,-, um, American-born British band, and I just don't know much of their work at all. Which is good, 'cause this movie goes through, pretty much, their entire milieu of material and their life. 

I'm definitely interested now in these quirky duo who seems to have come out of the early fifties Southern California youth and grew up with the movies to suddenly create, essentially...- I mean, that's kinda the other thing, their music is very distinctively theirs. 

I can totally see why I have heard so little about them. Their genre is...- themselves. Except they basically created new genres that everybody's been stealing from, since the sixties. They were a synthesizer prog work band before synthesizer bands. They were a glam rock band before glam rock. They were an eighties band, before the '80s. They've got fans ranging all the way up and down the music spectrum from Paul McCartney, who famously portrayed Ron Mael, he's the one with the Hitler moustache, in one of his music videos, to Weird Al Yankovich, who lists Sparks as a direct influence on his music. Oh, yeah, they were basically a comedy band before comedy bands were a thing. 

In fact, most of their music is very sardonic and ahead of it's time, filled with lyrics that are both kitchy and poignant at the same time. Sometimes they're just primal yells repeated at nauseum until the message overwhelms you. They're fascinating characters. I don't really know if they're story as music legends really is enough for a feature-length film. Oh, it's a fascinating long story with a lot of twists and turns in their work and career, and their careers have just been as bizarre as they've been exhaustive, but it's not exactly a narrative per se. Not, that even if they had a narrative would they necessarily reveal it to us in an normal manner, which is kinda why Edgar Wright is a good choice for this material. 

Wright is a director who's developed a beloved cult fanbase over the years and he is quite a talented and unique filmmaker, particularly in regards to the editing in his films. This is clearly a guy who's always thinking about the editing room, even when directing his films. The opening sequences in "Baby Driver", the sound mixing that peppered "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World", his masterful use of several different kinds of quick-cuts in his more comedic films, I particularly enjoy it in "Hot Fuzz", which is by far his best film, and honestly, probably the only one I really like. He's talented as hell but he can be pretty jarring for me for a lot of his traditional films which mainly, even when good, seem to just be him trying to make his slightly booze-induced versions of old movies and other media from his youth. Sometimes it works, like in "Hot Fuzz", and it works here pretty well. Not the least of which because "The Brothers Sparks",-, eh, I mean, Mael, are just as obtuse with their own personal lives as Wright is flashy with his editing. It makes Sparks as a band seem more important, even if, for much of this movie, we're basically literally just getting told about each of their albums, one after another, with little-to-no real emotional depth in between. We do meet people who they've worked with, the band's had several different members over the years, depending on what period their music was in, and we even get some praise by longtime fans and other collaborators. Personally, I liked hearing Jane Weidlin's admittance to literally throwing herself at Russell after they worked together on a duet that charted. (Never change, Go-Go's, especially you Jane, never change!) Yeah, honestly, you could mistake this documentary narratively for a Mic the Snare Youtube video in his "Deep Discog Dive" series, which itself is very strange for a music biopic. I mean, when they do have a six year gap in their recording history, Wright breaks up the time by showing old clips of every Dick Clark New Year's Rocking Eve Special from those years. Like, who does that? Well, I guess Sparks do, and Edgar Wright does. Eventually this does make some sense, when you get to their concert tour where they literally played each of their previous 21 albums, all on tour one after another every day!, but still, it's not what I'm usually expecting from movies like these, and I guess thank goodness for that.

"The Sparks Brothers" is a unique music documentary about a unique group. I'm not gonna call myself a fan yet; I still gotta get more into their music, but the movie makes me want to explore them more and that's good enough for me right now. Maybe I'd appreciate it more if I dive into their music further. 


