Friday, December 26, 2008

My Christmas List for 2009

For what Santa didn't deliver in 2008, I will patiently wait for in 2009. Before I shower 2008 in praise for the diverse screenings I've seen this year, I first want to lament what I have yet to see. I know my Christmas list is long, but these are gifts I would gladly share with anyone.

First here are things on my list already scheduled for this unfortunate frozen middle-land we live in:

Waltz With Bashir (2008) directed by Ari Folman (Opening January 9 at Landmark)
Given the fact that I have been to five movies at the Lagoon in the last week means that I have seen this trailer five times. I'm not saying anything new when I proclaim that it has a great look to it—iconically contemporary.

Che (2008) directed by Steven Soderbergh (Opening January 9 at Landmark)
Che is coming, but I suspect the scheduled date is off. This is a huge film and I'm not sure why it isn't being treated as such. The lack of a trailer, ads, website, anything is just odd. Plan on paying two admission prices, ala Best of Youth, for parts one and two. (The total running time between the two is about four and a half hours. Yea-yah.) However, it may be worth it. Soderbergh has charmed the critics into thinking Che is something of a magnum opus.

Of Time and the City (2008) directed by Terence Davies (Screening January 23-24 at the Walker)
I'll admit having seen none of Davies films despite their availability. But I can't say I ever had the interest until I started reading about this film and the director himself. This film marks a return to Davies' hometown, a place of pain and joy for him, in something of an homage. Of Time and the City was another film that premiered at Cannes. Check out issue 35 of CinemaScope for a very interesting interview with Davies.

24 City (2008) directed by Jia Zhangke (Screening January 30-31 at the Walker)
Jia's most recent feature film arrives sooner than his 2007 film, Useless. 24 City is part fact, part fiction in its story of a factory that is to be torn down to make way for high-rise apartments in Chengdu. Reading about Jia's construction of a 'slice of life' interviewing people connected to the factory immediately reminds me of Liao Yiwu's amazing book of interviews The Corpse Walker: Real Life Stories—China From the Bottom Up. I am very excited that the Walker has included this in their "Expanding the Frame" series.

Wendy and Lucy (2008) directed by Kelly Reichardt (Opening February 6 at Landmark)
Much like 2 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days from last year, my anticipation and confidence about this film is so strong that I would almost call it my favorite film of the year without even seeing it. Reichardt's previous film, Old Joy, is a film that has stayed with me since I saw it two years ago. Old Joy captures the beauty and complexity of life and friendship with a sorrowful reverence. Wendy and Lucy looks to be no different. Because there is nothing sexy about a poor, homeless young woman (at least not as sexy as a horny Nazi or an angry and horny suburban housewife played by Kate Winslet), Michelle William's performance is not getting nearly the attention it probably should.

Gamorrah (2008) directed by Matteo Garrone (Opening March 13 at Landmark)
This film promises an examination of the mafia like we have never seen before. Based on the bestseller by Roberto Saviano (who is now in hiding for his own protection) Gamorrah takes place in a very rough and raw crime world of Naples. Gamorrah was one of the most highly praised films from Cannes 2008.

The Wrestler (2008) directed by Darren Aronofsky (Opening January 9 at Landmark)
This promises to be a unique tear-jerker that even the most macho guy will enjoy. Micky Rourke looks absolutely amazing, and I would like to see him get an Oscar for this (but I think Hollywood is feeling too guilt ridden about Proposition 8 and will give it to Sean Penn.)

