Notebook's 8th Writers Poll: Fantasy Double Features of 2015

In our annual poll, we pair our favorite new films of 2015 with older films seen in the same year to create fantastic double features.

How would you program this year's newest, most interesting films into double features with movies of the past you saw in 2015?

Looking back over the year at what films moved and impressed us, it is clear that watching old films is a crucial part of making new films meaningful. Thus, the annual tradition of our end of year poll, which calls upon our writers to pick both a new and an old film: they were challenged to choose a new film they saw in 2015—in theatres or at a festival—and creatively pair it with an old film they also saw in 2015 to create a unique double feature.

All the contributors were given the option to write some text explaining their 2015 fantasy double feature. What's more, each writer was given the option to list more pairings, with or without explanation, as further imaginative film programming we'd be lucky to catch in that perfect world we know doesn't exist but can keep dreaming of every time we go to the movies.

Mike Archibald

Neil Bahadur

Uncas Blythe

Victor Bruno

Bingham Bryant

Chatrian Carlo

Jeremy Carr

Phil Coldiron

Adam Cook

Jordan Cronk

Adrian Curry

Ricky D'Ambrose

Doug Dibbern

Hossein Eidizadeh

Veronika Ferdman

The Ferroni Brigade

Sara Freeman

Micah Gottlieb

Duncan Gray

David Grillo

Tony G. Huang

Daniel Kasman

Craig Keller

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Martin Kudlac

Celluloid Liberation Front

Jaime Grijalba Gómez

Michael Guarneri

Glenn Heath Jr.

Nathan Letoré

Mark Lukenbill

Carson Lund

Chiara Marañón

Dave McDougall

Michael Pattison

Richard Porton

Kiva Reardon

Dan Sallitt

Yusef Sayed

Oliver Skinner

James Slaymaker

Alice Stoehr

Ana Sturm

Joe Sommerlad

Tanner Tafelski

Scout Tafoya

Gina Telaroli

Kyle Turner

Kurt Walker

Daniel Watkins

Neil Young


NEW: Hitchcock/Truffaut (Kent Jones, USA)

OLD: Cinéma, de notre temps Georges Franju - Le visionnair (André S. Labarthe, 1997)

Two excellent docs, each dealing with a master of the art form. I saw Franju at Vancouver’s DOXA Documentary Film Festival, in their excellent program on French documentary, and of course Kent Jones’ film is one of the key releases of the year. Both directors make great subjects, but Hitchcock—as an interviewee for Truffaut’s book and as a case of authorship—is more ambiguous. Some of the first words we hear him speak are “I don’t know,” and the movie ends with a portrayal of concealment: that famous key in Notorious (1946). This brilliant close is related directly to Hitchcock’s thematic interests, but it also serves as a metaphor for the mysteries of intent and the discernment of “art” within the director’s work. No such circumspection is necessary with Franju: he speaks with no fear of pretension, and the question of his true intentions is clouded only to the extent that his language is full of poetic ambiguity. (How are these French cineastes able to spit out what would be the most elusive insights to the rest of us with such ease?) The French director speaks frankly as a poet; the Anglo-American director sometimes as such, sometimes as a craftsman, and sometimes as a practitioner of pure cinema (“My mind is strictly visual,” etc.) This “pure” discourse has always seemed dubious to me, something like an end-run around the fact of diluted authorship and agency, and it occludes so much of the given films under consideration. There’s no doubt in my mind that both these directors were great artists, but the fact is we’ll never really know how much of Hitchcock’s ambitions were actually frustrated, or even what they truly were. The film explores this problem well, and even with Hitch as one of the most successful and uncompromising directors of the Classical Hollywood period it’s worth viewing Jones’ film in relation to his excellent interrogation of auteurism, published last year in Film Comment


NEW: Joy (David O. Russell, USA)

OLD: An American Romance (King Vidor, 1944)

Mothers and immigrants enter the world of industry and discover horrors they could have never dreamed of—and in brief visions of the future, we see the oppressed become the oppressor.

NEW: Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke, China) + OLD: Mahjong (Edward Yang, 1996)

Diaspora in crisis—1996 Taiwan is still only recently free from Chinese Nationalist Rule—leading to the country becoming a powerhouse in manufacturing in the 1990s!  Youths grow up, but their only understanding of relationships are as buying and selling goods, while the pre-dominant force behind these children is how to make money and spend as little as possible.  A vision of 2025 gives us this diaspora in existential collapse: the children's identity is no longer existent.  The former film gives us a line: "The 19th Century was the glorious age of imperialism right?  Wait until you see the 21st century."

NEW: Here's to the Future! (Gina Telaroli, USA) + OLD: Le Pont du Nord (Jacques Rivette, 1982)

The latter: women performers reconstitute Paris from city to playground. The former: A woman director revolutionizes movie-set from hierarchical system into playground.


Bathyspheres of the Distant Now

“What we’ve got in the 21st century is a confusion of the contemporary with the modern, in fact the contemporary cannot deliver the modern; there’s a kind of depthless contemporary.” —Mark Fisher

OLD: Platform (Jia Zhang-ke, 2000)

So Jia’s film about the crazy 80s is built on a paradox. History is on the move, massive change uproots everything, changes customs and drafts new social dynamics—the troupe of cultural workers (being a social creation) navigates and adapts in a beautiful and resilient way, they get to see “the world”—but the human beings stutter and fail to arrive anywhere but at a deep nostalgia. We understand that the pop songs are part of the trap. Though the songs mean nothing to me, I can still feel and see their meaningful absence in that famous scene where Zhao Tao dances in her office past the wall of filing cabinets. Or when the Poetic Train of History shoots way past the troupe’s longing to go and get somewhere. In Platform, the tragic feeling comes from being the last historical generation, doomed to live out their lives in the New Time of Non-time. They hold onto popular culture because it was actually a lived thing from the people. Their only inheritance. Things will change, as we will see. 

NEW: Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve, France)

The film is absolutely modeled on Platform. The curator joins the terrorist as the central artistic figure of our time. DJs curate your night every night. And then they do it again. Eden is a very strong film, conceptually ambitious. But at the same time utterly banal. Eden is a film about the impossibility of History ever happening in Jia’s Way. Who cares? Why watch this enervating, Debordian film at all? An acute celebratory/critique of the ultimate neo-liberal musical expression, its theme is slavery to the rhythm. The rhythm of retro remakes and reboots. Of pastiche as the highest form of genuflection. Paul’s very earnest American girlfriend says about the music, “it’s great, but I’m not sure I would listen to it at home.” And Paul looks at her with a frightening, wounded wonder and says: “I would.” He is a true believer. One of the characters, Cyril, works on a comic book history of techno music, finishes it, and commits suicide. This is delivered, very admirably, without a trace of irony. Paul, not paying attention, misses this exit and a dozen others, trapped in his ephemeral & beloved genre, Garage, but never going anywhere. But his situation is not tragic because he embodies a wave among larger waves, a minor flux in massive fluxes of curation that are just as meaningless. Despite Hansen-Løve’s obvious love for her brother, Eden is a despairing film about fake pop culture handed down by fiat from above—of useless waves caught and surfed to no avail. Apres-moi, Le Vaporwave. 


NEW: Ricki and the Flash (Jonathan Demme, USA)

OLD: Something Wild (Jonathan Demme, 1986)

If I owned a repertory cinema and if in my cinema we were exhibiting a Jonathan Demme retrospective, this is the combination I would choose when we had to show these two pictures. It catches the same director—a brilliant one—in two diametrically different points of his career. Ricki and the Flash is no Something Wild: the latter is a masterpiece and the former is not so good. Wild, in its place in Demme’s oeuvre, gives continuity to the deep exploration of the director about the roots of America, an exploration that effectively started with Melvin and Howard. Since then, the stars of his pictures are the roads of the country. The roads that lead to the people who inhabit in the country, with the girls in the diners, with the attendants in the gas stations. Then the roads turn to be streets—in the downtowns of the great cities and in the development houses (let’s recall that the climax of Silence of the Lambs takes place in the basement of a suburban house). I tend to believe that Something Wild is less about Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith's relationship, at least in the first half of the picture, and more about this American sentiment of belonging (one day I shall pinpoint the places where they go during the film to understand how different, how plural—and not how “weird”—the characters are). Then the film, in one of Demme’s riskiest choices, “shift gears,” as he says, and becomes a dark tale of obsession and passion. But if Wild is risky, Ricky and the Flash plays with safe choices for most of the time. “Risky” to the film is to show the three leading characters (Ricky, her workaholic upper middle class ex-husband, and her suicidal daughter) smoking marijuana. If once we had a director that showed respect even for his most demented characters (like Buffalo Bill from Silence), now we have a director that, victim of a poor screenplay, has to infantilize his characters. But even underneath it, even if the film is literally under-cooked, we still have the glow of a vibrant director, and if a director can still hold that glow even in a disappointing film we need to feel that glow no matter when nor with what.


NEWLi Wen at East Lake (Li Luo, China)

OLDThe Owl Service (Peter Plummer, 1969)

In two forms where the imagination would seem destined to atrophy, the children's soap and the investigative doc, something nonsensical, disturbing, bizarre, burbles to the surface. It's the poetic; a lava expelled from the anxious vibrations between estranged layers of time and reality. These layers tend to eclipse one another when represented, but here the political, the mythic, the topographical and the psychosexual not only coexist but cosubstantiate. For Li Luo's Li Wen at East Lake, a Google Map is as profoundly inseparable from rollercoasters, the art of detection and nude opera as, in Peter Plummer and Alan Garner's The Owl Service, the first, furtive kiss of young love is from ancient horrors, class struggle and the diverse pleasures of the Welsh landscape in summer. These are films about the return of the repressed, in both (dis)embodied by spirits of the wind, that blow indiscriminately through all plot and character, form and content, that strip leaves from the trees and our world of the screens of illusion. 


