Journey to the Shore

***1/2 (Excellent)

Journey to the Shore could have gone in radically different directions with its intriguing premise, that of ghosts who appear to be humans for all intents and purposes. But Kiyoshi Kurosawa chooses the most counterintuitive and difficult of them all: the romantic drama. The film stays solidly grounded in the relationship between the two main characters, Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) and Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano), using it as the basis for the more eerie or “genre” elements that Kurosawa occasionally hints at. But even in this regard, the romantic aspects are consistently elided; though the ghosts seem to have the exact same physiology as regular people, Mizuki and Yusuke almost never touch throughout the narrative, instead conveying their romance through discussions of the past, when the two were married before Yusuke’s death, and longing glances as their subdued chemistry shines through.

From the very beginning, Journey to the Shore is clearly playing by completely different rules, refusing to conform to any familiar narrative structure. After a short scene introducing Mizuki teaching piano to a young girl that will not be seen again, Yusuke shows up in her apartment without warning, having been gone for three years. Only as the scene goes along does the viewer learn that Yusuke has been dead (a fact unknown to Mizuki) and reincarnated, but it is left unexplained why Mizuki reacts with such composure. Indeed, the opening of the film is suggested to be a dream for a few moments after the couple’s reunion, an otherwise superfluous occurrence that reinforces the odd, unpredictable nature of the film.

Otherwise, Journey to the Shore proceeds in a relatively straightforward manner, staying with its two main characters as it adopts an almost episodic, road-trip style structure. For the most part, the movie revolves around a handful of extended encounters with people connected in various ways to Yusuke, all of whom he met after he became a corporeal ghost. Kurosawa never reveals their true state of being (whether it be alive or dead) until after their initial introductions, aligning his film’s viewpoint squarely with Mizuki and doling out information about the nature of the afterlife in pieces. Perhaps not coincidentally, some of the most powerful scenes in the film come at the climax of these individual encounters—one of Kurosawa’s greatest strengths in this movie is the skill with which he slowly builds the emotion of a section, unleashing it in one scene, then letting it recede during a short traveling sequence before escalating once more, matched by his impeccable use of long shots.

After a rather unexpected rupture at just past the halfway point, the rest of the film takes place in a village where Yusuke taught for a while and became acquainted with most of the inhabitants. The supernatural aspects here are most apparent, featuring a hole where the dead purportedly pass from the underworld to humanity (an idea shot down by Yusuke) and a conversation between Mizuki and her dead father, but Kurosawa ultimately leaves this all behind, focusing on the love of the central couple before things must inevitably come to an end. It is, in the end, an unbearably romantic movie, reserved but inexorable, and above all beguiling in the most mysterious and wonderful way.

Our Little Sister

***1/2 (Excellent)

It is always an interesting case when the original and English titles of a film differ, and the ones corresponding to Our Little Sister are especially instructive. While the English title puts an emphasis on both the eponymous character, Suzu, and the three sisters that perhaps form the emotional core of the movie, the original Japanese title, Umimachi Diary (the name of the manga that the film is based on), is even more illuminating. Umimachi means seaside town, and of course seafood and boats play a not-insignificant part in the narrative, but what really interests is the pointed inclusion of “diary” (spelled out on screen, as in the original manga). The film does not adopt the day-by-day approach suggested by this word, taking place over the course of a year, but there is an unmistakeable intimacy that feels as if the viewer is reading a diary written in tandem by these four charming young women, one that is willing to go into minute detail on the most seemingly insignificant of events. The days may pass with abandon, but nothing seems too frivolous to cherish and preserve.

Our Little Sister concerns itself with a great deal of human interactions, and the one that embeds itself in the film’s core is the unshakeable bond of the four sisters. Thankfully, Kore-eda pointedly resists creating conflict (of almost any kind in the film, but especially here) between the three sisters and Suzu, as they quickly adopt and care for her with nothing but deep genuine love—though at one point Sachi (the oldest sister) is accused of adopting her for ulterior motives, it is evident that this is hardly the case. Much of the joy of the film is in observing how various configurations of the four pinball off of each other. There is a remarkable and irrepressible chemistry that exists between all of the actresses that seems to rise to the surface in almost every occasion, whether it be a playful argument, an explanation of an old custom, or idle chatter at mealtime.

As many have noted, in both praise and derision, Our Little Sister is an extraordinarily nice film; there is almost no conflict to speak of, and the one scene that does devolve into an actual confrontation is quickly followed by a pleasing resolution. But at least for me, this is a merit, all the better to immerse the viewer into the atmosphere of Kamakura. Kore-eda’s style is ideal for this feeling, using careful, slowly moving medium shots and precise to cover all of his subjects and subtly changing his method for the ever-so-slightly more important areas—the confrontation is shot in a sharply edited and direct way, a ride through a tunnel of cherry blossoms is in slow-motion.

And through it all, the unmistakeable idea of heritage is preserved. Kore-eda is clearly optimistic about the past as it becomes further and further from the present, as the sisters continually talk about the people they had loved and lost and dutifully perform rituals with sincerity. The continually rotating supporting cast carries this torch as well; only a few persist throughout and many only appear for a few scenes, but there is a sense that, even as society becomes more and more modern (a cell phone here, a pair of jeans there), things will stay the same for the better.

It goes without saying that all four actresses are superb, but it is worth noting that each fulfills a clear-cut role and never strays far from it. Sachi (Haruka Ayase, in a remarkably empathetic performance) is the lead, if such a distinction can be applied to an ensemble film, and she is a kind of emotional anchor—as the least mercurial and oldest of the sisters, she frequently serves as the mother and carries the strongest connection to the house in which they all live in, even to the point of denouncing their estranged mother for the suggestion of selling it. A kind of middle ground between Sachi and the two younger sisters, Yoshino (a wonderfully down-to-earthMasami Nagasawa) is one of the trickiest characters to fully grasp, even though the movie begins with her character, establishing her as a sort of audience surrogate. Chika (Kaho, perhaps the best performance) is immensely joyous, an absolute pleasure to watch as she somehow manages to be even more nice than the film surrounding her. And the catalyst of the film, Suzu (played by Suzu Hirose with magnetic charm) handles herself with poise—though she is perhaps not the most mature of the sisters, as the other three claim, she is undoubtedly grown-up, though she still is clearly a young girl going through the standard ups and downs of a teenager’s life.

Of course, even after a not inconsiderable amount of scenes that could conceivably serve as endings, the film concludes with the sisters together. Our Little Sister is sweet to the end, like the plum wine that conjures up a surprising amount of meanings throughout the movie (comedy, a connection to the past, a gesture of reconciliation), but it never once becomes saccharine. Kore-eda believes in his characters too much, imbuing them with so much life, to ever be anything but genuine, and in doing so he brings the viewer along, making them believe in Sachi, Yoshino, Chika, and Suzu.

