Monday, March 22, 2010

And now, in Baseball News . . . .

Opening Day approacheth.

And with it comes the joyous news that my first book, co-written with my friend and colleague Charles Salzberg, is back in print after an absence of 17 years. On a Clear Day They Could See Seventh Place: Baseball's Worst Teams is, if I say so myself, a masterpiece. And now that the health-care bill has passed, you can read the book without fear of laughing yourself sick.

If you are looking to buy a copy, you can find it here or here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tats All, Folks

Terrible pun, but I can never resist them. My review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is online at Jewish Week; it's always interesting to see how other cinemas handle genre stuff that used to be the bread and butter of Hollywood. Too bad Hollywood can't do as well.

I've been spending most of my time at screenings of of the programs for New Directors/New Films and I can honestly say, without dropping any state secrets, that there are some excellent films therein, coming from young directors. I'll provide more details next week when the event kicks off.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Another Year, Another Iras

And so, for the 35th time, we gathered together to decide the fate of Western civilization -- no, I'm sorry, that's not exactly right, it is?

Oh, yeah, we voted our own film awards and, if I say so myself, we acquitted ourselves with more grace, wit and intelligence than many of our colleagues and the various industry groups. If you want to read a more thorough recounting (literally), check out Michael Giltz's blog, Popsurfing. (There's a link to your left.)

However, here are
my the final results in all the categories, with my own first-place choice in parentheses:

Best Picture
: Hunger (Still Walking)
Best Director: Olivier Assayas -- Summer Hours (Hirokazu Kore-Eda -- Still Walking)
Best Actor: Sharlto Copley -- District 9 (Issei Ogata -- The Sun)
Best Actress: Catalina Saavedra -- The Maid (Penelope Cruz -- Broken Embraces)
Best Supporting Actor: Liam Cunningham -- Hunger (Cunningham)
Best Supporting Actress: Anna Faris -- Observe and Report (Edith Scob -- Summer Hours)
Best Screenplay: Olivier Assayas -- Summer Hours (Hirokazu Kore-Eda -- Still Walking)
Best Cinematography: Sean Bobbitt -- Hunger (Raoul Coutard -- Made in USA)
Best Production Design: Philip Ivey -- District 9 (Yelena Zhukova -- The Sun)
Best Music: Marvin Hamlisch -- The Informant! (Alberto Iglesias -- Broken Embraces)
Best Costumes: Janet Patterson -- Bright Star (Hope Hanafin -- (500) Days of Summer)

And here, at long last, is my ten-best list for 2009 (based on 76 films viewed -- my worst total since 2000m, unfortunately, but it was that kind of a year for us):

1. Still Walking – Hirokazu Kore-Eda

2. Summer Hours – Olivier Assayas

3. 35 Shots of Rum – Claire Denis

4. Hunger – Steve McQueen

5. (500) Days of Summer – Marc Webb

6. The Sun – Alexander Sokurov

7. La Silence du Lorna – Jean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne

8. Broken Embraces – Pedro Almodovar

9. The Beaches of Agnes – Agnes Varda

10. The Hurt Locker – Kathryn Bigelow

Honorable Mention: Police, Adjective, Duplicity, Katyn, The Cove, Empty Nest, Fados, Laila’s Birthday, Shall We Kiss?, In a Dream, Unmistaken Child, Made in USA.


It seems like everyone who does this nonsense for a living had to chime in with a ten-best list for the decade just completed. (I'm not going to get into the debate on which ten years constitute the decade. Let's get real, people.) The New York Independent Film Critics Circle were no exception. We used weighted voting, ten points down to one, (like the baseball writers voting for MVP and Cy Young awards). First, here is my ten-best list for the '00s:

1. The Son – Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

2. Colossal Youth – Pedro Costa

3. “The Heart of the World” – Guy Maddin

4. 2046 – Wong Kar-Wai

5. Goodbye Dragon Inn – Tsai Ming-Liang

6. Untold Scandal -- Je-Yong Lee

7. Notre Musique – Jean-Luc Godard

8. Syndromes and a Century – Apichatpong Weerasethakul

9. My Father, My Lord – David Volach

10. I’m Going Home – Manoel de Oliveira

This was a remarkable decade and getting this list down to a mere ten was downright painful. If you look at how our voting went, you'll get some sense of the great films I was forced to leave off my own list.

