Sunday, December 26, 2010

A blizzard is hitting the American northeast, and it has been snowing for hours. The past few weeks have been interesting in terms of movies: it's amazing what's been doing well at the specialty box office. Some movies which have been building their audiences include "Black Swan", "The King's Speech", "The Fighter".

I did file my ballots for the VillageVoice/LA Weekly poll and the IndieWire poll; because of the difference in the scoring, my selections were slightly different, though the first five films were the same. Usually, in these polls, i'm very conscious of the fact that the films which i see in any given year are mostly the smaller independent and/or foreign releases, and i alway gear my ballots accordingly, in order to highlight movies i think are worthwhile but which might not make other people's ballots. (Since i've been doing these polls, examples would include Ken Jacobs's "Star Spangled to Death", Agnes Varda's "The Beaches of Agnes", Tsai Ming-liang's "Goodbye Dragon Inn".) I don't expect the movies i see to garner a majority of votes; another problem is that the movies i see and like often have a very delayed release. One of my peculiarities is that on my ballots i try to only mention each film once: if i mention a film because of the writing or the acting, it's because i'm trying to single out specific achievements. So (as an example) if i listed "The Kids Are All Right" as one of my best films (i did), i didn't mention Annette Bening or Julianne Moore (though i did think their performances were exceptional).

I've been thinking about the polls, the results and the reactions. I saw more movies in commercial release this year than in the entire decade past: being in Berlin, i saw whatever movies were playing, and the international release for most major commercial films is pretty uniform. So i wound up seeing a movie like Paul Greengrass's "Green Zone", which i found to be very well-done, with a sharp and informative script and some excellent performances. I also saw a movie like Atom Egoyan's "Chloe", which didn't quite work, but i thought the actors (Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried) were good, and i didn't regret seeing it.

Of course, one of the good things about Berlin was the Kino Arsenal, because every month there was always a retrospective of great merit. While i was there, some of the directors surveyed included Michelangelo Antonioni, Carl Dreyer, the Dardenne Brothers, John Ford, Daniel Schmid, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, so there was usually something worthwhile.

Some of the most important films i saw this year were restorations or revivals. Two such revelations were John Ford's "The Sun Shines Bright" (which i saw in an excellent 35mm print at the Kino Arsenal, which made me realize that the times i had seen it before it has been in 16mm prints) and Edward Bland's "The Cry of Jazz". Antonioni's "Le Amiche" played at Film Forum here in NYC; this was taken as the theatrical premiere by many, though "Le Amiche" was shown in NYC in 1963. It might not have been reviewed in the New York Times, but Stanley Kauffmann and Dwight MacDonald took the time to write about the film because of the limited run (which might have been at The New Yorker).

One of my favorite films of 2010 was Manoel de Oliviera's "The Strange Case of Angelica", which is an amazing film no matter how you look at it. A funny, melancholic fable about mortality, it was just a seamless display of offhand mastery, with special effects that seemed charmingly old-fashioned. How astounding that Manoel de Oliviera is over 100 years old! With the release of both "Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl" (made in 2009) and his latest "The Strange Case of Angelica", he's so obviously the filmmaker of the year.


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