January was a pretty busy month for me in terms of film. I saw quite a few movies I hadn’t seen before, and rewatched many of my favorite films. Here’s a list of exactly what went down on screen for me last month.
Movies Watched for the First Time in January 2012
Melancholia (2011): Lars von Trier’s newest film is nowhere near the mastery of Dogville, Breaking the Waves or Antichrist, but still retains and perhaps even enhances the mystical beauty and ugliness of von Trier’s cinema that has become prevalent recently. Incredible imagery, fantastic music, superb acting and LvT’s iconic handheld camera cinematography are some of the many highlights. ★★★★1/2, or 9/10.
The Guard (2011): Funny, but nothing special. Brendon Gleeson and Don Cheadle work excellently together in this typically profane but hilarious Irish comedy. ★★★1/2, or 7/10.
2 Days in Paris (2007): Julie Delpy learned a lot from Richard Linklater. After starring in his two absolutely brilliant Before movies (Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), she made her own version of the French romantic comedy that emphasises dialog over action. Though not quite as good as the films it is influenced by, it is certainly worth a watch. ★★★★, or 8/10.
La Jeteè (1962): One of the greatest science fiction films of all time, Chris Marker’s 1962 photography experiment is a narrative film running 28 minutes, which consists of nothing more than dialog and still images. Movement is not needed in this placid but haunting film. ★★★★★, or 10/10.
Damnation (1988): My second Bela Tarr film, Damnation (which famous Satantango fan Susan Sontag said was actually Tarr’s best) is a better film to think about than watch. The long takes, slow pace and virtually nonexistent plot which Tarr has become famous for are all highlights, along with the terrific score by Mihaly Vig, of this bleak fantasy. ★★★★★, or 10/10.
Nostalghia (1983): As part of my Andrei Tarkovsky marathon, I saw this magnificent true artwork that may just be Tarkovsky’s most marvelous achievement. It’s certainly one of his top three best films. Filled with more amazing imagery than the human mind can comprehend in one viewing, it culminates in a single fantastic take in which a man, embittered and hindered by a gentle but deadly wind, attempts the near-impossible task of carrying a candle across an empty pool. ★★★★★, or 10/10.
The Tree of Life (2011): After just barely missing it in the cinema, I finally got a chance to catch up with Terrence Malick’s latest visual gutpuncher, the stunning Tree of Life, on Blu-Ray. Despite the fact that Sean Penn is grossly underused and Malick is just a little too wilful with his fast pace and overwhelming imagery, it is still one of the best of the year. ★★★★, or 8/10.
A Woman Under the Influence (1974): So um yeah, this is the only John Cassavettes movie I have seen, and I feel awful about it. But Gena Rowlands… man oh man, what an actress. This is one of the best films about insanity I have ever seen, and Cassavettes remains deliberately ambiguous about just who is crazy and who is sane. A friend of mine described Cassavettes as “the American Lars von Trier,” so naturally I’ll be checking out more of his work. ★★★★1/2, or 9/10.
La Notte (1961): The second in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Incommunicability trilogy, this fantastic analysis of the death of a relationship stars the brilliant Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, and is superbly directed. ★★★★1/2, or 9/10.
L’Eclisse (1962): The final installment in the Incommunicability trilogy, and perhaps Antonioni’s best, L’Eclisse stars Monica Vitti and Alain Delon as a doomed couple is far more cynical than the similar La Notte. The final sequence of the film defies description and cements the movie as a masterpiece, and that’s putting it lightly. ★★★★★, or 10/10.
The Mirror (1974): If there is one thing I learned from my Tarkovsky marathon, it’s that the director is a fan of beautiful imagery that is surrounded by a cloud of ambiguity and uncertainty. It seems to be nearly impossibe to define. Though Stalker and Nostalghia capture this better than his earlier works, it was with Mirror that I discovered how intensely personal his style is, and how it defies definition. ★★★★, or 8/10.
Snowtown (2010): This recent Australian cult film generated a fair amount of controversy for its graphic violence, but what’s truly disturbing is what’s left off screen. Comparitively, it is one of the less violent of the crop of Australian horror films, and one of the most effective. Based on a disquieting true story, it is effective and shocking. ★★★1/2, or 7/10.
Ten (2002): Based around the events that occur in a taxicab in Iran, this excellent film from Abbas Kiarostami is one of his most interesting films, signature of his style and emphasis on dialog over images. ★★★★, or 8/10.
Masculin-Feminin (1966): One of three Godard films I watched in a row (as well as rewatching Week End and Vivre sa Vie), Masculin-Feminin, which was partially shot in Sweden and which Ingmar Bergman called “mindnumbingly boring,” is certainly not one of his best, but it’s familiar Godard, both reminscent of the beauty of his simpler early work and foreshadowing what was to come with the next film on this list… ★★★1/2, or 7/10.
