Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 101 Greatest Movies Ever | Kinn & Piazza

Critical Consensus, 2000-2008: Draft One

Too many lists at this time of year, I know. Some folks react the way I do to the Oscars - "I thought this was art! We have to make it into a competition?" Yech.

But for me, list-making isn't that sort of thing at all. It's oblation. Taking up the elements, the stones on the beach, "lifting them into our history" one at a time, considering them, "Behold - it is good!", offering them up.

It's in that spirit I offer this list. A compilation of the films that were most celebrated by critics at the end of each of the past nine years. (I'll add 2009 when it comes out of the oven - think of it as dessert! But it's not quite done yet...)

For 2003 to the present, I'm using the Movie City News tabulation of critics' year-end Top Ten lists. For 2000, the list that Alex Fung compiled. I'm afraid the data for 2001 is pretty shaky, my own tabulation of only 11 lists. 2002 is better, incorporating 36 lists. But neither of those compares to the MCN or Fung tallies: for example, the 2008 list compiled the top ten selections of 286 different critics. Perhaps by the time I'm ready to add 2009 to this feast, I can come up with more complete data for 2001-2002, especially the former. (Alex Fung, where are you?...) We'll see.

Though in a way it doesn't matter all that much. If this were a contest, consistent methodology and impeccably fair "scoring" would be essential. But all I'm looking to do is remember some terrific movies, and add a few forgotten titles to my Videomatica queue. In that spirit...

Here they are, sorted by how large a share of mentions each film grabbed in its respective year. In a few instances films showed up two successive years - always non-American films, with peculiar release patterns - so I added their percentages for the two years: those ones I'll asterisk. (I won't bore you with the way I derived the percentages, but if anybody's interested, post a note and I'll fill you in.)

Critics' Top Films, 2000-2008
tentative first draft

1. No Country For Old Men (2007, #1) 10.92%
2. Sideways (2004, #1) 10.55%
3. Lost In Translation (2003, #1) 9.84%
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, #1) 9.49%
5. Brokeback Mountain (2005, #1) 9.33%
6. Lord Of The Rings: Return of the King (2003, #2) 8.94%
7. Wall-E (2008, #1) 8.76%
8. Lord Of The Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001, #1) 8.58%
9. Far From Heaven (2002, #1) 8.41%
10. United 93 (2006, #1) 8.22%

11. Mulholland Drive (2001, #2) 8.16%
12. Queen, The (2006, #2) 7.94%
13. Departed, The (2006, #3) 7.76%
14. History of Violence (2005, #2) 7.70%
15. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, #2) 7.67%
16. Dark Knight (2008, #2) 7.56%
17. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002, #2) 7.31%
18. Slumdog Millionaire (2008, #3) 7.22%
19. Mystic River (2003, #3) 7.09%
20. Million Dollar Baby (2004, #3) 6.97%

21. American Splendor (2003, #4) 6.75%
22. Talk To Her (2002, #3) 6.70%
23. Adaptation (2002, #4) 6.52%
24. Moulin Rouge (2001, #3) 6.47%
25. There Will Be Blood (2007, #2) 6.43%
26. Milk (2008, #4) 6.35%
27. Capote (2005, #3) 6.34%
28. You Can Count On Me (2000, #2) 6.28%
29. Finding Nemo (2003, #5) 6.22%
30. In The Bedroom (2001, #4) 6.19%

31. Aviator, The (2004, #4) 6.11%
32. About Schmidt (2002, #5) 6.00%
33. Black Hawk Down (2001, #5) 5.63%
34. Royal Tenenbaums (2001, #6) 5.49%
35. Traffic (2000, #3) 5.39%
36. Zodiac (2007, #3) 5.31%
37. Before Sunset (2004, #5) 5.26%
38. Almost Famous (2000, #4) 5.18%
39. Letters From Iwo Jima (2006, #4) 5.11%
40. Pan's Labyrinth (2006, #5) 5.10%

41. The Wrestler (2008, #5) 5.06%
42. The Diving Bell & The Butterfly (2007, #4) 5.04%
43. Incredibles (2004, #6) 4.94%
44. Punch-Drunk Love (2002, #6) 4.94%
45. Spirited Away (2002, #7) 4.56%
46. Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers (2002, #8) 4.54%
47. Once (2007, #5) 4.49%
48. Borat (2006, #6) 4.44%
49. Good Night and Good Luck (2005, #4) 4.28%
50. Juno (2007, #6) 4.26%

51. Squid & The Whale, The (2005, #5) 4.24%
52. Crash (2005, #6) 4.22%
53. King Kong (2005, #7) 4.16%
54. Little Miss Sunshine (2006, #7) 4.12%
55. In America (2003, #6) 4.08%
56. Waking Life (2001, #7) 4.08%
57. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007/2008, #12/29) 4.04% *
58. Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, #6) 4.03%
59. Wonder Boys (2000, #5) 3.97%
60. Dancer In The Dark (2000, #6) 3.94%

61. In The Mood For Love (2000/2001, #29/13) 3.92% *
62. Munich (2005, #8) 3.87%
63. Atonement (2007, #7) 3.81%
64. Shrek (2001, #8) 3.80%
65. Capturing the Friedmans (2003, #7) 3.79%
66. Master and Commander (2003, #8) 3.71%
67. Into The Wild (2007, #8) 3.67%
68. Gangs of New York (2002, #9) 3.63%
69. Yi Yi (A One And A Two...) (2000/2001, # 7/40) 3.63% *
70. Kinsey (2004, #7) 3.48%

