Thursday, January 30, 2014

70's Bonanza: The Goalie's Anxiety At the Penalty Kick

Wim Wender's debut feature (minus a few student films) certainly sets the parameters for his long and inquisitive career. Part road movie but mostly an existential drama that raises more questions than it answers, "The Goalie's Anxiety At the Penalty Kick" is a slow-burn psychological thriller that ends with a whimper rather than a bang. Yet not many of Wim's films end definitively. They are about the journey rather than the destination.

Joseph Bloch (Arthur Brauss) is a goalie for a German soccer team and his anxiety is set up in the opening minutes of the film. He misses a kick and is summarily ejected from the game for arguing with the umpire. That minuscule act sets Bloch on a weird journey. He becomes attracted to a blonde movie ticket girl Gloria (Erika Pluhar), follows her home one night and ends up sleeping with her. The next morning, for no apparent reason, he strangles her and skips town. Bloch ends up in a sleepy country town where he resumes contact with an old girlfriend (Kai Fisher) and becomes involved with the locals, drinking, fighting and, as always in a Wenders movie, listening to rock and roll on various jukeboxes. Wenders never registers a reason for Bloch's cold blooded action, which provides the second half of the film with its tension. Bloch keeps up with the murder investigation of Gloria through newspapers as if he's reveling in his getaway. At the same time, we begin to wonder if this is the beginning of a serial killer, which the film hints at through the disappearance of a local boy. Bloch also comes in contact with several women in the village and our minds begin to wonder when exactly the next murder will take place.

But, as I said at the start, this is an existential effort and nothing else really happens. "The Goalie's Anxiety At the Penalty Kick" is an examination of the tenuous strands that hold us in check through life. Bloch was probably already a little screwed up and it only took a mistake on the soccer field to set him off. And we certainly begin to understand the depths of his depravity when, in a chillingly heightened final scene after long stretches of wandering town, Bloch settles in the stands to watch and comment on a local soccer game. Wenders slowly rises the camera up and away, allowing Bloch to study and criticize the formation of the team, leaving us without closure or even understanding of this enigma. In a long line of cinema crazies, rocketed to their violent outbursts by their lack of tolerance to society- like Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver" or more recently "Simon Killer"- Bloch is no different. Maybe that's exactly the point.
Available on region 2 Japanese DVD.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Moments of 2013

In conjunction with my favorite films of the year list, I offer up some moments out of 2013 films that made an indelible impression on me. Older online buddies will recognize this as a recurring event. This list is a collection of film dialogue, gestures, camera movements, moods or looks and ideas within a given scene. This list is inspired by Roger Ebert's list of movie moments as well as the once great (now defunct) yearly wrap up in Film Comment. Possible spoilers so beware!

 1. The lip curls and eye twitches of Sarah Polley, sequestered in a sound studio, listening to her father read the story of her mother…. The intimate moments where non fiction becomes unbridled emotions across her face in “Stories We Tell”.
2. A truck with its headlights on positioned in the center of the frame as two bodies writhe in pain on either side of it in what feels like the longest and most intimate shootout in recent film in “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”
3. A long crane shot, down the mouth of a river as a horde of people walk in line searching for bodies that will never be found… “Prisoners”
4. The burning embers of a letter illuminating the screen, then slowly burning out. “12 Years A Slave”
5. In a techno club, the camera holds on a man (Brady Corbet) and French girl as they dance to LCD Soundsystem‘s “Dance Yrself Clean”… the young man only delaying the inevitable in Antonio Campos’ strikingly deliberate “Simon Killer”
6. “All Is Lost”. Letting go of a pink strap, and his schooner slowly sinking into the water in front of The Man (Robert Redford).
7. The final scene in “Laurence Anyways”, as Laurence and Fred (Suzanne Clement) meet over a catering table and the meaning of their "minimizes my pleasure" mantra that's been echoed through the whole film is given shattering weight.