MADRE (aka MOTHER) (2020) Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen

⭐⭐⭐


Trying to analyze "Madre" or "Mother"-... Man, I don't know how to respond to this film, if I 'm being honest. Most reviews bring up how this started as an Oscar-nominated short film from it's director Rodrigo Sorogoyen. I didn't watch that film originally, but having now watched it, it's basically the movie's opening scene. It is a powerful scene if that matters, the film begins with a phone conversation between a scared six-year-old and his mother, Elena (Marta Nieto). He's been left alone on a beach after his father, his battery's dying and he's alone and lost. As the conversation continues. He's in another country and she frantically tries to talk to her son, find out where he is, and if possible call the authorities, who are insisting that they have to be lost for a day in order to find them. The last thing she hears is that he was hiding from a man that's spotted him and that's the last time she hears from him. 

Now there's a lot of stories you can come up with from this scene and expand the story from there. Sorogoyen decided to jump ahead ten years, and tells the story of Elena. She's since given up what seemed to be a fairly well-to-do life and become a bar owner on the same beach area that her son went missing and has become kind of a town ghost story. The woman suddenly meets and begins to befriend Jean (Jules Porier) a sixteen year old, who she realizes looks a little like her missing son. 

Ummm...- I don't know if I want to explain what happens next... I'm trying to figure out how to go about it for a couple days now, and I'm still not sure what exactly to make of it. I'm not familiar with Sorogoyen's work until now, so I don't really know what he's aiming for. Something about grieving? something much more oedipal? Perhaps it is much more about the multitude of layers somebody would feel if they were in such a situation. Like, you see your long lost son, but he's no longer a kid, he's a teenager, and he might not be your son, and you're not necessarily his mother anymore. You can't make up the last ten years, but you don't want to disturb the world he's in now. You don't even know who he is now, so you want to learn about him. He's interested in the fact that you're interested.... It's weird. Maybe too weird, even though it's not handled poorly. We see how the friendship gets in the way of both her life, as her current boyfriend Joseba (Alex Brendemuhl) is patient with her, but still, tensions slowly arises between them. And Jean's parents (Frederic Pierrot and Anne Cosigny) also grow from finding the relationship bemusing to deeply concerning. 

I'll say this, based on the short, it's not the direction I would've thought this story would've gone, so I gotta give him props to that, but I'm not entirely sure what to make of the film either. There's no answers or reveals here, by the end of the movie we're still not entirely sure Jean is Elena's son or not, and I'll add that that's a good thing; perhaps the movie is trying to just put us into this emotional state of the character. In hindsight Marta Nieto gives a great performance, it's subtle and at first I wasn't impressed with it, but on careful thinking back, we remember the woman we meet in the beginning and then we see how she's changed in the years since, and we watch her confront the several dire and complex emotions that she's dealing with here, and it simultaneously feels like we've seen someone change so drastically that she could be almost two or even three different people, and yet, we don't find it too jarring and totally buy into that this is the same person after all these years and all these experiences. Oddly, it reminds me most of Halle Berry's similarly strained and emotionally complex performance in "Monster's Ball" of all things. As to the film though, I still feel like this might've just been out of Sorogoyen's league. I watched the film and couldn't get this feeling out of my head that this perhaps should've been a Claire Denis film, like, not-so-much in content, but definitely aiming for that tone, like, he was trying to turn this story into his "35 Shots of Rum". It's an inventive take and direction, so I gotta ultimately give him credit for this attempt, but this is a mild recommendation. Great performance, but in a very conflicting film. I can easily see as many people appreciating this, as I see being turned off by this, and I'm pretty much on the fence all things considered. 




Sunday, August 14, 2022

CANON OF FILM: "THE GREAT DICTATOR"

THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940)
 
Director/Screenplay: Charles Chaplin 

  

Somehow, I always felt like of all of Chaplin's films, this would be the one that would age the worst. Well, maybe not age the worst, but definitely seem the most of it's time. You'd think I would've gotten to this one sooner considering how wrong I've been on this one in particular the last few years, but..., anyway, "That damn ballet dancer", as W.C. Fields used to refer to him, was, once again, more right than we realized. 

