The last ten films I’ve watched lean toward the little seen and hard to find. For example, I had to order the Blu-ray of Five Fingers for Marseilles three times from Amazon before eventually getting one shipped, but I’m very happy to have finally seen it. Matthews’ film proved to be one of those great cinematic experiences where an otherwise unseen world is suddenly presented before you. Five Fingers for Marseilles is a slow-burning, South African neo-western full of gorgeous, hardy landscapes; wonderful, locally-inspired costumes; indelibly lyrical native dialects; and portentous, foreboding camera movements. African cinema can tend to be a blindspot for many of us, but for those who love the tropes of the western and have the patience for slow, atmospheric story-telling, Five Fingers is revelatory.
(Also, a spoiler alert! One of these last ten films will be MMC!‘s next proposed title!)
- The Ball at the Anjo House (Kôzaburô Yoshimura, 1947)
- Private Property (Leslie Stevens, 1960)
- The Devil (Andrej Zulawski, 1972)
- The Music of Chance (Philip Haas, 1993)
- Terror of Mechagodzilla (Ishirô Honda, 1975)
- Paradise Alley (Sylvester Stallone, 1978)
- Slap the Monster on Page One (Marco Bellocchio, 1972)
- Five Fingers for Marseilles (Michael Matthews, 2017)
- An Average Little Man (Mario Monicelli, 1977)
- Josie and the Pussycats (Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, 2001)
High marks among the last ten films I’ve watched for Diamonds of the Night (a moving and surprisingly abstract approach to dealing with the Holocaust – think a better rendering of Son of Saul), Relaxer (a recent Oscilloscope title that seems to be inventing a fourth body genre concerned with other bodily leakages and preoccupied with revulsion and disgust), Memories of Murder (quite a captivating police procedural that nearly lives up to its very esteemed reputation), and Phantasm (an overdue first-time watch that provided an exceptionally random grab bag of horror material collected into a Carpenter-esque package that definitely entertained). A failing grade for Son of Godzilla, whose giant spiders and mantises cannot compensate for the creation of Minilla. Also, I watched Tora-San, the Intellectual having just discovered that an elaborate Blu-ray set is being released later this year in Japan commemorating the 50th anniversary of the franchise and the release of a new film!
- Phantasm (Don Coscarelli, 1979)
- Dave Made a Maze (Bill Watterson, 2017)
- If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (Gianfranco Parolini, 1968)
- Tora-San, the Intellectual (Yôji Yamada, 1975)
- The Eyes of Orson Welles (Mark Cousins, 2018)
- Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho, 2003)
- Relaxer (Joel Potrykus, 2018)
- Son of Godzilla (Jun Fukuda, 1967)
- Diamonds of the Night (Jan Nemec, 1964)
- Hollywood Shuffle (Robert Townsend, 1987)
Lastly, a shout-out to the Criterion Collection’s release of Sergei Bondarchuk’s War and Peace (1966). I’m halfway through and I’m blown away. While I expected to love it, the films are not as I expected, often telling their stories in long sequences without dialogue and that proceed like some over-determined, poetically rendered dreamscape. From battlefields to ballrooms to borzois running across vast estates, War and Peace is epic at every turn and an entrancing wonder.
With the NBA Playoffs in full swing (plus devoting some time to some TV programs and getting sick over the last couple of weeks), my usual pace for watching movies has slowed considerably. Accordingly, these last ten films I’ve watched extend back to last month’s Calgary Underground Film Festival and screenings of Harpoon and Foosballers (both of which were enjoyable films, particularly the latter).
- Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack and Alan Elliott, 2018)
- MFKZ (Shoujirou Nishimi and Guillaume Renard, 2017)
- Madman (Joe Giannone, 1981)
- The Last Circus (Álex de la Iglesia, 2010)
- Murder Obsession (Riccardo Freda, 1981)
- Crazy Thunder Road (Gakuryū Ishii, 1980)
- The New Rijksmuseum (Oeke Hoogendijk, 2014)
- Foosballers (Joe Heslinga, 2019)
- Harpoon (Rob Grant, 2019)
- Welcome Mr. Marshall! (Luis Garciá Berlanga, 1953)
Actually, this list has some sneaky good titles in it. The New Rijksmuseum is a rather fascinating observational documentary about the ten year renovation of Holland’s iconic art museum, offering a complicated survey on the intersection of art and creativity on the one hand and democracy and bureaucracy on the other. Ishii’s Crazy Thunder Road is an underappreciated classic of Japanese cinema that is not merely about punks but also is punk from its production to its aesthetics. The Last Circus, a story of mad love and violent clowns in Franco-era Spain, and MFKZ, a Studio 4°C adaptation of a French comic book, turned out to be a pair of secret successes, proving to be surprisingly entertaining despite their relatively poor critical reputations. The Criterion Channel’s Berlanga titles included Welcome Mr. Marshall, a sweet Andalusian comedy in the best spirit of an Ealing film that concerned some opportunistic townsfolk greedy for some sweet foreign aid. Amazing Grace looks like it’s cobbled together from off-cuts (a testament to the degree Pollack struggled in filming the two-night performance) but the janky camera movements and haphazard focus pulls somehow work to only revere Aretha Franklin’s singing, as if the film production is staring into the sun itself and struggling to depict its full glory.