8. The striking cut as we open on a man welding, and then he turns around to reveal Department of Corrections on the back of his suit. Christian Bale in “Out of the Furnace”
9. “Dallas Buyers Club” The meeting between son (Jared Leto) and father.
10.The overhead shot on a line of cars as a group of SWAT officers deploys slowly onto them. Yet another striking set piece in Johnnie To’s “Drug War”.
11. The look of Christopher Walken going from boredom to disbelief as he sees his partner in crime Val (Al Pacino) slow dancing with a pretty girl. “Stand Up Guys”
12. The slow tracking shot as a group of children approach an old German house, and the horrors that await inside… “Lore”
13. The final scene of Tom in “Stories We Tell”, hidden away during the credits that causes a gasp with “we did sleep together one time…..”
14.In “What Maise Knew”, watching a crosswalk sign turn from stop to walk, and the way Maise (Onata Aprile) reaches up for the hand of Alex Skarsgard.
15. The sad resignation on the face of Bruce Dern as he wanders into his parent’s old room in an abandoned house with “they used to beat me if I came in here. Can’t beat me no more….” Past and present coming together in monochrome melancholy in “Nebraska”.
16. Gilles (Clement Metayar ) describing the film he’s about to begin work on with “it’s a science fiction film… with prehistoric animals… and Nazis.”  “Something In the Air”
17. The tentative finger hold and hesitation over the ATM machine as it asks to charge $3 processing fee for her usage… and all this after running six blocks. Frances (Greta Gerwig) in “Frances Ha”
18. The eyes of a random woman, covered by a Muslim headdress, as Jep (Toni Servillo) wanders the streets of Rome at night. Is she sad, worried or in deep thought? Yet another fleeting moment of life in Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty”.
19. The sheer excitement on Christian bale’s face as he looks back at the prison he juts left, rapping his hands on the hood of a car. “Out Of the Furnace”
20. Imitating her mother, the quick slap that Lore (Saskia Rosendahl) gives to Thomas (Kai Malina) refuting his hand between her legs .  “Lore”
21. Laurence’s (Melvin Polpaud) first walk down a school hallway dressed as a woman and the tracking shot across the faces of everyone as he walks by, alternating between the dumbfound to the inquisitive in Xavier Dolan‘s “Laurence Anyways”
22. The performance of Kevin Costner in "Man of Steel".... sheer father-like humanity as he raises his hand to stop his son from saving him.
23. In "Short Term 12", the way Brie Larson tilts her head, allowing her hair to gently fall to one side as she tries to reach the hurt and afraid kids in her care.
24. Where to choose in Wong Kar Wai's sumptuous "The Grandmaster", but probably the train platform fight where Gong Er (Zhang Yiyi) shows us exactly who the real Grandmaster is.
25. The perfect Park Chan Wook murder in "Stoker", where a large bed overtakes the scene, a head drops to one side of the screen while the blood splatter on the wall on the left side slowly drips down.
26. At night, a long slow zoom above a house in the Hollywood hills as two teenagers sulk around the glass tinted rooms with carefree abandon, Los Angeles glowing in the background. "The Bling Ring"
27. In "Dallas Buyers Club", the meeting between father and son (Jared Leto).
28. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) reading a letter to Celine (Julie Delphy) from himself in the future. 
29. In "The Great Beauty", a woman's face encompassing the whole screen as she backs away up the steps of a lighthouse from young Jep... lost in memories and regrets, its one of those fleeting moments that we don't do something and regret it for a lifetime. 
30. The way John Goodman blurts out "oh fuck!" when a cat appears on the lap of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) in the front seat. "Inside Llewyn Davis".
31. The way the sound slowly falls out in Miguel Gomes "Tabu" as one story in the present begins to unwind into the past... and we're introduced to the young Aurora (Ana Moreira).
32. The dinner scene in "Before Midnight" where couples, young and old, talk about literature, love and life. One of the most adult scenes in any film this year.
33. The long steadicam shot as a group of men are paraded through a small village, mothers and wives weeping at the edges of the frame, and then the sound of them being hanged in Serge Lotniza's harsh "In the Fog".
34. "Captain Philips" and the utter precision and sound design as a group of snipers finally get their shots.
35. The burst of laughter that emanates from Sandra Bullock as she faces being burned alive upon re-entry in "Gravity".
36. The opening shot of Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines" as stunt bike rider Handsome Luke (Ryan Gosling) crosses the carnival grounds.
37. In "Prisoners", a man drives a young girl to the hospital in a torrential rainstorm, the camera cutting back and forth from on top of the car to inside the car as the cop (Jake Gyllenhall) wipes blood from his eyes and tries to stay focused on the road. 
38. Michael Cera and his juice box... and a blowjob. "This Is the End"
39. A rock crashing through a window and a man falling out of frame. "Like Someone In Love"
40. A man making sounds inside a metal storm sewer drain. "Upstream Color"