And here is the laundry list of the other films that I am waiting on, at least the recent ones. Get ready to scroll:

The Headless Woman (2008) directed by Lucrecia Martel
Lucrecia Martel's first film (La Cienaga aka The Swamp) was nothing short of a masterpiece, and her second (The Holy Girl) was psychologically tighter but no less masterful. I would like to think I don't bandy words like 'masterful' casually. I've been waiting for Martel's next film for four years, and the fact that it is somewhere out there, but I can't see it, drives me nuts! The Headless Woman premiered at Cannes 2008, and had its US premiere at the New York Film Festival.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008) directed by Kim Jee-woon
Obviously this was a big enough hit in South Korea, that eventually it will show up hopefully in theaters. Kim Jee-woon has been working his way up the popularity ladder with The Quiet Family (1998), Foul King (2000), A Tale of Two Sisters (2003, being remade as The Uninvited here in the US) and Bittersweet Life (2005)—some of the best film to come out of South Korea in the past ten years. He seem to have reach a critical mass with The Good, The Bad, The Weird, a Korean version of the great American Western. I thought The Weinsteins had the rights for this film, but now I find a listing that IFC has the rights...either way, they need to hurry up, because that fancy DVD from Korea is coming soon! Official Korean site here.

Seven Nights (2008) directed by Namoi Kawase
Seeing Naomi Kawase's films at the Women With Vision series was a 2008 highlight for me. Seeing this film may prove to be a little difficult in these parts. It opened in Japan in November and hasn't really done the festival circuit yet. After winning the Grand Prize at Cannes for Mourning Forest, Kawase had mentioned, sarcastically, that her next film would be a comedy. Hilariously, this got reported and she did nothing to deny it. If you watch the trailer (linked above) you can clearly see that it is not a comedylots of emoting here. Seven Nights is a literal translation of the Japanese title, Nanayomachi.

Sebris (2008) directed by Brillante Mendoza
I set my sights on Singapore to bring me this film on DVD. It got completely dumped on at Cannes, but further reports made it seem that the presentation (specifically the sound) was all effed up. Sebris is a family drama from the Philippines. The family lives in and runs a large old movie house that has been reduced to screening porno films. (I would also like to see Mendoza's Slingshot from 2007 please.)

Tokyo Sonata (2008) directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
No doubt in my mind that this has a much better chance of making itself available on DVD than in theaters. Although Kurosawa's last three films (Retribution, The Loft, and Doppelgänger) haven't been his best, word is that Tokyo Sonata not only finds him back in fine form, but also exploring new territory. (Does anyone think Seven Pounds director Gabriele Muccino has seen Bright Future?)

Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (2007) directed by John Gianvito
"A visual meditation on the progressive history of the United States as seen through cemeteries, historic plaques and markers." I know it doesn't sound like much, but I am convinced it is and would really like to see it.

Martyrs (2008) directed by Pascal Lagnier
What would life be if you weren't waiting for a blood-splattering French horror film? Maybe I'm just kidding myself when I say the French bring something new to this genre. Either way, just like I have with US films of the same ilk, I will give these films a chance so I can make a more informed critical assessment...

Tulpan (2008) directed by Sergey Dvortsevoy
Tulpan is a contemporary Kazakh folk tale with a wandering reality-based nature. Asa is off to proposed to Tulpan for her hand in marriage. When she refuses, Asa is convinced that Tulpan is his true love despite the fact that he hasn't even really seen her.

Hunger (2008) directed by Steve McQueen
"Featuring on of cinema's greatest scenes ever..." proclaims the London Times. Steve McQueen is an Artist (with a capital A) earning the Turner Prize for a performance video he did in NYC entitled "Drumroll" and garnering fame as a war artist, campaigning to have each British soldier who has died in Iraq commemorated on a postage stamp. Hunger, his first feature, tells the story of IRA martyr and hunger striker Bobby Sands. From everything I have read, this film is no walk in the park, and I worry it may have some trouble finding its way to the US.

Pontypool (2008) directed by Bruce McDonald
A Canadian horror film from the director who brought us The Tracy Fragments. An apocalyptic virus that spreads via the English language has hit the small town of Pontypool. In theory, this film sounds very cool, but I'm not sure how it will all play out on screen. I like the tag, "Shut up or die."