NEW: Slow West (John Maclean, UK/New Zealand)

OLD: Calamity Jane (David Butler, 1953)

Just when it seems the Western has no new territory to roam or has worn out its welcome as a relevant American genre, along come refreshing variations like Calamity Jane and Slow West. In the 1953 feature, the hilariously rough and tumble titular heroine (Doris Day) sings and dances with tremendous gusto as the film plays against sexual norms, delightfully subverting the Western's gender conventions while still resting comfortably on notions of traditional romance. Slow West, after The Hateful Eight and Bone Tomahawk the most famous Western of the year (that there have been three exceptional Westerns in 2015 says something about the genre's staying power and its capacity for advancement), stars Michael Fassbender as the laconic, morally dubious outlaw Silas Selleck, who seemingly aims to take advantage of the naive Scottish import Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as the two track down Cavendish's lover on the lam. While the first film is Hollywood at its very best—largely studio-bound, it is clean, clear, and highly entertaining—the contemporary feature works its generic magic by way of gorgeously composed imagery (shot in the "western" wilderness of New Zealand), a quirky tonal sensibility, and ambiguous characterizations, keeping the Western fresh for a more critically discerning art house audience.


NEW: Chevalier (Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece)

OLD: The Osterman Weekend (Sam Peckinpah, 1983)

In the end, despite all efforts, cinema is an instrument of domination. Created by white, bourgeois men, quickly became a tool to seize the view from all over the world. It is a way to shape reality and give form to imagery. Films can be filled with poetry and represent the frailty of life, still they have to deal with cruelty and power. Having worked on a retrospective on Sam Peckinpah, I’m much aware of the relation between these two aspects. There is a one film by Peckinpah which I consider underrated and even more prophetic than others much more quoted. It is his last one, The Osterman Weekend. Almost the whole story is set in a house which becomes a kind of prison, in the sense that residents cannot avoid big brother's eye looking upon them. Based upon a Robert Ludlum novel, The Osterman Weekend pays tribute to the special “Cold War” atmosphere, where everyone can be suspected of being the enemy. It is a cold man hunting, where the hunter becomes the prey.

I would like to pair it with the new film by Athina Rachel Tsangari, Chevalier. The film is about a group of friends sharing a holiday—taking place probably during a weekend. The film is set on a luxury boat, where seven men start a peculiar game in order to establish who will the most perfect one. Chevalier is a film about the obsession for control—and the boat little by little becomes a place of no-escape. Like Peckinpah, Athina works with a real locations, taking advantage from restriction of movements. The first time I watched Chevalier, I had in mind Jean Renoir's La règle du jeu: maybe because of the great last scene—with the waiters playing the same game as the main characters—or maybe because the film is also a great—but tragic—comedy. Now I see it much more as a Peckinpah film: a film that shows manpower, that mixture between friendship and competition, where the betrayal is always behind the door. Displaying a good dose of cruelty, Chevalier shows that the big brother attitude is now unavoidable, it has become part of every one of us, since all characters share a sadistic pleasure in controlling and finding weakness in the others. 


NEW: Vivir para Vivir (Live to Live, Laida Lertxundi, USA)

OLD: Untitled (Grass Breathing) (Ana Mendiata, 1975)

If I say to you that words are never enough. If I say to you that “you organize nothing.” If I say to you that one does not ever fall back to safety after she has been pushed. If I say to you that a jar of pickles is only there to be taken down. If I say to you that images are never enough. If I say to you that this is how you should remember this trip. If I say to you that the grass is breathing. If I say to you that it’s breathing because it’s a woman. Good grief you know what I mean. If I say to you that you don’t. If I say to you that I don’t care about politics. If I say to you that I do. If I say to you that this year has been good. If I say to you that this is the sound of pleasure. If I say to you that this isn’t. If I say to you that this is the color. If I say to you that this is only here because something else cannot be. If I say that you that this is only here because something else cannot be anymore. If I say to you that no really it has been. If I say to you that of course that doesn’t mean it’s been ok. If I say to you that “I’ve lost all my pride/I’ve been to paradise and out the other side.” If I say to you that Laida Lertxundi and Ana Mendieta’s films give me a better idea of how bodies might perform. If I say to you that I realize what kind of idiot it takes to need help with that. If I say to you that I know at least one idiot. Good grief I know what you mean. 


NEW: The Event (Sergei Loznitsa, Netherlands/Belgium)

OLD: The Battle of Chile (Patricio Guzmán, 1975)

An event, a battle, the past, the future, two Coups, contrasts of hope and ruin, urgency, stunning footage of crowds, solidarity, passion—all re-contextualized with 20/20 hindsight.


NEW: Joy (David O. Russell, USA) + OLD: An American Romance (King Vidor, 1944)

NEW: Lost & Beautiful (Pietro Marcello, Italy) + OLD: The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964)

NEW: The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino, USA) + OLD: Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)

NEW: The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan) + OLD: Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)


NEW: Night without Distance (Lois Patiño, Spain)

OLD: Track of the Cat (William A. Wellman, 1954)

From Hou Hsiao-hsien’s exquisite vistas, to Ben Rivers’ sun-scorched plains, to Daichi Saïto’s fading frontiers, 2015 was a rich year for filmic landscapes. It’s somehow appropriate, then, that Galician artist Lois Patiño, an honest-to-god landscape filmmaker, would return with the most beguilingly beautiful film of his young career. By applying negative-image reversals to his typically languorous shots of remote outdoor environments (in this case, the Gerês Mountains between Portugal and Galicia), Patiño casually conjures a truly alien terrain—all radioactive pigments and polychromatic textural densities—on which to stage an unsettlingly tranquil smuggling narrative. Eliciting similarly disorienting results via very different means, Hollywood journeyman William A. Wellman, displeased with Warner Bros’ insistence that he shoot his 1954 western in color, opted instead to limit his visual palette to the most muted hues and the bleakest of backdrops, effectively draining the CinemaScope image of its more traditionally tangible pleasures. Save, that is, for Robert Mitchum’s striking red hunting jacket, which moves like a crimson mirage amidst the otherwise monochromatic surroundings.


NEWThe Good Dinosaur (Peter Sohn, USA)

OLD(-ish): Step Up 3D (Jon M. Chu, 2010)

I could have gone a little more highbrow with this, pairing David Lean’s The Passionate Friends (1949)—probably the best film I saw all year—with Todd Haynes’ Carol, but in 2015 the two most ecstatic experiences I had in the cinema by far were these two unrevered marvels.

The filmmaker Lewis Klahr—no stranger to ecstatic cinema himself—once talked to me (and I think he may have been quoting someone else) about “good screenings of bad movies” and “bad screenings of good movies” and how your reception of a film can be all about where you sit in the theater, what time of day it is and how you are feeling at that particular time. My experience of Step Up 3D may have had a lot to do with the fact that I saw it with my daughter on a lovely Spring Friday evening (at BAM, in their retrospective of 3D in the 21st Century retrospective), and likewise my appreciation of The Good Dinosaur was no doubt heavily skewed by the fact that I saw it on vacation with my family in Montreal, in an enormous theater on an almost-IMAX size screen (this after we had had to take a cab across the city in the pouring rain after having made the mistake of showing up at a dubbed séance of Le Bon Dinosaur).

Let’s make no bones about it—these are not great films. Or, to give discredit where discredit is due, these are not well-written films. They are corny and cloying, full of sentimental exhortations to make your mark and follow your dreams, and their plot machinations are often eye-rollingly inane. On Metacritic The Good Dinosaur has a 66—an all-time low for a non-sequel Pixar film— and Step Up 3D has a 45. But hands down these were the two most enjoyable screenings I had in the cinema all year (and that even includes my final, past-the-wall, over-the-finish-line, screening of the last segment of Rivette’s 13-hour Out 1). For all their flaws, these films were pure pleasure. Each is pure spectacle—the dancing in SU3D and the landscapes in TGD making for a multitude of sins. And they’d make a great urban-rural yin and yang double-bill. Step Up makes splendid use of its New York settings: pitting dance battles in Dumbo lofts, abandoned Red Hook factories and flooded Chinatown basements; The Good Dinosaur, set in the Great American Outdoors, revels in its photo-realist natural settings and it rivals only Hou-hsiao Hsien’s The Assassin for the most gorgeous landscape movie of the year.

And let’s not forget that I saw both films in 3D—a technology that I don’t remember adding anything to my experience of The Martian, but in the right hands and with the right material (the only 20-minutes that matter of Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk being the best example), can still be magical and sometimes essential. And I have no doubt that I will never see either of them in such perfect circumstances ever again. But we’ll always have Montreal.


NEW: Live to Live (Laida Lertxundi, USA)

OLD: Gaslight (George Cukor, 1944)

Boyer gets Bergman to believe that the set-up is all wrong, that she doesn’t really see (or think) what she says she does, that every change in the scenery isn’t a change at all, but something imagined or pathological—or both. When Cukor pulls a brooch or a painting out of the frame, he’s building illusion by elision, misleading Bergman (Boyer tells her she’s losing her mind, and she believes it) and, in the process, structuring the film around competing levels of information and deceit. The results, like the eleven-minute Live to Live, are typically ominous and strange. Lertxundi’s camera jumps from her own electrocardiogram results to images of California mountains, potentially joining one group of “peaks and troughs”—a grid crossed by a fine, jagged line—to another. Both movies put a woman in the center of a distorted situation, crammed with mixed signals. What Cukor does by narrative fits and starts, and by a slow unwinding of Betgman’s psychological composure, Lertxundi does almost entirely with soft sounds and flat images. 


NEW: Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, USA)

OLDDolemite (D’Urville Martin, 1975).

For most people, these movies represent opposite poles. Spotlight is an intelligently written, subtly acted, and well-balanced film that received universal praise from critics across the board. Dolemite, on the other hand, is a piece of campy hackwork: the kung fu master Rudy Ray Moore can barely lift his leg off the ground, the acting style is unintentionally Brechtian, and there must be at least sixteen shots where the sound boom dips into the frame. Nevertheless, my tastes these days lean more towards the latter film. Spotlight is so perfectly well-designed that every single audience member will experience the same degree of outraged indignation by the time the credits roll. But Dolemite’s playfully self-aware incompetence makes its possible readings and reactions much more unpredictable. Its politics are troubling. Its imperfections empower—or perhaps imperil—the viewer. Its very existence confounds our desire for a communal aesthetic and political sensibility that Spotlight so eagerly—if heedlessly—embraces.