71. City Of God (2002/2003, # 46/11) 3.46% *
72. Happy-Go-Lucky (2008, #7) 3.44%
73. Rachel Getting Married (2008, #7) 3.44%
74. Grizzly Man (2005, #9) 3.43%
75. Babel (2006, #8) 3.42%
76. Erin Brockovich (2000, #8) 3.40%
77. Ratatouille (2007, #9) 3.38%
78. Little Children (2006, #9) 3.27%
79. Requiem For A Dream (2000, #9) 3.24%
80. Pianist, The (2002, #10) 3.24%

81. A.I. (2001, #9) 3.23%
82. Man On Wire (2008, #9) 3.23%
83. Frost/Nixon (2008, #10) 3.18%
84. Let The Right One In (2008, #11) 3.16%
85. Away From Her (2007, #10) 3.08%
86. Children Of Men (2006, #10) 3.08%
87. Assassination of Jesse James (2007, #11) 3.00%
88. 21 Grams (2003, #9) 2.98%
89. Ghost World (2001, # 10) 2.95%
90. Kill Bill 1 (2003, #10) 2.94%

91. Sweeney Todd (2007, #13) 2.93%
92. Dreamgirls (2006, #11) 2.93%
93. Half Nelson (2006, #12) 2.93%
94. Hotel Rwanda (2004, #8) 2.93%
95. Chicken Run (2000, #10) 2.91%
96. I'm Not There (2007, #14) 2.91%
97. House Of the Flying Daggers (2004, #9) 2.90%
98. Gladiator (2000, #11) 2.85%
99. Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004, # 10) 2.82%
100. 2046 (2005, #10) 2.82%


At Dan's request, the photo credits

The Return of the King
Mulholland Drive
You Can Count On Me
Pan's Labyrinth
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Dancer in the Dark
Into the Wild
Little Children
The Assassination of Jesse James
I'm Not There

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dec 29: MCN Critic Top Tens (#3)

Third iteration of the critics tally at MCN. Tarantino bumped Pixar out of the #4 slot - boo! An Education leap from #12 to #8 - polite applause. Wild Things slipped from 10 to 12 - boo hiss!! Antichrist joins the top 30, at #28 - are they kidding?

Work continues apace on the compilation of critic year-end lists for the past decade. Four years tabulated, getting rolling on the fifth. No sign yet of Alex Fung...

Oh yes. Sherlock Holmes: video game. Imaginarium: blech.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Week! MCN! End of the Decade! Listomania!

With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and The Feast Of The Holy Innocents behind us, here beginneth... Movie Week!!! I've seen fewer films this year than any in almost a decade, but a nice clear schedule means a great home stretch!

First order of business... The MCN Critics Scoreboard is up! The annual Movie City News tally of critic Top Ten lists for the year, which will continue being updated well into January. (See the bottom of this post for links to previous editions.) I'm thrilled to see A SERIOUS MAN, UP, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, AN EDUCATION and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER in the top thirteen - all favourites of mine this year. Liked INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS as well. Interested to see if THE ROAD will climb now that it's in wide release.

That list in hand, it's time to figure out what's on local screens and freshen up my Videomatica queue. Playing on big screens in Vancouver right now (that I haven't seen) are...
are all playing in town. And if you're using this post to plan your own viewing, here are other films you'll want to consider...

...all favourites of mine this year.

As for the home screen, OF TIME AND THE CITY is on top of my DVD player - yes!! Terrence Davies!
Topping the Videomatica queue are...
HURT LOCKER (bombs under Iraq)
DISTRICT 9 (aliens vs South Africa)
35 SHOTS OF RUM (Claire Denis)
ANVIL! (the real Spinal Tap)
topping my Videomatica queue (though Hurt Locker won't come in until Jan 12, Bright Star Jan 19, and Bad Lieutenant (Herzog) Feb 22. No sign of WHITE RIBBON (Haneke! - alas, I missed its theatrical run), CRAZY HEART, MESSENGER, LIVERPOOL or POLICE ADJECTIVE, but I'll keep watching.

And - Big Big Fun! - this being the end of the tenth year of movies since 1999, time to dig in on an end-of-the-movie-decade list! Delicious. I've got an idea for a combined list of all the critic picks of the past ten season, drawing on the Movie City News tabulations back to 2003, and similar tallies pulled together for the preceding years. In the meantime, here are links to those individual lists...


Ron Reed

Alex Fung

PS Alex Fung actually did critic compilations for 2001 and 2002, but the links are all dead. Lost in the ever-shifting cyber sands of the internet. And those lists are needed. So I'm going to launch a safari in search of Mr Fung, a cinematic list-making pioneer. I know he's out there somewhere. . . .

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Best of 2009: Award Lists

By mid-December, Movie City News has usually begun posting their tallies of critic top ten lists - a pretty good viewing guide to the year-end flurry of tasty flicks. Nothing yet on that front, but to whet the appetite, The Awards Scoreboard. (Each title followed by number of awards received to date. Films currently playing in Vancouver are boldfaced: check cinemaclock for details. Films available on DVD at Videomatica are underlined in blue).