Thirteen years into the age of talking pictures, Charlie Chaplin finally made his first talkie, and it spoke loudly. Before that, he had made what are probably his two best features, “City Lights,” (1931) and “Modern Times,” (1936), with the latter marking the last appearance of his “The Little Tramp,” character, although he does play a variation here, a character known only as “A Barber,” along with him playing Dictator Hynkel. “The Great Dictator,” first started being made in 1938, at a time when opinion on Adolf Hitler, was actually fairly mixed in America. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and there were fascists in America then as their are fascists now, and to claim that they simply went away and came back is a gross misnomer. Many anti-semantic groups secretly condoned Hitler's then rumored practice of eradicating the Jews, and the country as a whole had not taken a side one way or another in regards to Hitler. 

By 1940, when the movie was released, that had changed, and Chaplin’s daring satire on Hitler, dictatorship, and Nazism became his highest grossing film ever, and earned five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Saying that however, it is still fair to say that “The Great Dictator,” is actually one of Chaplin's weakest films now, although it's still quite powerful; this would be his most pre-"Limelight" overuse of sentimentality, and more importantly is his his infamous five minute long speech at the end of the film, where The Barber, at this moment confused for Hynkel, stating Chaplin's own personal views on dictatorship and Nazi practices. It spoke loudly at the time, by the one man who up 'til then, had never spoken at all, but the speech stops the movie dead in its tracks. Yet, the speech is probably the entire reason Chaplin made the movie. (And it's trended several times over in recent years I might add. But who's surprised Chaplin would go viral, really?)  

The movie would eventually lead to him actually being deported from America over a decade later, under the veil of being supposedly a Communist, which he wasn’t. He wasn’t Jewish either, which was another rumor at the time. "The Great Dictator" was banned in much of Europe at the time,  in some parts for decades.  The movie begins with the character of the Barber, after being a WWI hero, and some of the battle scenes in the film are not only incredible for realism at that time, but some are incredibly funny, including the entire sequence about the dud tank bullet which starts off with just a funny bit where the bullet limps out of the shot cannon, but Chaplin continues the joke by investigating the bullet, and leading the joke to it’s natural hilarious conclusion. (If you can find it, there's some great very rare behind-the-scenes footage, shot in color, of Chaplin preparing this sequence, and it might be some of the Earliest color footage of Chaplin.) 

 The Barber, injured in the war, in a coma, and suffering from amnesia, wakes up twenty years later to find Dictator Hynkel in charge, and he has to now rebuild his life in the ghetto. It's basically a subversion of Rip Van Winkle that seems so obvious, it's kinda stunning nobody had done it before, or really for that matter much since. He meets a nice girl from the family next door (Paulette Goddard, Chaplin’s then wife) who helps him from being taken away by storm troopers, one of them being a guy who’s life he saved back in the war. The other famous sequences from the film include Chaplin’s choreographed dance sequence that he has as Hynkel with an inflated globe, that eventually bursts right in his face. As well as a wonderful sequence with Oscar-nominee Jack Oakie, obviously meant to reference Mussolini, where both dictators attempt to one-up each other by sitting in higher chairs than the other, until they’re both near the ceiling and unable to get down. It's stunning how much it seems being a corrupt and murderous dictator essentially involves this diluted belief that they somehow always have to be better than everyone else. 

It’s certainly a landmark film, just for being one of a literal handful of films to criticize the Nazi regime before the war, or any kind of dictatorial practices. Chaplin was of course, one of the very few people in Hollywood who even could do that though, but it's not like anybody had to twist his hand on it. "The Great Dictator" is Chaplin’s is by far his most pointed and important satire; I'd be hard-pressed to call it his most personal and emotional film, I think that goes to "Limelight", but I think it's fair to say that it was the one that he was the most proud of having made.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

SOME THOUGHTS ON "SIGHT AND SOUND"'s UPCOMING POLL RESULTS OF THEIR DECENNIAL GREATEST FILMS OF ALL-TIME POLL! And yeah, fine, I'll do a list of my own again.