NEW: Arabian Nights: Volume 1 - The Restless One, Arabian Nights: Volume 2 - The Desolate One and Arabian Nights: Volume 3 - The Enchanted One (Miguel Gomes, Portugal)

OLD: Arabian Nights (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Italy/France, 1974)

WHY: It took cinema more than 40 years to go beyond the “liberated” cinema of Pasolini and specially what he did in Il fiore delle mille e una notte. Arabian Nights by Gomes is at the same time an homage to Pasolini's style and also a new milestone in liberated narrative; a kind of storytelling abundant with bawdy tales and absurdity that abandons all the rules while preserving them, where stories are like free radicals and each has its own form and agenda. Gomes introduces himself as the narrator in the first installment only to run away from the scene and then it is Scheherazade who takes his place and tells us about contemporary Portugal in a mythical way. In the third installment, Scheherazade appears on the screen for the first time to see the world for the last time. In this way Arabian Nights becomes the most daring experimental film of the year, a movie that mixes myth and reality, past and now, sadness and joy to create a liberated form free from any rules but its own.

NEW: Noc Walpurgi (Marcin Bortkiewicz, Poland) + OLD: In Darkness (Agnieszka Holland, Poland/Germany/Canada, 2011)

NEW: The Brand New Testament (Jaco Van Dormael, Belgium) + OLD: The Last Temptation of the Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)

NEW: Love (Gaspar Noe, France) + OLD: Nymphomaniac – Vol 1 and Vol 2 – Director’s Cut (Lars von Trier, 2013)


NEW: Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2014)

OLD: Who Am I This Time? (Jonathan Demme, 1982)

Phoenix:a drama that makes you want to glance away from the screen to break free of the awful tension and ambiguity of human morality and action. Her face altered, Nina Hoss comes back from the near-dead and must act out a role - that of her pre-WWII self. Who Am I This Time?: a comedy about a woman in love with a man who is no one unless he is on stage acting out the part of being someone else. In both: we act in order to live.


NEW: We Are Your Friends (Max Joseph, 2015) + OLD: Staying Alive (Sylvester Stallone, 1983)

Bildungsroman pop.

NEW: Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry, 2015)  + OLD: The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)

Welcome to hell.

NEW: The Age of Adaline (Lee Toland Krieger, 2015) + OLD: Someone's Watching Me! (John Carpenter, 1978)

A woman alone.


Double Trouble-Tempest 2015 

Snuff (1976; Andrzej Kostenko & Karl Martine & Richard Reuwen Rimmel) & T is for Torture Porn [Episode of ABCs of Death 2] (2014; Jennifer & Sylvia Soska)

L is for Libido [Episode of ABCs of Death] (2012; Timo Tjahjanto) & Alraune [Episode of German Angst] (Andreas Marschall)

Pamana [Episode of The Invasion: Shake, Rattle and Roll Fourteen] (2012; Chito Sixto Roño) & The Nightmare (Rodney Asher)


Umanità (1919; Elvira Giallanella) & The Childhood of a Leader (Brady Corbet)

The Twilight Zone: The Road Less Traveled (1986; Wes Craven) & Make a Wish [Episode of German Angst] (Michał Kosakowski)

Longinus (2004; Kitamura Ryūhei) & The Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon)


Les animaux pendant la guerre (1917; Robert Baudouin? & Charles Blanc?) & Torneranno i prati (2014; Ermanno Olmi)

Deutsche Panzer (1940; Walther Ruttmann) & Fury (2014; David Ayer)

Bā dào lóu zi (1976; Zhāng Chè & Wǔ Mǎ & Xióng Tíngwǔ) & Zhì qǔ wēi hǔshān (2014; Ceoi4 Hak1 {Tsui Hark})


[Service d'engagement dans les troupes coloniales] (1950s) & Monsters: Dark Continent (2014; Tom Green)

L'Ordre et la Morale (2011; Mathieu Kassovitz) & Klaaglied (Christo Doherty & Aryan Kaganof)

The Separation Line (2011; Katie Davies) & Battles (Isabelle Tollenaere)


Bora Bora (1968; Ugo Liberatore) & Co1 gei6 (Jau1 Lai5 Tou4 {Herman Yau})

Robinson und seine wilden Sklavinnen (1972; Jess Franco) & The Exquisite Corpus (Peter Tscherkassky)

Serial Killer (1978) & Final Girl [Episode of German Angst] (Jörg Buttgereit)


In Mourning and In Rage (1978; Leslie Labowitz & Suzanne Lacy) & Me quedo contigo (2014: Artemio Narro)

The Question of Manet's Olympia: Posed and Skirted (1989; Martha Baer & Jessica Chalmers & Erin Cramer & Andrea Fraser & Marianne Weems) & Hierba (Raúl Perrone)

Those Who Suffer Love (2009; Tracey Emin) & Mikä on yhteisö (Erkka Nissinen)


Crime Does Not Pay No.34: Forbidden Passage (1941; Fred Zinnemann) & Saat3 Po3 Long4 II (Zeng6 Bou2 Seoi6 {Soi Cheang})

Last Holiday (1950, Henry Cass) & Fau4 waa4 jin3 (Jau1 Lai5 Tou4 {Herman Yau} & Wong4 Baak3 Ming4 {Raymond Wong})

Maigret et l'affaire Saint-Fiacre (1959; Jean Delannoy) & Mr. Holmes (Bill Condon)


Money Power (Owo L'Agba) (1983; Ọla Balogun) & O ka (Solomani Sisé)

Oncle Bernard – L'Anti-leçon d'économie (2000-2015; Richard Brouillette) & Informe general II: El nuevo rapto de Europa (Pere Portabella)

The Guerilla Is a Poet (2013; Kiri & Sari Dalena) & Last Man in Dhaka Central [The Young Man Was, Part 3] (Na ͑îm Mohaiyemen)

Vozvraščenie Vasilija Bortnikova (1953; Vsevolod Pudovkin) & Ausma (Laila Pakalniņa)

Internacional (1971; Aleksandr Šejn & Aleksandr Svetlov) & Sobytie (Sergej Loznica)

Oko za oko (2013; Gennadij Poloka) & Pesn' pesnej (Eva Nejman)


La valigia dei sogni (1953; Luigi Comencini) & Tunteiden Temppelit (Jouko Aaltonen)

Laboratorio teatrale di Luca Ronconi (1977; Jancsó Miklós) & Gli uomini di questa città io non li conosce. Vita e teatro di Franco Scaldati (Franco Maresco)

Visita ou Memórias e Confissões (1982/2015; Manoel de Oliveira) & Nà rì xiàwǔ (Cài Mínglàng) 


NEW: BB Talk music video (Miley Cyrus and Diamond Martel) + OLD: Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006)

Young fashion-forward women rebelling and breaking free from the roles they were (practically) forced to do. Neither wants to be boxed in, but both want something in their boxes.

Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz is my favorite release of the year.

NEW: Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs) + OLD: Thru the Mirror (David Hand, 1936)

Mickey and Mike both venture down the rabbit hole and thru the mirror. Both spin their ladies around and upside down in front of a group of people. Don’t think Mickey ever got the chance to high-five his reflection, though.

NEW: Creed (Ryan Coogler) + OLD: The Shootist (Don Siegel, 1976)

Hurts like hell to bid farewell to your heroes.

NEW: Hail Mary catch (Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions, 12/3/2015) + OLD: Way Down East (D.W. Griffith, 1920)

Glorious last minute save that restored faith back in both Gish and Rodgers. They were almost goners.

NEW: Me adjusting to living back in the USA + OLD: I Was a Male War Bride (Howard Hawks, 1949)

“But you can’t sleep here!” 


NEW: Mistress America (Noah Baumbach, USA)

OLD: Wimbledon Stage (Mathieu Amalric, 2001)

This year I felt undone by two overtly literary movies about female intellectuals (and budding artists) in frantic pursuit of their respective muses, both of which result in a kind of failed or unconsummated project. I say “literary” because both movies concern themselves with the world of writers, whether as an exclusive cult to be penetrated, or more broadly as an ongoing interpersonal exchange of ideas—but also because they both use a form of contrapuntal voice-over narration that invites our cerebrum to become more deeply involved. This effect—most easily defined as hearing one thing, while looking at another—creates a sense of a tactile, parallel reality to the one depicted in the images, much like the sensation of reading a book and imagining something very specific in your head which may very well be your own. (Though it probably isn’t.) As soon as Mistress America began—and did any movie this year so perfectly sum up its guiding principles in the opening seconds?—I knew I was gearing up for a unique kind of betrayal: the ping-pong of received wisdom and lived experience, played out through plastic, exclusive and deceptively theatrical dialogue, creates a doubled environment where no one feels comfortable in their own skin; and every interaction feels borrowed from elsewhere only to be used as a feint. Whereas we may never truly know the woman Jeanne Balibar portrays in Wimbledon Stage, whose director (and then-husband) is no less in love with form, finding endless ways to step back and watch his actress think. Adapted from an Italian novel but shot without a script, Amalric follows Balibar around Trieste as she interviews various acquaintances of a renowned editor to understand why he never published his own work. The mystery writer’s supposed absence of ego mirrors Amalric’s detached approach to the filmmaking, a stately melange of on-the-fly location shooting and salon conversation, privileging interior monologue without prescription. Both films are unfussy and bittersweet, charting their subjects’ movements and obsessions but leaving the reasons up to us. (They also explore the illusion that in order to make art, you have to travel.)

NEW: Approaching the Elephant (Amanda Rose Wilder, USA) + OLD: The Decline of Western Civilization (Penelope Spheeris, 1981)

Two of the greatest movies ever made by women about children.


NEW: The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan)

OLD: Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)

It's probably perverse that while I was watching Johnny GuitarThe Assassin came back to mind. Both are films heavily defined by their look, though their looks are almost diametrically opposed. The world of The Assassin is lush and organic: every glowing candle or billowing cloud of fog is in love with the elements and pushes the film towards transcendental poetry. Johnny Guitar is wildly garish; nothing in it looks natural, including the trees and the sky, which I assume are real. Yet surely there is a kinship between Hou's assassin who doesn't want to assassinate and Ray's gunslinger who doesn't want to gun-sling. These are two films in dialogue and rebellion against their own nominal genres. The bizarro West of Johnny Guitar exists, whether it was intended that way or not, to give the wounds of melodrama more importance than the bodies-in-motion of a showdown in the streets. The Assassin sets up a "wuxia" game of realpolitik, too complicated for any sane person to keep up with, but then, like its heroine, opts out and searches for beauty instead. Their desire to disengage couldn't be more urgent.