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Faves of 2013

15. ElysiumGoing into Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium”, I didn't expect to discover the best film of the summer, but that’s exactly what happened. Like his previous film, “District 9”, Blomkamp has stretched and re-invigorated the dystopian sci-fi genre with ease. Yes, it is a message movie and one that inherently beats you over the head with its strictly drawn characterizations of good and evil (and oh my is off-the-grid-military-man Kruger played by Sharlto Copley downright bad), but its populist fable between the “haves” and the “have nots” also incredibly moving and aggressive. Damon is the savior figure as he tries to get to the aforementioned title place where machines cure all sickness and Blomkamp stages the action set pieces and bone-crushing fight scenes expertly…. Including one explosion on board a ship that serves as a delicious plot turner where doppelgangers are spawned and the surprise factor is cranked up to 11. One of the most entertaining, eye popping films of the year.

14. A Band Called Death- A highly compulsive documentary that also, could be, the documentation of an urban myth... this time the idea that three African American brothers in Detroit during the early 70's may be the first and most unknown influential punk band ever. Just watching this film floods one with emotions, first as it shows how something so good could get lost so easily, and then secondly as the brothers music is discovered in an attic and resurrected on adoring modern day crowds. This is the ability of a great documentary... to dust off something irrelevant and make it touchingly relevant again. 

13. Before Midnight- Richard Linklater's wrap up to his trilogy about the relationship of American writer Ethan Hawke meeting young French girl Julie Delphy reaches troubling heights as, this time, the verbose affair isn't flirtatious or youth-tinged. They are married, on vacation with their twin daughters and struggling to stay afloat from the very adult problems they're facing. It's in the graceful, lived-in performances of Hawke and Delphy that these films have such charm and humanity and "Before Midnight" may be the best of the three because we see the vagaries of life changing alongside them over the last seventeen years. 

12. The Wolf of Wall Street- It seems director Martin Scorsese needs a frenetic, live-wire film every decade or so to keep his mind young again. There was "After Hourse" and then "Bringing Out the Dead". "The Wolf of Wall Street" is his latest venture...a drugged-up, extreme examination of the excess of Wall Street through the uber rich Jordan Belfort (Leo DiCaprio) and his merry cohorts. This is certainly Scorsese at his most breathless, and yet, it also feels like his most anonymous. Gone are some of his usual stylistic flourishes and the only thing remaining is the long spiral down the rabbit hole of American greed that leaves DiCaprio just as mundane as Henry Hill in "Goodfellas".

11. Aint Them Bodies Saints- The nostalgic 70’s western noir “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is a derivative effort, but a tremendously well made and well-meaning one. Written and directed by David Lowery (whom I had the pleasure to exchange words with over the years through his now defunct blog), his first full length film is a throwback film of the highest order, evoking everything from “Bonnie and Clyde” to the mumble core movement which he’s been a mainstay in for several years now. Starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, the film opens with their separation after the lovers-on-the-lam are arrested and Affleck is sent to prison. He eventually escapes, and the rest of the film charts his desperate attempts to get back to her. Also circling in her life is local cop Ben Foster, in what is certainly the best performance in the film and probably of his intense career. All low-key and humble, Foster personifies the small town sheriff in touching and accurate ways. And those descriptions could fit the entire film. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” is a quiet but revelatory film that dispenses plot in whispers and charged glances.