The Awards Scoreboard

Up in the Air | 20
Inglourious Basterds | 17
The Hurt Locker | 16

Precious | 10
Up | 8
The Cove | 7.5
An Education | 6

The Fantastic Mr Fox | 5
Julie & Julia | 5
Summer Hours | 5

Sin Nombre | 4

Crazy Heart | 3

A Serious Man | 2
(500) Days of Summer | 2
Anvil! | 2
Food Inc. | 2
A Single Man | 2
The White Ribbon | 2

Invictus | 1.5

Avatar | 1
Coraline | 1
In The Loop | 1
Of Time and the City | 1
Me and Orson Welles | 1
A Prophet | 1
Seraphine | 1
Where the Wild Things Are | 1
You, The Living | 1

The Beaches of Agnes | .5

I've seen fewer films this year than any of the past six or seven, but looks like the crits and I are on the same page: all of my favourites are there except two foreign language films, Revanche and Lorna's Silence;
Where The Wild Things Are
Julie & Julia
A Serious Man
An Education
(500) Days Of Summer
Inglourious Basterds
Lorna's Silence
You, The Living

Three other real discoveries this year, all from the middle of last century: The Apartment, The Sweet Smell of Success, and Sunset Boulevard.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Best of the New Century (and Best of the Nineties): TIFF

There's probably already a million such lists out there, and in another month there'll be a billion. But this looks like a pretty good one: the Toronto International Film Festival Cinematheque's poll of film festival and cinematheque professionals. Tempted to make this my Videomatica queue and do some catching up.

Girish rightly describes it as " a heady and wonderful list that militates unashamedly and polemically for film as art..." It's "a poll conducted by TIFF Cinematheque's Senior Programmer James Quandt. An esteemed panel of over sixty film curators, historians, archivists and programmers from festivals, cinematheques and similar organizations around the world participated and were asked to pick the films they thought were the most important of the past decade. The poll's participants are connected by their leadership in the field of historical film curation, with most having published books, essays and polemics on cinema, bringing perspectives that distinguish this poll from other end-of-the-decade polls."

(By the way, I've renumbered the results in a way that makes more sense to me: same order, different numbering. For fun, I'll boldface the ones I've seen.)

(Score received follows country of origin)

1. Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand) - 53 votes
2. Platform (Jia Zhang-ke, Hong Kong, China/China/Japan/France) - 49 votes
3. Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke, China) - 48 votes
4. Beau travail (Claire Denis, France) - 46 votes
5. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, China) - 43 votes
6. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, France/Thailand/Germany/Italy) - 38 votes
7. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puiu, Romania) - 35 votes
7. Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, Hungary) - 35 votes
9. Éloge de l'amour (Jean-Luc Godard, Switzerland/ France) - 34 votes
10. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, Romania) - 33 votes

11. Silent Light (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico/France/Netherlands) - 32 votes
12. Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/Germany) - 31 votes
13. The New World (Terrence Malick, USA) - 30 votes
14. Blissfully Yours (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, France/Thailand) - 29 votes

15. Le Fils (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France) - 27 votes
16. Colossal Youth (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland) - 25 votes
17. Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (Agnès Varda, France) - 24 votes
17. In Vanda's Room (Pedro Costa, Portugal/Germany/Italy/Switzerland) - 24 votes

17. Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Andersson, Sweden/Denmark/Norway) - 24 votes
20. Caché (Michael Haneke, France/Austria/Germany/Italy) - 23 votes
20. A History of Violence (David Cronenberg, USA) - 23 votes
20. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, France/USA) - 23 votes
20. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan) - 23 votes
24. Rois et reine (Arnaud Desplechin, France) - 21 votes
125. Elephant (Gus Van Sant, USA) - 20 votes
26. Talk to Her (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain) - 19 votes
27. The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami, Iran/France)- 18 votes
27. YI YI (A One and a Two) (Edward Yang, Taiwan/Japan) - 18 votes

29. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, Spain) - 17 votes
30. L'Enfant (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France) - 16 votes
30. The Heart of the World (Guy Maddin, Canada) - 16 votes
30. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France/Austria) - 16 votes
33. Star Spangled to Death (Ken Jacobs, USA) - 16 votes
34. The World (Jia Zhang-ke, China/Japan/France) - 14 votes
35. Café Lumière (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Japan) - 13 votes
35. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, Argentina/Spain/France/Italy) - 13 votes
35. L'Intrus (Claire Denis, France) - 13 votes
38. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan/France) - 13 votes
38. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, Canada) - 13 votes
38. Saraband (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden) - 13 votes
38. Spirited Away (Hiyao Miyazaki, Japan) - 13 votes

38. I'm Not There (Todd Haynes, USA) - 13 votes
43. Gerry (Gus Van Sant, USA) - 12 votes
44. Distant (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey) - 11 votes

44. Dogville (Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/UK/France/Germany) - 11 votes
44. The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, USA) - 11 votes
47. Alexandra (Alexander Sokurov, Russia/France) - 9 votes
48. demonlover (Olivier Assayas, France) - 9 votes
49. Atanarjuat, The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, Canada) - 8 votes
49. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan) - 8 votes
51. Longing (Valeska Grisebach, Germany) - 7 votes
51. Secret Sunshine (Lee Chang-dong, South Korea) - 7 votes
51. Vai e Vem (João César Monteiro, Portugal) - 7 votes

51. Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes, USA/France) - 7 votes


Here's a rundown of the first TIFF poll, of the greatest films of the 1990s...