 

Every ten years, the famed British publication "Sight and Sound", an offshoot periodical from the BFI, or the British Film Institute conducts polls of all the world's most respected, accomplished and acclaimed film critics and filmmakers and simply gives them the one question, and that's to list what they consider the Top Ten Greatest Films of All-Time. There's no other qualifiers, they can use any/all arbitrary definitions of whatever the person chooses the words "Greatest" means. There's quite few other qualifiers; you can't put a bunch of movies together if they weren't originally supposed to be viewed together or were made separately from each other, so like, unlike past years, you can't list "The Godfather" and "The Godfather Part II" as a single film, but other than that, there isn't much else in regards to standards and qualifier, you just have to pick ten, and only ten. Their goal is simple, just to find what is considered by the greatest film of all-time, and doing so by asking the most qualified experts in the field, worldwide. 

Obviously, since they still haven't asked me to participate, they clearly have failed in this objective, again, but y'know, par for the course. BFI and Sight and Sound aren't that great or prestigious anyway.

(Regrettable sigh) 

Anyway, I talked about this annual poll ten years ago, when despite being continuous ignored by the group even then, I put out my own list anyway. I'm not alone a lot of people do, and they've been doing it lately. Honestly I wasn't going to this year, until everybody else started doing it. I mean, I feel like I do too many lists as it is on this blog, and honestly, as much as I do love lists, we all do, eh, my main concern is that, essentially, you can only really tell so much from them. This list is the most popular in the film world because of how it's been used as a guide, not for what the best film is necessarily but for how the world of film looks at the cinema of the past. In 1952, the first year of the list, the best film was Vittorio Di Sica's "The Bicycle Thief", or "Bicycle Thieves" if you prefer the more correct translation of the Italian title. It had only been released four years earlier when it won that poll. "Citizen Kane" famously won the poll the next five times, they held the poll, and "The Bicycle Thief" hasn't been in the Top Ten since 1962. Orson Welles's "Citizen Kane" came out earlier of course, it released in 1941, but it wasn't as fresh in peoples' minds; it hadn't been seen since it's original release and only after the passing of William Randolph Hearst, who basically had it covered up, did the film finally reemerge and it's importance, greatness and most notably it's influence, became abundantly clear. 

In 2012 however, for whatever reason, that streak ended when Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" overtook "Citizen Kane" bumping it off the top. There's a lot of theories as to why this happened. The fact that despite the attempts of "Sight & Sound" the fact that they are a British/European publication means that it's more predominantly bias towards European sentiments and influences, and "Vertigo" is particularly influential in Europe. It also had gained influence in America too, like how it raised over fifty slots on AFI's similar 100 Films Poll from 61 in 1998's poll to 9th in their 2008 poll. Also, I think there was just general rebellious backlash to the notion of ranking "Citizen Kane" number one, and it just happened to be the film that was chosen to overtake it. While I think it's incredibly difficult to argue that the film is not the most important film and influential film ever made, I can definitely understand people who say, don't think it's particularly entertaining or fun or whatever. I know plenty of people who hate the film, including a lot of film people;  I get it. I didn't rank it number one last time, either. I was just as rebellious and said, "Fuck it, I'm picking the movie I like the most for number one," and clearly I wasn't the only one.