Brian De Palma Wrap-Up

A Brian De Palma Ranking

  1. Passion
  2. Carlito’s Way
  3. Femme Fatale
  4. Body Double
  5. Blow Out
  6. Casualties of War
  7. Carrie
  8. Phantom of the Paradise
  9. Dressed to Kill
  10. Scarface
  11. Snake Eyes
  12. Raising Cain
  13. Sisters
  14. Mission: Impossible
  15. The Black Dahlia
  16. Greetings
  17. The Fury
  18. Obsession
  19. Home Movies
  20. The Untouchables
  21. Mission to Mars
  22. Dionysus in ’69
  23. Hi, Mom!
  24. Murder à la Mod
  25. The Bonfire of the Vanities
  26. Redacted
  27. Get to Know Your Rabbit
  28. The Wedding Party
  29. Wise Guys

Top Ten De Palma Performances

1. Al Pacino, Carlito’s Way
2. Michael J. Fox, Casualties of War
3. Sissy Spacek, Carrie
4. Noomi Rapace, Passion
5. Nicolas Cage, Snake Eyes
6. John Travolta, Blow Out
7. William Finley, Phantom of the Paradise
8. Gerrit Graham, Home Movies
9. Antonio Banderas, Femme Fatale
10. Tom Hanks, The Bonfire of the Vanities

A Few Scattered Thoughts on the “Master of the Macabre”

To the average cinephile, De Palma is most known for his cynicism and, in his most famous film Blow Out, a perversely nihilistic sensibility. Yet this is probably not an accurate viewpoint: of his 29 films (to date), only 4 have unambiguously tragic and saddening endings, though it is perhaps not a surprise that most of them are among his greatest works (an argument could also be made for Scarface):

  • Carlito’s Way
  • Blow Out
  • Phantom of the Paradise
  • Redacted

By comparison, no less than 15 De Palma films have more or less happy endings:

  • Femme Fatale
  • Body Double
  • Casualties of War (despite tinged with sadness)
  • Snake Eyes
  • Mission: Impossible
  • The Black Dahlia (shockingly, given the absolute sordidness that had immediately preceded it)
  • The Fury (again, debateable)
  • Obsession
  • Home Movies
  • The Untouchables
  • Mission to Mars
  • Dionysus in ’69 (cheating, but it counts)
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities
  • Get to Know Your Rabbit
  • Wise Guys

and the rest of the films fall into either ambiguity or a gleeful twist. It is perhaps most accurate to classify De Palma as a filmmaker who is perfectly willing to give his characters a happy ending, even if it comes abruptly, so long as he puts them through absolute hell first.

De Palma is also known for his meditations on the image, and so here is the list of his films that I believe contain something of this sort, whether it be in celluloid, flesh, or some other medium.

  • Passion
  • Carlito’s Way
  • Femme Fatale
  • Body Double
  • Blow Out
  • Casualties of War (if you count the girl on the subway)
  • Phantom of the Paradise
  • Snake Eyes
  • The Black Dahlia
  • Greetings
  • Home Movies
  • Murder à la Mod
  • Redacted

The Glass Shield

***1/2 (Excellent)

The most dangerous trap a filmmaker can fall into while making a movie concerned with racism is losing a sense of balance. Whether it be stacking the deck in favor of the black community by making the white people little more than caricatures, or treating the white people with too much ambivalence, a lack of balance can and will destroy any sense of true meaning and consideration behind the film’s craft and message. So it is immensely gratifying to see the triumph of The Glass Shield, a film that carefully creates its environment to issue a condemnation of police corruption while elucidating how all involved, to some degree, contribute to this climate for good and ill.

The main gambit that The Glass Shield uses is that it is not truly about the protagonist, Deputy J.J. Johnson (Michael Boatman) at all. Though he is the most active force throughout the movie, after the first act or so Burnett largely breaks from his viewpoint, moving to focus on the main narrative: the trial of Teddy Woods (Ice Cube), a man who has been purposefully and wrongly charged with the murder of a white woman. But this first act is vital in its lucid development of the police force and its effect on J.J., laying out his indoctrination as a domino-like series of events. Crucially, the film quickly drops any attempts to make J.J. a clear, defined martyr or a perfect individual. He is shown as perfectly willing to initially become a better and more efficient individual, subjugating himself to the corrupt machine. Boatman’s performance also undergoes a metamorphosis, as the perpetually smiling rookie becomes a serious man before the viewer can even register the change.

But as mentioned before, this is much more than the story of J.J. Johnson, and the surprisingly robust supporting cast is weaved seamlessly into the narrative. Burnett manages a wide assortment of narrative strands, sometimes teasing out each one in small fragments that, at first blush, seem entirely disconnected. Most notably, the character of Deputy Deborah Fields (Lori Petty in a confident performance) acts as an unexpected corollary to the film’s focus on racism, illustrating how the police environment is a place of widespread discrimination as well as providing a strong, caring ally in Johnson’s investigation. In the court, the defense lawyer James Locket (Bernie Casey) and Justice Lewis (Natalija Nogulich) are perhaps the most morally good of the main characters, both dedicated to their professions with no small sense of professionalism and fairness.

Aside from the comic book opening that illustrates Johnson’s idyllic fantasies of being a police officer and some noticeable forward tracking shots, Burnett’s approach is relatively simple here, albeit stunningly shot by Elliot Davis. The Glass Shield is largely in tight close-ups that never feel suffocating, heightening the intensity while still remaining balanced with some of the incredible silhouette-esque shots that Burnett sprinkles throughout. Special attention is paid to the camera angles, which consistently look up at the authority figures, whether they be the higher ranking police officers or the people of the court.

The Glass Shield is by no means a noir, as it is perhaps too spread across various points of view to create a true sense of paranoia and distrust (especially in the scenes that follow minor characters). But it is unflinching in how it both shows the nastiness of the antagonists, which is conveyed often through a single word or phrase in their conversations, as well as their human side, most notably a birthday celebration and the attempts to save the life of one of their own. In the end, the film ends on a melancholic note, yet one with a sufficient and cathartic amount of hope. The Glass Shield never once steps wrong in its pursuit of a certain brand of truth.