NEW: It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, USA) + OLD: Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

The haunting of two young women, separated by a half-century of social norms, and two straw-into-gold examples of American independent horror.

NEW: Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman & Duke Johnson, USA) + OLDThat Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel, 1977)

The deliciously simple surrealism of stunt casting: two actors in one role for Buñuel, one actor in many for Kaufman, and no rationality for either.

NEW: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, Australia) + OLD: The Big Heat (Fritz Lang, 1953)

Electrifying macho genre films as subversive feminist allegories, and a good deal tougher than their peers.

NEW: Tangerine (Sean Baker, USA) + OLD: A Room in Town (Jacques Demy, 1982)

Two boldly incongruous attempts to smash lightness and darkness together into a coherent cinematic vision. How well each works is a matter of taste. But thank god someone tries.


NEW: The Club (Pablo Larraín, Chile)

OLD: Nazarin (Luis Buñuel, 1959)

For the accumulation of sin within the church and the accumulation of sin outside it amassing within the walls of the church and through the hallways of the outside world these films are a slap in the face of both the new Catholicism and the old. In Nazarin, a priest must keep his faith during his pilgrimage through a corrupt world and in The Club a defrocked priesthood must keep their faith in the eyes of a corrupt church. In many ways Nazarin seems to challenge what is at the heart of so much of Buñuel’s work, a challenge Buñuel may have set up for himself in the interest of portraying Nazarin sympathetically, as Nazarin is able to find the affirmation of his faith in the world at large. The priest in The Club and those within the so-called Club live in a half way house for priests, a place meant to cover up their crimes from the outside world. The church can then remain unharmed and continue its existence. The Club reveals the loss of the church’s moral container in the secular world; whereas Nazarin was a bleak vision of what the church has to offer the world. Now Nazarin appears to me as a compassionate depiction. And taking a step closer, in The Club the church is only there to devour itself and in a modern world both the stains of the sin and the sinner get washed away. 


NEW: Something, Anything (Paul Harrill, USA)

OLD: Little Man, What Now? (Frank Borzage, 1934)

My first thought after seeing Paul Harrill's wonderful, rather under-seen Something, Anything is that this is a guy who knows something about the American '30s. Getting more particular, I thought Harrill had a lot in common with the great romantic director Frank Borzage, whose films I had a chance to see this year on the big screen. The subjects of the two films are not readily comparable: Something, Anything is something of a spiritual journey that morphs and fuses into a very odd romance; Little Man, What Now? is a romance that pegs itself to social upheaval and swings for transcendence. But I think it's easy to sense a connection between the two films in the realm of sensibility. Both films evince a real faith, a real conviction that happiness is possible. Neither films let this faith blind them to the myriad obstacles that prevent a smooth arrival at that destination.


NEW: No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, Belgium)

OLD: Remembrance: A Portrait Study (Edward Owens, 1967) + Private Imaginings and Narrative Facts (Edward Owens, 1968 - 70)

Two lives cut short yet not in youth. Akerman, making a final film for her mother and herself (No Home Movie), exhibiting and re-staging her old work again (the NOW exhibition in London), and then taking her own life in a decisive gesture I've yet to understand. Owens, an unimaginably talented avant-garde filmmaker in his youth—brought to New York in the 60s under the luminary eyes of Gregory Markopoulos—stopped making films at 22 due to addiction and bi-polar disorder. These above short films of his—two of the three screened by Light Industry in 2015 in the year's most eye-opening cinematic experience for me—are also about Owens' mother: portraiture of his mother in his youth. And meanwhile, Chantal records her own mother in the filmmaker's middle-age, the age, roughly, at which Owens died—and we see a gulf of time and possibility crossed between this Belgian Jewish woman and this African American man, gaps gaping and bridges crossed.

NEW: Engram of Returning (Daïchi Saïto, Canada) + OLD : Sayon's Bell (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1943)

Shimizu's wartime film was projected with at least one reel missing, a testament to so much left unsaid in a pastoral joyfully devoted to indigenous Taiwanese peasants who are, at this time, being occupied and ruled by the Japanese who have come to make a film about them. Saïto's stunning hand-printed film is a glorious, pulsing travelogue smearing from abstraction to barely-glimpsed landscapes, and here too is the wondrous freedom of the outdoors, of the countryside, irrevocably a part of something unnameable, unexplainable and perhaps much darker. A bonus addition might be made of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's oddball countryside ghost story, Journey to the Shore.

NEW: The Taking of Tiger Mountain (Tsui Hark, China) + OLD: Apache Drums (Hugo Fregonese, 1951)

Siege films of the Nation, and damn good genre work.

NEW: Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand) + OLD: Actua 1 (Philippe Garrel, 1968)

The most bracing, dismaying political films of the year.

NEW: The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan) + OLD: I Am Suzanne! (Rowland V. Lee, 1933)

Women attaining agency, power and self-knowledge.

NEW: Field Niggas (Khalik Allah, USA) + OLD: Taza, Son of Cochise (Douglas Sirk, 1954)

Disturbed portraits of the positions of race in America.

NEW: Bleak Street (Arturo Ripstein, Mexico) + OLD: Soft Fiction (Chick Strand, 1979)



NEW: Time (Theodore Collatos, USA) [watch here]

OLD: Dave Lambert: Audition at RCA (D. A. Pennebaker, 1964)

I decided to write about two films involving people standing—in the act of standing, standing up—to write about two films singing “Get on up.” The one is a short by Theodore (Teddy) Collatos and serves as an adjunct to his 2014 feature Dipso, whose infamy has grown steadily upon the picture’s rough-cut clips passing person-to-person as the barfly cinephile samizdat of 2012 in the wake of the barely publicized online postings of excellent prior shorts Berlin Day to Night and Adam and Joel. To quote Bob Dylan, 2004, on 60 Minutes“I’n’t that somethin’,” and ain’t it though: for Teddy is a mensch who spends more time worrying about that truth he can cull or divine before his camera and mic, spends more time for certain on that matter than on “color-correction” or ins-and-outs of onscreen title credits (not that most directors pay attention to that anyway nor make the editing theirs and theirs alone). Collatos is a great photographer of the city, especially of the subway, too, and in black and white: one of the best on Instagram besides Jay Giampietro, who like Teddy also makes the sneakiestly emotional films you can see nowadays from any New York filmmaker.

The second movie I want to talk about is D. A. Pennebaker’s Dave Lambert: Audition at RCA, which was included in the Criterion Blu-ray of Pennebaker’s Dont Look Back. Jazz-idiom vocalist/songwriter Dave Lambert arrives at RCA with a retinue of others to pit saintly five-person in excelsis vs. his own piano and percussion arrangement. Most notably included is Mary Vonnie, beautiful eye-Egyptian star, sparkling as she sings. Extraordinary discipline in the on-the-spot harmonizing of Lambert’s song compositions captured by Pennebaker’s camera and mic. Know that Lambert (Pan’ic, perfect ’64 charismus like Huston in Devil and Daniel Webster, a lot to talk about him alone in a separate essay) was killed in a car accident shortly after this picture, and anyway RCA rejected their (Pennebaker-captured) audition. The only audio recordings of these compositions exist on Pennebaker’s film. What is Mary Vonnie up to these days? She’s a life-coach and has a website, exists under a married name. Given this, what would née Mary Vonnie have to say about Teddy’s subjects? Three pairs talking idiom riddim behind the bars in neon suits before identical stainless-steel sinks and the shitholes in their cells, trying to figure out what next once out of Mass county jail, etc., and plunged into sentencing or anticipating the next time round. Taking the captors’ dialogue and juxtaposing it ‘mindfully’ with Vonnie’s present stage, I think about the supposed rights of human pleasure and freedom, of what Vonnie and therapists proclaim the ‘right’ to a ‘happy life’—I think about richer and European friends, who believe vacation is something everyone must experience once or twice a year at least—again, a fundamental human right of some sort, which on its face seems totally crazy to me. This movement of course is at the core of so many Éric Rohmer films.

The figures in Collatos’s film stand and sing, speaking, wanting special separation and inclusion, like Ventura or the interior geist of Balibar in Pedro Costa’s films: especially, respectively, Horse Money and Ne change rien. In Dave Lambert: Audition at RCA, Mary Vonnie sang, with Lambert et al in his “Comfy Cozy”: “You know you can’t swing with that / God bless the child who gets his love at home / Fortunate cat.” Both pictures implicate their protagonists (both in holding cells of sorts) in the waiting for some transformative nod from off-film authorities or, rather, force them to await sentencing of this or that sort..


NEW: Ella Maillart: Double Journey (Antonio Bigini, Mariann Lewinsky, 2015)

SLIGHTLY OLD: Jag stannar tiden (Gunilla Bresky, 2014)

VERY OLD: Casting Ella Maillart (Jean Grémillon, 1926) [short]

Though the terms “double journey” appears only in the title of one of the main two films, they both are cinematic double journeys. They exist because someone has undertaken a difficult trip, filmed it, and now a contemporary filmmaker can put the fragments of the past together and reconstruct not only the journey but also a lost cinema.

One traveler is Swiss, the other, a Russian. The Swiss Ella Maillart (1903-1997) drove her Ford car (accompanied by Annemarie Schwarzenbach) all the way from Geneva to Iran and Afghanistan, documenting on film and photograph various stages of the trip. The Russian war cinematographer Vladislav Mikosha (1909-2004), filmed the atrocities during the war (most of which were deemed too distressful to be used in propaganda newsreels), and as a part of The American-Russian Cultural Association made a trip to Hollywood where he dance with Hedy Lamarr.

Both films are about using cinema as means of leaving the troubled world behind and escaping to a new safe zone. Yet, both stories are reminiscing of post-digital filmmaking, where film footage, text and travel (to film festivals?) come into the service of the adventurer/narrator.