Dream Of Light (Erice)
And Life Goes On (Kiarostami)
Through The Olive Trees (Kiarostami)
Drifting Clouds (Kaurismaki)
Close-Up (Kiarostami)
Breaking The Waves (von Trier)
Sátántangó (Tarr)
Flowers Of Shanghai (Hou)
Taste Of Cherry (Kiarostami)
Chungking Express (Wong)
Hana-Bi (Kitano)
The Thin Red Line (Malick)
Histoire(s) Du Cinema (Godard)
A Brighter Summer Day (Yang)
A Moment Of Innocence (Makhmalbaf)
Goodfellas (Scorsese)
L’Eau Froide (Assayas)
Mother And Son (Sokurov)
Vive L’Amour (Tsai)
Nouvelle Vague (Godard)
Abraham’s Valley (Oliveira)
Safe (Haynes)
Dead Man (Jarmusch)
The Sweet Hereafter (Egoyan)
Unforgiven (Eastwood)
Exotica (Egoyan)
Sonatine (Kitano)
Maborosi (Kore-eda)
Naked (Leigh)
La Vie De Jésus (Dumont)
Fargo (Coens)
Pulp Fiction (Tarantino)
La Belle Noiseuse (Rivette)
Van Gogh (Pialat)
Three Colours: Red (Kieslowski)
The Last Bolshevik (Marker)
Dear Diary (Moretti)
Crumb (Zwigoff)
The Puppetmaster (Hou)
Goodbye South Goodbye (Hou)
Sicilia! (Straub/Huillet)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Godfather: Part III

Frustrating day yesterday, so I took myself out for dinner. Ate some ribs, sat there watching GODFATHER 3 on my laptop. Which I like doing. It's like reading a novel, except there's more to look at. And it seemed right. Annoying day, what's better than eat some ribs, put in the headphones, watch some bad guys whack other bad guys.

You know, when I first watched THE GODFATHER and SON OF GODFATHER or whatever they call it, they didn't do much for me. But I knew I had missed something, so I paid them a second visit years later. I was on a road trip, doing some work out of town, and my friend Tim had told me about watching movies in pieces, which I had always avoided, but he said it was like reading a good book. So I thought, what the heck. So on that trip I re-read/re-viewed G1 and G2. And it was sitting in a restaurant in Azusa California, probably eating ribs, that the Corleone movies really got to me.

So yesterday I figured the day had come to finally risk #3. See if it's as good and as falsely maligned as Roy says. Or if it's as truly awful as everybody else on the planet says. (Okay, one thing Roy and the rest of the planet agree on: Sofia stinks.)

The ribs were good.

The movie, not so much.

But Sophia has really nice hair.

The poor girl gets scape-goated. She's got maybe two really bad scenes, most of the rest are passable. Well, mostly passable.

It's the script that is atrocious. G1 and G2 took a potboiler, melodramatic pulp novel and made art out of them. G3 returns them solidly to melodrama: everything is either shamefully underwritten or grotesquely over-written. Another movie friend, Karen, tells me the film was a victim of a writers strike: that they had to push ahead without proper attention to developing the screenplay. Which would explain much.

It's not Sophia, it's the script. The script doesn't even have good hair.

Another movie buddy, Rory, points out that the scene in the restaurant between Andy Garcia and Sophia is like nails on a blackboard. "Hey Cuz." Yikes.

But I'm saying, okay, but let's start with the writing: "Hey Cuz..." ??!????!!!!!! Tell me a line like that would make it into G1 or G2. Tell me Meryl Streep could have spoken that dialogue and not stunk up the joint.

Her first lousy scene is on a rooftop, alone with Michael. Wooden, wooden, wooden. But until then, I was going, hey, they're scapegoating this girl because she's not a movie star. It took four or five scenes before I could grudgingly admit that Frank's kid couldn't always pull her weight. But I knew right away, the script! Tinny and flat like a bean can on a railway track. (Hey, I shoulda bin a writer...)

And talk about On The Nose. Michael and Kay walk through the streets of some Sicilian town. The conversation turns to The Girl With The Nice Hair marrying her cousin. Then they just happen to walk up to a puppet show where one puppet stabs his daughter puppet with a hatpin because she won't stop dating her cousin. Stab me through the heart with a hatpin, that's who I wish they had stabbed. And the puppet didn't even have nice hair.

And then the opera was just a 3D version of the same puppet show nonsense. Shoot me on the steps of the opera house, that's who I wish they had shot. And I don't have any hair at all.

Still have to puzzle out one thing. The priest gets Michael to say his confession. Michael says, but hey, I didn't think it counted if I don't repent. Priest says, confess anyway. And I'm thinking, Mike, you've got a point there. So what the hell kinda priest is this anyway? Except I'm also thinking, you take what you can get. Maybe this is Standard Priest Practice: the guy feels bad about his sins, he wants to talk, you let him talk. He's not ready to actually repent just yet, but let him talk, maybe he'll get there? So maybe there's some good theology - or at least some good praxis - at the heart of this movie after all?