2016 Viewing Log

January
+Heat (1995, Michael Mann) – 8.4 [up from 8.3]
+Yi Yi (2000, Edward Yang) – 9.3 [same]
Carol (2015, Todd Haynes) DP – 8.3
+Carol (2015, Todd Haynes) DP – 8.4 [up from 8.3]
The Big Short (2015, Adam McKay) DP – 2.8
+The Social Network (2010, David Fincher) – 7.6 [up from ~6.9]
+Reservoir Dogs (1992, Quentin Tarantino) – 5.5 [down from ~7.4]
+Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu) – 3.5 [down from 6.0]
The Revenant (2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu) DP – 3.5
+The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964, Jacques Demy) – 8.9 [same]
+Being John Malkovich (1999, Spike Jonze) – 6.6 [down from ~7.1]
+Adaptation (2002, Spike Jonze) – 6.6 [down from ~7.0]
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry) – 7.6
Synecdoche, New York (2008, Charlie Kaufman) – 4.6
Anomalisa (2015, Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson) DP – 4.8
+The Revenant (2015, Alejandro González Iñárritu) DP – 3.7 [up from 3.5]
World of Tomorrow (2015, Don Hertzfeldt)
Coraline (2009, Henry Selick) – 5.2
Steve Jobs (2015, Danny Boyle) – 5.9
+Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino) – 6.8 [down from ~7.5]
Jackie Brown (1997, Quentin Tarantino) – 6.8
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003, Quentin Tarantino) – 6.4
Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2003, Quentin Tarantino) – 6.4
Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarantino) – 7.8
Inglourious Basterds (2009, Quentin Tarantino) – 7.6
Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino) – 5.9
Room (2015, Lenny Abrahamson) DP – 4.8
The Hateful Eight (2015, Quentin Tarantino) DP – 7.2
The Battle of Brazil: A Video History (1996, Jack Mathews) – 5.1
Beasts of No Nation (2015, Cary Joji Fukunaga) – 3.4
Magic Mike XXL (2015, Gregory Jacobs) – 7.3
+Nightcrawler (2014, Dan Gilroy) – 6.0 [down from ~6.8]
The Forbidden Room (2015, Guy Maddin) – 7.9
+Blade Runner [Final Cut] (1982, Ridley Scott) – 9.0 [same]
+Blade Runner [Final Cut, Cinema Dissection] (1982, Ridley Scott) DP – 9.0 [same]
+Carol (2015, Todd Haynes) DP – 8.6 [up from 8.4]
Out 1 (1971, Jacques Rivette) DP – 8.4
Frances Ha (2012, Noah Baumbach) – 6.4
Mistress America (2015, Noah Baumbach) – 7.5
Groundhog Day (1993, Harold Ramis) – 4.8
Blackhat (2015, Michael Mann) – 7.4
Bridge of Spies (2015, Steven Spielberg) – 6.8
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015, Marielle Heller) – 6.0
45 Years (2015, Andrew Haigh) – 7.0
When Marnie Was There (2014, Hiromasa Yonebayashi) – 7.4
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014, Olivier Assayas) – 6.3

February
Blood Simple (1984, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 5.9
Raising Arizona (1987, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 7.4
Game Change (2012, Jay Roach) – 3.2
Miller’s Crossing (1990, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 6.0
+Barton Fink (1991, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 7.5 [same]
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 5.0
+Fargo (1996, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 7.4 [~same]
+The Big Lebowski (1998, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 6.8 [down from ~7.4]
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 5.9
The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 7.3
Intolerable Cruelty (2003, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 7.2
The Ladykillers (2004, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 5.0
+Her (2013, Spike Jonze) – 6.5 [down from ~7.0]
Boy and the World (2013, Alê Abreu) DP – 5.9
+No Country for Old Men (2007, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 6.8 [down from ~7.2]
Burn After Reading (2008, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 7.0
Beauty and the Beast (1946, Jean Cocteau) DP – 7.3
Harold and Maude (1971, Hal Ashby) DP – 5.1
The Devils (1971, Ken Russell) 35mm – 8.6
The Witch: A New-England Folktale (2015, Robert Eggers) DP – 5.0
A Serious Man (2009, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 7.3
+True Grit (2010, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 6.5 [up from ~5.9]
Deadpool (2016, Tim Miller) – 3.8
Office (2015, Johnnie To) 3D – 6.2
+Inside Llewyn Davis (2013, Joel & Ethan Coen) – 7.4 [up from ~6.9]
Hail, Caesar! (2016, Joel & Ethan Coen) DP – 6.6
+It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012, Don Hertzfeldt) – 7.7 [down from 9.0]
+Carol (2015, Todd Haynes) DP – 8.6 [same]
+Steve Jobs (2015, Danny Boyle) – 5.8 [down from 5.9]
Hard Eight (1996, Paul Thomas Anderson) – 6.0
Boogie Nights (1997, Paul Thomas Anderson) – 6.8
+Magnolia (1999, Paul Thomas Anderson) – 7.0 [down from ~7.5]
+Punch-Drunk Love (2002, Paul Thomas Anderson) – 7.2 [up from 7.0]
The Blues Brothers (1980, John Landis) – 5.0
+There Will Be Blood (2007, Paul Thomas Anderson) – 7.4 [~same]
The Master (2012, Paul Thomas Anderson) – 7.5
Inherent Vice (2014, Paul Thomas Anderson) – 7.7
Son of Saul (2015, László Nemes) DP – 4.6

March
Only Yesterday (1991, Isao Takahata) DP – 6.2
The American Friend (1977, Wim Wenders) DP – 6.8
Mustang (2015, Deniz Gamze Ergüven) DP – 6.3
+Paris, Texas (1984, Wim Wenders) DP – 9.4 [same]
+Sans soleil (1983, Chris Marker) – 9.7 [~same]
Cloverfield (2008, Matt Reeves) – 5.6
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016, Dan Trachtenberg) DP – 5.8
Nosferatu [live score by Invincible Czars] (1922, F.W. Murnau) DP – 7.6
Embrace of the Serpent (2015, Ciro Guerra) DP – 4.9
World of Tomorrow (2015, Don Hertzfeldt)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, Joss Whedon) – 5.8
+Inside Out (2015, Pete Docter) – 6.6
+Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, George Miller) – 7.8 [same]
+Phoenix (2014, Christian Petzold) – 8.2 [same]
+Easy Rider (1969, Dennis Hopper) – 6.0 [same]
Easy Rider (2012, James Benning) – 5.8
Godzilla (1954, Ishiro Honda) – 7.5
+Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015, J.J. Abrams) – 7.0 [same]
Aloha (2015, Cameron Crowe) – 6.0
Ant-Man (2015, Peyton Reed) – 5.6
Cemetery of Splendour (2015, Apichatpong Weerasethakul) DP – 7.2
Ran (1985, Akira Kurosawa) DP – 8.2
The Cheat (1915, Cecil B. DeMille) – 5.1
Buena Vista Social Club (1999, Wim Wenders) DP – 6.0
Pina (2011, Wim Wenders) 3D – 6.9 [up from 6.5]
Until the End of the World [Director’s Cut] (1991, Wim Wenders) DP – 6.7

