Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Ten Movies of 2012 - Not from 2012

In alphabetical order, here are my favorites from the cinema past.

Blue (Krzysztof Kieslowski, France, 1993)

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah, USA/Mexico, 1974)

Chuck & Buck (Miguel Arteta, USA, 2000) - If you ever feel like you are missing a chapter in American independent cinema, this might be the film you need to see.  This movie was made for one reason - Mike White had something he needed to say.  In today's flooded indie market, I wish more films would channel such purpose.

Identification of a Woman (Michelangelo Antonioni, Italy, 1982) - As anyone who knows me will tell you, Antonioni is my guy.  He is in top form with this film.

Juvenile Court (Frederick Wiseman, USA, 1973) - "If you love me, you'll come and get me."

Make Way for Tomorrow (Leo McCarey, USA, 1937) - I first read about this movie in my film history textbook in college.  Ozu's Tokyo Story is said to be based on this film.  It was not available on any format at that time.  I later saw it on Jonathan Rosenbaum's alternative Top 100 Best American Films list, which he created in response to the AFI Top 100 films list.  I've been waiting nearly a decade to see this film and thanks to the Criterion Collection, we all can now.  It is every bit as good as the history books say.

Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, Poland/Germany, 1981) See my previous blog post.

The Reenactment (Lucian Pintilie, Romania, 1968) - Billed as the greatest Romanian film of all time (like USA's Citizen Kane or France's The Rules of the Game), it's the story of two young men who are sentenced by the government to recreate the drunken brawl for which they were arrested.  The recreation is filmed and will be released as a PSA to promote sobriety.  It takes place over the course of one day at one location.  Write your Congressman, or better yet, write Criterion and have them rush this movie to the presses.  It is brilliant.

Rocky (John G. Avildsen, USA, 1976)

Under the Sun of Satan (Maurice Pialat, France, 1987)

Honorable Mention:  Ryan's Daughter, Little Fugitive, Les Anges du Peche, Drive, Blonde Venus, Videodrome.

Friday, December 14, 2012

2012 Top Ten

2012 Top Ten

For my Top Ten list this year, I thought I would take a different approach.  Instead of confining my choices to movies, I opened up the categories to include anything and everything. 

1. Possession (dir. Andrzej Zulawski; Starring Isabelle Adjani & Sam Neill) – It figures that my number one would still be a movie.  Well, this was a momentous movie for me.  I saw it twice in two days at the Siskel Center.  Now, I don’t want to oversell the movie.  In previous years, the only movies I remember watching back-to-back were Haneke’s Code Unknown and Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels.  I don’t consider these the greatest films ever made, but there was something about each one that made me want to revisit them immediately.  For Code Unknown, I wanted to deconstruct it and reassemble it myself, like a Milton Bradley puzzle.  With Fallen Angels, I wanted to hear “Only You” play again as the characters sped towards me on a motorcycle.   Possession was no different.  After my initial shock and awe, I desperately wanted to decipher all the clues inside the movie.  God, sexuality, infidelity, a divided Germany, bodily fluids, marriage, squid – it was making some statements.  That second viewing may not have answered all my questions, but it was worth it.  I have seen few movies like Possession.  It somehow combines The Cranes are Flying, Wings of Desire, The Evil Dead, and A Woman Under the Influence.  Someday, I hope to make a movie in that spirit.  You can track the movie's (on 35mm) location on Twitter by following @BleedingLightFG.

2. The Moth – This is a live storytelling event that has a more well-known podcast.  If you live in Chicago, it’s every last Tuesday of the month at Martyr’s on N. Lincoln.  Admission is $8.  I’ve been twice now and I can see myself becoming a regular.  The stories I’ve heard can be touching or funny, crazy or quotidian, raunchy or vengeful.  Before you hear each story, remember it was probably told to someone’s best friend or co-worker or parent before you.  It’s like stepping into the telephone receiver of someone you do not know and happening upon a riveting five-minute story.  I'm reminded of the judge in Three Colors: Red eavesdropping on all his neighbors.  Like the subway, The Moth levels the playing field between us all.  There are no movies here, no TV shows, no record deals, or lottery tickets.   It’s an AA meeting for story addicts, and all of humanity is encompassed.  It reminds me that every person I walk by on the street is passing down stories somewhere, at some time.