Which is all Roy was really saying all along anyhow.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nov 28: The Karamazovs, European Union Film Festival

There are those who consider The Brothers Karamazov the great Christian novel. This looks like an interesting treatment...

THE KARAMAZOVS ("Karamazovi")
(2008, Petr Zelenka, Czech Republic / Poland)

Saturday, November 28 | 8:45 PM

European Union Film Festival
Pacific Cinematheque

The latest from New Czech Cinema luminary Petr Zelenka — director of Buttoners, Year of the Devil, and Wrong Side Up (screened in our 2006 EUFF) — was the Czech Republic’s official submission to this year’s Academy Awards. “A film that examines the relationships between lives on both sides of the proscenium, Zelenka’s The Karamazovs finds a Prague-based theatrical ensemble arriving in Krakow, Poland, where its members prepare to mount a stage production of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. The central catch behind this unusual production is the locale: the play will be conducted at the local steelworks. Zelenka’s central narrative crisscrosses two spheres of reality - the documentary-like sphere of the actors playing the characters, and the more traditional cinematic narrative involving the characters in the play itself. Soon, distinct, haunting parallels between the two begin to emerge. Then, an unexpected tragedy arrives” (Nathan Southern, All Movie Guide). “The phenomenal legit performances are alone worth the price of admission . . . The interplay among the different levels of text (novel, play, film, ‘real life’) is one of the most sophisticated in Euro cinema since Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education” (Boyd van Hoeij, Variety). Colour, 35mm, in Czech and Polish with English subtitles. 110 mins.

Official website + trailer

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


I hereby officially declare the next seven days the Soul Food International Film Festival. (Well, maybe not so official. It only just occurred to me around 5:00 this morning, and it kind of already opened. Make that The First Non-Annual Unintentional Soul Food International Film Festival of Vancouver. Catchy title, eh?)

The Mirror (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975, Russia)

What's wrong with me? I wrote up my NOW PLAYING post a few days ago and completely forgot about the Soul Food Double Feature that's been written in my datebook for a month! This Thursday night at Pacific Cinematheque, Andrei Tarkovsky's THE MIRROR shows at 7:15, followed by Douglas Sirk's THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION at 9:15.

The Magnificent Obsession (Douglas Sirk, 1954, USA)

The films are also showing separately on other nights this week (see the above links for specific times), but Thursday is the one night that offers an opportunity to view them back to back.

(Seraphine, Martin Provost, 2009, France/Belgium)

That's an opportunity you may want to take advantage of, given that SERAPHINE is running Tuesday through Thursday at The Hollywood (9:15 nightly) and MUNYURANGABO plays Friday through Monday at the VanCity (various screening times).

Munyurangabo (Lee Isaac Chung, 2007, Rwanda)

Toss in viewings of A SERIOUS MAN (and maybe even IT MIGHT GET LOUD and GENTLEMEN BRONCOS?) and you'll have yourself a soul-satisfying cinematic smorgasbord the like of which is unlikely to be seen again. (At least not until we launch our own rather more intentional Soul Food Film Festival...)

A Serious Man (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2009, USA)

For showtimes and venues for all films, check the always helpful Cinemaclock

PS Oh, and my buddy Bryan Coley writes "Go see THE BLIND SIDE to see Sandra Bullock portray one of the best Christian characters ever put on film. Great movie!"

Monday, November 23, 2009

NOW PLAYING: Munyurangabo!!!

Jeffrey O told us to see SERAPHINE, but he insisted we see MUNYURANGABO, his favourite film of the year. And guess what: it's playing the VanCity this coming weekend - as soon as SERAPHINE closes at the Hollywood, in fact. Never rains but it pours.... (Not funny.)

Check out our coverage at Filmwell...

Retrospectives: an essay by Lee Isaac Chung, director of Munyurangabo

A Cinema of Listening and Looking: A Filmwell Conversation with Lee Isaac Chung, Part One

A Cinema of Listening and Looking: A Filmwell Conversation with Lee Isaac Chung, Part Two

M. Leary Review

Thanks for the tip, Mr Chattaway.

Vancity Theatre Screenings
USA, 2007, 97 min, 35mm
Directed By: Lee Isaac Chung

Friday, Nov 27 at 6:30 pm
Saturday, Nov 28 at 8:30 pm
Sunday, Nov 29 at 4:45 pm
Sunday, Nov 29 at 8:30 pm
Monday, Nov 30 at 6:30 pm

A decade after the genocide that ripped apart Rwanda, how are the children of that country to move forward with their lives? That is the question at the heart of this remarkable debut feature from Lee Isaac Chung, a Korean-American from Arkansas who studied medicine at Yale before he decided to make films.
Ngabo (Jeff Rutagenwa) and Sangwa (Eric Ndorunkundiye) leave Kigali and journey to the home Sangwa left three years prior – they agree to tell his parents they are on a journey looking for work. In fact, they have another, more troubling objective in mind. Sangwa's resolve weakens as he is accepted by his family, but they remain suspicious, even hostile towards his friend, a Tutsi whose parents died in the conflict.