April
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016, Zack Snyder) DP – 7.1
Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard & Rich Moore & Jared Bush) DP – 5.3
The Public Enemy (1931, William Wellman) – 5.1
+The Terminator (1984, James Cameron) – 7.5 [up from ~7.4]
42nd Street (1933, Lloyd Bacon) – 5.9
+Hercules (1997, John Musker & Ron Clements) – 3.8 [down from ~5.2]
Midnight Special (2016, Jeff Nichols) DP – 5.7
Demolition (2015, Jean-Marc Vallée) DP – 5.9
+The Hateful Eight [Roadshow Version] (2015, Quentin Tarantino) 70mm – 7.1 [down from 7.2]
+Ex Machina (2015, Alex Garland) – 5.3 [same]
Russian Ark (2002, Aleksandr Sokurov) – 6.8
No Home Movie (2015, Chantal Akerman) DP – 5.3
Francofonia (2015, Aleksandr Sokurov) DP – 5.5
I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman (2015, Marianne Lambert) DP – 5.8
April and the Extraordinary World (2015, Christian Desmares & Franck Ekinci) DP – 5.7
+Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2015, Zack Snyder) DP – 7.0 [down from 7.1]
The Jungle Book (2016, Jon Favreau) 3D – 5.3
Everybody Wants Some!! (2016, Richard Linklater) DP – 6.9
+Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz) – 7.8 [up from ~6.9]
+The Big Short (2015, Adam McKay) – 3.0 [up from 2.8]
My Golden Days (2015, Arnaud Desplechin) DP – 7.5
Güeros (2014, Alonso Ruizpalacios) DP – 6.2
Chantal Akerman, From Here (2010, Gustavo Beck & Leonardo Ferreira) DP – 6.0
The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016, Cedric Nicolas-Troyan) DP – 4.9

May
D’Est (1993, Chantal Akerman) DP – 7.2
+My Golden Days (2015, Arnaud Desplechin) DP – 7.9 [up from 7.5]
Là-bas (2006, Chantal Akerman) DP – 5.8
Purple Rain (1984, Albert Magnoli) DP – 5.5
Bataan (1943, Tay Garnett) – 5.3
+Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman) – 9.4 [same]
Song of Lahore (2015, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy & Andy Schocken) – 4.7
Shaun of the Dead (2004, Edgar Wright) – 7.0
Captain America: Civil War (2016, Anthony & Joe Russo) DP – 5.8
Green Room (2015, Jeremy Saulnier) DP – 5.9
Hot Fuzz (2007, Edgar Wright) – 7.1
Thief (1981, Michael Mann) – 8.2
The Keep (1983, Michael Mann) – 6.7
Manhunter (1986, Michael Mann) – 8.8
Mildred Pierce (1945, Michael Curtiz) – 7.2
The World’s End (2013, Edgar Wright) – 7.3
Daydreaming (2016, Paul Thomas Anderson) 35mm
High-Rise (2015, Ben Wheatley) DP – 5.3
The Last of the Mohicans (1992, Michael Mann) – 7.3
+Heat (1995, Michael Mann) – 9.0 [up from 8.4]
The Insider (1999, Michael Mann) – 8.1
Ali (2001, Michael Mann) – 7.6
No Way Out (1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz) – 5.5
Collateral (2004, Michael Mann) – 7.2
Café Society (2016, Woody Allen) SIFF, DP – 5.7
Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann) – 8.7
Sunset Song (2015, Terence Davies) SIFF, DP – 7.2
Public Enemies (2009, Michael Mann) – 8.6
A Bigger Splash (2015, Luca Guadagnino) DP – 6.1
+Blackhat (2015, Michael Mann) – 7.5 [up from 7.4]
Chimes at Midnight (1965, Orson Welles) SIFF, DP – 7.0
High Noon (1952, Fred Zinnemann) – 5.1
Belladonna of Sadness (1973, Eiichi Yamamoto) DP – 6.6
+The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton) – 9.0 [same]
X-Men: Apocalypse (2016, Bryan Singer) DP – 5.8
The Nice Guys (2016, Shane Black) DP – 5.9

June
Cameraperson (2016, Kirsten Johnson) SIFF, DP – 7.2
The Lobster (2015, Yorgos Lanthimos) DP – 5.9
Keanu (2016, Peter Atencio) DP – 4.9
Love & Friendship (2016, Whit Stillman) DP – 6.6
+Singin’ in the Rain (1952, Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly) – 7.8 [down from ~8.2]
Money Monster (2016, Jodie Foster) DP – 4.9
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016, Nicholas Stoller) DP – 5.4
Dragon Inn (1967, King Hu) SIFF, DP – 7.2
Mountains May Depart (1967, Jia Zhangke) SIFF, DP – 6.1
Now You See Me 2 (2016, Jon M. Chu) DP – 3.4
+Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch) – 9.8 [same]
+Sicario (2015, Denis Villeneuve) – 7.4 [same]
The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme) – 6.9
John Wick (2014, Chad Stahelski) – 7.2
L for Leisure (2014, Lev Kalman & Whitney Horn) – 7.1
Blondes in the Jungle (2009, Lev Kalman & Whitney Horn) – 6.4
House of Wax (2005, Jaume Collet-Serra) – 6.2
Orphan (2009, Jaume Collet-Serra) – 6.9
Unknown (2011, Jaume Collet-Serra) – 6.4 [up from ~5.6]
Non-Stop (2014, Jaume Collet-Serra) – 7.3
Run All Night (2015, Jaume Collet-Serra) – 6.3
Das Boot [Director’s Cut] (1981, Wolfgang Petersen) – 5.9
Only God Forgives (2013, Nicolas Winding Refn) – 2.9

July
+Mission: Impossible (1996, Brian De Palma) – 6.7 [up from ~6.1]
The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma) – 6.3
Sisters (1973, Brian De Palma) – 6.9
Carrie (1976, Brian De Palma) – 7.4
+The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964, Jacques Demy) – 8.9 [same]
The Gang’s All Here (1943, Busby Berkeley) – 7.6
Actress (2014, Robert Greene) – 6.2
Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax) – 7.5
Kate Plays Christine (2016, Robert Greene) – 7.2
True Lies (1994, James Cameron) – 5.8
Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (2015, Stephen Cone) – 6.6
Murder à la Mod (1967, Brian De Palma) – 5.1
The Wedding Party (1969, Brian De Palma) – 4.2
Greetings (1968, Brian De Palma) – 6.2
Phantom of the Paradise (1974, Brian De Palma) – 7.2
Hi, Mom! (1970, Brian De Palma) – 5.1
A Brighter Summer Day (1991, Brian De Palma) – 9.5
Dionysus in ’69 (1970, Brian De Palma) – 5.6

August
Sing Street (2016, John Carney) – 5.7
Eye in the Sky (2015, Gavin Hood) – 5.4
+Aloha (2015, Cameron Crowe) – 7.0 [up from 6.0]
Home Movies (1980, Brian De Palma) – 6.0
A Train Arrives at the Station (2016, Thom Andersen)
Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972, Brian De Palma) – 4.6
Obsession (1976, Brian De Palma) – 6.1
Dressed to Kill (1980, Brian De Palma) – 7.1
Scarface (1983, Brian De Palma) – 7.1
Blow Out (1981, Brian De Palma) – 7.7
South (1999, Chantal Akerman) – 6.3
From the Other Side (2002, Chantal Akerman) – 7.0
+Blow Out (1981, Brian De Palma) [same]
Trust (1990, Hal Hartley) – 8.9
Zatoichi (2003, Takeshi Kitano) – 6.4
+Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee) – 8.0 [up from ~7.8]
+Blackhat (2015, Michael Mann) – 7.5 [same]
Joint Security Area (2000, Park Chan-wook) – 6.0
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987, Steven & Timothy Quay)
Looper (2012, Rian Johnson) – 6.9
The Comb (1990, Steven & Timothy Quay)
+Sans soleil (1983, Chris Marker) – 9.7 [same]
De Artificiali Perspectiva, or Anamorphosis (1993, Steven & Timothy Quay)
In Absentia (2000, Steven & Timothy Quay)
River of Grass (1994, Kelly Reichardt) – 7.0
Old Joy (2006, Kelly Reichardt) – 7.2
Blue Ruin (2013, Jeremy Saulnier) – 5.8
Wendy and Lucy (2008, Kelly Reichardt) – 7.6
Amuse-guele # 1: “Digital Destinies” (2012, Gina Telaroli)
Meek’s Cutoff (2010, Kelly Reichardt) – 8.3