And honestly beyond all that, there's something weird about this list and it's process in general. For one, as any true film person will tell you, narrowing this kind of process down to ten, is just cruel and unusual punishment for us. As of this writing, I've seen, well over 5,000 feature films, and that's not counting short films, and hell, you technically could count television programs for this list now; last time "The Wire" got two votes. It also kinda zeroes on just, the films that somebody out there might consider the absolute greatest and it actually a lot of other amazing and generally highly-regarded great films that, just don't make lists like these because we generally wouldn't rank them in our Top Tens. A movie like Sidney Lumet's "Network" comes to my mind, make a top 100 list, it'll show up almost every time, it's widely considered one of the most prescient and ahead-of-it's-time films out there but narrow it to ten, and it falls way down. Or "Rocky" for instance shares a similar fate, among many others. To go back to those AFI's list for example, even though those lists were limited to American movies, #17 on that list in '98, and #65 in 2008 was John Huston's "The African Queen", a movie that on BFI's list, did not get two votes from anybody. Does that mean it's not a great film, that AFI's list is just weirder for including it? (Shrugs) ehhh-i'on'tno? Maybe? I mean, I never think of it as among Bogart's or Hepburn's or John Huston's best films, but I would've thought some people would've put it in there, right? There's plenty of others. Bob Rafelson just died, I know if maybe they asked for a Top 100 list, "Five Easy Pieces" would probably be higher ranked on these lists, but for a top ten, do you really have room to put it on a Top Ten? Or how about any of his other films? Only "Five Easy Pieces" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice" got multiple votes. 

In fact, another issue with this poll, is how it can be bias towards films/filmmakers who are generally considered to have one single movie be considered their absolute masterpiece. I'm not saying it is their masterpiece, or their only good film or only good to be worthy of being on such a list, I'm saying that percention-wise, the film is considered their masterpiece. Filmmakers for whom, the debate on what their best film actually is, tend to struggle in these polls, even great filmmakers. If you go on Mubi.com, where they have a page that lovingly ranks all the films that got at least two votes in the last poll, they rank them together, but if you go through that list, you'll notice that there are quite a few instance of filmmakers who have multiple films, literally right next to or near each other in the rankings. It's easier to single out a director's single great film as oppose to looking at a giant collection of their work, and if that fil is beloved, they would do better than directors who everybody disagrees on their best film, so their votes get spread over multiple films of theirs. 

It's not a negative per se, but it is a quirk. There's a lot of quirks with all polls, and this one in particular, being ranked periodically ever decade, and limited to ten films, means that, I don't really think of these lists as entirely accurate readings of greatness, but rather as looks at ourselves. A reading of the modern zeitgeist of the time and what that says about ourselves, both in terms of the overall lists results, and in turn, with our own individual choices. The films aren't so much a standing for our definite picks for what we believe to be the best, but rather, a small representation of who we are at the moment we do them. 

In that respect, I really don't like my list from 2012 anymore. If you clicked on that earlier link to my blog, you'll know how I got to the Top Ten, 'cause I wrote the post in a manner that made it seem like I was literally trying to figure out the list as I was writing it (Which is because, that was exactly how I actually came up with it.); I'm not doing that this year, I already know what my list is going to be going into this blog, but still, I don't like my old list. 

MY 2012 LIST: 
1. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola)
3. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
5. Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders)
6. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)
7. Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
8. Rashomon (Akira KUROSAWA)
9. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino)
10. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)

It's not that these aren't great movies, or don't deserve to be on a list like list, in fact most of my list, isn't gonna change, but eh, I don't really know why I picked some of these, and I don't like how I picked some of them. I basically through in "Pulp Fiction" just out of some half-baked notion that it was somehow, "his time", or whatever. (Blows raspberries) Eh, I was still out of college and while I do still love Tarantino, I was also clearly still in that phase. Post-film school grad,- phase where Tarantino was just the coolest, or whatever. There's actually a lot of this list I don't love though. I don't love how American it is, there's only three foreign films and one of them is silent on here. Almost all white men, and one white woman. Perhaps I put films on here more out of obligation as opposed to what I genuinely thought was the best. 

"The Godfather" now feels weird on this list to me. It'll always be one of my core films, I'm Italian-American after all, I grew up on the movie; it's basically a part of my cultural identity, and it's still a great, one of my all-time favorite films, I've probably watched it more than any other film on this list except for "Casablanca", but eh, do I need it to be on here? Or any Francis Ford Coppola film? Considering how much I've watched and talked about his films, especially his absolute best films from the '70s, it's kinda surprising to me how little I think about him as a great filmmaker, and frankly, how much I find myself looking for films outside "The Godfather" these days as standards of greatness to compare. 

