Friday, December 30, 2016

My Favorite Movies of 2016 (So Far), Pt. 2: Repertory and Film Society Screenings (aka The Old Stuff)

One of the rare pieces of recent good luck in my life is the Austin Film Society operating its own theater space less than a 10-minute drive from my house. They are currently renovating the space to add a second screen and will reopen in a few months, which I predict will be one of the only good things to happen in 2017. I love seeing repertory screenings because, obviously, I love movies, but also because it provides me with a movie experience divorced from advertisements, profits, dumb trailers for crap I'll never see (eat shit, Collateral Beauty), and current fashion, and I get to share the space with people who share my obsession. Here are my favorite non-2016 movies I saw on the big screen in 2016.

A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)
Taiwanese director Yang's four-hour epic about youth gangs in the early 1960s is one of the most complex and expansive films about teenagers I've seen.

Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991)
Lyrical, dreamy, lush visual poetry about three generations of a Gullah family preparing to leave Ibo Landing for the mainland North in 1902. A strikingly original film that was a major inspiration on the look of Beyonce's Lemonade, but I hope it's remembered as more than just a Beyonce footnote because it's a pretty singular achievement that looks and feels like nothing else.

Eraserhead (David Lynch, 1977)
I finally got to see this on the big screen. The tedious grind of everyday life and the fear of adulthood turned into surrealist, visionary horror.

Je, tu, il, elle and News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1974 and 1977)
Isolation, the road, sex, in stark black-and-white. A Belgian's view of New York, in images and correspondence with her mother. Still hard to believe she's gone.

Ida Lupino retrospective
Ida Lupino as star and supporting actor in three underrated and beautiful films noir, and as director in one tough and lean crime film she co-wrote with her husband for her own production company -- On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1952), Road House (Jean Negulesco, 1948), Moontide (Archie Mayo, 1942), and The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953)

Messiah of Evil (Willard Huyck & Gloria Katz, 1973)
Deeply strange, feverishly arty horror film with incredible production design, directed by the husband-and-wife team that would go on to write American Graffiti, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Howard the Duck. This is absolutely nothing like any of those films or any other film or anything at all, really, except a beautiful, horrible nightmare.

Maurice Pialat retrospective
Loulou (1980) has become one of my 10 or 15 favorite films ever, a French counterpart to the beautiful chaos of experience John Cassavetes captured in his films as writer/director, and my favorite Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu performances, which is saying a hell of a lot. A Nos Amours (1983) only slightly pales in comparison to Loulou and has a great early performance from Sandrine Bonnaire, while We Won't Grow Old Together (1972) is not quite as scorched-earth wonderful as the other two but certainly has its moments, said moments being most of its running time. Pialat was a great filmmaker.

S.O.B. and Victor/Victoria (Blake Edwards, 1981 and 1982)
A pair of beautifully constructed comedies from the tail end of Edwards' hottest streak as director, and a couple of last gasps for the classical Hollywood style. S.O.B. is marred by some old-white-man racial and sexual stereotypes, but there is much to love once that hurdle is leaped, in particular the expert use of location and setting as another character, great physical comedy, and a cast made up of lovable character actors in late middle age, something you sadly don't see much anymore.

Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1977)
I finally got to see one of my two favorite Herzog films on the big screen. This is Herzog at the peak of his ecstatic, eerie powers before he became "Werner Herzog." One of the most apocalyptically transcendent final scenes in any movie, but great from start to finish.

Touki Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambety, 1973)
A major work of psychedelic political fantasy by Senegalese director Mambety, the film follows a pair of lovers who decide to fight back against poverty and colonialism by going on a legendary crime spree. Mambety's experimental approach to narrative and continuity, and his knack for capturing striking images, lights this movie up like a Christmas tree.

White of the Eye (Donald Cammell, 1987)
Intensely weird and intensely intense serial killer thriller from Cammell, the co-director of Performance and occult Zelig of a half-century of counterculture shenanigans. David Keith's best role. We also get the great Cathy Moriarty, who should be in about 200 more movies, and a specific and unusual suburban Arizona setting. Lots of great stuff about stereos, too. Sometimes overblown and ridiculous, sometimes beautiful, sometimes completely nutty, sometimes frightening, it's an overstuffed package of mesmerizing visual lunacy. I loved it.

Wim Wenders retrospective
Incredible two-month retrospective of a large chunk of the Wenders filmography. Also made me realize the technology converting celluloid prints to digital projection has taken some great leaps forward. I got to see some old favorites on the big screen for the first time -- Kings of the Road (1976), The State of Things (1982), Paris, Texas (1984), and Wings of Desire (1987); finally got to see several of his films I'd been meaning to watch for years -- The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1972), Alice in the Cities (1974), Wrong Move (1975), and The American Friend (1977); and got to experience the full 295-minute director's cut of Until the End of the World (1991), which dramatically improved on the previously available two-and-a-half-hour version and oddly felt much shorter. It's still a profoundly strange film, containing some of Wenders' best, worst, silliest, dullest, most ridiculous, funniest, dumbest, and most transcendent moments. A real one-of-a-kind. The only bad weeds in this particular series were Tokyo-Ga (1985), a superficial and embarrassing bit of white-tourism-in-Japan (though it has some incredibly visual shots of a Pachinko parlor and some moving interviews with actors and crew members who worked with Ozu), and Buena Vista Social Club (1999), which is full of great people and great music but was shot with cruddy '90s digital cameras so the picture quality is pretty gross.

Honorable Mentions

La Chambre and Hotel Monterey (Chantal Akerman, 1972 and 1975)
Hamlet (Michael Almereyda, 2000)
Kamikaze '89 (Wolf Gremm, 1982)
Macbeth (Roman Polanski, 1971)
Titicut Follies and Hospital (Frederick Wiseman, 1967 and 1970) 

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