September
The Invitation (2015, Karyn Kusama) – 5.9
Night Moves (2013, Kelly Reichardt) – 6.8
The Fury (1978, Brian De Palma) – 6.5
Jason Bourne (2016, Paul Greengrass) DP – 5.2
Wise Guys (1986, Brian De Palma) – 2.4
Casualties of War (1989, Brian De Palma) – 7.6
The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990, Brian De Palma) – 4.9
Carlito’s Way (1993, Brian De Palma) – 8.9
Raising Cain (1992, Brian De Palma) – 6.9
Chungking Express (1994, Wong Kar-wai) – 9.0
Days of Being Wild (1990, Wong Kar-wai) – 8.1
Body Double (1984, Brian De Palma) – 8.0
Femme Fatale (2002, Brian De Palma) – 8.2
Bad Seed (1934, Billy Wilder and Alexander Esway) – 5.6
The Glass Shield (1994, Charles Burnett) – 6.6
+Mountains May Depart (2015, Jia Zhangke) – 7.2 [up from 6.1]
House of Little Deaths (2016, Scout Tafoya) – 4.9
SPL II: A Time for Consequences (2015, Soi Cheang) – 7.1
Snake Eyes (1998, Brian De Palma) – 6.9
Mission to Mars (2000, Brian De Palma) – 5.6
The Black Dahlia (2006, Brian De Palma) – 6.4
Redacted (2007, Brian De Palma) – 4.6
Passion (2012, Brian De Palma) – 8.8
Our Little Sister (2015, Hirokazu Kore-eda) – 6.3
Journey to the Shore (2015, Kiyoshi Kurosawa) – 6.1
Fish Tank (2009, Andrea Arnold) – 5.5
American Honey (2016, Andrea Arnold) DP – 5.2
Broadway by Light (1958, William Klein)
Suicide Squad (2016, David Ayer) DP – 1.9
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016, Travis Knight) DP – 6.5
Don’t Breathe (2016, Fede Alvarez) DP – 6.1
Hell or High Water (2016, David Mackenzie) DP – 6.2
Sully (2016, Clint Eastwood) DP – 7.2
De Palma (2015, Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow) – 6.5
+Cameraperson (2016, Kirsten Johnson) DP – 8.1 [up from 7.2]
Los Sures (1984, Diego Echeverria) – 5.8

October
+The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton) DP – 9.3 [up from 9.0]
The Shallows (2016, Jaume Collet-Serra) – 7.0
Something Between Us (2015, Jodie Mack)
+The Shallows (2016, Jaume Collet-Serra) – 7.0 [same]
O.J.: Made in America (2016, Ezra Edelman) – 7.7
The Distance (2014, Sergio Caballero) – 5.3
+Mistress America (2015, Noah Baumbach) – 8.2 [up from 7.5]
The Day He Arrives (2011, Hong Sang-soo) – 7.3
In Another Country (2012, Hong Sang-soo) – 6.7
Right Now, Wrong Then (2015, Hong Sang-soo) – 7.2
Krivina (2012, Igor Drljaca) – 5.4
Fe26 (2014, Kevin Jerome Everson)
Mad Ladders (2015, Michael Robinson)
+Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004, Michel Gondry) – 7.6 [same]
The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (2015, Ben Rivers) – 5.1
Regal (2015, Karissa Hahn)
Now: End of Season (2015, Ayman Nahle)
Cilaos (2016, Camilo Restrepo)
Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids (2016, Jonathan Demme) – 7.1
Lemonade (2016, Kahlil Joseph and Beyoncé Knowles Carter) – 6.0
Possession (1981, Andrzej Zulawski) – 8.1
On the Silver Globe (1988, Andrzej Zulawski) DP – 5.1
Shin Godzilla (2016, Hideaki Anno) DP – 7.0
Deepwater Horizon (2016, Peter Berg) DP – 5.3
The Magnificent Seven (2016, Antoine Fuqua) DP – 5.2
Certain Women (2016, Kelly Reichardt) DP – 7.2
Foyer (2016, Ismaïl Bahri)
Indefinite Pitch (2016, James N. Kienitz Wilkins)
Afterschool (2008, Antonio Campos) – 6.9
Simon Killer (2012, Antonio Campos) – 4.9
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, Don Siegel) – 6.7
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002, Park Chan-wook) – 6.2
Oldboy (2003, Park Chan-wook) – 7.1
Kwaku Anase (2013, Akosua Adoma Owusu)
Lady Vengeance (2005, Park Chan-wook) – 7.1
The Handmaiden (2016, Park Chan-wook) DP – 7.8
The Heart of the World (2000, Guy Maddin)

November
Moonlight (2016, Barry Jenkins) DP – 6.4
The Fighter (2010, David O. Russell) – 5.6
+Kate Plays Christine (2016, Robert Greene) DP – 7.2 [same]
Tower (2016, Keith Maitland) DP – 6.6
+The Handmaiden (2016, Park Chan-wook) DP – 7.8 [same]
Arrival (2016, Denis Villeneuve) DP – 6.2
You Can Count on Me (2000, Kenneth Lonergan) – 7.2
Meet the Patels (2014, Geeta V. Patel & Ravi V. Patel) – 4.8
Margaret (2011, Kenneth Lonergan) – 7.9
+Margaret [Extended Cut] (2011, Kenneth Lonergan – 8.3 [Theatrical Cut: 7.9]
Titicut Follies (1967, Frederick Wiseman) 35mm – 6.0
High School (1968, Frederick Wiseman) 35mm – 6.2
Hospital (1970, Frederick Wiseman) 35mm – 6.1
Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience (2016, Terrence Malick) DP – 5.9
Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson) DP – 5.8
Hacksaw Ridge (2016, Mel Gibson) DP – 5.8
The Neon Demon (2016, Nicolas Winding Refn) – 3.5
La La Land (2016, Damien Chazelle) DP – 5.1
13th (2016, Ava DuVernay) – 4.9
Two Days, One Night (2014, Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne) – 7.6
Dead Slow Ahead (2015, Mauro Herce) DP – 6.1
Creepy (2016, Kiyoshi Kurosawa) DP – 7.1
Allied (2016, Robert Zemeckis) DP – 6.4
I Am Not Madame Bovary (2016, Feng Xiaogang) DP – 6.2
+Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience (2016, Terrence Malick) DP – 6.0 [up from 5.9]
Rules Don’t Apply (2016, Warren Beatty) DP – 6.1
Viva (2007, Anna Biller) – 5.6
The Love Witch (2016, Anna Biller) 35mm – 6.1
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016, Ang Lee) DP – 5.2

