February 2017 Capsules

Ju Dou
I think the key to this film is that, though Gong Li is as usual the nominal lead, it takes place from a mix of the perspectives of Tianqing and Ju Dou. Zhang continually emphasizes the barriers between the two; even when they do finally connect there is more focus on their surroundings, and their embraces seem to be desperate attempts for connection. The film is on the whole rather depressing, but it is earned in the false hopes and the crushing developments that manifest themselves in abject hopelessness.

Chronicle of a Summer
Even more interesting than its reputation suggests; Morin and Rouch manage to wring out a wonderful variety of approaches, and if the comparatively sedate second half, with its myriad conversations, proves less innovative than the first half’s quick interviews and wide range of subjects, it is mostly compensated by the extraordinary sequence of Marceline’s Holocaust recollections and the phenomenal epilogue, which functions as a rather potent self-critique that in and of itself offers another lens with which to view the verité style, a reflection of a reflection. It is most instructive, of course, to view this not as necessarily a statement or a manifesto but rather, as the title suggests, as a chronicle or document of a milieu.

February 7
The Nice Guys (rewatch)
Wish I could say I liked this genuinely pleasurable film more the second time around, and some of the “big gags” landed even harder, but there’s too strong a sense of rootlessness in this. Arguably, it fits well with the pessimism of the film, the changing times so decried by Healy and March, but it doesn’t make for anything close to a consistent viewing. There are flashes of genius here, of course—the hallucination experience in particular is a beautifully sustained escalation—and Gosling and Crowe make a shockingly good team (with Rice as a wonderful connector) so there’s that.

February 23
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
It’s probably telling that Hunt for the Wilderpeople‘s best scene by far is its most comparatively lowkey, when Ricky has a nigh idyllic encounter with a girl and her father. The rest of the film is frustratingly obstinate in its refusal to pick a single mood, vacillating awkwardly between slightly mawkish sentimentality and vivacious whimsy without finding any roots to dig into. Sam Neill is, of course, absolutely wonderful in his gruff sincerity, but he’s given far too little to do compared to the wide-eyed, borderline annoying juvenilia of Julian Dennison. And almost everything to do with the actual chase, especially the hunters, is painful.

February 28
Moonlight (rewatch, out of order b)
Everything clicked in some way or another on rewatch (save for, perhaps, Paula, whose character feels much more overtly consequential than the rest of the film). There’s such an intoxicating feeling to Moonlight, a grounding in time and place that intertwines beautifully with the essential minimum of narrative. A set structure is present, yes, but it depicts moments that feel equally important and unimportant to Chiron. And throughout, there is a shimmering beauty, a vitality that doesn’t come just from the “timely” subject matter. It comes from empathy, from irresistible emotion.

Throne of Blood
Throne of Blood‘s atmosphere is nigh impossible to nail down: on one hand Kabuki-inflected and on the other operating in an almost dreamlike and ominously obscure environment. But what feels most surprising (especially to someone who’s read the play) is how much destruction is executed with so much efficiency. Macbeth is inherently a violent, bloody tale, but there is an additional dynamic inextricably tied to the heightened sense of honor, to Mifune’s sharp contrasts between rage and control, that makes Throne of Blood its own great work.

2016 Film Poll #4: Film Comment Readers’ Poll

Top 20 Films of 2016

1. Silence (Martin Scorsese)
Every shot, every action in this film is profoundly coded with faith and religion; it is on all levels a groundbeaking achievement.

2. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan)
The most achingly moving film of the year, but also delightful, shocking, and sensitively interior.

3. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)
Both a grandiose affair and a slow-burn melodrama, it is multi-faceted and heartbreaking in a way that grows in the mind with each passing day.

4. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)
There is no doubt that these are the images that have marked Kirsten Johnson, but they are also the images of humanity: life, death, destruction, and beauty.

5. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade)
Both the madcap comedy and the heartfelt drama as promised, and so much more.

6. My Golden Days (Arnaud Desplechin)
A wonderfully nostalgic film as beguiling as the subject’s undying love.

7. The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook)
While most of the other films on this list aim for subdued minimalism, this film sounds the call for maximalism loud and clear, marrying a delightfully twisted narrative with the most pleasurable romance of the year.

8. Happy Hour (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi)
Even more than most long films, this luxuriates in its length, never sacrificing intimacy while exploring the gamut of emotions and moods.

9. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo)
The most conversational and confessional film of the year, twice.

10. Kate Plays Christine (Robert Greene)
Simultaneously provocative and sympathetic, this is a challenge to the idea of documentary carried out on all fronts.

11. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party (Stephen Cone)
A microcosm of a very specific, unexpectedly humane climate from so many perspectives.

12. O.J.: Made in America (Ezra Edelman)
The hoopla over whether this is a film or miniseries misses the point; it is a monolithic work, a pointed exposé of the state of the union through the lens of one of its most infamous figureheads.

13. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)
It is a testament to the unbelievable prowess of all involved that this incredibly questionable premise resulted in this ravishingly clear-minded portrait of obsession.

14. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)
As much as anything, this is remarkably quotidian even in its triptych structure as it moves more and more into the realms of unfathomably deep emotions.

15. Things to Come (Mia Hansen-Løve)
A portrait of a woman constantly in motion.

16. SPL II: A Time for Consequences (Soi Cheang)
This is practically giddy on its own daring, on its wondrous and furious kineticism.

17. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Appropriately mesmerizing filmmaking on every level, woven in with a history that always seems just out of reach.

18. The Edge of Seventeen (Kelly Fremon Craig)
Endlessly relatable and wonderfully, agonizingly unvarnished.

19. Creepy (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)
A brilliant masterclass in sustained, mounting tension, culminating in one of the most unexpectedly soul shreddingly cathartic acts of the year.

20. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills)
Blissful, supremely assured reflections on the bittersweet things in life.

2016 Film Poll #3: The Muriel Awards

Best Feature-Length Film
1. Silence
2. Manchester by the Sea
3. Cameraperson
4. Toni Erdmann
5. My Golden Days
6. The Handmaiden
7. O.J.: Made in America
8. Mountains May Depart
9. Happy Hour
10. Right Now, Wrong Then

Best Lead Performance, Male
1. Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
2. Peter Simonischek, Toni Erdmann
3. Samuel L. Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro
4. Hidetoshi Nishijima, Creepy
5. Andrew Garfield, Silence

Best Lead Performance, Female
1. Kate Lyn Sheil, Kate Plays Christine
2. Zhao Tao, Mountains May Depart
3. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
4. Sônia Braga, Aquarius
5. Sandra Hüller, Toni Erdmann

Best Supporting Performance, Male
1. Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
2. Tom Bennett, Love & Friendship
3. Teruyuki Kagawa, Creepy
4. Issey Ogata, Silence
5. Laurent Lafitte, Elle

Best Supporting Performance, Female
1. Lily Gladstone, Certain Women
2. Sylvia Chang, Mountains May Depart
3. Michelle Williams, Certain Women
4. Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women
5. Laura Dern, Certain Women

Best Direction
1. Jia Zhangke, Mountains May Depart
2. Park Chan-wook, The Handmaiden
3. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Creepy
4. Martin Scorsese, Silence
5. Kirsten Johnson, Cameraperson

Best Screenplay
(original or adapted)
1. Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
2. Hong Sang-soo, Right Now, Wrong Then
3. Maren Ade, Toni Erdmann
4. David Birke, Elle
5. Kelly Reichardt, Certain Women

Best Cinematography
1. The Handmaiden (Chung Chung-hoon)
2. Mountains May Depart (Nelson Lik-wai Yu)
3. Silence (Rodrigo Prieto)
4. Sunset Song (Michael McDonough)
5. Kaili Blues (Tianxing Wang)

Best Editing
1. Cameraperson (Nels Bangerter)
2. Manchester by the Sea (Jennifer Lame)
3. The Handmaiden (Kim Jae-Bum & Kim Sang-beom)
4. O.J.: Made in America (Bret Granato & Maya Mumma & Ben Sozanski)
5. I Am Not Your Negro (Alexandra Strauss)

Best Music
(original, adapted, or compiled)
1. The Handmaiden (Cho Young-wuk)
2. Mountains May Depart (Yoshihiro Hanno)
3. Manchester by the Sea (Lesley Barber)
4. Elle (Anne Dudley)
5. Julieta (Alberto Iglesias)

Best Documentary
1. Cameraperson
2. O.J.: Made in America
3. Kate Plays Christine

Best Cinematic Moment
(best scene or sequence)
1. Cameraperson – Violence montage
2. Silence – The voice
3. Manchester by the Sea – The accident flashback
4. Kate Plays Christine – Christine in living color
5. The Handmaiden – Throw away your books, run away in the fields
6. SPL II: A Time for Consequences – Emoji texting
7. Creepy – The interrogation
8. Mountains May Depart – “Go West” reprise
9. Happy Hour – Nightclub conversation
10. Cemetery of Splendour – The movie theater

Best Cinematic Breakthrough
(vague explanation: a performer, filmmaker, or technician who made a notable debut in film, took his/her career to a higher level, or revealed unforeseen layers to his/her talent during the year 2016)
1. Lily Gladstone
2. Kim Min-hee
3. Kirsten Johnson
4. Andrew Garfield
5. Kelly Fremon Craig

Best Body of Work
(a performer, filmmaker, or technician who made superior contributions to multiple films released in calendar year 2016)
1. Isabelle Huppert
2. Kim Min-hee
3. Andrew Garfield
4. Michelle Williams
5. Kristen Stewart

Best Ensemble Performance
1. Happy Hour
2. The Handmaiden
3. 20th Century Women
4. Love & Friendship
5. Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party

Other remarks:
It is a great honor and pleasure to contribute my first ballot to the Muriels.
There were a ridiculous amount of extraordinary performances and technical achievements that I didn’t have the space to acknowledge, so here are some very honorable mentions: Things to Come, Sully, Paterson, The Edge of Seventeen, The Shallows, Shin Godzilla, Everybody Wants Some!!, Moonlight, and The Other Side.

10th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 2006
1. Inland Empire
2. Miami Vice
3. Old Joy
4. Syndromes and a Century
5. Woman on the Beach

25th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1991
1. A Brighter Summer Day
2. The Double Life of Veronique
3. Barton Fink
4. Until the End of the World
5. Raise the Red Lantern

50th Anniversary Award, Best Feature Film 1966
1. Persona
2. The Battle of Algiers
3. Black Girl
4. Au hasard Balthazar
5. Masculin féminin