Dust of Time (2008) directed by Theo Angelopoulos
Angelipoulos' second film in a trilogy that started with The Weeping Meadow made in 2004. If it is only half as good as The Weeping Meadowa dense, complex and poetically elegiac filmI will not be disappointed. The film stars Bruno Ganz, Michel Piccoli, Irene Jacob, and Willem Dafoe. In Angelopoulos' words: "The Dust of Time is a film that treats the past as if it were in the present. It is history written in capital letters and history written in small print. We used to think of ourselves as the subjects of history. Nowadays I can't say if we are its subjects or objects."

Plastic City (2008) directed by Yu Lik Wai
Oh, to be an independent filmmaker in Hong Kong...Yu Lik Wai continues to do it, barely scratching the festival surface with his film. Love Will Tear Us Apart is without a doubt one the most interesting and unique Hong Kong films I have ever seen. I search endlessly for his other film All Tomorrow's Parties endlessly the last time I was in HK and China, but to no avail. Yu Lik Wai is much better know as Jia Zhangke's cinematographer, but certainly has his own credentials as director. Plastic City stars Japanese superstar Jo Odigiri as a gangster living in São Paulo, Brazil. Part Triad film, part international action drama, Plastic City seems perfect for a subtitle tolerant mainstream audience.

Sky Crawlers (2008) directed by Mamoru Oshii
Godfather of Japanese anime adapts this five part novel from Hiroshi Mori into an very exquisite looking animated feature. This is the kind of thing that I die to see on a big screen. In this case I am optimistic that it might just happen. Check out the trailer linked above.

Warsaw Dark (2008) directed by Christopher Doyle
Crazy man and super-cinematographer Chris Doyle completed his second film in the director's chair this year. His first, Away With Words, was (as one might expect) beautifully filmed but a hopelessly flawed meditation on life, love, and drinking too much. I guess I don't expect too much more from Warsaw Dark, but I will take it any day over the choices facing me today in the theater. Warsaw Dark screened at the Edinburgh International Film Festival with a few people reporting both the good and the bad, but no word on the film since and nary a trailer to be found. The film is set and was shot in Poland, and is some sort of crime thriller with gangsters and the like.

United Red Army (2007) directed by Koji Wakamatsu
Once again, I have little hope of seeing this in a theater. Wakamatsu has tried to give a true account of Japan's radical student group formed in the 1970s. Wakamatsu knew many of the people involved, and proves that fact by still being barred from entering the United States due to his political affiliations. The complicated story lets the viewer decide whether to demonize or champion it's idealistic members. The film is entrenched in history that few outside of Japan might know about, making the film a hard sell. Wakamatsu did some grassroots fundraising to get the film made, so perhaps it will find an equally creative way to be distributed.

Bing Ai (2007) directed by Feng Yan
Recommended to me as a much more poignant look at the displacement of people from the Three Gorges Dam project than Up the Yangtze. Zhang Bing Ai is a peasant woman who refuses to leave her home and stands in the way of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. Filmmaker Feng Yan spent ten years documenting Bing Ai's struggles. Chances are I'll have to find this on DVD.

Fengming (2007) directed by Wang Bing
This is only Wang Bing's second film in five years, but if you counted every 90 minutes as one film, these two films would equal 8 films. His documentary, West of the Tracks, was over 9 hours long and Fengming is 3 hours. There is a lot of banter about the transformation of China, and West of the Tracks showed a powerful version of that through the industrial landscape of Shenyang. Fengming seems to do the same thing, but through one woman's eyes, He Fengming.

Dust (2007) directed by Harmut Bitomsky
It is the smallest subjects that are the most fascinating. We had a book kicking around out house for a while that tackled this subject matter called "The Secret Life of Dust," and although I didn't read it, the person who did would relay the high points. Thinking about the nature of dust makes me feel a little like Pigpen, but I like the idea that I physically retain some of the space I'm in. I think this documentary sounds amazing.

Useless (2007) directed by Jia Zhangke
Here's the Jia film I must wait on a little longer. Useless is a documentary about clothing designer Ma Ke, but also reaches beyond to China's role in the clothing industry. Someone should bring Jia here and do a retrospective of his work. (Hint, hint!)