December
+Sing Street (2016, John Carney) – 5.5
Manchester By The Sea (2016, Kenneth Lonergan) DP – 8.1
The Edge of Seventeen (2016, Kelly Fremon Craig) DP – 7.1
Neruda (2016, Pablo Larraín) – 6.1
The Fits (2015, Anna Rose Holmer) – 5.8
Wavelength (1967, Michael Snow) 16mm – 8.8
To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror (1991, Michael Snow) 16mm – 7.0
+Love & Friendship (2016, Whit Stillman) – 7.0
Nocturnal Animals (2016, Tom Ford) DP – 4.9
Krisha (2015, Trey Edward Shults) – 5.0
Things To Come (2016, Mia Hansen-Løve) – 7.2
Jackie (2016, Pablo Larraín) DP – 4.6
In the Shadow of Women (2015, Philippe Garrel) – 6.6
Aquarius (2016, Kleber Mendonça Filho) – 7.1
The Treasure (2015, Corneliu Porombuiu) – 6.3
Knight of Cups (2015, Terrence Malick) – 6.1
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016, David Yates) DP – 5.5
Fences (2016, Denzel Washington) DP – 5.7
Assassin’s Creed (2016, Justin Kurzel) DP – 4.3
Inner Workings (2016, Leo Matsuda) DP
Moana (2016, John Musker & Ron Clements) DP – 5.8
+Manchester By The Sea (2016, Kenneth Lonergan) DP – 8.1 [same]
Rogue One (2016, Gareth Edwards) DP – 6.4
Elle (2016, Paul Verhoeven) DP – 7.3
+It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra) 35mm – 7.9 [down from ~8.1]
Cosmos (2015, Andrzej Zulawski) – 4.4
Lion (2016, Garth Davis) DP – 4.8
Passengers (2016, Morten Tyldum) DP – 4.9
The Academy of Muses (2015, José Luis Guerín) – 6.2
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016, Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone) – 6.0
Aferim! (2015, Radu Jude) – 6.1
Weiner (2016, Josh Kriegman & Elyse Steinberg) – 6.4

Mildred Pierce

**** (Great)

It is perhaps tempting to name Mildred Pierce strictly as a film noir. Based on the novel of the same name by James M. Cain, one of the progenitors of hard-boiled crime fiction, and shot in gloriously shadowy black-and-white, it rightly bears the hallmarks of that most hallowed of film styles. Yet it feels like something more, owing as much to melodrama as to noir in the hands of Michael Curtiz while still remaining refreshingly down-to-earth. More than anything, it is a devastating blend, using each genre’s strengths in order to develop its wrenching tale of a woman undone by the people around her, fatalistic yet hopeful.

It perhaps goes without saying that the most noir-inflected scenes in Mildred Pierce are confined to the framing scenes. Jarringly, the film begins in medias res at the film’s very end, and while this is perhaps a concession to the conventions of noir, it conveniently allows for Joan Crawford’s superb, part-satisfied-part-wistful narration to supplement the story—the film’s tone isn’t the most consistent, and the narration helps to smooth over and remind the viewers of the tragic conclusion to come. In tandem, the police station where Mildred relates her “confession” is almost preposterously shadowy, complete with a glaring lamp, shuttered windows, and a haze of cigarette smoke, which only makes the fade back to the past more astonishing.

The mood of Mildred Pierce quickly pivots to a much more sunny, and perhaps more emotionally involved tenor, following Mildred from practically the moment that she makes the pivotal decision of her life—separating from her husband Bert (played by an admirably stolid Bruce Bennett). The shadows from the aftermath of a crime are replaced with a sunny, domestic situation, but if anything the emotions and broiling tension are accentuated. Even here, the narrative begins at the end of one stage of life, but Mildred’s character seems almost fully formed from the start, such is the magnetism of Crawford’s confidence and poise.

Crucially, Mildred is conceived as a remarkably well-rounded character, possessing in equal amounts ambition, care, and a strong work ethic. Despite her pampering of her daughters, especially Veda, she is never blind, and works as a waitress even while Veda disparages the profession in order to support them all. But the filmmakers take care to show that, no matter how successful she gets as an improbably profitable restaurant owner, she will never achieve a true sense of happiness; her two marriages fall apart, Veda looks down on her mother and her work while becoming more and more ingrained with the upper class, and she eventually has to compromise her own principles to satisfy Veda, sending her life into a downward spiral.

All of this isn’t necessarily novel, but what distinguishes Mildred Pierce is the cumulative force that imparts practically every single scene with a sense of importance. As mentioned before, the voiceover plays a large part in sustaining the momentum of the film, but the two most important parts are the performances of Crawford and Ann Blyth as Veda. The two clash frequently, but the relationship becomes almost one-sided as it is clear Mildred cares about Veda more than anything in the world, a fact which Veda exploits. The film is fundamentally about a daughter’s betrayal of her mother, and Blyth is as cruel as Crawford is desperate, a potent combination that comes to a head in the devastating climax.

Mildred Pierce is a film of power, more concerned with emotions than anything else, but nevertheless everything in the film is done to perfection. After the narrative inevitably boils over, it ends on a note of surprising optimism: Mildred and Bert silhouetted against a glistening skyline. The world is theirs, though the shadows still linger.

Manhunter

***** (Masterpiece)

If one had to choose the trait that defines all of Michael Mann’s oeuvre, it would very likely be his dedication to depicting professionalism, whether it be that of DEA agents in Miami Vice, master thieves and the LAPD in Heat, or even the Nazi military in The Keep. Manhunter is very likely the apex of this ethos, a compact film where nothing is wasted in depicting both the thrills and frustrations of the chase, matched by Mann’s impeccable perfection. It is Mann’s most perfect film, a cold, gleaming diamond burnished by the highest craftsmanship possible, yet, especially in the development of Francis Dollarhyde, there is something more, a genuine beating heart that only serves to accentuate the power of this truly consummate film.

Manhunter‘s first two scenes provide a look into the impulses that will drive the images to follow. The first is a shakily filmed, low-res affair that looks akin to a home movie, moving up to the bedroom of a darkness-shrouded house. Underscored by shimmering synth music, it ends in ambiguity as the title card blazes onto the screen. The second scene, after the opening credits, is much more indicative of the overall style of the film, staged in immaculate frames by Spinotti’s incredible cinematography that, after the initial shot, takes place in relatively simple shot-reverse-shot. Yet, despite the charge of the dialogue that manifests itself throughout the film, it and the next few scenes are set in an idyllic location, a sunny beach house removed from the perils of the city and of suburbia. Manhunter seeks to unite these two extreme contrasts, taking place largely in cramped, dark locations but shot using intense, immaculate medium shots.