3.  New Mexico – I struggle with believing in signs in life.  My friend Jen says I should listen to the signs.  Believing in that means you believe in fate, I think.  And I don’t think I believe in fate.  Anyway, if I did believe in signs, I’d consider relocating to New Mexico for a time.  Work took me there for about a week in September and I stayed in a small resort out in the desert outside Albuquerque, home of the minor league baseball team the Isotopes.  A mountain was to the south, a river in its shadow.  A pair of coyotes traveled past me while I was out for a walk one day.  They hopped in the tall grasses like kangaroos.  I loved the trip - sign number one.  The next sign was when I read Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost, which I adored.  These are personal essays she writes, like Hannah from Girls, only Solnit's are not mean to be funny.  In one essay, she mentions traveling in the desert in the American southwest.  Everything I had just seen came back to me: the heat, the dry grasses, the snakes, the cottonwoods, the dry air, the open spaces and worn down walking trails.  She changed my mind about being lost.  Sign number two.  Thirdly, New Mexico features prominently in the book Brave New World.  Imagine that!  John, the book’s Savage, hails from there.  The last science fiction book I read was probably some Robert H. Heinlein novel in high school.  I don’t read it much because I’m not much interested in Delta-Minuses and Malthusian belts.  But beyond all the silly contrivances of future civilization is a probing book about freedom and civilization, in thought and in action.  New Mexico is home to the ‘Savage Reservation’, a vacation spot for the civilized elite to see what the world used to look like – a place of Native Americans, adobe houses, polytheism, corn dances, strange tongues, and living off the land.  The Savage, despite thinking he wants all that civilization has to offer, finds that he preferred his old way of life.  In the book’s conclusion, he turns in one direction, then another, in a perfect, sad metaphor for the two worlds he has seen.  Sign number three.

4. The San Francisco Giants – I might catch hell from my good friend Devin (a Detroit native), but to any Braves fan, they were our last hope at payback for that ignominious loss during the great game’s first one-off Wild Card playoff matchup between my beloved Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals.  Down three games to one, the Giants fought to take the series back to Frisco and humiliate a team that had seemed unstoppable in the post-season since their historic, mind-blowing win over the Rangers in the 2011 World Series.  I’m sorry, St. Louis, you are a great team, but during this post-season, I cursed your name more times than I can remember. 

5. Cooking – All those years I blindly passed by my mother cooking dinner for us kids; all those times I blindly consumed nut bread, mac and cheese, sugar cookies, chili and biscuits, chicken and rice; all those Thanksgivings that I played Legos or vacantly watched football; all those times, I wish I had stopped once and said, “Mom, show me how to do that.”  Better late than never.

6. Hot Doug’s (Sausage Superstore) – Working on Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, I discovered this gem on N. California, just a short walk from Revolution Brewing.  I make exceptions for my vegetarianism once a while:  a Cuban sandwich in Miami, handmade tagliatelle with duck, and of course, hot dogs.  Dr. Seuss once said in an interview that he wanted to write a story about hot dogs.  Sadly, he never had a chance to.  What poetry that would have been.

7. Juvenile-in-Justice, Photographs by Richard Ross – I saw this exhibit at Roosevelt University in Chicago and to see it in person is preferable to the online resource, which is surprisingly comprehensive.  However, you don’t get the size and the detail of the photos online.  In person, you can lean in close.  I almost leant into the photos themselves. I wish I could have.  You can pick up details, like the names of books the kids have on their desks, the graffiti on the walls of the cell, the rust and dirt of the ceilings, or the frigidity of the cinderblock walls.

8. Mrs. – Founded by Sara Gaare, Ryan Asher, Susan Glynn, and Mary Catherine Curran in 2012, this sketch comedy group is less than a year old.  I’ve attended two of their shows and I think they have something special, a je-ne-sais-quoi.  There is chemistry, intelligence, and above all, comedy.  Their next show is at Chicago Sketchfest in January 2013.  What a perfect inauguration for the new year.

9. Facets Chicago – On any given week, on any given day in Chicago, you have great movie-going at your fingertips.  I’m chronically overwhelmed with choices.  In order to maximize my consumption of these events, I became a member of Facets this year.  It’s my first video store membership in years; it’s also a cinematheque.  At any rate, I’m afforded year-round access to hard to find movie rentals (Maurice Pialat’s Police on VHS, Antonioni’s epic China doc on DVD, etc.) and exotic film screenings (Lucien Pintile’s Reenacment).  I daresay Facets proves that video stores are still relevant and necessary to any film community.

10.  Beer – My dad brews it.  My friend Eddie peddles it.  Nearly everyone drinks it.  I never used to like the taste up until about two years ago, but I’ve turned an important corner of late.  It’s generally my first drink of choice at a bar.  It’s nice to know that my palette can still evolve, that I can still learn.  Lately, winter has drawn me to the darker brews and here I might stay for a while.