Jag stannar tiden is more about the Second World War, though Double Journey is also dealing with it from afar where the war appears in the form of news pieces and speculations in Maillart’s diary book. Nevertheless, they both are conceived as visual diaries. In Ella Maillart’s case, the diary is used as the map/script of the journey/film by Lewinsky/Bigini. Mikosha’s diary is arguably more elaborate and detailed. He is not allowed to film while on a mission in London, so text is the only means of picturing an ordinary night in the life of Londoners when they keep watching an Ingrid Bergman film under the blitz. The cinema screen trembles throughout the screening, as if Ingrid Bergman, thousands of miles away shooting For Whom the Bell Tolls, is trembling in fear for Europe. Later on, Mikosha tells that story to Bergman herself and she cries.

Regarding things that cannot be filmed, Maillart remains more clandestine and when she’s not allowed to film something, it doesn’t mean that she wouldn’t do so. That’s how in the middle of the film I caught a glimpse of my hometown in color. Most probably the first color footage of Mashhad, Iran in film history, Maillart secretly films the Holly Shrine of Imam Reza and its golden dome.

Between the two films, one can be given the chance to observe Ella Maillart in person, as documented by Jean Grémillon’s camera. Casting Ella Maillart lasts for two minutes and is nothing short of a painted portrait. Hence, one can see the whole programme as an investigation into various landscapes of the soul, when the outer world is a projection of what the traveler feels or wants to feel inside.


NEW: Videophilia (And Other Viral Syndromes) (Juan Daniel F. Molero, Peru)

OLD: The Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973)

The pope of esoteric midnight movies, Alejandro Jodorowsky, might be wrapping his body of work with sequel to self-mythologizing oeuvre Endless Poetry (based on his certified—larger than life—psychomagical autobiography) and has already taken us further down the genealogical tree in certified carnivalesque prequel and family saga Where the Bird Sings Best (English translation rolled out this year) sealing the aggrandizement of the myth of genius mystic. Even though The Holy Mountain may feel outdated and is the ultimate proof why the medium of graphic novels fits better the tarotmaster's intentions, the arch-narrative of pursuit for knowledge and enlightenment having encoded the feel of the 70s as Jodorowsky's dealing of maxims on life, universe and everything at the speed of fire. Where he tries to open horizons of wisdom, Juan Daniel F.Molero embarks on cyber-apocalyptic downward spiral of entropy in Videophilia (And Other Viral Syndromes), where old and new worlds collide in back alleys of Lima. Eviscerated rats, sloppy homemade porn, dubious acid trips were elevated into the high order of arcane symbolism of the ginew millennium ushered ceremonially by their prophet Molero into rabbit hole of Trojan horses, stream of appalling GIF pictures and buzzing screens. Besides, his underground epiphany intriguingly encapsulates recent cultural boom, cinematic outburst and creative overflow from Latin America.

NEW: The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, UK) + OLD: The Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973)

Because camels are criminally underrepresented in moving pictures and in 2015 and 2014, dog had its year (Omerzu's Family Film, Anderson's Heart of a Dog, Mundruczó's White God, Godard's Goodbye to Language, etc.)

NEW: Show Pieces (Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins, UK) + OLD: The Holy Mountain (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973)

Because Jodorowsky migrated from moving pictures onto sequential art and it was a wise career change; and Alan Moore succumbed to the moving pictures siren call and provided a mystical experience.


NEW: Arabian Nights (Miguel Gomes, Portugal)

OLD: Kim Kardashian: Fit in Your Jeans by Friday - Ultimate Butt Body Sculpt (Darren Capik, 2009)

Both films transcend their specious subject matters, the economic crisis read through a sterile reinvention of the Arabian Nights for Gomes, fitness and butt sculpting for Capik. Both films are the byproduct of extremely effective and virulent marketing campaigns whose veritable protagonists are Gomes’ ego and Kim Kardashian’s butt which have in fact blown out of proportions. Roland Barthes you were wrong, the author is not dead, not at all. It’s so alive that s/he’s turned into a graven image of idolatry.

NEW: Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, USA)

OLD: Flames of War (ISIS, 2014)

One film is about how disgraceful being a promiscuous slut is and how women should marry and be good wives. The other I don’t know because I don’t speak Arabic but looks like one of those Chuck Norris flicks.


NEW: Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea)

OLD: Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2006)

Two films that work like four. Experiences of broken narratives, films that play with the idea of putting the same (or similar) characters in two different situations and see them play out. Both films have some reflexive element: in one, the actors talk about how they're making a movie; in the other, the main character is a film director. Seeing these two films actually two weeks apart, one from the other, made me realize how lucky we are that we are seeing these filmmakers work in the present time, they are among the most valuable and fun to experience and it always makes me curious to see where they'll go next. It's the film that cemented my interest on Hong, and the one that "unlocked" Apichatpong for me.

NEW: World of Tomorrow (Don Hertzfeldt, USA) + OLD: Fuego en Castilla (Tactilvisión del páramo del espanto) (José Val del Omar, 1961)

Short films that have incredibly experimental visual cues that surprise and make you fearful and teary eyed.

NEW: Placer y martirio (José Celestino Campusano, Argentina) + OLD: The Wasp Woman (Roger Corman and Jack Hill, 1959)

The obsession with beauty, the blood, the women, the hunger for sex and success.

NEW: La tierra y la sombra (César Augusto Acevedo, Columbia) + OLD: La tierra quema (Raymundo Gleyzer, 1964)

The documentary made 51 years before still works as a template for the reality portrayed in the fiction by the Colombian director.

NEW: Chappie (Neill Blomkamp, Australia) + Tetra Vaal (Neill Blomkamp, 2004)

Prequel and Sequel.

NEW: Tag (Sion Sono, Japan) + OLD: Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973)

There's always something behind all that we see.

NEW: The Chinese Mayor (Hao Zhou, China) + OLD: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939)

Working for the people, the same spirit, different ways of working.

NEW: Arabian Nights (Miguel Gomes, Portugal) + OLD: Metal and Melancholie (Heddy Honigmann, 1994) + Miss Universo en el Peru (Grupo Chaski, 1982) +  Radio Belén (1983, Gianfranco Annichini, 1983)

Portraits of a time of crisis.


"The lesson Frankenstein (1818) and Dracula (1897) wish to impart is that one need not be afraid of going mad; that is one need not fear one's own repressions, the splitting of one's own psyche. No, one should be afraid of the monster, of something material, something external: "Dr Van Helsing, are you mad?" ... "Would I were" he said. "Madness were easy to bear compared with truth like this." Would I were: this is the key. Madness is nothing in comparison with the vampire. Madness does not present a problem. Or rather: madness, in itself, does not exist: it is the vampire, the monster, the potion that creates it. Dracula, written in the same year that saw Freud begin his self-analysis, is a refined attempt by the nineteenth-century mind not to recognize itself. This is symbolized by the character who—already in the grip of fear—finds himself by chance in front of a mirror. He looks at it and jumps: in the mirror is a reflection of his face. But the reader's attention is immediately distracted: the fear does not come from his having seen his own image, but from the fact that the vampire is not reflected in the mirror. Finding himself face to face with the simple, terrible truth, the author—and with him the character and the reader—draws back in horror." —Franco Moretti, The Dialectics of Fear

NEW: Bei xi mo shou a.k.a. (2015) Behemoth Zhao Liang, China)

OLD: Ye ban ge sheng a.k.a. Song at Midnight (Weibang Ma-Xu, 1937)

Kuomintang or Communist Party, the monster is ourselves.


NEW: Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs, USA)

OLD: Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 1998)

Positives and negatives inhabit every year of experience. Which side we embrace says a lot about our current state. For me, 2015 was about being open to possibility, open to seeing things differently, open to feeling the comfort of being in love, open to thinking about pleasure in others ways than simply the physical. But it was also about recognizing the past and its influence on the present, the threat of stagnation, and the complicated process of moving forward.

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai and Gregory Jacobs’ Magic Mike XXL each grapple with the same dichotomies in cinematic ways. They are curious films about pleasure, interested in sex as expression, except the former has gone rotten inside. The open road beckons Channing Tatum and his gang of hunks to see the world in its simplest and most enjoyably organic way, while the limitations of lessons unlearned encase the players of Hou’s rapturous melodrama in coats of amber artificial light, in rooms without a view.  

As a double feature, they work as luminous inversions of each other, one an outward exploration of arousal and confidence, the other tempered, repressed, pockmarked with doubt. Jacobs throws inhibitions to the wind, reveling in sweat, skin, and smiles, while Hou covers them up almost entirely in costume and shadow. Yet both function as important reminders, to the texture of cinema, to the boundless freedom of breaking convention, to the essential nature of touch, to the possibility of being awakened not by force, but through mutual inspiration.  


NEW: L’accademia delle muse (José Luis Guerín, Spain) + Les hautes solitudes (Philippe Garrel,1974)

Faces of women. In Les hautes solitudes, the lack of sound makes Jean Seberg into a pure object of vision; she explores options that range from downright movie acting, playing to the camera and the cameraman, and retreating within herself, to complete breakdown. Garrel watches on, in love with the beauty of her face, incapable of bridging the gap with the suffering it shows, choosing only to convey it in what becomes one of the most uneasily hypnotic portraits of depression on film. In L’accademia delle muse, on the other hand, the women are heard, fighting the male gaze without ever quite escaping it, and the fire is in their speech as much as in their physical presence. Their pairings on screen makes it as much a film about their relations and attention to each other as it is about their reactions to the act of filming. And if the Guerín is euphoric where the Garrel is melancholy, it is perhaps because Guerín has always stressed his vision of the camera as not a predator but an enabler, which allows magic to happen which would not otherwise do so.