Much of the pleasure in viewing Manhunter is observing the pieces come together, as Will Graham and his associates calmly but urgently search for clues to capture Fracis Dollarhyde, alias The Tooth Fairy. From lab work to viewing home videos by the deceased families to visiting the homes, Graham observes all, voicing his deductions in an analytical but never detached voice, conveyed by an intensely committed and forceful performance by William Petersen that remains consistently mesmerizing both in stasis and in motion. In turn, Mann observes Graham and company with the eye of a lab worker, using an extraordinary amount of camera angles (but preferring straight-on, slightly off-center compositions) to capture every aspect of the investigation. He withholds nothing, lying in wait to accentuate every development with minute curiosity, often providing quick close-ups on various objects including photographs, documents, and especially the home movies in order to emphasize the tactile, vital nature of these items towards the investigation (epitomized in the brilliant forensic scene with Dollarhyde’s letter).

Of course, Manhunter is perhaps best known for being the first Hannibal Lector (or “Lecktor” here) movie. But his appearance is both well-integrated yet subtly set aside from the rest of the film. He is far more divorced from the action here than in The Silence of the Lambs, and there’s no doubt here that Brian Cox is very much a supporting character, but his menace is clear and apparent, though he only appears in three short scenes, two of which are within the first third of the film and only one in person with Graham. Lecktor is encased in a spotless white cell, itself housed in a building seemingly made entirely out of glass and white blocks. The color of white is robbed of all of its innocuous connotations and replaced with a sickening, overbearing feeling that Lecktor seems to harness with his dismissive sneer, forcing Graham to run out of the building to regain his composure. His forbidding sense of calm extends to Cox’s use of body language: even though he’s always sitting he seems to be hunched over Graham, his eyes glaring hungrily as he dissects him verbally.

By the steady pace and continual suspense of the first two-thirds or so, Mann could have continued in the procedural vein for the entirety of Manhunter, but he decides to make a daring and quite possibly more successful gambit. First, he upstages the investigation in spectacular fashion, using Lecktor to introduce both a suddenly urgent menace and to flesh out Graham’s relationship with his family more, in a series of truly touching conversations that enhance his core humanity even in the face of so much bloodshed. But then, after an intense monologue by Graham staring at his rain-soaked reflection, the film suddenly switches to the perspective of Dollarhyde, who had been heretofore seen only briefly, albeit in an extraordinarily creepy introduction. As the Tooth Fairy, Noonan is both an imposing and astonishingly uncertain presence, as his killer channels his considerable awkwardness into bloodlust, his obsession with William Blake’s The Great Red Dragon paintings offering some way of escape. Graham appears sparingly in these parts, allowing Mann to craft a strangely primal romance between Dollarhyde and his blind co-worker Reba. From the strangely soothing appearance of a drugged tiger to one of the only displays of emotion on his part, Noonan makes this seemingly disconnected section work, connecting his character to Graham’s displays of affection for his own family while still remaining distant.

Of course, this section can’t last forever, and after perhaps the two most startling moments in the film (an imagined kiss that is scorchingly backlit and set improbably to The Prime Movers’ “Strong As I Am” and a shocking vision of one of the deceased women with her eyes and mouth replaced with blank spots looking at Graham), Manhunter resumes its procedural mode for a short while before the final confrontation at Dollarhyde’s home. At this final scene, scored supremely to “In-A-Gadda-Vida” by Iron Butterfly, the film seems as if it shatters into pieces with the window that Graham jumps through, blatantly using slow motion and jump cuts (often to events that had taken just seconds before) in order to create a sense of disorientation. The action itself is quick and straightforward, but it feels punchier, more brutal this way.

Manhunter‘s magnificence is difficult to describe, as it and all of Mann’s films work best in the moment, as they carry off the viewer in their sensual pleasures, but the best way is to talk about the feeling aroused in the viewer at the end of the film. It is one of irrepressible catharsis, as Graham finally gets what he saw in the vision in roughly the middle of the film. As he stares out into the ocean with his family, he and the viewer feel relief, with Red 7’s “Heartbeat” soaring and the sunniness shines over all. It is an affirmation that there is some semblance of good, and if it is one of Mann’s most unambiguously positive endings, it comes only after a dark, immersive plunge into the chase and all that comes with it. That is the Mann ethos, and it comes in its purest, most perfect form in Manhunter.

Cameraperson

**** (Great)

When I first heard about the significant buzz surrounding Cameraperson, it seemed heavily reminiscent of Sans soleil, Chris Marker’s 1983 magnum opus that I regard as the greatest film I’ve ever seen. The description, detailing how it was comprised of outtakes from various documentaries all shot by the same cameraperson, Kirsten Johnson, was intriguing, only slightly removed from the other film’s freewheeling examination of the human condition and memory using footage shot mostly in Tokyo, Guinea-Bissau, and San Francisco. But it took me more than half the runtime to realize that the film is not Sans soleil, and that it was just one of the many, many aspects that makes Cameraperson the stunning, quietly revolutionary work that it is.

It begins in a manner that both boldly announces its intentions and introduces the sensitive intimacy that defines the film to come. After an opening intertitle that describes the following images as Johnson’s memoir of sorts, with the striking line “These are the images that have marked me”, Johnson cuts to footage of a Bosnian shepherd on horseback leading sheep. Without context, this shot in and of itself holds little tangible meaning, but Johnson (in the moment, as the cinematographer) unexpectedly breaks the camera’s line of sight, plucking a few blades of grass out of the way so she can better capture the sheep trundling down the path next to her. This, coupled with the next shot, as Johnson first gasps at a lightning strike she is filming and then sneezes, are perhaps the clearest sign of Johnson’s presence in actively changing the shot, but they come significantly just before the title card.

Johnson’s primary concern in both the construction of Cameraperson and in her general cinematography seems to be one of sensitivity. Even though the most apparent signs of Johnson’s presence off-screen (for example, in the aforementioned shot changes) are confined to the first half, the viewer never loses sight of her active role in crafting the situations she is in. From her incisive but gentle questions to the often intimate framings, Johnson never gets so close as to be intrusive but always maintains the exact level of remove that is required, both in the footage she shot on assignment in some of the most traumatized regions of the world and in the “home movies” of the most seemingly inconsequential occurrences in day-to-day life.

Here, perhaps, is the greatest point of divergence with Sans soleil, which conducts its dialogue with its subjects entirely through visual means. Marker seems to reject an overtly personal bent, seeking to diminish his directorial presence in favor of offering his vision of the world, whereas Johnson seeks to strike a more tenuous balance. Of course, there are many other differences. For starters, Sans soleil utilizes an extensive narration, supposedly made of letters written by a separate filmmaker. The letters (written in actuality by Marker) in turn both establish a level of remove and a partial explanation of the sometimes inexplicable images that are appearing on the screen. Cameraperson, on the other hand, forgoes this tactic. Though the images are never remotely abstract, Johnson never feels beholden to explain the context or even the original purpose of the footage, instead putting an intertitle stating the location where the footage was shot and the occasional chyron with the name and occupation of the person being interviewed. For me, this idea took some time getting used to. As I was expecting the whirlwind of information in Sans soleil, I felt slightly alienated by the stop-and-start rhythm of images that at first glance seemed to be banal and “ordinary”, and the locations seemed too disparate for Johnson to return to (in contrast to the localized repetitions of Marker’s film).

