A bevy of top 10s, rants, and raves
I feel like I've only seen about 10 films this year, so my list would basically be No Country For Old Men, I'm Not There, and Beowulf (two of those movies were painful, they were so aesthetically pleasing guess which ones). But I'm going to say Paranoid Park was a huge influence on me this year. The risks it took and its loose narrative and utter disregard for convention were extremely inspiring. I saw it in Toronto at a press screening, among all the jabbering sales agents and distribution reps, and it still managed to drop my jaw despite the guy next to me answering his phone midway through, telling the guy on the other line how "half baked" the movie was. Afterward I talked to a fellow aspiring filmmaker about the film, and he told me how much he disliked it because he thought it was a "mess." Exactly. It feels like a rough cut, only not a work in progress, but that's the point. Perhaps that's why I identified with it so much. Besides, maybe a little messiness is not such a bad thing to embrace right now.
Richard Wong is the director and producer of Colma: The Musical.
James Benning's Ten Skies at New York's invaluable Anthology Film Archives: with a description like a parody of avant-garde impenetrability ("Ten shots of the sky feature length"), it sounds daunting. Instead, it was an experience of mysterious joy that brought me back to why movies are entertaining and why seeing them can be so communal. After a few restless, fidgety minutes, both audience and film hit a groove so sublime that I kept laughing with pleasure. Each sky has its revelations and dramas, each viewer "makes" their own film, but in a shared hallucination that filmmakers and venues rarely allow, much less encourage. Sure, we've all seen the sky before, but when's the last time you fell in so deeply and for so long, undistracted yet free to drift, stunned by both the thing itself and the amazing mirror of moving pictures? And I love that Benning says it's a political film, "the opposite of war."
Jem Cohen (www.jemcohenfilms.com ) is the director of Instrument, Benjamin Smoke, Chain, Building a Broken Mousetrap, and other films.
So glad I live in Berlin as an expat, far away from icky, tired Los Ang, that sad, pathetic film industry towne. When I worked for the Sundance Film Festival in programming I watched what seemed like a zillion of the same kinds of films. This year I created (with the art kollective Cheap) the Cheap Gossip Studio installation as part of the Berlin Film Festival. It was housed in the atrium of the Kino Arsenal. Film historian Marc Siegel brought Callie Angel out to show some rare, seldom-screened Andy Warhol films, as well as Jerry Tartaglia, who restored Jack Smith's noted oeuvre. I even got to meet my sexy feminist heroine, Jackie Reynal of the Zanzibar movement, and Phillip Garrel, who brought his delicious young thrombone of a son, the actor Louis Garrel.
During the year, I started a new monthly performative series at Kino Arsenal called "Rising Stars, Falling Stars." It featured experimental silent classics from filmmakers like Louis Delluc, Man Ray, and the grandmama of the avant-garde, Germaine Deluc.
A lot of filmmakers send me rough cuts of their new films hoping I will write something on my blog, which gets a million readers a day. I just saw Bruce La Bruce's allegorical zombie flick Otto; or Up with Dead People, and it's beyond brilliant, and I am not saying that just because I have starred in Bruce's other films Super 8 1/2 and Hustler White or because he directed my latest performance piece, Cheap Blacky. I am harsh on my filmmaker friends. I told Bruce that he shouldn't act in his own movies anymore, just like Woody Allen and Spike Lee shouldn't act in theirs. I even scolded Todd Haynes that Far From Heaven was overrated, but I adored Velvet Goldmine and his latest, I'm Not There. (Though I can't stand Cate Blanchett; after seeing her as Queen Elizabeth yet again all I could say was, "Glenda Jackson, Glenda Jackson.")
I watched Superbad twice with the 14-year-old twins of my Cheap Blacky costar Susanne Sachsee, and I even got off on the 'roid rage of Gerard Butler in the epic 300. No one does brittle white lady like my Tales of the City costar Laura Linney in The Savages. Tony Leung is so elegant and sensuous in Lust, Caution that everyone will want a Chinese boyfriend as the hot new fashion accessory this year. And if Sweeney Todd doesn't bring back the musical genre, nothing will.
Vaginal Davis (www.vaginaldavis.com ), who now lives in exile in Berlin, will be in the Bay Area on March 29, 2008, for the opening of her installation Present Penicative at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; it will also feature her performances "Bilitis A Lesbian Separatist Feminist State" and "Colonize Me."