Pierrot le Fou (1965): When it comes to Godard’s more inaccessible, darker films, you have an equal mixture of masterful cinema and absolute tripe. Pierrot le Fou belongs to the former of those categories. It’s not one of my favourites, admittedly, but I truly enjoyed Pierrot le Fou. Among its many highlights are charming musical numbers, soulless bourgeoisie who are living, breathing advertisements, and a cameo from Samuel Fuller! ★★★★, or 8/10.
Alphaville (1965): Another day, another Godard. A viewing of this popular mid-60s Godard was long overdue, and I managed to catch it between films and thought it was excellent. Again, not among my top Godard picks, but still hilariously rule-breaking, game changing and interesting. ★★★★, or 8/10.
Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974): Jacques Rivette’s most enjoyable, fun movie, Celine and Julie Vont en Bateau (which literally translates to ‘Go Boating’ but is actually a French proverb meaning ‘Go Crazy’) is three hours of pure joy, wonder and magic. Highly recommended. ★★★★★, or 10/10.
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977): There were some problems I had with Luis Bunuel’s last film, which I won’t go into here, but overall I will admit it is a more than decent effort from the man, who at the time was in his late seventies. Typically, he chose his last film to be about a dirty old man who is cruelly teased by a woman he is too ignorant to realize is being played by two actresses. The bucket of water scene is one of the iconic images of Bunuel’s career. ★★★1/2, or 7/10.
The Sacrifice (1986): Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film is a moving, beautiful conclusion of an equally moving career composed of only seven films, but all great ones. Starring Erland Josephson, it is the story of a man who prays to a God he never believed existed to prevent World War III, which had just broken out. Absolutely stunning final statement. ★★★★, or 8/10.
The Red Desert (1964): One of Antonioni’s last great Italian films, The Red Desert stars Monica Vitti as a lonely woman who connects with an industrialist only to be disappointed and disillusioned. Fantastic. ★★★★, or 8/10.
Les anges du péché (1943): Robert Bresson’s unimpressive first film is nevertheless an example of the themes that would later make his films resonate so clearly. However, they are undeveloped and don’t perform as well as they should here. ★★★, or 6/10.
Zazie dans le Metro (1960): Ugh. How exhausting. ★★★, or 6/10.
The Turin Horse (2011): I’m just speechless. Bela Tarr’s latest, and last film is an experience unlike any other. To sit for 150 minutes and view this… this milestone in the history of cinema, is to acknowledge an artist at the height of his power, to sit and silently praise one of the greatest geniuses to ever lay his hands on a camera. ★★★★★, or TEN OUT OF FUCKING TEN.
Les dames du bois de boulogne (1945): Bresson’s follow-up to Les anges du péché is a slightly better film, but still far from perfect. While he was using professional actors, he was restraining the potential within him to truly excel as a unique filmmaker, and Les dames lacks the spark that would inhabit his later work. ★★★1/2, or 7/10.
Lancelot du Lac (1974): A bitter, nihilistic and emotionless reimagining of the famous stories of Camelot. Bresson wisely chooses to remove all the glitz and glamor of being a knight, and portrays it as a bloody, awful, disgusting predicament which will only end in death. A lot of death. ★★★★, or 8/10.
The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962): I must reinforce that this is not a remake of Dreyer’s silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc. It is simply an ostensibly Bressonian retelling of the same story. Though this time Joan of Arc doesn’t cry as much, her persecutors are still as harsh and heartless and her faith is still as strongly believable as ever. ★★★★, or 8/1o.
The Man from London (2007): Despite the many people who call it “sub-par Tarr,” The Man from London is Tarr at his best, his haunting black-and-white photography, slow and ambiguous pace and curious plot among the many highlights. ★★★★★, or 10/10.
Hugo (2011): Martin Scorsese’s newest film, revelatory, reminiscent and re-imagining, is a tale of a young boy’s discovery of cinema through none other than the cinematic father, Georges Melies himself! A suitably elegant and non-indulgent use of 3D as well as a fantastic screenplay, set design and direction are among the points of greatness. ★★★★1/2, or 9/10.
Little White Lies (2011): The latest in a recurring trend of French comedies, this unimpressive but still delightfully funny couples’ flick runs a little long but is still interesting, engaging and levelled. ★★★1/2, or 7/10.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011): With each sip of tea, the characters of this adaptation of a popular British spy thriller don’t necessarily come closer to solving a mystery but to unraveling the threads of an endless series of revelations and discoveries, in a film devoid of clichés and the typical plot turns that are usually found in films of its type. ★★★★, or 8/10.
Movies Rewatched in January 2012
Play Time (1967)
Stranger than Paradise (1984)
Code Unknown (2000)
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
Mon Oncle (1958)
Down By Law (1986)
Ivan’s Childhood (1962)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Three Colours: Blue (1993)
El Topo (1971)
Andrei Rublev (1966)
The Wind Will Carry Us (1999)
Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Diary of a Country Priest (1951)
A Man Escaped (1956)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
In the Realm of the Senses (1976)
Mystery Train (1989)
Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Best Film Seen in January 2011:
The Turin Horse (2011)
So what did you see in December, and what do you think of the films I watched?