Posts Tagged ‘Jia Zhangke’

Soon we’ll know

April 23, 2010

Just wanted to direct your attention toward some recent news re: the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. The newest film by Jia Zhangke, a “documentary” (after last year’s excellent “24 City,” the quotation marks are entirely necessary) entitled “I Wish I Knew,” will premiere as part of the festival’s Un Certain Regard portion, alongside new films by Manoel de Oliveira, Cristi Puiu, Hang Sang-soo and Jean-Luc Godard.

I’ve yet to be let down by a Jia film—always so rich with visual curiosity and offbeat dramatics—though I’m not quite as gushingly enthusiastic about his overall body of work as some. Even so, “I Wish I Knew” has some seriously high expectations to live up to, especially in the light of MOMA’s recent retrospective—but that’s just how it goes when you’re a critical darling. Who’s paying for my plane ticket?

Favorites from the decade that was

January 5, 2010

Fifty fillets of film, alphabetically ordered. Now I can finally get on with my life.

Click here to check out the list/encyclopedia.

The Top Nine of ’09

December 9, 2009

Before diving into my nine favorite films released in the rapidly expiring year of two-thousand-and-nine, I ought to make the following confession: I haven’t seen very many movies that came out this year, relatively speaking. I mean, I have, but I haven’t. The following are films that I likely won’t get around to watching until next year, all of which would’ve had more than a fighting chance at cracking this list (or even at expanding it to—dare I say it—ten films): The Headless Woman, The White Ribbon, Antichrist, The Frontier of Dawn, Police, Adjective, White Material and 35 Shots of Rum, 36 vues du Pic Saint-Loup, Wild Grass, A Prophet, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Ne change rien.

Anyway, without further ado:

1. Fantastic Mr. Fox – I addressed this one just last week. I could go on and on about how charming and irresistible and endearing it is, but instead I’ll say that it’s the one film on this list that absolutely anyone would love; however, what’s most impressive is the fact that it manages to be so undeniably lovable without compromising even the slightest bit of its aesthetic integrity, its slightly exclusive wit or its overwhelming will to please and to challenge. It’s not really within my jurisdiction to evaluate Wes Anderson’s status as a self-conscious auteur—only because I don’t care to—but it’s readily apparent that someone, or rather a group of someones, is trying to forge a bond with the viewer throughout this film, trying to externalize a meticulously designed vision for public consumption, trying to slip a philosophical roofie into the viewer’s cinematic rail mixer. For my money (literally), this is the most effective movie of 2009.

2. The Limits of Control – Though it’s been months and months since I even thought about Jarmusch’s latest, it still strikes me as the sort of flick that can’t help but leave an anvil-sized impression on its viewer’s tabula rasa. The Limits of Control fits in nicely with a string of films released over the course of the last decade—films such as Denis’s The Intruder, Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. and INLAND EMPIRE, and most of Weerasethakul’s output—that aim to confound the viewer in order to induce certain modes of consciousness. Jarmusch name-checks Rimbaud during the film’s opening sequence, a rare instance of directorial intentions surfacing without undermining the purity of the film as a cinematic experience. This is the year’s most phenomenologically exhilarating movie; probably helps to see it in a theater, though. I never would’ve guessed that Jim Jarmusch would be responsible for such an abstract masterwork.

3. Two Lovers – The dialogue is often grating and insipid, the emotional swerves tend towards a tiresome strain of melodrama, and the two leads’ star presences frequently threaten to disrupt the impenetrable high that Two Lovers otherwise effects; nevertheless, this was, in many ways, the year’s most visually impressive release. It reaches a new plateau of tragedy. Despite the high praise that this film initially received, I honestly didn’t expect to like it. Turns out I did (quite a bit, in fact).

4. The Hurt Locker – Find my DC review reproduced here. I stand by most of what I said about this film last summer, but I think it’s also worth noting that I’ve felt no desire to see it again, despite countless opportunities to do so—such was the first viewing’s intensity, potency and general unpleasantness. In other words, as far as films about war go, it’s perfect.

5. 24 City – Neither as involving as Jia’s two best of the decade—Unknown Pleasures and The World (I haven’t seen Platform)—nor as exhaustively dreary as Still Life. The year’s most formally significant film, I reckon. Not quite documentary and not quite fiction, not quite gleaned and not quite fabricated: somewhere at the heart of this fourfold resides the essence of cinema. I think. Can’t wait to see what Jia churns out next.

