Sunday, March 02, 2014

Top Ten - 2013

This is the 2013 (and second) installment of my Top Ten favorite 'things'.  Thanks for reading.

Favorite Movies of 2013: Stories We Tell, Post Tenebras Lux, Her, The Great Beauty, Springbreakers, The Act of Killing, Kid-Thing, I Used to Be Darker, Prisoners, Blue Jasmine.

Favorite Movies not from 2013: Vertigo (70mm baby!), Zabriskie Point (35mm baby!), Oslo August 31st, El Topo, Child's Play (35mm baby!).

Favorites Things of 2013

1. Abbas Kiarostami 
Every once in a while, you discover a filmmaker whose work changes the way you see the medium. With each film, you feel yourself reaching a new height and being able to see further and more clearly. There is such beauty and sincerity in Kiarostami's films.  They are so open and complex and inventive and unique.  His awareness of the medium of cinema is woven into his work in such fascinating ways. Every film seems so inspired and purposeful.  You can tell he loves humanity and sees through all the grind and bullshit and into the hearts of his subjects and of this life.  This may sound odd, but the last time I felt as inspired about a filmmaker was when I saw Funny Games by Michael Haneke.  I hate to invoke that film in the same paragraph as Kiarostami, but each filmmaker has inspired me and renewed my faith in movies.

My favorites are Close-Up, ABC Africa, and Life and Nothing More...the last of which I had to watch on VHS from the local library because it's just not available through the normal DVD channels. Criterion, I hope you're listening.

I also saw:
The Traveler
Where is the Friend's Home?
Through the Olive Trees
The Wind Will Carry Us
Certified Copy

On a side note, if you happen to know if the boy that the director is looking for in Life and Nothing More... is alive or dead, please let me know.  I looked in many places online, but I couldn't find out.

2. Infinite Jest
I wager this is the best Tennis-Alcoholics Anonymous-Quebec Separatists-Experimental Film novel that's ever been written.  I wish I knew more about literature so that I could compare the Incandenza family to all the great literary families of years past, but I think it's safe to assert that there is no family like this one.  Football player Incandenza's fear of cockroaches is one of the funniest passages I've ever read.  Mario's bizarre Bell & Howell camera apparatus, which seems to echo Peeping Tom, is forever burned into my memory.  Hal's coming of age tennis years are a surreal representation of athletic programming.  James's experimental films, especially the riotous ten-page long description of the nun film, are feats of parodic genius. The Moms lives on the periphery, but she exudes the heart and love that helps keep the family somewhat conjoined despite their apparent diaspora, even within the confines of the Enfield Tennis Academy.

And it is not just the story.  It is the language and syntax of English that DFW seems to dissect and reinvent for his own purposes.  His use of Xing to indicate 'fucking' and 'map' to indicate 'life' is jaw-dropping.  Perhaps he thought those words too generic and sought greater or crasser representations of those concepts.  The very existence of wordplay of this kind simultaneously scuttles language and apotheosizes it.

Don Gately - His story is universal.  A down-on-his-luck ex-con, recovering alky, Don spends his days overseeing the ne'er do wells of the rehab center where he works.  His life consists of meetings, of listening to the rock-bottom stories of addicts and criminals.  Some are funny and some are heartbreaking.  DFW can disarm with his incredible wit and wizard-like attention to detail.  Equally, he can penetrate your psyche (mine, anyway) and reveal feelings you knew you had and never could express.  The last time I remember reading a book that I felt referred to specific feelings and events in my life was The Corrections.  I remember thinking that that book was about an exaggerated version of my family.  Infinite Jest accomplishes this same task, representing an exaggerated version of one's own brain.

Sometimes I began to think that the very film the U.S.O.U.S. was looking for was the very book I was reading, for it doesn't really end.  It just continues on into infinity.  And maybe the film that James Incandenza made called Infinite Jest exists only in that it doesn't exist.  His experiment was to make a film that doesn't exist.  He made a film by not making it.

And if you like DFW and feel like traveling into the rabbit-hole of the author's mind, this is the ticket. You need no more proof than the line at the end of the first paragraph of the novel:

I am in here.