Yasukuni (2007) directed by Ying Li
Yasukuni is the Japanese Shinto shrine that is dedicated to those who died for the Emperor of Japan. To say that the shrine has become controversial is kind of an understatement. Many see the shrine and those who visit it a validation of what Japan did in WWII. It didn't help that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi like to visit it with great fanfare just to piss people off. (And by people, I mean China and South Korea.) Documentary filmmaker Ying Li has done a little pissing off himself. Born in China but living in Japan, Ying Li says that he made this film "for both Japan's sake and for my sake." Clearly meant to be a cathartic film, it was nonetheless seen as inflammatory and largely suppressed.

At Sea (2007) directed by Peter Hutton
I guess this isn't even a feature film. At least not a feature film your gonna see in your multiplex, Mall variety or independent variety. Most refer to Peter Hutton as a cinematic portraitist of landscape. Nonetheless, I am fascinated by commercial maritime activity, and when I read about this film (no doubt in Art Forum, my favorite covert film magazine) I immediately wrote it down. What I found on MOMA's website encapsulated where my enthusiasm came from: "A haunting meditation on human progress, both physical and metaphorical, At Sea charts a three-year passage from twenty-first-century ship building in South Korea to primitive and dangerous ship breaking in Bangladesh, with an epic journey across the North Atlantic in between."

The Mugger (2007) directed by Pablo Fendrik
I'm sure there is a good reason why I wrote down this Argentinean film, but the article or review or interview I read escapes me. I have no choice but to trust myself.

Rembrandt's J'Accuse (2007) directed by Peter Greenaway
Peter Greenaway has certainly fallen from cinematic grace that he once possessed. His recent films are damn near the hardest things to get a hold of. Which is too bad, because Greenaway is a director who is obviously creating a body of work rather than single films. Only seeing one Tulse Luper Suitcases film, for example, does no justice for what this man is doing. (Or that is my excuse for feeling so confused by it.) I was hooked on Greenaway at an early age and then ended up working at a theater that screened The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover for an unprecedented amount of time due to the brand new NC-17 rating it received. Jeepers, I have seen that film so many times. I also have a fond memory of seeing Prospero's Books at an empty theater at St Anthony Main on a particularly lonely Thanksgiving. Those are other stories though. Greenaway's esotericism is a draw for me, but no doubt a deterrent for others. I would like to see Greenaway's new films in similar situations for future nostalgia.

Cargo 200 (2007) directed by Alexei Balabanov
This film is tagged as a bleak black comedy. Now I am not really sure where I read about this film, but it must have caught my eye at some point. And although I don't think I have seen any other films by Balabanov, I notice that I also have his 2002 film War on my list of films I would like to see. (Don't worry, I will not go that far in this list.) Somebody needs to fill me in on this guy.

Sad Vacation (2008) directed by Shinji Aoyama
Yes, there is a Japanese and Korean DVD out there of this film, but neither has English subtitles. Why? Why?!? Is someone really going to buy the rights to this film in the US. If they do, great, I don't mind waiting. But if they don't, I'm a-gonna be really mad. I consider Aoyama to be an inconsistent director, but that is only because I regard Eureka as one of the best films ever made. Given my expectations, his other films have failed to launch, in my opinion. Maybe odds are bad that he will make one of the second best films ever made or even outdo Eureka, but as long as he is making films, I will hope for the best.

The Unpolished (2007) directed by Pia Marais
The début feature from German director Pia Marias scored high marks when it made the festival rounds, but has yet to show up beyond that. This film looks really interesting, and just reaffirms my assumption that there are so so many good films out there that never surface. Let's hope the digital age and on-demand services will bring more access to films like this.

Am I asking Santa for too much? God knows, there is more, but I am cautious to just how much of my insanity I am willing to reveal.


Anonymous said...