Shot in just 11 days while Chung was teaching filmmaking at a relief mission, with three orphans of the genocide playing key roles, Munyurangabo begins as an apparently straightforward immersion in a specific time and place, but develops into more complex and moving inquiry about the chances for reconciliation.

"Intense empathy courses throughout Chung's first feature, but more remarkable is his ability to foster great kinship between viewer and subject, his largely handheld cinematography generating forceful intimacy with his story's two teenage protagonists [...] as well as a tactile sense of environment. Both qualities run deep in this piercing, authentic, and condescension-free tale." - Nick Schager, Slant Magazine

"Like a bolt out of the blue, Lee Isaac Chung achieves an astonishing and thoroughly masterful debut [...] by several light years the finest and truest film yet on the moral and emotional repercussions of the 15-year-old genocide that wracked Rwanda." - Robert Koehler, Variety

NOW PLAYING: Seraphine! Worse Lieutenant, Serious Man, Ed, Gents, Loud, Wild

Jeff Overstreet said to see Seraphine, sounds like a candidate for Soul Food flick of the year. It's at Videomatica and other local shops, but today's great news is from N.W. Douglas, who tells us it's playing at The Hollywood this week! Best theatre in town, like a time-travel trip to the days of Bogart and Bacall - with prices to match. Thanks, N.W.!

(The random-firing letter scrambler in my brain read
"in French with English subtleties."
Balancing that distinctively French tendency to overstatement, I suppose...)

If you were thinking of taking in Werner Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS because you saw or heard about Abel Ferrara's BAD LIEUTENANT - which, however foul it may have been, was also completely preoccupied with Christian redemption... Don't rush out to buy tickets. The Guardian reports that "Herzog’s remake jettisons the Catholicism and is lighter in tone.” New at Tinseltown

A SERIOUS MAN continues at 5th Avenue, and continues to stick in my mind. I've posted a Fuller review of this Job-fashioned tale of sixties suburbia from a theology buddy of Robert K. Johnston. (Here's a link to my post-movie musings...)

AN EDUCATION continues at Fifth Avenue and Tinseltown. Director Lone Scherfig did ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS. I'm told this one involves a tour of C.S. Lewis sites in Oxford as a seduction strategy. Hmmm...

Most wouldn't rush to GENTLEMEN BRONCOS for its theology, but The New Yorker might. Granville 7.

IT MIGHT GET LOUD is about guitar heroes, including The Edge. Denman, daily at 2:30.

And I don't know that WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is in any particular sense a Soul Food movie, but I'm starting to think it's bumping UP from the top slot on my 2009 roster. Utterly unique, with monsters rendered as a sullen clique of just-barely-teen-agers, slipping back and forth between unfettered kidness and terrified pseudo-adulthood.

And coming next weekend: Jeff Overstreet's 2009 favourite, MUNYURANGABO. Thanks for the tip, Mr Chattaway!

Eugene Suen on A SERIOUS MAN

Watching the Coens latest, I thought it would be a fine double feature with CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS - or a triple-bill with the big screen version of JOB VS ECCLESIASTES, if it ever gets remade. Which made me think of Robert K. Johnston, whose marvelous "Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film" was the focus of a course he and his wife led at Regent College a few summers ago. Hoping to get his take on the film, wisdom literature dude that he is, I emailed the guy, but he hasn't seen the film. In lieu, passed along this review from the student paper at Fuller Seminary. Eugene Suen co-directs Reel Spirituality with Rob, and is a film producer in his own right. I myself am not convinced that the film is nihilistic, but am also convinced that the film doesn't allow us to readily determine its perspective - a mark of real art, in my opinion. (And actually, I'm not sure Suen exactly agrees with himself on that point, either. It's that kind of movie. Kind of like Solomon...)

A Serious Man - Coen Brothers’ Gravely Serious Comedy

Can we be sure that God is benevolent? Larry Gopnik, the patriarch in Coen Brothers’ compelling new film A Serious Man, wishes he knew the answer. A perfectly ordinary man whose only desire is to lead a perfectly ordinary life, Larry has a house in a pleasant, if bland, suburban community in the Minnesota of the 1960s, a nuclear family of four with a son who is about to have his Bar Mitzvah, and a respectable job as a physics professor that is under review for tenure. All is well until, suddenly and inexplicably, a series of troubles begin to pile up, escalating to a boiling point that sees his life completely falling apart. The desperate Larry is confused and helpless, his fate mirroring that of his many forebears in the faith who, in times of great calamity, struggle to comprehend God’s will and the meaning of the universe.

Naturally, many reviewers have compared the film to the Biblical book of Job. Unlike that ultimately hopeful story, though, A Serious Man offers no consolation about God’s sovereignty, no hopes for a better future, and no comfort about the intrinsic purpose of human existence. Despite its appearance as an absurdist comedy (yes, it is often very funny), the Coens’ tale is bleak through and through, continuing the nihilistic vision from their last two films- the great No Country for Old Men, and the not-so-great Burn After Reading.

