Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Resident Film Critic Chris Cabin - Top 10 Movies of the Year So Far

Our resident film critic Chris Cabin weighs in on his top 10 films of the year thus far (since we’re a little over half way, and because awards season seems like it never ends with all that patting on the backing and what not). Here it is, complete with trailers for each. Never heard of these films? Find out more at IMDb and get crackin'! The KCB is particularly interested in Hunger fo sho.

01. The Headless Woman: A work of concentrated discombobulation and exacting mood. A woman runs over something in the road, hits her head and for the rest of the film she doesn't know what's going on. Neither do we really, thanks to the young Argentinean master Lucretia Martel's lean, focused formalism but that's what makes it one of the best films of the year. It's a mystery film where the questions posed by the narrative are engulfed by the provocations made by the filmmaking.

02. Silent Light: Like Martel, Mexican troublemaker Carlos Reygadas holds nothing back on his third masterfully crafted film. An agrarian staging of Dreyer's Ordet? Or just a Mennonite ethnographic study with a script? Reygadas has been cast-off as pretentious but what else would you expect from a filmmaker bold enough to attempt greatness?

03. Hunger: The debut of the year by a country mile. British video artist Steve McQueen's highly photographic retelling of the last weeks of IRA martyr Bobby Sands is brilliantly fragmented, awake with inciting clamor and at war with the clarion beauty of its compositions. A step forward from Paul Greengrass' excellent Bloody Sunday, McQueen has located the fight rather than the folklore of the IRA.

04. Summer Hours: Long past prolific, Olivier Assayas' latest is arguably his most refined and clearly his most personal film to date. Globalization hits home when three siblings decide to sell the family house following the death of the family's matriarch. French to the bone, this surpassingly delicate tale finds Assayas cozy at home after years in techno-espionage and turning his camera into a fluidly expanding family tree.

05. The Hurt Locker: Kathryn Bigelow's monumental Iraq Occupation film has its roots in both action and war but it is devout to both in ways few directors could stomach. For a triptych of bomb-disposal specialists, headed by Jeremy Renner's devastating William James, war may be an addiction, an anesthetic to the complacency of real life or just something they're good at. Crafted in terms of time and clarity of motion rather than spectacle, this is Bigelow's most triumphant moment and, by a wide margin, the best film about the current mental state of our soldiers I've seen.

06. The Limits of Control: Bad-mouthed and labeled monotonous by nearly every critic around, Jim Jarmusch's latest film could be renamed Variations on a Scene. Space is a key factor in Jarmusch's entire oeuvre but here, the movement and position of actors and camera become the focus itself, accompanied by a sea storm of chrome ambience courtesy of Japanese psych-metal outfit Boris. Jarmusch has called his film Point Blank remade by Rivette but his disregard for the constraints of storytelling and devotion to the medium places him in ranks with the greats, if he wasn't there already.

07. Still Walking: The most delicate and lovely of Ozu tributes since Hou Hsiao-hsien's Café Lumiere. Two families converge on the house of their grandparents, played magnificently by Kirin Kiki and Yoshio Harada, for a 24-hour lunch and dinner and all manner of cultural and traditional tectonic plates begin to shift. Very few films have touched so fearlessly on the resentments of age and the ignorance of youth without pandering to either side. The immensely talented Hirokazu Koreeda, who we last saw directing a household of children in the superb Nobody Knows, may now be the most fascinating modern director working in Japan and Still Walking is his most refined film to date.

08. Tulpan: Buster Keaton moves to Kazakhstan? Not really but Sergei Dvortsevoy's astounding, original comedy certainly has invested itself in silence and the physicality of its actors. It's a simple story really: Boy meets girl, gets rejected by girl, falls for girl, gets rejected again and then helps deliver a newborn lamb. Ethnographic immersion played as minimalist romantic comedy, Dvortsevoy has made an exception first narrative feature coming from a life of documentary filmmaking. Life on the steppe becomes tradition's last stand while the titular tulip dreams of life at college, away from her alien birthplace.

09. Beeswax: Far from the portentous expectations of the Mumblecore movement, Bujalski now seems one of the strongest of American indie filmmakers, rightly in the same wheelhouse as Kelly Reichardt, So Yong Kim and other erstwhile Mumbler Aaron Katz. Set in suburban Texas, his latest is about early, sticky fumblings towards adulthood, typified by the social, romantic and economic hamstrings encountered by a pair of twins. Refined and more at ease with its habitats than his last two features, Bujalski's film still enjoys a good awkward moment but the scenes feel less fetishized. Neither softened nor unfocused, Bujalski is maturing while many of his compatriots are stuck in adolescence.

10. 35 Shots of Rum: Has Claire Denis given in and made something resembling a conventional narrative? You bet, but this is in no way a bad thing. In fact, it illuminates the director's most evocative gifts -- compositions of echoing desperation, her precise sense of movement and tone -- and places them in the context of artful melodrama. In this case, it's the story of a father and daughter living in the same rise as his ex-lover and her smoldering, wandering love interest. Feelings are hurt and hearts are broken but there's a harrowing mortality to Denis' world that belies the poetic lilt of the imagery. It is the director's most outwardly inviting film but it also may lay claim as her most transfixing.

10 Honorable Mentions:

Adventureland

Treeless Mountain

Tony Manero

In the Loop

Duplicity

The Beaches of Agnes

24 City

Taxidermia

Revanche

Cargo 200

1 comment:

Justin said...

too many video links on this page dude... loads super choppy.

I can't wait for late November to see 10 new movies posted as "Best of the Year"