Pretty long list! I think Davies is the greatest Western director we have in these days. He's art. His last movie is at the top of my list. Useless is to me a bad documentary, very useless indeed! On that subject, I liked more Peled's China Blue, for example. But Zhang-ke deserves respect.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Surprisingly, I have heard of most of your movies on the first part of your list. They've been getting some serious face-time in EW. Particularly, in their last issue, which was sort of a year in review, they mentioned both Michelle Williams and Mickey Rourke as part of a short list of great performances of '08. Also, in their section on best movies of '08, they suggested "Waltz With Bashir" as #4 and "Wendy and Lucy" as #6 for one critic, and another critic had "The Wrestler" as #1. This is encouraging...

Kathie Smith said...

It is a pretty long list, Dan, and I've even done some editing and thinking of things I forgot. I have read pretty mixed reviews of Useless but would like to see it nonetheless, probably just like you did. China Blue is on my list, but I decided I had to limit this list to films from 2008 and 2007! I have ordered The Terence Davies Trilogy on a recommendation as some of his best work.

San, Waltz With Bashir, The Wrestler, and Wendy and Lucy are all smallish films sliding in at the end of the year on each coast that have potential to be award heavy weights. And so if you don't live in NYC or LA, you have to wait. Most of my favorite films from 2008 are actually films from 2007...

joetron2030 said...

If "Skycrawlers" plays here on the big screen, I will definitely have to make a point of catching it. From all of the clips and trailers I've seen, it looks gorgeous.

Kathie Smith said...

Although I am optimistic about Sky Crawlers making it to a theater, I'm sort of relying on Landmark for this and I am discouraged by their treatment of Fears of the Dark - it was supposed to come out months ago. Granted this may be a different type of animation than Sky Crawlers, but we are probably talking about the same demographic.

Maybe the Film Fest will pick up Sky Crawlers.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who works at IFC and they said, that they no longer have the rights for "Good, Bad and the Weird". So you may wait a little longer on that title now. As for others 2008 films that will arrive here late that might be worth noting, "Sugar" a film by the duo that did "Half Nelson" is a great film until the last 20 minutes, but is worth a look too.

Matt Gamble said...

I can assure you that the local Landmark employees are just as annoyed as you are at he treatment of Fears of the Dark. I was lucky enough to borrow a screener for it from our friendly neighborhood silver haired film critic, and I really enjoyed it, though I must say it is quite different from what the trailer implies. A lot more atmospheric then outright scary.

I'm also proud to say I might be the only person disappointed by The Wrestler. Rourke is great and I enjoyed the film, but I was surprisingly underwhelmed by it. I'm pretty sure I'll be in the minority on that though.

But the one you should really be excited about is Waltz with Bashir, it is incredible. And that probably isn't an adjective worthy of just how amazing the film is.

Kathie Smith said...

That's too bad on The Good, The Bad, The Weird because it looks like a fun film to see in the theater. I'll put Sugar on my list; I hadn't even heard of it...

Matt, I've been really excited to see Fears, but the wait is just kinda silly. I'm just hoping it makes it to the screen some day! As for The Wrestler, it is interesting to hear your contrary opinion! God knows I love to be contrary (but never for the sake of being contrary, of course) so I'll have to report back. From the trailer it does look a little schmultzy.

Daniel Getahun said...

I'm sloooowly catching up...

I'm looking forward to many of these as well, especially all of the January ones. I kind of just want 2008 to be over with already. I'm tired of waiting for all of these to get here!

dan said...

Kathie, I've got very good news about two of these films!
Tokyo Sonata will be released by Eureka in February-April, probably. Eureka has also got the rights for a tour of screenings in UK and Ireland.

Of Time and the city, that you will surely see at the screening, should be released on 30th March.

Kathie Smith said...

That is very good news about Tokyo Sonata. It is opening in NYC on March 13, but it is unclear whether it will come to my fair city or not...
I might pick up the DVD regardless.

I will be seeing Of Time and the City tomorrow. I'll report my findings!

Keep me posted if you hear any other good news!