There is something profoundly unsettling and powerful about their articulation of a universe ruled by chaos, where clueless people run around like laboratory rats trying to make sense of their predicament when there is none to be made. In the world of No Country for Old Men, humanity has forever lost touch with its more decent impulse; in Burn After Reading, a group of buffoonish characters are caught up in a web of intrigues full of sound and fury that in the end signifies nothing. Tracing back to their earlier films, that same sense of dread about a universe gone awry is also found in works like Blood Simple, Fargo, Big Lebowski, and the eccentric but utterly brilliant Barton Fink (possibly one of the best films about the artistic process ever made. Put it in your Netflix queue now!). As New York Times film critic A.O Scott has observed, the consistency of the Coens’ bleak vision is matched in American cinema only by Woody Allen. While the brothers are formally impeccable- every one of their film has an O.C.D-like precision about them, the universe of their creation is decidedly lacking in a controlling order.

Yet there is also something strangely cathartic about A Serious Man. Having spent their career playing with different genres and geographical settings, the Coens, who grew up in suburban Minneapolis in the 1960s, have finally come home, making a film that is not only sociologically faithful to the environment of their childhood, but one that is also firmly rooted in the Jewish tradition of their upbringing- a tradition that has evidently shaped their sensibility in fundamental ways. A Serious Man, like the works of Woody Allen, thrives on a sense of wry, self-deprecating humor, its worldview unmistakably that of a people who have been outsiders, who know what it feels like to be in exile and persecuted (by others and, seemingly, by God) Moreover, the dry wisdom of the film, which could probably be best summarized by its opening quotation “Accept with simplicity everything that happens to you”, offers for people of faith not a fatalistic resignation to the ostensibly arbitrary course of life, but an acceptance of our finitude. After all, God’s ways are higher than our ways; some things are simply beyond our comprehension. We live and move and have our being in him; he gives, he takes away, and may his name still be praised.

This, however, does not mean one’s suffering will be eased in the meantime. What makes A Serious Man compelling is its ability to evoke a sense of helplessness that all of us have surely experienced at some point in life. Larry’s guttural cry for answers, his desire to comprehend his circumstance, resonates in a world filled with mysteries and injustices. The Coens have often been accused by detractors as cold, analytical misanthropes, but whether or not their new film’s pessimism is an epistemologically warranted position, or merely another case of personal neurosis blown to cosmic proportion, is beside the point. As it stands, A Serious Man is an impeccably made comedy that offers some gravely serious reflections on what it means to be human. In the presence of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, sometimes you can’t do anything except have a sense of humor.

Eugene Suen is a film producer and the Co-Director of Reel Spirituality Institute, the center for theology and film at Fuller Theological Seminary

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

THE RAPTURE (1991, USA, Tolkin)

Rapture (rap' chur) 1. ecstatic joy or delight. 2. a state of extreme sexual ecstasy. 3. the feeling of being transported to another sphere of existence. 4. the experience of being spirited away to Heaven just before the Apocalypse.

This bizarre shaggy dog story is as sexually and spiritually explicit a film as you're likely ever to see. Mimi Rogers (in what may be the performance of her career) portrays a telephone information operator whose off-hours sexual adventures can no longer mask an agonizing spiritual emptiness. When she overhears the secretive lunch-room whisperings of some drably religious co-workers, this desperate, hungry woman begins to be drawn toward a potentially authentic Christian conversion in the context of a cultish end times sect.

Early in the film Sharon tells a casual sex partner that if she has any limits, she hasn't found them yet. Perhaps that's just as true of director / writer Michael Tolkin, who adapted this uncompromising film from his own novel – he never flinches in following this bizarre, compelling premise to its inevitable, utterly unpredictable conclusion. And the route he follows in getting there is as idiosyncratic as the story he's chosen to tell – just when I thought this thing was a cross between a Shannon Tweed direct-to-video sex flick and a Jack Chick evangelistic tract, I began to wonder if it wasn't going to end up in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS territory, with a bit of Ingmar Bergman and Joel Schumacher thrown in for good measure.

In saying that, I don't mean to be dismissive about the film. Its stylistic excesses come from an abundance of ambition and imagination rather than a poverty of taste or craft. Bear in mind that this movie comes from the same mind as the morally searching CHANGING LANES, the similarly audacious "lets take this idea to its absolute limit" novel that begat Robert Altman's masterful and sophisticated film, THE PLAYER, or the go-for-broke satire of THE NEW AGE.

Given that the film opens with explicit sexual material, it will be no surprise that it doesn't feel obliged to end up in any particularly orthodox theological place. But the films apparent heterodoxies are in tension with the authenticity of this woman's spiritual search, however psychologically troubled she might be. And however church-skit embarassing I found some of the evangelistic dialogue – though I'd suggest that these dichotomies are the film maker's primary strategy,k to constantly confront us with unsettling and dissonant elements that both provoke and confound our preconceptions.

However rambling the film's structure, it ultimately seeks the very core of the Christian faith, asking blunt questions about the only question that matters: the love of God – our love for him, and his for us. I found the film's final assertion unsatisfying due to what I took as a self-congratulatory lack of nuance, patting itself on the back for asking Big Questions while implying only Small Answers. Until it occurred to me that the untenable situation the character finds herself in is almost entirely of her own making. So just what is this Michael Tolkin guy saying, anyway?

I can think of only two other explicitly religious films that are quite this strange, and only one that has anything like its earnestness of purpose. GOD TOLD ME TO is equally quirky, but is finally nothing more than a confused Godsploitation flick. Brian Moore charts equally strange spiritual waters with serious intent in COLD HEAVEN, but that film is seriously marred by grotesquely bad acting. It seems THE RAPTURE stands at the pinnacle of its provocative genre – however small and eccentric that genre may be.