Why did I somehow think I needed a Coppola film, and didn't need a Hitchcock film? No, the rest of the world was right on that one. Hitchcock's the greater more important and more influential filmmaker, but I'm not putting "Vertigo" on here. Sorry, I know people who love "Vertigo", and while I don't think it's unworthy of being number one, and I have some great arguments for why it deserved the spot, I have always had issues with and never thought of it as his best film. I think "Psycho"'s is his real masterpiece. I think it's influence is not only greater, more important, more positively influential than much of the movies that were far more inspired by "Vertigo" and if I have to narrow it down to one Hitchcock that everybody should see, I'm gonna pick "Psycho". 

There's some other things, I put "Casablanca", my favorite movie of all-time, ahead of "Citizen Kane", which, eh, you know, I usually do make the favorite exception only for "Casablanca", but it also feels wrong to put it ahead of "Citizen Kane" now. I'm restoring "...Kane" to number one. What can I say, I will prefer the critical best over the personal best. I mean, I could personally chose some other Orson Welles film too, "The Stranger" is a favorite of mine, so is "F for Fake", I know a lot of people have come to the conclusion that that's secretly his best film, and I can definitely see that argument. But I'm still going with "Citizen Kane" at number one. Call me a traditionalist, call me a film snob, whatever, the history of cinema doesn't make sense if you take out "Citizen Kane", I'm making sure it stays in.

Also, last time, I put Wim Wenders's "Wings of Desire" on the list, mainly as sort of a secondary pick over Krzyzstof Kieslowski's "The Decalogue". Mainly because I didn't think I could pick "The Decalogue". That rule I talked about earlier, about how you couldn't lump two films together, "The Decalogue" is weird because it's actually ten films, each about an hour long each one of them about the Ten Commandments. They aired originally as a miniseries in Poland, but made it to theaters eventually in America, not that that distinction matters much anymore in a post-Covid world, but that did mean that they weren't eligible as an entirety in the past. I've double-check though, and while I can't put the Godfather films together still, the rule is that, I can pick something like this, if they were meant to be watch together in their entirety. So, in other words, I can pick "The Decalogue", the same way I could say pick, other longer-than-average multipart features, like Fassbinder's "Berlin Alexanderplatz" or perhaps more recently David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" reboot that the Cahier du Cinema people seem to love so much. So, "The Decalogue" goes back on. I don't necessarily think that should mean that "Wings of Desire" goes off though; they're different films, and truly great in different ways, but hmm, they are similar enough..., perhaps too similar for this list, at least for me, at least this year....

I do want to try be as inclusive and varied on this list as possible, but it's hard. People do relate to stimuli that's more familiar to them then stuff that might seem more foreign. I am a cis white male, so as much as I'd love to see more foreign filmmakers on here, I'm probably going to understand, appreciate and relate to films made by cis white male filmmakers more often than others. So, should I just sacrifice films I think are better for films by filmmakers that I think should be more recognized, especially minority filmmakers? No, that's the same thinking that led to me to putting "Pulp Fiction" on there when I shouldn't have. 

No, Tarantino didn't belong on there, and while I wish I could say that instead I'm putting on Spike Lee, or Satyajit Ray or Ousmane Sembane or Luis Bunuel, or Sergei Eisenstein or Fernando Meirelles or Hector Babenco, or..., if there's a director I most feel passionate that I feel should be on my list, and should've been on there before, it was Billy Wilder. Especially if we're talking movies, films about making films, even tangentially should be represented, and for me, "Sunset Blvd", is really his best. I can argue for "Some Like It Hot" or "The Apartment" or "Double Indemnity" as well, but man, those are great films but I don't any of them are as good, or have as much good influence out there. So, "Sunset Blvd" gets the spot that it should've had all along.