P.S. If you're about to dive into the novel, I highly recommend Wiki's incredibly detailed annotations here.

3. Baseball
This was the year that baseball became important for me.  It was the year when I watched or listened to nearly every game the Braves played, in addition to a handful of Cubs' games.  It was the year that I subscribed purely to the all reasons people love baseball.  It is our nation's pastime even if it's not our nation's most popular sport.

The PED/steroid news is no longer a scandal to me.  At the risk of jinxing it, I am a fan for life.  It's tragic that many fans are turned away by these disgraceful players, who selfishly and irrevocably tarnished the game.  Stiffer penalties would be welcomed by me.  These users destroyed the greatness of the game for many people.  At times, those fans have cynical blinders on, but they understandably cannot forgive or forget these transgressions.

I just wish they could hear all the voices of the players who were not users and never will be.  They, more than anyone, decry the cheaters and lament the stain placed on their careers by players who oftentimes didn't even wear the same uniform.  I wish they could hear the outrage and the sadness in the true ballplayers, the ones who carry the mantle with grace, respect, and purity.  Those are the real baseball players.

4. Chicago PD

5. This Must Be the Place by Talking Heads

Stop Making Sense

Music Video


by Sean Hayes

6. I Think Alone Email series by Miranda July
This was just fascinating and lovely.  Below is the list.  I encourage you, as I did, to play along.

Week 1: An Email About Money
Week 2: An Email That Gives Advice
Week 3: An Email That Mentions Barack Obama
Week 4: A Business Email
Week 5: An Email That Includes A Picture of Something You Want
Week 6: An Email To Your Mom
Week 7: An Email That Includes A Dream You Had
Week 8: An Email That Includes A Picture of Art
Week 9: An Email Where You Describe What You’re Working On
Week 10: An Email You Decided Not To Send
Week 11: An Email That Includes A Picture of Yourself
Week 12: An Email With I Love You In It
Week 13: An Email With A Link In It
Week 14: An Email About Being Sad
Week 15: An Email About A Fear
Week 16: An Angry Email
Week 17: An Email That Includes A Song
Week 18: An Email That’s An Apology
Week 19: An Email About The Body
Week 20: An Email About A Problem You’re Having With Your Computer

7. L'avventura
As long as I've loved this film, I don't feel I've properly appreciated Claudia as a character.  I've always noticed her torment, but never her youth and exuberance.  I carry a pocket-sized version of this movie with me everywhere I go.

Thank you, Janus Films for rereleasing this greatest movie of all time into theaters on 35mm.  I have a long way to go before seeing all of Antonioni's works on 35mm, but this was number one on my list.

8. Jaleo in Las Vegas
Get two orders of these: Bikini De Jamon Iberico, Queso Manchego Y Trufas

9. The Music Box Theatre
I've spent most of my movie-going hours here during the past year and it is my current favorite place to see a movie.

10. Girl Walk/All Day
I hope the filmmakers realize the quality of the gift they have bestowed on cinema with this fantastic film.  Watching it is the closest I've ever felt to walking on clouds.  It's a masterpiece of DIY cinema. While so many films, of all stripes, are crippled by being overly mannered or uninspired, Girl Walk/All Day suffers from no infirmity.  The experience of watching it is euphoric and transformative.  It is no wonder that the film's heroine only speaks one line and that one line is, "Because I'm happy."  This is exactly how you feel watching a film like this.  The conclusion electrocutes you into an applause, even if you're sitting at your laptop, as I was.

This is a film that needed to be made.  It has the momentum of a birth.  Since whenever the creative inception of the film was, it's been chugging along, growing, and feeding while the world bounds around it.  It just so happened that it was born into the black and white world of a dance studio outside of the great New York City.  Just the like music, it transforms from a Griffith-esque silent film melodrama into a Wizard of Oz color-fest, full of good, evil, and the everyday people who live under Oz's invisible control.  This control forces us to be still, predictable, and arrhythmic.  But when our heroine bursts through the streets like a flame, she infects people all around her into a fever of dancing. This movie is simply proof that dancing is the most important activity known to mankind.

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