Available at Videomatica

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Nov 10-24: 50% off Criterion disks

Starting November 10, all Criterion Collection titles will be 50% off the list price at Barnes & Noble, both in stores and online. This special promotion encompasses all titles and will run until November 24. (NOTE: Titles on preorder with street dates after 11/23 are not eligible for the discount.)

And if you're wondering what to buy, you could do worse than starting with the newly-released WINGS OF DESIRE. Here's an essay by director Wim Wenders, written after the making of the film. (Beware spoilers)

Nov 21 25 26: Tarkovsky's THE MIRROR at Cinematheque!

THE MIRROR (Zerkalo)
USSR | 1974 | Andrei Tarkovsky
35mm PRINT!

Pacific Cinematheque
Saturday, November 21, 2009 - 7:15pm
Wednesday, November 25, 2009 - 9:35pm
Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 7:15pm

Cinematheque: Andrei Tarkovsky’s visually sumptuous fourth feature is the great director’s most personal and poetic (and Proustian) film. The Mirror offers an idiosyncratic history of twentieth-century Russia, in the form of a poet’s fragmented reflections on three generations of his family. The poems used in the film were written and read by the Tarkovsky’s own father (the poet Arseny Tarkovsky); Tarkovsky’s mother appears in a small role as the protagonist’s elderly mother. In a dual role, actress Margarita Terekhova is both the protagonist’s wife and his mother as a younger woman. “The Mirror is Tarkovsky’s central film, and his most personal one, although it might be better described as a transpersonal autobiography. Dreams and memories of an individual protagonist (who is never seen on screen) blend with dreams and memories of the culture. The generations of one family mingle. The Mirror achieves something which is uniquely possible in cinema but which no other film has even attempted: it expresses the continuity of consciousness across time, in a flow of images of the most profound beauty” (Amnon Buchbinder). Colour and B&W, 35mm, in Russian with English subtitles. 106 mins.

"Profoundly intimate . . . one of the rare completely achieved films of autobiography." Mark Le Fanu
"Perhaps Tarkovsky’s greatest work." Film Society of Lincoln Center
"An essential film, an extraordinarily beautiful movie." Village Voice

THE MIRROR is available on DVD at Videomatica

Friday, November 06, 2009


Lloyd C. Douglas was a pastor at a series of Lutheran, Congregational and United churches before starting a prolific writing career at the age of 50 with The Magnificent Obsession (1929), the first of several of his novels to eventual reach the silver screen. The most notable film treatment of a Douglas story is Douglas Sirk's 1954 Technicolor extravaganza, which was recently released on DVD by Criterion. (Director Todd Haynes pays tribute to Sirk's fifties "weepies" with the extraordinary 2002 film FAR FROM HEAVEN.) Now OBSESSION plays the big screen in all its magnificence: thanks, Cinematheque!

Pacific Cinematheque
Tuesday, November 17 - 1pm
Friday, November 20, 2009 - 9:35pm
Sunday, November 22, 2009 - 7:15pm
Thursday, November 26, 2009 - 9:15pm

Director: Douglas Sirk
Cast: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead, Barbara Rush, Otto Kruger

VanCity: Douglas Sirk described Magnificent Obsession as the "craziest" of his stylish, sumptuous, subversive melodramas. The film’s delirious plot has Rock Hudson as an irresponsible playboy who indirectly causes the death of a doctor and blinds the dead man’s widow, played by Jane Wyman. Sirk's Magnificent Obsession was the director's first big commercial success, and a remake of the 1935 melodrama of the same name, which was based on the 1929 novel by pastor Lloyd C. Douglas. "It was the most confused book you can imagine," said Sirk. "My immediate reaction to Magnificent Obsession was bewilderment and discouragement. But still I was attracted by something irrational in it. Something mad, in a way — well, obsessed, because this is a damned crazy story if there ever was one."

More VanCity: Douglas Sirk’s extravagant 1950s melodramas — All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life et al. —constitute one of the most piercing critiques of American society to be found in classic Hollywood cinema – an achievement largely unappreciated by “serious” critics of the day because it came in the form of a much derided (but popular) genre: the “women’s picture,” or “weepie.” Sirk described Magnificent Obsession as the “craziest” of his films, and even that might have been an understatement. The film’s delirious plot has Rock Hudson as an irresponsible playboy who indirectly causes the death of a revered philanthropic doctor, blinds the dead man’s widow (played by Jane Wyman, the former Mrs. Ronald Reagan) in another accident, and then becomes a world-renowned surgeon in an effort to restore her sight — falling in love with her, of course, in the meantime. Magnificent Obsession was Sirk’s first big commercial success, and the first in the series of gloriously stylish, over-the-top, colour-drenched melodramas on which the bulk of his enormous critical reputation rests. The film demonstrates “Sirk’s daring, his willingness to take on the most outrageous material and work on it with the deep irony which was one of the most important gifts he brought with him to Hollywood” (Jon Halliday). “Extraordinary . . . Sirk’s films are something else” (Chris Petit)

THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION is available on Criterion DVD at Videomatica