Also: NEW: Mad Max : Fury Road (George Miller, USA) + OLD: Convoy (Sam Peckinpah, 1978)


NEW: Experimenter (Michael Almereyda, USA) + Mad Men “Person to Person” (Matthew Weiner, USA)

OLD: The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)

“You have to see The Swimmer,” I told a friend this July after seeing Frank Perry and Sydney Pollack’s hazy, breathtakingly weird American allegory for the first time. “It’s as if someone hit the last season of Mad Men over the head with a bat or dropped it as a baby.” Having been born decades later, I can only imagine the late 1960s as the All-American vestiges of the Greatest Generation gazing stoically into the void, wondering where this is all going. It takes an outsider such as Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard), the second-generation offspring of two Eastern Bloc Jews in Almereyda's Experimenter, to see the obsequious side effects of nationalism and try to warn us of them. It’s that same sociological grip that pulls Mad Men's Don Draper back to his natural habitat of boardrooms and shellacked hair after achieving personal nirvana. The same specter of masculine identity crises that keeps Burt Lancaster’s Ned Merrill in The Swimmer chasing the delusion of a shiny, utilitarian past even as he crouches, half-naked and alone, in a rainstorm. Looming national change is the elephant in the room; personified literally in Experimenter as slowly pacing behind Milgram as he espouses to the camera. Maybe Milgram’s theories would have faired better some fifteen years later, when they could have fallen on the ears of the Sally Drapers of the world.

NEW: Stinking Heaven (Nathan Silver, USA) + OLD: Mysteries of Oberwald (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1981)

Empirical evidence of the lifespan of video formats; from newfangled experimentation to sardonic nostalgia. Broadcast video is a strange fit for Antonioni. Between the 4:3 aspect ratio, the finicky focus, and the seemingly impossible white balance, it works much better in close-up, taking him far out of the reach of the alienating landscapes for which he’s known and into what Nathan Silver refers to as a “pressure cooker” situation. The format traps both characters and viewers, giving them little room to breath. What Antonioni maybe didn’t anticipate is that the beauty of low-grade video comes from accidents; unruly flares and colors and the comet-tail streaks that come from panning across lights. Silver and DP Adam Ginsberg totally imbibe in this; letting the camera get lost in a grotesque, manic fishtank of strange tints and disquieting angles.

NEW: I Remember Nothing (Zia Anger, USA) + OLD: Picnic and Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1979)

Lost voices and the mysteries of teenage confusion.


NEW: Office (Johnnie To, China/Hong Kong)

OLD: La France (Serge Bozon, 2007)

Ennui on the battlefield and in the workplace, imagined by two dexterous directors as a force that can radically morph the surface of a film. In Serge Bozon’s La France, the sun and the moon seem rigged to some cosmic dimmer board manned by a celestial grip and electric team. Illumination shifts on a dime to match the emotional fluctuations of a group of French soldiers adrift from the battlefields of World War 1, edging into non-naturalistic glows whenever they compulsively segue into song. Office, another putative musical that seems somewhat hesitant to indulge this mode (in the sense that its characters use their melodies as the last possible coping mechanisms against a cutthroat environment), is similarly audacious in registering its ensemble’s collective psychological swings in leaps of cinematographic artifice, doing with false backdrops and absurdly prefab lighting fixtures what Bozon does with the careful calibration of light on hilly, verdant landscapes.

NEW: 45 Years (Andrew Haigh, UK) + OLD: Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940)

The narrative worlds of 45 Years and Remember the Night—the former a tale of marital collapse, the latter of a romance’s beginnings—are both demarcated by a familiar town/country dialectic. In each case, metropolitan civilization becomes an arena in which the reenactment of a relationship-endangering past is made possible: Barbara Stanwyck’s saucy shoplifter knows that a return to the law rooms of Manhattan guarantees a prison stay, while Tom Courtenay feels the pull of a travel agency in town where he can make arrangements to attend the funeral of an old lover. (Fred MacMurray and Charlotte Rampling, respectively, discourage their partners’ inexorable drifts into personal history.) Meanwhile, both films present ambivalent visions of rural life. Barnyard dances and cozy family gatherings may imbue Leisen’s vision of the Midwest with a Capra-esque quality, but oppressively gloomy studio skies cast a shadow over the seeming quaintness. On the other hand, Haigh’s austere Norfolk vistas couldn’t be much further from the clichéd idyll. For all their similarities, though, watch these together and you’re in for contrasting emotional experiences. In Remember the Night, family photographs have a goofy charm that screenwriter Preston Sturges can’t help but construe as sight gags, while sentimental musical standards bring temporary solidarity. In 45 Years, these typically reliable sources of comfort only further expand the gulf already splintering open between its central couple.

NEW: Kings of Nowhere (Betzabé García, Mexico) + OLD: Yellow Sky (William A. Wellman, 1948)

Ghost towns, one waterlogged and one parched. Romances gradually bubble up amidst the rubble. 

NEW: Buzzard (Joel Potrykus, USA) + OLD: The Noose (Wojciech Jerzy Has, 1958)


NEW: No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, Belgium)

OLD: News From Home (Chantal Akerman, 1977)

“Nothing is ever intellectual with me… It’s through doing it, you know? It’s through the making that I  find my way.”

Almost forty years separate, these two films. Two films about the same woman made by the same woman. Two films that convey the same sense of transit, of itinerance, of nomadic solitude. Two films whose titles seem to be variations on the same theme: three words each, home being some sort of tonic syllable in both, some sort of abstract formulation of distance; both titles evoke the same idea of home being far away, something to (not) return to, maybe to run away from, but in any case something unreachable. This impossibility becomes the breeding ground for the palpable loneliness that is at the very heart of the two, and probably runs through the veins of all of Chantal’s body of work, no matter how eclectic, no matter how many different genres she has tackled.

I find fascinating how News From Home and No Home Movie establish a meaningful dialogue, a proper conversation; an arch is invisibly drawn from one film to the other, as if they were the first and third acts of an imaginary Aristotelian movie. Yes, almost forty years separate, these two films. The warm yet ghostly 16mm grain becomes urgent digital blur. The letters of a worried mother mutate into the pixelated face of that same mother on Skype, now ailing but still caring. The silence of a distant daughter transforms into a hoarse sweetness, a rather loving attempt of capturing life about to become death. Of letting go without really letting go. And in the same way News From Home exposes Chantal’s mother on the surface only to end up quietly composing a moving self-portrait, in No Home Movie she registers the last days of her mother but ends up making a film about her own death, too.

Mother and daughter become one, as both films become mirrors of one another. And there’s something fundamental hidden in that reflection: the two films happen to contain time, that is, crystallise the time that exists between the two. We can see something similar in, for instance, a film like James Benning’s One Way Boogie Woogie and its revisitation 27 years later, except that Chantal is not doing an experiment with time here, but trying to articulate her experience through time. There are rarely intentions in Chantal’s work, it seems to be all about intuition. But then again, could intentions and intuitions be variations on the same theme?


NEW: Trailer for 2015 BFI re-release of Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard, 1963)

OLD: Dialogue d'ombres (Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, 1954 – 2013), Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1964), Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965)

As if by conspiracy, the world tears asunder

bonds built by woman and man

One holds another’s hand for as long as both can

In the aftermath

be it peaceful or brutish

each remains accompanied by the other

Waves push toward shore

leaves flutter, flowers bloom, snow falls

our embrace carries on in exile

An interregnum of indeterminate length

and a struggle for significance;

a heart can close, sustain, or burst

when a body survives in absence from itself

But something survives our generation’s trials

carried forward by new names

unaware of the past they carry:

A gift.

Additional pairings:

NEW: Straight (Ai Wei Wei, China) + OLD: À propos de Venise (Jean-Marie Straub, 2014)

NEW: Adieu au langage (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014) + OLD: La Madre (Jean-Marie Straub, 2012)


NEW: The Event (Sergei Loznitsa, 2015)

OLD: Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind (John Gianvito, 2007)

“History is about the sequence of events that led to the lives we lead today. It is the story of how we came to be ourselves.” So writes Chris Harman in A People’s History of the World, his epic, comprehensive account of world history through those bottom-up tumults that have helped more infamous terror-mongers to tumble. Harman’s tome is regarded as the global equivalent of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (regarded, at least, by Zinn himself). Zinn’s own book is the foundational text for Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, John Gianvito’s landscape landmark, a monuments-and-memorials masterpiece that tells the development of the US by means of those commonly unsung ordinaries, the disenfranchised and the marginalized who, through spirit and solidarity, have confronted the top-down terrorisms of racial prejudice, gender inequality, colonial war and the violence that has trampled whole masses of workers over the ages. Gianvito’s film is nothing but plaques and busts, and yet it’s just the kind of film I’ve been needing to see for what now seems like years: epitaphs, cenotaphs, inscription as image. The title of Play History, the landscape essay film I directed in 2012, was intended as an imperative, a dare: the human narrative is far from finished, though you wouldn’t know it from listening to a great deal of our cultural vanguard, whose starting assumption appears to be that everything ended, or starts, with “the fall of communism” in 1990. The Event, by Sergei Loznitsa—one of our art’s finest living practitioners—is all about that momentous jiffy when time stopped, when the Red narrative came to a whimpering end and when capitalism was declared as default victor, here to stay, inevitably outlasting all proposed alternatives. Every cut in Loznitsa’s great film is an intervention from the filmmaker himself, who fashions a coherent documentary from hours and reels of unedited archive footage, shot by eight evidently talented cameramen employed to cover St. Petersburg’s street-level reaction to the failed Moscow coup. It’s a clever and moving snapshot of how Russians today might have come to be—and it’s a masterpiece of montage, though it couldn’t be more anti-soviet or, indeed, more pro-people.


NEW: L’accademia delle muse  (José Luis Guerín, Spain)

OLD: I Knew Her Well  (Antonio Pietrangeli, 1965)

Guerín’s ingenious documentary/fiction hybrid, one of the highlights of the 2015 Locarno Film Festival, features an erudite Italian academic pontificating on the importance of “the muse” in classical literature. Matters get complicated when his literary theory becomes upended by tangible encounters with his female students.  Pietrangeli’s last completed film, which will screen in February at New York’s Film Forum and is scheduled be released on DVD in 2016 by Criterion, foregrounds a model and aspiring actress, played brilliantly by Stefania Sandrelli, who crumbles under the pressure of being a cinematic muse for an assortment of unsavory men.  


NEW: Taxi (Jafar Panahi, Iran)

OLD: Nun wa Zaytun (Emtiaz Diab, 2014)

Superficially, this is an easy double bill to justify, as both choices are films-about-films and both adopt a docudrama tone. Beyond this, however, it’s how film itself is positioned within these narratives that’s of note: its respective presence and absence define the political stakes of both features.