10. LoreGiving some type of emotional complexity to the German point of view immediately following the Allied invasion and subsequent end to World War 2, initially, seems like a frivolous effort. Yet, that’s exactly what Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland achieves in “Lore”, a dizzying and harrowing account of five children and their trek across country when good German mother and father are dispatched of in the opening moments. As the eldest, Saskia Rosendahl as Lore is magnificent, leading her younger siblings and baby into the recesses of hell, otherwise known as occupied Germany and its scattered, scarred and confused population. The idea of Lore’s forced adulthood, complicated by national pride and sexual confusion when she meets a local boy who helps in their journey, is always at the forefront and handled magnificently. As she did in her previous film “Somersault”, Shortland is a filmmaker attracted to the tactile. While her handheld camera breathlessly darts around her characters, giving prominence to the edges of dresses, dirty feet and blowing fields of flowers rather than eyes and voices, “Lore” is an extremely ‘arty’ film that still manages to dispense narrative and feeling with authority. Like few other current filmmakers- namely female peers such as Andrea Arnold and Claire Denis- Shortland’s bouncing camera is not a detriment to the process, but a voyeur that catches kinetic atmosphere and images. Consistently challenging and terrifying in its family-in-the-war-torn-wilderness-adventure genre, “Lore” is a great sophomore effort.

9. Something In the AirThe latest film from French auteur Olivier Assayas feels like his most personal since “Cold Water” in 1994. Both films feature a young man named Gilles (this time played by Clement Metayer) acting as the surrogate for Assayas himself, tantalizingly poised on the precipice of awkward adulthood. But where “Cold Water” dealt with interior feelings of belonging and amour fou (in the relationship with beautiful but dangerous Virginie Ledoyen), the stakes are a bit higher in “Something In the Air”. Set in Paris after the May events of ‘68, this Gilles and his close sect of friends find themselves mixed up in violent student activism… so violent that they accidentally hurt a security guard during a routine vandalism attempt and are forced to split up in hiding. And while the first third or so of “Something In the Air” deals with these subversive acts of revolution, the real thrust of Assayas’ narrative kicks in after this action, setting up Gilles, Christine (the wonderful Lole Creton), Alaine (Felix Armand) and their various lovers to seek out their own paths in life. The title, while initially evoking the revolutionary scents in the air, subtly changes to denote the forks in the road each individual takes with their lives. Assayas handles all this reverie beautifully, never losing his gentle touch on relationships and staying to true to the way he continually crafts a knockout finale. It may not all be 100% accurate, but the way in which Gilles the man on screen become Assayas the filmmaker is still precise, loving and attuned to the nuances of everyday emotions.

8. The Place Beyond the Pines- Director Derek Cianfrance is on his way to auteur status. Exhibit A is “The Place Beyond the Pines”. What begins as a solid cops and robbers tale soon morphs into an elegant, exhilarating treatise on violence and its repercussions on the future. Ryan Gosling is the down-on-his-luck stunt bike rider and Bradley Cooper is the cop whose path unfortunately crosses with him. On the sideline are women Eva Mendes and Rose Byrne with their respective children. From that compact snapshot, Cianfrance spins a devastating portrait. Like he did with “Blue Valentine”, he captures a grungy, faded-out atmosphere through introspective close-up and a haunting soundtrack. While the story is familiar, “The Place Beyond the Times” is searching for more than that in its morally compromised men and women.

7. Laurence Anyways- Xavier Dolan’s epic drama about the tumultuous partnership between Laurence (Melvil Poupard) and girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clement) is the better of France’s two messy, sexually hay-wired relationship dramas (the other being “Blue Is the Warmest Color”). To make matters worse, Laurence eventually transforms into a woman, unable to suppress his sexual identity any longer, and he and Fred shuttle back and forth into each other’s lives over a ten year period. Emotionally complex and honestly unwavering in its depiction of all the confused feelings that bubble beneath the surface of us weird human beings, “Laurence Anyways” attempts to give meaning and sincerity to it all. 