Does that mean that I should just ignore recent films entirely? The only film from the 2000s that made my list last time was "Lost in Translation", and there's some stuff about that film and including the perspective of the filmmaker that you can regard as questionable now. I lost one Coppola, can I lose two? And is there something modern I could replace it with? I thought about Barry Jenkins's "Moonlight", I thought about BONG Joon-Ho's "Parasite", I thought about Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life", I even came close to putting "Hamilton" on here. All films that I think deserve to be on lists like these but I did feel like I needed to have at least one female director on here. No, I can't adequately explain why it feels more wrong to me to not have a female director than it does an African, African-American, Latino, or other nationality or group of directors that isn't represented, but it just does.

So, is there a film by a female director that I'd rather have on this list or I think more deserves the spot? Well, I'm partial to Lina Wertmuller's "Swept Away By an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August", (And she's generally a filmmaker who also got screwed on the last list, not one film of hers got two votes!) I like Jane Campion, and I think "The Piano" is great. I've been a huge Lisa Cholodenko fan since "High Art" and "Laurel Canyon". Marielle Heller and Lynne Ramsay have blown me away. Celine Sciamma's movies have really been inspiring to me, as have Catherine Breillat's. Somehow though, I can't seem to shake how rare and beautiful the emotional ennui of "Lost in Translation" is, and for that, how much more difficult I think it is to get that effect with a movie. That's the one that's always stuck with me and remains sticking to me. Yeah, I just credit that more than I do the accomplishments of other films. 

So here we go, this is how I'm ranking my Top Ten Films, now: 

MY 2022 TOP TEN LIST
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles)
2. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz)
3. The Decalogue (Krzyzstof Kieslowski)
4. Sunset Blvd (Billy Wilder)
5. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)
6. Metropolis (Fritz Lang)
7. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
8. Ikiru (Akira KUROSAWA)
9. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)
10. The Maltese Falcon (John Huston)

"Citizen Kane" goes back up top. A couple other minor and trivial changes to the order of the films. "The Decalogue" does replace "Wings of Desire", which is basically my number one of the several number elevens I have. I replace the Tarantino with the Wilder, I replace the Coppola with the Hitchcock. Oh, and I did switch KUROSAWA films, from "Rashomon" and "Ikiru". I don't have a real deep reason on this one, they're both basically tied for me, and I decided that, as long as I feel like I need a Kurosawa film on here, which, I do, that I would just keep switching between them every ten years. I had "Rashomon" last time, so this time, I'm putting "Ikiru" in there. Anyway, it feels right. Admittedly, I probably thought it felt right the last time I did this list and ten years from now I'll probably regret how I made this list.  

As to what I expect/predict from Sight & Sound's actual results this year? I think there'll be a lot of the same and a lot different, and a lot of intrigue. They usually release all the results of everybody who voted and personally I find those more interesting than the overall results. If I am making predictions, than I'll say that "Citizen Kane" regains the top spot on at least the critics poll. I'll say "The Searchers" will fall out of the Top Ten. Despite my taking it off my list, I think "Pulp Fiction" will break into the Top 100. And I think, overall, more female films and filmmakers will be represented, especially the likes of Agnes Varda and Chantal Akerman I suspect. As for modern films, "Parasite", "Moonlight", "Portrait of a Lady on Fire", a few others that I suspect will have surprisingly good showings. 

(Shrugs) 

Yeah, I'm not interested in making too many calls. I'm frankly more interested in seeing what's gonna be on there and frankly, hopefully find films that I haven't seen and seek them out. See the movies that others think are the greatest, the movies that have inspired other artists and critics. I hope to expand my cinematic knowledge and vocabulary, which I think should always be our goal, whether as filmmakers, as critics, or even just as fans. Seeing what others consider greats and important enough to preserve, especially when only given space to preserve ten, says a lot about them, and for that matter us. What does it say about me, that I chose these ten? 

I don't know, I'll let others decide that. In the meantime, if you haven't seen any of these films, watch them, see what you think.