In Emitaz Diab’s Nun was Zaytun, film becomes an object that’s central to claiming Palestinian identity. Diab follows a man named Murad who drives his van around the West Bank screening films that were shot in Palestine in the 1970s and 1980s. These mini-makeshift cinemas—projections happen on white sheets secured to the van or against The Wall—become sites of resistance, marking, if only for a feature-length runtime, unequivocally Palestinian spaces in an occupied land.

In Jafar Panahi’s Taxi film can’t exist. Banned from making new films by the Iranian government, Panahi can only talk about film as the act of making a film. Once again, Panahi places himself in front of the camera, here behind the wheel of a taxi that winds its way through Tehran. The car becomes a space of dialogue and freedom of discussion. The distinct absence of film—in the intentionally “uncinematic” simple camerawork and blatant blending of fact and fiction—reinforces what Panahi can’t create (while, of course, he creates it).


NEW: Bad at Dancing (Joanna Arnow, USA)

OLD: Dorothea's Revenge (Peter Fleischmann, 1974)

No less in 2015 than in 1974, sex creates its own formal structures out of our discomfort and our fascination: how easily it launches any film's bid for absurdist humor, and how easily it provides a contrapuntal melancholy. Dorothea's Revenge, shown by Spectacle in April as part of a welcome Peter Fleischmann retrospective, uses its freedom from logic and narrative to launch its young protagonist into an accelerated confrontation with sexuality in all its manifestations, and her troubled journey of self-discovery tinges the outrageous proceedings with a bemused sorrow for the human condition. Joanna Arnow's 11-minute short Bad at Dancing, which took a Silver Bear at this year's Berlin and screened at the New York Film Festival, requires not even a single scene to move from the crazy comedy of its premise to a sorrowful vision of a failed utopia, thanks to the graceful compression of Arnow's dialogue and the tenderness of the performances.


NEW: The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Greece/Ireland/UK/France/Netherlands)

OLD: Goto Isle of Love (Walerian Borowcyk, 1968)

Two dystopic visions. Closed systems of relations, of ritual, discipline and despair. Those caught up in the deadening mechanisms look to the sea for a way out, lovers long to escape in an embrace. Donkeys appear, doleful. Dogs are cruelly killed. Two films about conformity and passion, and the lengths to which love drives those who are stifled. Eyes become the last site of any possible resolution. And as ever with Lanthimos, he mines the horror for black laughter.

“Where system and passion thus undermine each other, they engender humiliating alienations and ambiguities.” –Raymond Durgnat


NEW: The Here After (Magnus von Horn, Sweden)

OLD: Through a Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961)

Most of the films I clung to throughout 2015 were high-flown and provocative, from riffs on classic Hollywood to hyper-speed collage documentaries. It proved restorative, then, to find a time-out in Magnus von Horn’s understated, morally ambivalent The Here After. A kindred spirit to Ingmar Bergman’s chamber play Through a Glass Darkly, both films focus on Swedish families dealing with psychological traumas brought forth by their eldest children. And like these troubled centrepieces, who are struggling to re-assimilate into everyday existence after being released from institutions, the films’ atmospheres are riddled with brooding, building silences, and drawn-out gazes off at wilderness. More than the bombastic cinema which occupied our screens this year, this fantasy double bill accurately reflects a 2015 that might’ve been a fresh start, were it not still haunted by the dark days it emerged from.


NEW: Blackhat (Michael Mann, USA)  

OLD: New Rose Hotel (Abel Ferrara, 1998)

Two stories of idealistic vigilantes trying to hold onto some semblance of personal honour within a post-industrial cityscape wherein all money is immaterial and actions only have value insofar as they further the movement of capital or information. The tangible world is governed by the flow of abstract data, rather than vice versa, and success can only be ensured through a total fluidity of identity and morality. Both Hathaway and X believe they have the skill to transcend the network (technical brilliance for the former, street smarts for the latter). Their visions of freedom are inextricably bound to an idealized woman. Together, the couples set out to carve out their own environment away from the perpetual surveillance and mass intangibles of the city. Meanwhile, haptic physical sensations provide a way to re-connect these characters with their base humanity. Ferrara's and Mann’s cameras search for the impressionistic within these corporatized physical structures as a means of disrupting their dehumanizing effects: gloriously smeared surveillance footage, reflections in windows and metal, streetlights abstracted into points of colour by shallow depth-of-field. Each introduces a fairly standard genre set-up, but strips the drama of incident to the extent that these plots become unrecognisable. As threats to the network, both Hathaway and X must ultimately either be expended from it or roped back into it by the technocratic powers of the state, treated like technical glitches to be "corrected" so the system can continue to run smoothly.


NEW: In the Shadow of Women (Philippe Garrel, France/Switzerland) + OLD: The Aviator’s Wife (Eric Rohmer, 1981)

NEW: Here’s to the Future (Gina Telaroli, USA) + OLDBeware of a Holy Whore (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1971)

NEW: Junun (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA) + OLD: Sympathy for the Devil (Jean-Luc Godard, 1968) 

NEW: Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry, USA) + OLD: Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)

NEW: Pasolini (Abel Ferrara, France/Italy/Belgium) + OLD: Cézanne (Straub-Huillet, 1990)

NEW: Buzzard (Joel Potrykus, USA) + OLD: Hi Mom! (Brian De Palma, 1970)  

NEW: Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA) + OLD: Paris nous appartient (Jacques Rivette, 1961)


NEWExperimenter (Michael Almereyda, USA)

OLDEdvard Munch (Peter Watkins, 1974)

Two radical biopics, each of them heavy on direct address and fortified with dry comedy. Both Almereyda and Watkins go light-years beyond hagiography, reconstructing their subjects' drab eras around them. Milgram and Munch's intimate relationships figure prominently in the drama, but so do their methodologies within their respective fields. Life, art, science: forever tangled up together.

NEWThe Visit (M. Night Shyamalan, USA) + OLDDavid Holzman's Diary (Jim McBride, 1967)


NEW: Mistress America (Noah Baumbach, USA)

OLD: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (Preston Sturges, 1944)

"Life's short, talk fast." Words in these two manic masterpieces are like dazzling lightnings, whooshing around with warm crackling sound, hitting all the right spots and making us laugh out loud. Talk about good screenwriting! Innocently amusing and full of candor, both films are driven by the invincible female force of nature. Betty Hutton is hilariously funny in The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, and the gumptious, cheeky spirit of the eccentric heroines from some of the best classical screwball comedies possessed Greta Gerwig in the best possible way. In Mistress America we witness her becoming one of the greatest screen comediennes of her generation.


NEW: A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence (Roy Andersson, Sweden)

OLD: Schultze Gets The Blues (Michael Schorr, Germany, 2003)

My discovery of the year was unquestionably Roy Andersson, whose uproariously deadpan black comedy A Pigeon... had me helpless with laughter from the get-go. The conclusion to a loose trilogy of "films about being a human being," following on from the Swede's earlier Songs from the Second Floor (2000) and You, the Living (2007), A Pigeon... presents a series of vaguely interrelated comic vignettes featuring a cast of Andersson's trademark palefaced oddballs as they go about their utterly absurd daily business. Depressed novelty salesmen, amorous Flamenco instructors, bored lab technicians, hapless cruise-liner captains and even a posturing Charles XII all make an appearance in Andersson's gleefully glib universe.

The closest I came to finding anything akin to Andersson's very peculiar style thereafter was Schultze Gets The Blues, a sweet little German comedy from 2003 put my way by the all-knowing algorithms of Netflix. Michael Schorr's film tells the story of Schultze, a recently retired miner and accordionist, who is dispatched by committee to play traditional polka music at a festival in Texas but instead goes AWOL to the Louisiana Bayou in pursuit of the gumbo and Zydeco of his dreams. A charming if distinctly unglamorous little caper greatly enlivened by the appealingly Svejkian figure of Horst Krause as the titular good-timer.


NEW: The Visit (M. Night Shyamalan, USA)

OLD: Confessions of a Sociopath (Joe Gibbons, 2002)

Two cute kids, brother and sister, record their every action when they visit their grandparents for the first time. Every shot follows the logic of these digital cameras the children use to talk to and perform for, the pretext being that the sister is an aspiring filmmaker. The dispositif not only creates intimacy between viewer and film, but also draws attention to the image as an image. Shyamalan’s film plays like the latest (knowing) installment of found footage horror, but also finds room to incorporate a jump scare that emulates Internet screamers.

Shyamalan’s career has had its share of bumps and bruises, but nothing in the way of the tumultuous life that Joe Gibbons lives. Speaking freely to the camera, Sociopath is a telltale (or is it a tall-tale?) confessional. It’s a work that’s a summation of Gibbons’ life and art, the two merging together. Sociopath is an assemblage of footage from throughout Gibbons’ life. We see Joe chatting publicly with Spalding Gray. We see Joe in family photos, being interviewed by a reporter after stealing a painting from the Oakland Museum, shooting up heroin, and walking along the ledge of a building. We also see middle-aged Joe—in a crisp digital image—partially obscured by a glass of beer in the foreground. It’s a film that splits, forks, and fragments, highlighting a person as a container for multiple personas. Shyamalan should take it from Joe: “Innocence doesn’t sell.” Or…maybe he shouldn’t.

NEW: Hard to Be a God (Aleksei German, Russia) + OLD: Edvard Munch (Peter Watkins, 1974)

What are you looking at?

NEW: Goodnight Mommy (Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, Austria) + OLD: That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel, 1977)

“We had a dream last night. We had the same dream.”

NEW: Young Bodies Heal Quickly (Andrew T. Betzer, USA) + OLD: Hail (Amiel Courtin-Wilson, 2011)

Daniel P. Jones, a powerhouse actor.

NEW: The Exquisite Corpus (Peter  Tscherkassky, Austria) + OLD: Sodom (Luther Price, 1989)

Mixing and matching hetero- and homosexual desires.

NEW: Tokyo Tribe (Shion Sono, Japan) + OLD: Nice to Meet You, Please Don’t Rape Me! (Aryan Kaganof, 1996)

Musical power dynamics.