But Johnson is operating in an entirely different mode of communication, one of astonishing patience and power. Aside from two essentially stand-alone montages, one of people walking and the other a stunning display of sites of massacres and murders from around the world, including such disparate locations as Ground Zero, a church in Rwanda, a school in Bosnia, and a truck in Texas, Johnson sticks to the vignettes of footage that, in some way, all come back to the idea of the shared humanity and its effect on the cameraperson. Johnson never lets the overarching themes become apparent, but in the little moments that rise out of everyday life, such as Jacques Derrida commenting on her tripping as she is filming him, or her capturing a sudden snowfall while she is shooting a woman whose mother killed herself, she makes it clear that the cameraperson is human, and that it is in some way her responsibility to capture humanity not as it should be, but as it is.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the home videos of both Johnson’s children and her mother, who died of Alzheimer’s. In this showing of people both at the beginning and at the end of their lives, she makes a statement that is at once both universal and personal, and ties it back to other footage that surrounds it. For instance, she implicitly connects footage of a Golden Gloves boxer being comforted by his mother (one of the most notable examples of Johnson returning to footage) to her mother brushing Johnson’s hair in the only moment where she can be seen on camera.

However, what may be the most striking is the extraordinary breadth of life that Johnson has captured. From a lecture in Queens to a Michael Moore interview to a premature baby being born in Nigeria, the subject matter and tone frequently change in a single edit, but the unmistakable vitality that Johnson brings out of her subjects and images remains constant. Johnson most frequently returns to a family in Bosnia that is recovering after the war there, and emphasizes both the injustice that has been done and the family’s will to live on. Cameraperson is an optimistic film that never shies away from the truth, and throughout, Johnson’s will to document is paramount. It is a noble thing to document all of this life experience, and the skill with which Johnson and editor Nels Bangerter have constructed this supremely monumental film is evident in every transition, every moment. Cameraperson is a great film in every sense of the word, and one that I’ll be grappling with for years to come.

Assorted Favorites Lists

Ranked Reds and Oranges

  1. Mulholland Dr. (2001, David Lynch)
  2. Eraserhead (1977, David Lynch)
  3. Close-Up (1990, Abbas Kiarostami)
  4. Yi Yi (2000, Edward Yang)
  5. Paris, Texas (1984, Wim Wenders)
  6. In the Mood for Love (2000, Wong Kar-wai)
  7. A Brighter Summer Day (1991, Edward Yang)
  8. Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)
  9. Sans soleil (1983, Chris Marker)
  10. Persona (1966, Ingmar Bergman)
  11. Chungking Express (1994, Wong Kar-wai)
  12. Heat (1995, Michael Mann)
  13. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001, Steven Spielberg)
  14. Seven Samurai (1954, Akira Kurosawa)
  15. The Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton)
  16. “La jetée” (1962, Chris Marker)
  17. Trust (1990, Hal Hartley)
  18. Out 1 (1971, Jacques Rivette)
  19. Sunrise (1927, F.W. Murnau)
  20. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992, David Lynch)
  21. The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967, Jacques Demy)
  22. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964, Jacques Demy)
  23. Stop Making Sense (1984, Jonathan Demme)
  24. Blue Velvet (1986, David Lynch)
  25. “Duck Amuck” (1953, Chuck Jones)
  26. Lost in Translation (2003, Sofia Coppola)
  27. Wavelength (1967, Michael Snow)
  28. Manhunter (1986, Michael Mann)
  29. Breathless (1960, Jean-Luc Godard)
  30. The Battle of Algiers (1966, Gillo Pontecorvo)
  31. Inland Empire (2006, David Lynch)
  32. Miami Vice (2006, Michael Mann)
  33. Carol (2015, Todd Haynes)
  34. Mistress America (2015, Noah Baumbach)
  35. Tokyo Story (1953, Yasujiro Ozu)
  36. Silence (2016, Martin Scorsese)
  37. The 400 Blows (1959, François Truffaut)
  38. The Devils (1971, Ken Russell)
  39. Jeanne Dielman | 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975, Chantal Akerman)
  40. Vertigo (1958, Alfred Hitchcock)
  41. Meek’s Cutoff (2010, Kelly Reichardt)
  42. “Outer Space” (1999, Peter Tscherkassky)
  43. “The Heart of the World” (2000, Guy Maddin)
  44. Margaret (2011, Kenneth Lonergan)
  45. Manchester By The Sea (2016, Kenneth Lonergan)
  46. Passion (2012, Brian De Palma)
  47. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick)
  48. Carlito’s Way (1993, Brian De Palma)
  49. Sunset Blvd. (1950, Billy Wilder)
  50. Lolita (1962, Stanley Kubrick)
  51. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010, Edgar Wright)
  52. Days of Being Wild (1990, Wong Kar-wai)
  53. Mountains May Depart (2015, Jia Zhangke)
  54. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer)
  55. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000, Ang Lee)
  56. Last Year at Marienbad (1961, Alain Resnais)
  57. Death Proof (2007, Quentin Tarantino)
  58. The Double Life of Veronique (1991, Krzysztof Kieslowski)
  59. Public Enemies (2009, Michael Mann)
  60. M (1931, Fritz Lang)
  61. Cowboy Bebop: “Pierrot le Fou” (1999, Shinichiro Watanabe)
  62. Eyes Wide Shut (1999, Stanley Kubrick)
  63. Phoenix (2014, Christian Petzold)
  64. Journey to Italy (1954, Roberto Rossellini)
  65. Cameraperson (2016, Kirsten Johnson)

Sight & Sound Ballot

Sans soleil (Chris Marker)
Out 1 (Jacques Rivette)
Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami)
Inland Empire (David Lynch)
Jeanne Dielman | 23, Quai du Commerce | 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman)
A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang)
Sunrise (F.W. Murnau)
Wavelength (Michael Snow)
“Outer Space” (Peter Tscherkassky)
Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard)

Top Ten Favorite Directors

  1. David Lynch
  2. Abbas Kiarostami
  3. Edward Yang
  4. Wong Kar-wai
  5. Michael Mann
  6. Chris Marker
  7. Kenneth Lonergan
  8. Hong Sang-soo
  9. Akira Kurosawa
  10. Kelly Reichardt

Top Ten Films

  1. Mulholland Dr. (David Lynch)
  2. Eraserhead (David Lynch)
  3. Sans soleil (Chris Marker)
  4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
  5. Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami)
  6. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang)
  7. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
  8. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders)
  9. Yi Yi (Edward Yang)
  10. Sunrise (F.W. Murnau)