6. The Great BeautyPaolo Sorrentino’s “The Great Beauty” is a swirling, ebullient ode to a certain city (Rome) and the array of friends, hangers-ons and social dwellers to writer Jep (Toni Servillo) as he waltzes in and out of memories during his 65th birthday. This is a mysterious and moving exploration of the way we meld the past and present, brimming with imagination and life. Scenes like the midnight entrance to an ancient museum, Jep’s interaction with a magician and his giraffe, and his various walks around the city, where innocuous gazes into the eyes of couples in restaurants and meandering streets feel like dreamy excerpts from a novel… and they very may well be. It all adds up to a film that’s burned into my head and won’t get out. With this film, Sorrentino has vaulted himself to the forefront of talented European filmmakers.

5. Dallas Buyer's Club- With Best Actor (McConaughey) and Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto) Oscars locked in their pockets, there are many other reasons to experience Jean Marc Valee’s “Dallas Buyers Club”. Not only is its story (about a heterosexual man becoming afflicted with AIDS) told without a shred of overt sentimentality, but it’s also a pervasive tale about the relationships we form as our lives evolve.

4. Gravity- From its long, opening tracking shot to it’s thunderous ending, Alfonse Cuaron’s dazzling sci-fi film dares to exemplify the ultimate example of human resilience in the darkness of space. Not being a huge Sandra Bullock fan, I went into the film with skepticism but came out alarmed by the range of emotion she exhibits. Cuaron just has a way of making the seemingly obvious feel groundbreaking.

3. Upstream Color- Shane Carruth is quickly rising on the list of young innovators after seeing his sophomore effort, "Upstream Color". Although this film doesn't require the grids and down-the-rabbit-hole logic of his previous film, "Primer", "Upstream Color" is no less a challenging work. Cross-cutting between the tenuous relationship between a man (Carruth himself) and woman (Amy Siemetz) who meet on a Dallas DART rail and, of all things, a mysterious pig farm, "Upstream Color" weaves a completely engrossing and heady narrative. It could be called pretentious and a host of other things usually attached to the more obtuse art house fare, but there's real depth, sincerity and a downright stunning opening and closing sequence (virtually wordless) that propels Carruth's lofty ambitions into something close to a masterpiece. Carruth, who also wrote the film and scored its trancey synth-pop soundtrack, is a jack of all trades and deserves the license to pursue whatever projects he desires in the future. Just a marvelous, consistently dazzling film.

2. Stories We Tell- Actress/Director Sarah Polley's latest film, "Stories We Tell" is a documentary, turning the lens on herself and her own family as she scalpels away at the truth of the infectious personality of mom Diane and exactly what happened in the late 70's. Using direct interviews, grainy home video footage and even actor-portrayed recreations, "Stories We Tell" charts the timeline of her family with judicious investigation. Why doesn't she look like the rest of her family? What causes a marriage to fade into boredom and familiarity? And what's the responsibility of future generations to trace the truth of past ones? All of these questions are answered in Polley's capable hands, at great personal cost to all. As a documentary, its exhilarating. As a personal diary, it’s downright heartbreaking. 

1. The Grandmaster- Vaguely about the life of legendary martial arts teacher Ip Man (Tony Leung), "The Grandmaster" is a sensual and aural feast, timed to Kar Wai's penchant for several things including the slow motion pan, unrequited love, and life observed through the window pane. This is probably the most mainstream art film ever released, as judged by the groaning at my screening when subtitles went unrelenting after the first scene. Audiences are expecting a Jet Li-like actioner, and they're getting something altogether different (and better).Yet beyond the action (which is supreme... one wondrous set piece after another), "The Grandmaster" hones in on the relationship of Ip Man and Gong Er, played by Zhang Yiyi and their relationship through the years of civil war and Japanese invasion. In fact, "The Grandmaster" basically deserts Ip Man himself during the final third of the film, revealing the turmoil of Gong Er and her battle to retain her family's good name. At one point, I begin to imagine the film's title didn't belong to Ip Man but Gong Er herself. Like all of Wong Kar Wai's films, the central idea eventually boils down to a man and a woman navigating their hearts through the travails of time and life. This is a film I've thought about almost every day since first seeing it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What's In the Netflix Queue #37

This is a bit outdated since a third of my viewing has shifted to streaming, but there are still plenty of titles not available through that avenue. The next 10 titles (disc) in my queue:

 1. Eyes Without A Face- After being able to track down a few of Georges Franju's lesser known and unavailable films, it's kind of glaring that I've never seen the one film of his that IS available. Looking forward to this one.
2. George Harrison Material World- Scorsese's documentary on Beatle George Harrison received genuinely good reviews. I'm not a huge Beatle nut, but I'm always up for a trip with Scorsese at the helm.
3. Helsinki Napoli- Really just watching this for the cameo by director Sam fuller, yet Finnish neo-noir can always be interesting.
4. 'Round Midnight- This is the first film in a list by French director Bertrand Tavernier that I'm watching. This film, about the destructive nature of jazz musicians in the 30's, is generally regarded as one of his best films.
5. Let Joy Reign Supreme- Debut from director Tavernier.
6. Satatango (3 discs)- Ok, I've tried this a couple times in the past. Here's hoping Bela Tarr's epic, spine-cringing black and white moodier hits the right spot this time. I understand the best way to watch this one is just allow the visuals and sound to wash over you.
7. Littlerock- From the Netflix description: "this evocative drama examines culture shock, the universal yearning for connection and the impact of history on ordinary people in the tale of Atsuko and Rintaro, Japanese siblings who come to California to visit a WW2 ear internment camp."
8. Cinema Verite- Well received HBO drama receating the first American reality TV show in the 70's. Starring Tim Robbins and Diane Lane.
9. Marooned- John Sturges late 60's drama about astronauts stranded in space.
10. Sawdust and Tinsel- One of the few Ingmar Bergman films that no one really discusses. It sounds intriguing, following the sexual digressions and betrayals of a circus clown!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Retroactive: The Best Non 2013 Films I Saw in 2013

10. On Dangerous Ground (1952), director Nicholas Ray

For my money, Ray’s first legitimate masterpiece. Again starring Robert Ryan, “On Dangerous Ground” breathlessly swerves between two genres of film, beginning as a prototypical film noir (complete with rain soaked streets and a darkness that never seems to end) and ending up as a psychological chase film among the snow covered hills of northern California. Sent to work on an out-of-town case after his frenzied, violent assault on several possible criminals, Ryan is terrific as the loose canon cop who finds some solace and self-restraint in the wilderness when he meets blind woman Ida Lupino during a chase for someone who killed a young girl. A single viewing is not enough to tabulate all the swirling undercurrents of psychology here, and Ray’s direction is taut, focused and magisterial. Several images, of two men hunting another across a snow-swept mountain terrain at dusk, are stellar and establish Ray as the premier visualist of the 50’s, both in outward narrative and interior monologue. 

9. Tom Horn (1980), director William Wiard

The next to last film actor Steve McQueen would participate in (the still unseen "The Hunter" would be the last), this introspective western is simply stunning. As the legendary titular character Tom Horn who's hired to clean up a turf war in 1890's Montana and then betrayed by his employers and sentenced to murder, one can feel the mortality oozing off the screen from McQueen. Ok, perhaps that's an overstatement, but "Tom Horn" is still a moving example of the emotions we as an audience project onto the screen. Bloody in all the right places- look how he dispatches the bad guys!- and quiet in the final third as McQueen's gruff cowboy silently accepts his fate, "Tom Horn" is an under seen classic.

8. A Summer At Grandpa's (1983), director Hou Hsiao Hsien

As we were just beginning to see in the New Taiwanese Cinema, children were often the focal point. While “A Summer At Grandpa’s” is one of the few films by Hsiao-Hsien to place children at the center of his universe, its effect is no less moving. While their mother recuperates from an illness, a young boy and girl are sent to the countryside to live with their grandparents. Once there, they become innocent observers to the harsh realities of life, including illicit pregnancies, local hoods causing trouble and the imprecise vagaries of love. What makes “A Summer At Grandpa’s” so moving- and Hsiao Hsien’s first great film- is its simple dedication to the natural aspects of life. A young girl stuck on a train track rescued by the local ’madwoman’… or the way life seems to bleed from one day to the next… all of this is handled with such delicacy. If any early film of Hou deserves a mainstream release, this is it. 