These last ten films I’ve watched represent various things: my effort to watch more great art house cinema (I Am Cuba, True Stories), my aim to work through the DEFA catalogue on Kanopy (Trace of Stones), my son’s love of giant monsters (the Godzilla films), my monthly horror watch-group (Horror Noire, Blood Bath). The only real failure amongst these ten films was Blood Bath, a too-brief take on a nonsensical story about vampirism and painting. Thankfully, Arrow Video provides three more versions on its Blu-ray release to hopefully offer some improvement. (Those looking for a Roger Corman take-down of artsy-beatnik pretentiousness should stick with A Bucket of Blood (1959).)
- Deadbeat at Dawn (Jim Van Bebber, 1988)
- I Am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964)
- True Stories (David Byrne, 1986)
- Trace of Stones (Frank Beyer, 1966)
- Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (Masaaki Tezuka, 2002)
- Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (Shusuke Kaneko, 2001)
- Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (Xavier Neal-Burgin, 2019)
- Bodied (Joseph Kahn, 2017)
- Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier, 2013)
- Blood Bath (Jack Hill and Stephanie Rothman, 1966)
I feel somewhat ambivalently about Bodied, a very funny and very talented satire about hip hop and political correctness, both of which are presented as kinds of word games. Without any spoilers, Bodied ends with a condemnation and then a celebration that felt very contrary to me. I expected a deflatation of its apparently happy ending, but it never came and I’m left wondering about Bodied‘s “rules” (or lack thereof) for rap battles and the morality of its contest. If anyone has seen Bodied, I’d love to hear some thoughts – Are the contradictions in Bodied‘s conclusion able to be reconciled? Are they meant to be? If not, what are we to take from its conflict?
These last ten films I’ve watched continues to reflect my desire to catch up with the best films of 2018 as well as my discovery of hoopla, another library streaming surface and a surprising home to a number of top films from last year. My intention is to round out my 2018 screenings, submit my top 20 to the Film Comment Reader’s Poll, and post my list at the end of the month. The deadline for submission is February 28, 2019, so get your lists in as well and maybe win some stuff!
- Roma (Alfonso Cuarón, 2018)
- Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (Stephen Nomura Schible, 2017)
- Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada, 2018)
- Night is Short, Walk On Girl (Masaaki Yuasa, 2017)
- Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski, 2018)
- Burning (Lee Chang-dong, 2018)
- The Night of the Virgin (Roberto San Sebastián, 2018)
- The Marriage of Chiffon (Claude Autant-Lara (1942)
- A Bay of Blood (Mario Bava, 1971)
- Day for Night (François Truffaut, 1973)
As far as surprises go, as much as I enjoyed Blindspotting (a West Coast, post-millennial reflection of Do The Right Thing), Masaaki Yuasa’s Night is Short, Walk on Girl was even more impressive, a trippily fanciful tale of romantic pursuit and youthful experience. This seems to be the year that Yuasa demanded recognition as a master of the animated form, having released Night as well as Lu Over the Wall (2017) and Devilman Crybaby (2017). Yuasa’s work is defined by thin lines, careful impressionism, and bravely untethered narratives. His style is not the typical aesthetic we are accustomed to in feature animation, sometimes resembling the appearance of rough storyboards (Yuasa has worked as a storyboard artist for many projects including Space Dandy and Adventure Time) and embracing a visual distortion beyond the typical stretch and squash, but his imagination and daring seems unparalleled. Add Yuasa to this year’s crop of Oscar snubs and keep a look out for his next film, If I Could Ride a Wave With You, a romantic story connected to Lu and centred around surfing.
These last ten movies I’ve watched reflects two things: (1) I’m trying to catch up with the movies of 2018 and round out my list of favourites for the year, and (2) I’ve discovered Kanopy and I think I’m in love. (Not that I need to tell anyone reading this post but) Kanopy is a streaming service with an impressive collection of classic films, independent cinema, and documentaries. Probably the most stupendous aspect of Kanopy (over selections from The Criterion Collection, Kino, A24, Oscilloscope, The Orchard, Flicker Alley, Arbelos Films, the DEFA Film Library, and others) is the inclusion of Frederick Wiseman’s entire documentary catalog, so expect to see more Wiseman appearing on future “10 on the 10th” posts and on MMC!‘s top film discoveries for 2019!
- Racetrack (Frederick Wiseman, 1985)
- If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins, 2018)
- All You Can Eat Buddha (Ian Lagarde, 2017)
- The Phenix City Story (Phil Karlson, 1955)
- Vice (Adam McKay, 2018)
- Darker Than Amber (Robert Clouse, 1970)
- The Other Side of the World (Orson Welles, 2018)
- Save the Green Planet! (Jang Joon-hwan, 2003)
- Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher, 2018)
- Mary Poppins Returns (Rob Marshall, 2018)
Ian Lagarde’s All You Can Eat Buddha deserves some comment here as possibly the least known title of the ten. This small, Canadian film stars French actor Ludovic Berthillot as a mysterious, diabetic, Québécois tourist who becomes the patron saint of a waning all-inclusive resort, quietly performing miracles and bringing slow ruin to the vacation spot while allowing his own body to deteriorate. Buddha is strangely funny and hauntingly enigmatic, operating something like the snowbird nexus between David Lynch and Luis Buñuel. (And while technically having a late 2017 festival release, Buddha sits as my #13 title of 2018.)