NEW: Entertainment (Rick Alverson, USA) + OLD: Trailer Town (Giuseppe Andrews, 2003)

Anti-comedy or: Why is life a dildo?

NEW: Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand) + OLD: The Iron Rose (Jean Rollin, 1973)

The graveyard shift.

NEW: De Palma (Noah Baumbach & Jake Paltrow, USA) + OLD: Sibérie (Joana Preiss, 2011)

The private and public life of filmmakers.

NEW: Buzzard (Joel Potrykus, USA) + OLD: American Job (Chris Smith, 1996)

Fuck the system.

NEW: The Smell of Us (Larry Clark, USA) + OLD: Orozco the Embalmer (Kiyotaka Tsurisaki, 2001)


NEW: Heaven Knows What (Ben Safdie & Joshua Safdie, USA) + OLD: Confessions of an Opium Eater (Albert Zugsmith, 1962)

Drugs, drugs, drugs.

NEW: No Home Movie (Chantal Akerman, Belgium) + OLD: Home Movie (Chris Smith, 2001)

Home is somewhere.

NEW: Hernia (Jason Giampietro, USA) + OLD: Slacker (Richard Linklater, 1991)

Narrative handoffs. 


NEW: Blackhat (Michael Mann, USA)

OLD: The Black Hand (Richard Thorpe, 1950)

About ten minutes into Richard Thorpe’s 1950 The Black Hand, a kind of ethnoir with a hollow center, a movie I watched because it sounded like Blackhat, the similarities arrived. Here was handsome Gene Kelly strutting cautiously in his old neighborhood, a paper city on a sound stage. The place had been changed by crime. Chris Hemsworth makes the same walk, only the place feels fake because he’s gotten out of the joint—and due to Michael Mann’s otherworldly digital photography. Both are about an encroaching misery, a link to a crime slipping away, responsibility growing ever more meaningless as continents drift apart. Both pit handsome, flawed men with pasts they can’t sell against shadowy organizations. Their directors frame them in gulfs of false information, to isolate them, to let the viewer know how shaky the ground is. Both are about the incurable downs that accompany doing the right thing.


NEW: Carol (Todd Haynes, USA)

OLD: Loving (Irving Kershner, 1970)

If Cate Blanchett’s Carol had kept her yearnings under wraps and stayed married to Kyle Chandler’s Harge, their marriage would have become the one in Irving Kershner’s Loving. Both films are coated in an inch of New York dust and dampness, both are impossibly sad yet absolutely truthful and beautiful to their core. Both paint New York as the place you go to hide from your true self, because no one cares enough to ask for the truth, or that you mean what you say. Both submerge you in melancholy, and only one lets you breathe again.


NEWOw (Yohei Suzuki, Japan) + OLD: Program 4 of Anthology Film Archives's Re-Visions: American Experimental Film 1975-190: Joe Gibbons - films listed as Harvard Square Plus Muffin Ritual (ca. 1980s) Sea Monkeys (ca. 1970s) Well Did It Pt. 2 (ca 1980's) Diversionary Tactics (ca. 1970s) Phase Changes (ca. 1970s) Points of Interest (Pikes Peak) (ca. 1970s) Measuring Pointing (ca 1970s)  + CONTINUOUSLY: "Fog" (anna kavan, published posthumously in the 1970 collection "julia and the bazooka")

Being alive is a disaster.

NEW: The Falling (Carol Morely, UK) / La Novia de Frankenstein (Agostina Gálvez & Francisco Lezama, Argentina) / Bad at Dancing (Joanna Arnow, USA) + OLD: Simone Barbès ou la Vertu (Marie-Calude Treilhou, 1980) + CONTINUOUSLY: "Lolly Willowes" (Sylvia Townsend Warner, 1926)

Women on their own terms, please.


NEW: The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, UK)

OLD: When Harry Met Sally... (Rob Reiner, 1989)

A perfect Valentine’s Day double feature, in my opinion. I like it when my love letters are written with poisoned ink. Leave it to Lanthimos to pen something as delightfully abrasive as The Lobster, a film in which Colin Farrell exists in a world where, if one is single, one is sent off to a hotel-cum-compound to find a mate. Should one not find a mate in 45 days, one is transformed into an animal. Its metaphor is blunt, and while it provides an interesting understanding of the societal pressures to be in a nuclear coupling and the social implications of the hierarchical functions of such, it’s a film that uses its acidity to get at an authentic melancholy. It’s about heartbreak, and it’s as honest as it is acerbic about exploring what it means to desire, to be desired, and wanting to be wanted. Less overtly absurdist as Lanthimos’s caustic comedy, Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner’s nearly legendary When Harry Met Sally… is as much about the narrative of social expectations and gendered norms as it is straightforwardly about those things. Ephron carefully characterizes her leads as, at first, clichés and conventions of soon to be well worn archetypes, and then gradually subverts them, allowing the dynamic between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal to become fluid. The blueprint for the contemporary romantic comedy was a mix of sincerity and snark. Though we take the film’s ending at face value, the extra text of knowing the original ending that Ephron had written (the two go back to being friends) suggests that its saccharine finale is actually cynical, too sweet, and a commentary on the expectation of happily ever after narratives.  However, the core to these films, besides the romance, is this idea of how we conceive of our identities through other people. But, then it comes to the pleasures both films exude, I’ll have what they’re having.   


NEWHenry Gamble's Birthday Party (Stephen Cone, 2015)

OLDWho Am I This Time? (Jonathan Demme, 1982)

“That’s a special movie,” Demme told a friend of mine earlier this year. “Somehow, I fell asleep. However, for every waking moment I was witnessing an absolute miracle,” said my close friend and roommate Neil Bahadur in his Letterboxd blurb. Perhaps the truest way to think about Demme’s communal cinematographic vision is through collaboration with the very people you experienced them with...

Accepting that—I’ll try to keep this contradiction brief. These are two American movies made in earnest with love and kindness by their creators. They are both unconcerned with being hip, and they don’t make the mistake of disentangling their characters from the communities they belong to. Instead, they are both accommodating and inclusive cinematographic visions of how the private parts of our lives are indivisible from the communities that established us, and more often than not are better off collectively experienced (see: the overwhelming final scene of Who Am I This Time?, where Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon share details of their accord with the townsfolk, causing a cue from John Cale’s celebratory score). In the coming year I hope we can—together—see more artists bring us similar visions, and see more spaces (physical and digital) support such works.


NEW: Tangerine (Sean Baker, USA)

OLD: Angels in the Outfield (William Dear, 1994)

In Angels in the Outfield foster child Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) prays for God to assist in guiding the notoriously languid Anaheim Angels to a pennant win. He does this because during the last visitation with his absentee father, young Roger asks “when are we gonna be a family again?” to which his father responds “I'd say when the Angels win the pennant.” His answer was meant as a sarcastic lie/half-joke, but Roger, being a child, is unable to detect the subtlety of either the sarcasm, or the lie. It is Roger's inability to perceive the complexities of adult communication that leads him to pray, which in turn leads to the (literal) miracles necessary to give the Angels a pennant berth. As such, there is a fatalism built into the narrative, because we are “in on” the lie told by Roger's father. We understand that no amount of Angel pennants will actually put their family back together. This absolution can be, and is only thwarted by, a redefinition of family which comes in the form of Angels manager George Knox (Danny Glover) assuming custody of both Roger, and his best friend/fellow ward of the state, J.P. (Milton Davis, Jr).

A similar fatalism is present in Sean Baker's Tangerine. Transgendered prostitute Sin-dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez), recently released from a twenty-eight day prison sentence, embarks on a mission across Hollywood to track down and confront her boyfriend/pimp Chester whom she suspects of cheating. In an environment where sex is trade, it is inevitable that Sin-dee's self-righteousness will crumble around her. The tension in the film rests solely on when it will crumble—and then what will happen once it does. Both Roger and Sin-dee strive to attain the love, and approval of male figures whose only power comes from their ability to deny them that love. Much like Roger, when Sin-dee arrives at her lowest and most dejected, she is rescued—in her case by friend, and fellow sex-worker, Alexandria (Mya Taylor).

A solid SoCal double feature, both films are ultimately about shedding our conservative notions of what a family can, and cannot be for reasons of surviving in Los Angeles. 


NEWIsabella Morra (Isabel Pagliai, France)

OLDThe Mallet (Malj, Aleksandar Ilić, 1977)

A decidedly brisk "double bill" this, running a total of 32 minutes, but I couldn't resist the pairing as they were (along with Jonathan Perel's 82-minute Toponymy) among the top three films of any length and vintage that I saw this year, and they both deal with what we may dub "youth in peril" themes within quasi-documentary formats. 

A truly spectacular debut from unknown 27-year-old Isabel Pagliai, Isabella Morra "adapts" an obscure surrealist play from the 1970s which chronicles the brief life of a Renaissance poet murdered by her brothers in her mid-20s. The film itself, however, appears to be an austerely straightforward portrait of kids on a dilapidated Boulogne-sur-Mer housing estate, a hard-as-diamond miniature which succeeds in presenting juvenile protagonists without any trace of infantilisation or conventional sentiment. It premiered at Amsterdam's IDFA in November and next heads to the short-film behemoth of Clermont-Ferrand in late January. 

If there's any justice, Isabella Morra should prove just as much of a festival smash as Ilić's The Mallet, a dark parable of totalitarianism/capitalism/rebellion/whatever which apparently played everywhere and won countless prizes back in the late seventies. I'd somehow never heard of it until it popped up as part of a carte blanche programme selected by Aki Kaurismäki at Santiago de Compostela's Curtocircuito festival in Galicia (Spain) in October. Kiitos, Aki! A suffocatingly nightmarish, wordless exercise in doomy ominousness, The Mallet inexorably unfolds in a maybe-futuristic food-plant where tiny chicks are sorted before embarking on what presumes will be thankless lives as battery fowl. These are emphatically the lucky ones, however, as those found wanting suffer a grim and crunching appointment with the eponymous murder-weapon -- an appointment which one particular black chick intuitively decides he'd rather not keep. I have no idea how this film was made. Maybe you can work it out:

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