DENNIS HARVEY'S ALPHABETICAL DOCUMENTARY TOP 10
1. Absolute Wilson (Katharina Otto-Bernstein, US/Germany)
2. All in This Tea (Les Blank, US)
3. King Corn (Aaron Wolf, US)
4. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon, US)
5. Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal, Canada)
6. My Kid Could Paint That (Ami Bar-Lev, US)
7. No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson, US)
8. Protagonist (Jessica Yu, US)
9. Romántico (Mark Becker, US)
10. Zoo (Robinson Devor, US)
All thanks to the Internet Movie Database, without which we would remain in blessed ignorance.
Brad McGuire's 20 Hole Weekend
5 Guy Cream Pie 29
Abominable Black Man 8
Ahh Shit! White Mama 4
Apple Bottom Snow Bunnies
Be Here Now
Blondes have More Squirt!
Bore My Asshole 3
Bring'um Young 23
Catch Her in the Eye
Even More Bang for Your Buck
Go Fuck Yourself
I Scored a Soccer Mom 3
Old Geezers, Young Teasers
Seduced by a Cougar 4
Swallow My Children
Thanks for the Mammaries
You've Got a Mother Thing Coming
Dennis Harvey is a Guardian contributor.
1. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania). This debut feature possesses a nonjudgmental flow reminiscent of a Dardenne brothers film as it follows two young women who negotiate for an illegal abortion during the final days of Nicolae Ceausescu's Communist regime.
2. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, UK/Canada/US). Uncovering the layers of human identity has been a career-long, disturbing theme of Cronenberg's. But with his most recent films he's figured out how to deconstruct our psychotic and schizophrenic patriarchal society in a minimal, confrontational manner.
3. Cassandra's Dream (Woody Allen, US/UK). This minimasterpiece follows the downward spiral of two nice, middle-class brothers (Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell), both of whom loosen their moral codes just to better their lifestyles. Striking camera work (by Vilmos Zsigmond) encloses the characters in an unrelenting nightmare.
4. "Made in America," The Sopranos (David Chase, US). Forever you'll be able to bust out the statement "What did you think of the end of The Sopranos?" and people will get all lit up.
5. Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach, US). Thanks to audacious writing and powerful acting (especially by Jennifer Jason Leigh), the bittersweet sincerity is pitch-perfect.
6. Californication, season 1 (various directors, US). David Duchovny is alive and hilarious. Creator Tom Kapinos cuts right through our progressive relationship era, devilishly developing each character over 12 episodes. This is heavy-duty stuff mixed with dirty, dirty sex.
7. Year of the Dog (Mike White, US). White brings heartfelt storytelling to his directorial debut.
8. Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal, Canada)
9. The Hills Have Eyes 2 (Martin Weisz, US). This Wes Cravenproduced Iraq war allegory deserves more attention than Brian De Palma's patronizing Redacted.
10. Hostel 2 (Eli Roth, US). Baddie Roth again makes social commentary on America's xenophobic world colonization by torturing the pathetic children of the apathetic parents who make our lovely world go round.
11. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany). Reygadas updates the transcendental religious overtones of Carl Theodor Dreyer by way of a Mennonite community.
12. At Long Last Love (Peter Bogdanovich, US). Never released on VHS or DVD, this throwback to the musicals of Ernst Lubitsch featuring Burt Reynolds, Cybill Shepherd, Madeline Kahn, and Eileen Brennan was dismissed and despised on its only theatrical release in 1975. All of the Cole Porter musical numbers were filmed live, with the actors using their own voices. Not only are these numbers brilliantly executed (inspiring realistic musicals like Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark), but the film also attains the rapid-fire interaction and casual kookiness of late '30s screwball comedies. Did critics really overlook the fact that this is clever cheekiness? It's a true treasure that serves as a '70s time capsule and should inspire future filmmakers to take their chances all the way. It may have taken 32 years, but your time has come, Mr. Bogdanovich. Thank you.
Jesse Hawthorne Ficks teaches film history at the Academy of Art University and curates Midnites for Maniacs (www.midnitesformaniacs.com ) at the Castro Theatre.
0. The 70th anniversary memorial of the Nanjing Massacre in Nanjing, China, and especially survivor Xia Shuqin's reaction to her re-created wartime house, where most of her family was raped and killed by Japanese soldiers.