1. The Son
2. Zodiac -- David Fincher
3. Yi Yi -- Edward Yang
4. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford -- Andrew Dominik
5. Edge of Heaven -- Fatih Akin
In the Mood for Love -- Wong Kar-Wai
7. "The Heart of the World"
8. Mysterious Skin -- Gregg Araki
Bus 174 -- Jose Padilha and Felipe Lacerda
10. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu -- Cristi Puiu
Head-On -- Fatih Akin
Spirited Away -- Hayao Miyazaki
13. 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days -- Cristian Mungiu
The Dreamers -- Bernardo Bertolucci
House of Sand and Fog -- Vadim Perlman

These are exciting lists. All of the filmmakers listed are, with the exceptions of Jean-Luc Godard, Bernardo Bertolucci and Manoel de Oliveira, are young filmmakers or mature filmmakers at the peak of their powers. The lists suggest some of the geo-economic shifts in the film world, with east Asian filmmakers, directors from Romania and the Middle East giving a massive transfusion of fresh talent to the art form. The most glaring omissions are the lack of women directors (although several of them turned up on individual best-of-decade lists) and Latin Americans (with the exception of Bus 174).

Things are definitely looking up. Or as the newspaperman in Hawks's The Thing should have said, "Watch the screens! Keep watching the movie screens!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Update on Jafar Panahi and Some New Films

There hasn't been any movement in Teheran on the arrest of Jafar Panahi, as far as anyone here can see. However, The New York Times has a report on one new development involving a fellow filmmaker, the great Abbas Kiarostami, a frequent collaborator with Panahi.

And my latest offering in Jewish Week is a piece on the Rendezvous with French Cinema at the Walter Reade, IFC Center and BAM. In addition to the two Jewish-themed films, I saw several other items from the series and would like to draw your attention to two personal favorites. In the Beginning, by Xavier Giannolas, is a nice, tight little morality play, based on real events, about a professional conman (Francois Cluzet, who looks enough like a slightly younger Dustin Hoffman that I found it a little unnerving) who embarks on a wildly ambitious project to revive an abandoned highway project in a severely depressed region. He becomes involved both politically and romantically with the local mayor (Emmanuelle Devos) and things become quite complicated. Giannolas keeps the film moving at such a brisk pace that you hardly realize it's two hours long. This one strikes me as a highly commercial but thoroughly worthy item, and I'm hoping someone will pick it up. Mademoiselle Chambon, by Stéphane Brizé, is even better, a warm and intelligent drama about a 40-something husband who becomes involved with his son's grade-school teacher. Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain are charming as the mismatched couple, and Brizé handles the material with a minimum of melodrama so that the complexities of the emotions stand on their own. The result is quite a lovely and nuanced film and one that I hope will find a distributor pronto.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Pioneers

Leo Hurwitz was one of the fathers of American documentary film, not just because he made some of the most significant political films of the '30s and '40s, but because he was at the hub of a circle of filmmakers that included Paul Strand, Ralph Steiner and Irving Lerner, among others. Several of his most interesting films anticipate key moments in the evolution of independent film in America, and he was around for some important moments in history as well.

So the upcoming retrospective of his work and that of his friends, colleagues and collaborators, "Leo Hurwitz and the New York School of Documentary Film," which opens at Anthology Film Archives a week from today, is worthy of notice. My review appears here.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

More Bad News for Iranian Film

At the risk of sounding like Howard Cosell, sometimes events happen that put what we do as film critics and filmmakers back into perspective.

According to a dispatch from Reuters, the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, director of such pro-women's rights films as The Circle and Offside and the stunning Crimson Gold, has been arrested for his opposition to the Ahmedinejad regime. Panahi was already banned from foreign travel, and he hasn't been able to make a film since Offside was completed in 2006.

Needless to say, I urge you to write to the Iranian government demanding confirmation or denial of the story and reminding them of their obligations under international law to respect the rights of their citizens. Check Amnesty International's various websites for information on how to write an effective plea. You can click on the graphic on the left-hand side of this page. And if you do such things, you might want to pray for Panahi and other dissidents who have been arrested. I also refer you again to the NY Times article on how Iran's filmmakers have responded to the illegitimate regime; you can find the link in the January 3 post.

And while we're on the subject of Iran, allow me to direct your attention to an excellent clearinghouse of information from Iranian progressives, hosted by Article 19, the Azad Tribune. A must-read in English and Farsi.