7. Pear Jam Twenty (2011), director Cameron Crowe

No idea why it took me this long to see Cameron Crowe's documentary about my second favorite band of all time! Crowe keeps his egotistical misty-eyedness to a minimum here, and I actually even learned something about the band. Full of great video clips and weaving a compelling story that pits Pearl Jam like a modern day Rolling Stones (complete with concert killings), "Pearl Jam Twenty" is a must for fans of the Seattle scene. And the moment that Eddie Vedder begins singing "Better Man" in concert, then the crowd takes over, and he leans back and just raises his arms in complete harmony is just a tender, magical moment that speaks volumes about the band and their following. 

6. The Red Tent (1969), director Mikhail Kalatazov

Not only does this feature an amazing, highly evocative score from Ennio Morricone (and probably one of his most underrated), but it's one of those lightning bolt revelations of a film.... what is this thing and why have I never heard of it before?? A survivalist drama, it stars Peter Finch as the commander of the real life doomed 1928 dirigible exploration trip to the North Pole and his crew's fight for life on the ice. Also starring Sean Connery as Road Amundsen, who joins the search for his arctic explorer friend and Claudia Cardinale as the love interest of one of the men on board the flight, "The Red Tent" is certainly a mainstream film in casting but a completely international effort. Directed by Mikhail Kalatazov, it follows suit in the Russian vein of film making and feels very art house, including the USSR's love of fish eye lenses, frenetic handheld camerawork and that inherent "madness" that seems to infuse the films of Zulawski and others from this time. And technical merits aside, "The Red Tent" is just a brutal, harsh and enveloping experience. Rent it now!

5. Whore's Glory (2011), director Michael Glawogger

Simply tremendous documentary by critic's darling Michael Glawogger examining the daily rituals of women in three brothels located in Thailand, India and Mexico. Once one gets past the salacious and frank material, what emerges is a terrifying portrait of the way men sublimate women and the hopeless cycles they endure with each other. The moment one Indian prostitute goes from simply explaining her role to the sobbing rhetoric of "there must be another way to live", "Whores Glory" transcends its unwavering, patient documentarian eye into something more poetic.

4. Resurrect Dead; The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (2009), director John Foy

Utterly fascinating documentary about this urban mystery. Like a great mystery novel, this documentary doggedly pursues all aspects of it, raises some debatable suspects and sheds light on the unmistakable possibilities that exist in the obsessive human mind when we latch onto something so strongly. There's some discussion on whether this whole film is made up or not, and it only reinforces the rabbit holes of the mystery. Just great stuff.

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), director Stephen Chbosky

Missed this film by a year, as it surely would have made my list last year. From the achingly good performances by its young stars, to its melancholy soundtrack and especially its dead-on representation of young-life-lived, "The Perks of Being A Wallflower" has amassed a small cult following. 

2. Fireworks Wednesday (2007), director Asghar Farhadi

Set during the celebration of the Persian New Year, Asghar Farhadi's fourth narrative feature is an allegorical title that not only leaves room for plenty of disconcerting bangs and pops off-screen, but lays bare the fragile framework of crackling human emotions as well. So far, each of my reviews of a Farhadi film has, irrevocably, compared it to his worldwide art house break out film "A Separation". While each film has been a stepping stone towards the formalism and themes of that Oscar winner, "Fireworks Wednesday" is clearly the culmination of those works. Yes, its a terrific film in its own right, but one that succinctly looks forward to the dynamism of his characters as one marriage falls apart and many others are caught up in the maelstrom.  

1. The Castle of Sand (1974), director Yoshitaro Nomura

Finding a new auteur is always fun. Yoshitaro Nomura's 1974 police procedural "The Castle of Sand" is an intensely microscopic view about the search for a killer where dead ends become routine and several narrative strands are shown in unison. Like the best procedurals, including "Zodiac", "Memories of Murder" and "The Day of the Jackal", "The Castle of Sand" examines the doggedness of several people to bring justice against a heinous act. And by mentioning those three illustrious films, I hold that Nomura'a film belongs alongside them. This is the landmark new-old film of the year for me.