6. A Serious Man – My DC review can still be accessed rye heeyah. In a year featuring several films that addressed the question of Jewish identity in a direct and serious (golden word) manner, this was probably the funniest and the most sensitive and, paradoxically, the most implausible. Never let it be said that there isn’t something to be said for implausibility.

7. The Beaches of Agnès – I won’t bother trying to build upon my remarks from last week, but don’t you dare forget that this one is currently playing at the Orpheum.

8. Summer Hours – One of the two ensemble-centric films that left a big impression of me this year. At the risk of sounding like a disingenuous cornball: see this one with a family member. My only real concern is that the maturity displayed throughout is kind of elephantine, but what can you do?

9. Goodbye Solo – Possibly the most universally agreeable film on this list. The hype surrounding Bahrani is (mostly) legitimate and this is far and away his stickiest work yet. Funny how melancholy manages to lurk both on the periphery and at the core of this film. I’d never seen what Winston-Salem looked like until I saw it from the rear windshield of Solo’s cab. This film deserves a healthy slab of credit for not being as painfully obvious as it easily could have been.

What it’s like to be a guerilla filmmaker in China

September 27, 2009

Just saw this on the Times’ website this morning: an article profiling the emerging class of independent Chinese filmmakers struggling to produce interesting, provocative work without the consent of the overbearing, parochial state. It’s worth noting that, as of late, the Chinese government has been a bit more laissez-faire when it comes to regulating cinematic production, which may have something to do with the critical successes of directors like Jia Zhangke, who is almost universally regarded as being one of the most important artists working in cinema today and who doesn’t shy away from grappling with some of Chinese history’s most controversial topics. Jia’s most recent features (The World, Still Life and 24 City) have been almost Fassbinderian in their critical attitude towards China’s past and present, yet all three were produced with governmental approval (though it’d be naive to believe that the approvals didn’t have a great many strings attached). Of course, the films of directors like Jia remain far more popular on the festival circuit and in American and European art-houses than they are in China, so who knows. But yeah, check out the article.

Bring ‘The Limits of Control’ to Madison… please?

August 7, 2009

As I alluded to earlier today, last night’s “No Deachunter” show at the Memorial Union Terrace more than lived up to my expectation that it would be a “phenomenological clusterfuck,” that is to say, it was a rare and intense experience. For whatever reason, the vibes generated by the whole event reminded me of the response I had to Jim Jarmusch’s most recent film, The Limits of Control, which is not coincidentally one of the best films I’ve seen this year. It would’ve been nice to discuss the phenomenological similarities between what I guess you could call a “noise-rock concert” and what I guess you could call a “plotless and extremely stoned work of cinematic metaphysics”; unfortunately, I don’t know anyone in Madison who has seen The Limits of Control, nor do I know anyone who has even had the opportunity to see the film, which came out in May.

I was lucky in the sense that I spent a substantial portion of my summer in New York City, and thus was able to see a number of films which haven’t yet been or will not be released here in the 608. But of all the films for which I spent too much money on tickets, The Limits of Control would be the surest thing with Madison audiences; Jarmusch seems to have a following anywhere that people have beards, wear plastic-rimmed glasses and ride single-gear bikes. I know that most of the NY critics gave the film a lukewarm reception, but still: if so many people were willing to crowd the Terrace and spend $10+ on beer, wouldn’t they likely be willing to fork over a similar amount of dough on one of the year’s most interesting and stimulating films? Maybe my logic here is a little presumptuous, and I’m basically ignorant when it comes to the politics of film distribution, but honestly, what does a theater like Sundance have to lose that they won’t compensate for with their Manhattan-like ticket prices?

And while I’m on the subject, it’d be really nice if we could get Jia Zhangke’s most recent film, 24 City, sometime before year’s end. 24 City played at the MMoCA (hint hint) during the Wisconsin Film Festival, though I didn’t get to see the film until it enjoyed a critically successful run in NYC this summer. 24 City is probably my favorite film of 2009 thus far, and it’d be tremendous to be able to give another look to such an emotionally and formally dense work of art.