1. The passing of House Resolution 121 (the "Comfort Women" resolution) on C-Span, July 30.
2. Yasukuni (Li Ying, China/Japan). The power of the shrine isn't fully captured, but this is the closest an outsider has come to doing so that I've seen. All captured on a Japanese mini-DV video camera, in American NTSC.
3. Nanking (Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman, US). AOL + Iris Chang = Woody Harrelson and the Nanjing Massacre.
4. A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila (various, US). The alpha and omega of Asian America. For those with the required assets and skills, Playboy and the Internet can make you, regardless of race, a bisexual American celebrity the end and a new beginning for all the so-called angry Asian Americans.
5. Summer Special Olympics in Shanghai, China. Globalization was transformed into music by Kenny G during the opening ceremony.
6. Pride: The Moment of Destiny, or Puraido: Unmei no Toki (Shunya Ito, Japan). Finally found a good DVD copy of this, in Canada of all places. This could also be called Tojo: The Hero.
7. Inside the Brookhaven Obesity Clinic (various, US). Pride and Prejudice for the heavyset, on the Learning Channel.
8. Major League Eating's Thanksgiving Chowdown (various, US). The purest American professional sport and the fall of Japan's greatest hero, Takeru Kobayashi, on Spike TV.
9. Mock Up on Mu, in progress (Craig Baldwin, US)
10. Blockade (Sergey Loznitsa, Russia)
The works of San Francisco filmmaker James T. Hong (www.zukunftsmusik.com ) include Behold the Asian: How One Becomes What One Is, The Form of the Good, Taipei 101: A Travelogue of Symptoms, 731: Two Versions of Hell, and This Shall Be a Sign.
1. Black Book (Paul Verhoeven, Netherlands/Germany/Belgium)
2. Brand upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin, Canada/US)
3. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, UK/Canada/US)
4. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, Malaysia/China/Taiwan/France/Austria)
5. I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, US)
6. In Between Days (So Yong Kim, South Korea/US/Canada)
7. Makeshift 2007 grindhouse double feature: The Hills Have Eyes 2 (Martin Weisz, US) and Black Snake Moan (Craig Brewer, US)
8. The Wire, season four (various, US)
9. Woman on the Beach (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)
10. Zodiac (David Fincher, US)
Jonathan L. Knapp is a Guardian contributor.
In addition to bringing some very good movies to the screen, 2007 was also a really good year for bad films. But among them all, these are the ones I feel had lack of intelligence, conservatism, and conventionality on a whole different level:
1. Hitman (Xavier Gens, France/US)
2. Good Luck Chuck (Mark Helfrich, US/Canada)
3. License to Wed (Ken Kwapis, US)
4. The Brothers Solomon (Bob Odenkirk, US)
5. Hot Rod (Akiva Schaffer, US)
6. P.S. I Love You (Richard LaGravenese, US)
7. The Final Season (David M. Evans, US)
8. The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (Jay Russell, UK/US)
9. The Perfect Holiday (Lance Rivera, US)
10. P2 (Franck Khalfoun, US)
Maria Komodore is a Guardian contributor.
With a very special mention and heavy props for the fantastic TV doc series Nimrod Nation.
1. Manda Bala (Send a Bullet) (Jason Kohn, Brazil/US)
2. Lake of Fire (Tony Kaye, US)
3. Summercamp (Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price, US)
4. This Filthy World (Jeff Garlin, US)
5. A Man Named Pearl (Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson, US)
6. King Corn (Aaron Wolf, US)
7. An Audience of One (Mike Jacobs, US)
8. Crazy Love (Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens, US)
9. Big Rig (Doug Pray, US)
10. Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa (Jeremy Stulberg and Randy Stulberg, US)
San Francisco filmmakers Chris Metzler and Jeff Springer codirected the award-winning documentary Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea (www.saltonseadocumentary.com ).
Go Go Tales was filmed at Cinecittà, so I had a location like I did in the '60s. Cinecittà was thrilling. When the film premiered in Cannes, you would have thought I was the lead from the reviews. What's her name in the New York Times gave it a wonderful review that got picked up by the International Herald Tribune.
Abel [Ferrara] got mad at Burt Young, who played my husband, and cut him out of the film. Be that as it may, we still managed to keep that story together The irony is that the rap that I do [at the end of the movie] was ad-libbed at 10 o'clock on the last night of filming. I give my all and know that something good will happen.
From what I hear, [Bernardo] Bertolucci is the one who chooses the film from Italy that gets into the New York Film Festival. Because they were renovating Alice Tully Hall, Go Go Tales had one of its screenings at the Jazz Center. It was exciting to look out my apartment window and see the lines of people outside [Frederick P.] Rose Hall waiting to see the movie. People even came to the 4 p.m. Sunday screening. At 4 p.m. on a Sunday they should have been out to tea instead of at that film!
Two-time Academy Award nominee Sylvia Miles has starred in Midnight Cowboy, Andy Warhol's Heat, Evil Under the Sun, She-Devil, and Abel Ferrara's soon to be released Go Go Tales.
1. The Edge of Heaven (Fatih Akim, Germany/Turkey)
2. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania)
3. The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Germany)
4. Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, UK/Canada/US)
5. Le Dernier des Fous (Laurent Achard, France)
6. The Duchess of Langeais (Jacques Rivette, France/Italy)
7. Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, France/US)
8. Water Lilies (Céline Sciamma, France)
9. La Graine et le Mulet (Abdel Kechiche, France)
10. Love Songs (Christophe Honoré, France)
Actor-director Jacques Nolot's latest film, Before I Forget John Waters's second-favorite film of 2007 will be released theatrically in 2008.
I have no shortage of rants about the sad state of cinema. Of the 25,000-plus films released each year, it's impossible to keep track or be aware of anything above the overrated Oscar contenders or mindless mainstream crap that floods the market. Anything slightly worthwhile not on this list would be a smaller independent (foreign or documentary) film, such as Larry Fessenden's The Last Winter or The Life of Reilly.
1. Paris, Je T'Aime (various, France/Liechtenstein)
2. No Country for Old Men (Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, US)
3. Notes on a Scandal (Richard Eyre, UK)
4. Sicko (Michael Moore, US)
5. Rescue Dawn (Werner Herzog, US)
6. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, US)
7. Goya's Ghosts (Milos Forman, US/Spain)
8. Ratatouille (Brad Bird, US)
9. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon, US)
10. Death Proof, driving sequences only! (Quentin Tarantino, US)
Damon Packard (www.myspace.com/choogo ) is the director of SpaceDisco One, Reflections of Evil, and other films.
1. Bug (William Friedkin, US)
2. The Kingdom trailer (Peter Berg, US; editors Colby Parker Jr. and Kevin Stitt)
3. Fengming: A Chinese Memoir (Wang Bing, China)
4. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands/Germany)
5. Into the Wild (Sean Penn, US)
6. An Engineer's Assistant (Tsuchimoto Noriaki, Japan)
7. Saw IV (Darren Lynn Bousman, US)
8. "Made in America," The Sopranos (David Chase, US)
9. The Pastor and the Hobo (Phil Chambliss, US)
10. You and I, Horizontal (Anthony McCall, UK)
11. Kara Tai in the Front and the Back (Bangbros.com, US)
Joel Shepard is the film and video curator at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
1. Following Sean (Ralph Arlyck, US). Thirty years after making a legendary short film about Sean, the lawless four-year-old son of Haight-Ashbury hippies, filmmaker Arlyck reconnects with his subjects. The result is the most complicated study of baby boomers and their kin ever made.
2. Artist Statement (Daniel Barrow, Canada). Winnipeg artist Barrow uses an old-school overhead projector and layers of transparent drawings to create manual animations with music and live narration. His second US performance brought to life his imaginative, queer, literary, and delicate personal manifesto.
3. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Austria). Apichatpong's latest radical narrative film focuses on a rural Thai hospital and its inhabitants. Among its meditative episodes is an unresolved love story between a female physician and an orchid farmer.
4. Real Housewives of Orange Country (various directors, US). Bravo's reality television program about a contrived community of rich middle-aged women living in Coto de Caza is unexpectedly compelling. Because their lives are so boring, there's nothing left to explore in this show except their complex emotions.
5. Zodiac (David Fincher, US). Crushworthy Jake Gyllenhaal, genius cinematography from legend-to-be Harris Savides, and incredible reconstructions of a beautiful and scary San Francisco in the 1970s.
Matt Wolf (www.mattwolf.info  ) is the director of Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell (premiering at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival) and Smalltown Boys.